Below is an excerpt from a book-length
poem, Cabin Boy to Captain: A Sea Story,
recounted in the voice of a young
boy from Devonshire, England.
The Thomas Doughty Affair
The setting: Aboard Francis Drake’s flagship, PELICAN, off
the coast of Brazil, April 5, 1578
Two months or more since last we saw a shore;
I’ve learned how small a ship can really be.
With tempers growing shorter every day,
our meager rations fanned the growing flames.
Then when we realize we’ve crossed the sea,
the sight of land rejuvenates the soul.
All hardships of the crossing now behind,
what lies ahead becomes our focus now.
Drake ordered, “Signal MARY I shall be
aboard in half an hour to have a look.
Step lively, Robert, get my boat prepared.”
When boarding MARY, it became quite clear
morale was low and anger filled the crew.
Drake opened with: “How was your voyage here?”
“Not good,” was Doughty’s curt reply. “I think
we need to have a private talk, and soon.”
“Then take your boat and meet me in my ship,
commanded Drake; “I’ll be along anon.”
Drake toured the ship and spoke with several men;
the lines of anger grew across his face.
He thundered so that all on deck could hear:
“Who authorized the cargo to be touched?”
One look at Drake left me with little doubt
his questions would receive no answer now.
With both fists clenched he stomped across the deck;
the crewmen froze like rabbits near a fox.
He seemed more suited to a Devon pub
than to the genteel court of royalty.
Drake turned to brother Thomas then and said,
“Command of MARY now belongs to you;
Tom Doughty had his chance to lead and failed.”
With that he motioned to me and debarked.
Upon return to PELICAN, Drake took
Tom Doughty to his quarters for an hour.
When they emerged, the strain on Doughty’s face
reflected his disdain for Captain Drake.
I later learned he’d claimed that Thomas Drake
had tampered with the cargo of the prize.
This charge caused an enduring breach with Drake,
who sent him off, disgraced, embarked in SWAN.
The boundaries of this fleet are far too small
for Drake and Doughty not to meet again.
I saw another side of Francis Drake:
intensely loyal to his friends and kin,
respected, caring leader of his men;
an angry, brooding foe of anyone
disloyal or a threat to his command.
I feared how their relationship would end.
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