Bligh Promotes Christian

Captain Bligh drove the Bounty relentlessly toward Tahiti.

As March waned, Bounty struggled off Tierra Del Fuego; winds roared steadily on her nose. Mr. Fryer put only as much canvas aloft as Bounty dare carry.

Midshipman Ned Young had thought he knew what to expect. Bligh had forewarned: “there are no seas in any part of the world to compare with the Horn for height and length of swell”, but Young never imagined weather so bad.

Mr. Peckover had made all three Pacific voyages with Cook. Even Peckover observed that "he never suffered the equal of these seas!”

Midshipman Young helped Master’s Mate, Fletcher Christian shoot noon sun sights. Young spied Mr. Fryer observing them. Sailing Master, John Fryer was Captain Bligh’s second in command.

In the mind of Young, Fryer was experienced and steady, steadier perhaps than Christian. Nothing rattled Fryer. Fryer had instincts— often calling sail changes before needed. Fryer wasn’t unfair, but he was cold, too cold thought Young.

Ned Young jotted down Christian’s sun sights. “We could use a favorable wind, Mr. Christian.”

Christian looked at the numbers. “What we need, Ned my good man, is less sail aloft!” Christian shook his head. “We’re being blown to leeward faster than we’re making to windward.”

Midshipman Young sat down with Captain Bligh and the other officers for evening mess; a wave shuddered the ship; ice in the rigging shivered; a moment later deadly missiles rained down on the deck above them. The officers instinctively listened for screams.

Ned Young wondered aloud about conditions in the focs’l. “Dr. Huggan,” He asked. “How are the men?”

“Eight men lost to their bunks.” Huggan answered. “The odor of vomit in the crew’s quarters will make any man ill!” Dr. Huggan spoke directly to Bligh. “How many more can we lose? I say for the sake of your crew, turn back.”

“’Ve rounded the horn before.” Answered John Fryer without being prompted. “Hold our course and the weather ’ll change. Then the men ’ll feel better.”

Young eyed Fryer closely. Fryer neither played to Bligh, nor the officers and crew. He set himself apart and was hard to like. Young found Fryer’s air annoying. Young wondered about Bligh’s opinion of Fryer. Young knew Bligh well enough to understand Bligh considered no man his equal.

On the other hand, Young found Fletcher Christian quite agreeable. Christian was cordial with everyone and didn’t wear airs. Like Young, Christian had formal schooling.

Doctor Huggan stared at Fryer. Huggan gripped the table and stuffed his shirt with a air. “The weather will change I’m certain, good sir! Come springtime!”

Bligh spoke up sarcastically. “Now, now, Doctor.” Bligh showed Huggan a fatherly facade. “Are you now an accomplished doctor and an expert sailing master?”

“Sir, I know sick when I see it.”

Bligh called on his Master’s Mate. “Mr. Christian, any progress today?”

“We sail north and south sir, but have made little way westward.”

Midshipman Young stared into his food and spoke facetiously. “Perhaps sir, we should set more sail up top?”

Mild snickering came from the junior officers.

Bligh didn’t sense Young’s sarcasm. “Mr. Young, more canvas to windward, young man, will just knock us down!”

“I don’t understand.” Said Young. He wore the innocence of a puppy as he peered across the table to Fletcher Christian.

John Fryer answered Young instead. “We carry enough canvas to drive us through the seas. ’ve rounded the Horn before, gentlemen.”

Ned Young bumped his cup hoping for what came next.

“Yes.” Replied Bligh. “But as Sailing Master?”

Fryer had not and did not answer.

Bligh continued in a bragging tone. “I rounded the Horn, good sir, as Sailing Master of HMS Resolution commanded by my good friend, the great Captain Cook.” Bligh turned to Fletcher Christian. “Mr. Christian, what say you? More sail?”

Christian knew better than come between superior officers, but now he was being required to speak. Christian spread perspiration from his palms to his pants, then answered as correctly as possible. “More top sails will raise the ship’s center of balance and tip her more easily. She cannot sail to windward if she is on her ear. As the rudder deviates from vertical, it no longer steers well — she then falls off to leeward instead of sailing forward. On the other hand, less sail aloft lowers the center of balance allowing the vessel to sail up right, as she is designed to do; the rudder functions as intended and the boat will climb closer to weather. If the height of the seas prevent progress to weather in an upright posture, then perhaps the vessel has not been designed for sailing in this season.”

Christian hoped his answer had pleased everyone.

John Fryer was annoyed by Christian’s evasiveness. “Sounds like school book blarney. Wager ye the learnt men what writ them books ne’er even been t’ sea!”

“Oh?” Bligh questioned. “You object to book learning?”

“By God, sir,” Answered Fryer. “I learnt sailing by sailing!”

Ned Young cleared his throat and fished for Captain Bligh’s ire. “Mr. Christian, have you been to school then?”

Christian recognized the bait and ignored the question, but Bligh pushed for an answer. Christian again pressed his palms against his pants. “Yes sir. you know that I have, sir.”

“Did you learn what you just told us from books?”


“And where did you learn to accurately calculate longitude?”

“Captain Bligh, sir, you tutored me from one of your own books while sailing your command the Brittania to Jamaica.”

Bligh asked bluntly. “How old are you, Mr. Christian?”

“Twenty-three, sir.”

Bligh’s upper lip puckered. “How old are you, Mr. Fryer?”

“Capt’m Bligh, ’m thirty-five.”

“Thirty-five.” Mused Bligh. “At twenty-three, I was sailing master aboard Resolution. At twenty-five, I commanded my first merchant vessel. Fryer, I say you are an ignorant and uneducated lout, unable to read a book, let alone qualify yourself to comment on the content! I say you will never rise to the command of any vessel!”

John Fryer glared. “Capt’m, ’m as good a man as you, sir!”

Ned Young dropped his knife.

“Are you now??” Scoffed Bligh.

Bligh’s mouth puckered. His upper lip curled tightly beneath his nose. Young heard him inhale with a weasel’s snarl. A squeaky voice shot back through his teeth. “Mr. Christian! As of now, you are Sailing-Master! Mr. Fryer is relieved.”

Fryer gave no protest. “Capt’m Bligh,” Fryer asked softly. “are ye charging me for a crime?” Fryer looked around to make certain all would be witness to Bligh’s answer.

“No.” Snapped Bligh.

“Very good, sir. As ye wish.” And with that, John Fryer calmly accepted termination of his commission. Fryer then continued his meal as though nothing had happened.

Young whispered to Peckover seated next to him. “What does that matter?”

“Captain Bligh relieved Mr. Fryer, but has not charged him with a crime. Mr. Fryer is entitled to do nothing and receive full pay for the duration of the voyage.”

Bligh Promotes Christian

Bob Fox

Ypsilanti, United States

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The infamous Captain Bligh attempts to round Cape Horn with the ill-fated HMAV Bounty.

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