Log Wood of the
Miskito Coast and the Münster
Part One of Two
The Deal (1869)
In the middle of the day, Wooden-leg Joe confronted the barrel maker with an interesting proposition, along with providing him some interesting news, “The same man with whom once owned the sloop, Captain Peron, a week ago is now long gone, therefore, I wish to organize an expedition, with your permission. We have some provisions for a quick sea voyage already onboard the ship (the Peron).”
“Perhaps, I’m listening,” said the Barrel Maker—Pablo, a middle-aged man somewhat robust, showing some interest, “what’s your plan?”
“By the greatest respect, sir,” said Joe, now having his attention and interest, taking in a sigh hoping it would all come out in a few smooth sentences, his eyes a bit cast upward as if trying to draw a diagram of it, to say it, “I’m a good helmsman (a helmsman being, in Joe’s case, an able seaman, who often worked on the bridge at the steering stand, which operated the rudder of the ship, he was considered a quartermaster at the wheel) even if I don’t look it. Been with Captain Peron for a long time, but what I need is for you to support this excursion I have on my mind, I have only one-hundred dollars myself in silver.”
Pablo sighed, “Mr. Joe,” he said, “…come to the point, what are you looking to do with my ship?”
“Cut log wood along the Mosquito Coast of Honduras sir,” said Joe, with relief.
“You know this is an illegal act, and British will surely take offence to it. And besides that, you may never be able to return my ship should the British spot you.”
“Well, that may be true; on the other hand you can remind the old judge Castro—if it comes to his attention, that I stole the ship. The area I intended on visiting, will have no habitation, and once visited, we are gone forever, never to return.”
“I suppose it’s not objectable, I want fifty-percent!” said Pablo.
“Not easily done with a whole crew; thirty-percent, and your up front finances given back?”
“Done,” said Pablo.
Wooden-leg Joe, now Captain of the vessel Peron, helped his crew load the ship, long into the night.
It was now Pablo’s ship, now being allowed to be docked until the last wooden board and every piece of scrap-iron was stripped from its: hall, deck, keel and frame ( fees being a gift of the magistrate and the dock owners—of which they didn’t like), otherwise one could not afford the Wharfage Fees. Pablo was just hoping, the authorities would overlook this clause once the ship left dock and upon its return, thus the ship should not be leaving the port in the first place. In any case, Pablo was not charged a cent. To be quite frank, Wood-leg Joe had paid Jamaica Ernestina—part owner of the dock—a one-hundred dollar bribe, a gift of sorts, to overlook it when he’d bring the ship back. She reluctantly, expressed delight at accepting the offer from, to give Pablo back the space upon his return—although she didn’t like the idea of having to allow him such privilege, and she had ulterior motives in doing so.
In any case, Joe was encouraged by Ernestina’s offer (Ernestina was a short deceptive old lady, nothing to look at: yellowish teeth, the front two upper teeth missing, and little ski-jump for a nose, and sunken in cheeks, but perhaps among the richest women, next to Ashley Walsh, in Havana.)
It was all complicated with the most pretentious courtesies and with intentions and eyes fixed on gifts to be received and expected. Most of the crew came from Delia’s Inn, and were sound of body, and free of disease.
Wooden-leg Joe, Captain Joe (a captain’s job entailed among many things: efficient operation of the whole ship, to include its cargo, officers and crew, safety, etc), rechecked his provisions: rum, pork, water, turtles—recently traded for—in the marketplace, brought in from the outskirts of the city. It was not expected to be a long lasting voyage, just into the gulf area, so tones of food were not necessary, but some live meat was taken on nonetheless (especially, squawking chickens and so forth).
The ship, ‘Peron’ was a sloop of some seventy-feet, with only one cannon, mounted. That was the extent of their armament. What they lacked in armament, they gained in speed because of the sleekness of the ship, and maneuverability.
At this very moment, that is to say, as the ship ‘The Peron’ was being outfitted, Jamaica Ernestina was talking to Captain Apolinario Tapia-Schmidt of the Galleon Münster, who commanded the ship (a middle aged man of German-Peruvian Stock, who had lived both in Lima, Peru, and Münster by Dieburg, in Germany, mother being Peruvian, and father German). The galleon had several hundred people onboard ((seamen, garrison soldiers and sailors) (the keel was of Oak and the masts, hull and decking of various hard woods—and had a long beak to it. It was an old ship; the fluyt and brig were now being more commonly used in the Caribbean waters; the ship weighting just under 500 tones)). She had informed him, that the Peron was heading into the Mosquito Coast waters that were of interest to the British, for the purpose of log cutting. Such information by the British, was paid for in gold and sterling, and paid well.
“Make sure Captain,” said Ernestina, “that that damn ship never comes back again.”
And the captain handed Ernestina a heavy leather pouch—the coinage for her betrayal; thereafter, the Münster had quickly left the harbor, and was six hours ahead of the Peron, heading for Honduras.
The ship was purchased by a Germany Company, built by the Spanish; the crews were mercenary soldiers from several walks of life and many scoundrels, paid by the British Government to guard the coastal waters—off Honduras, and Nicaragua known as the Mosquito Coast. It was an awkward ship, big and bulky, with sixty-cannons, and which took fifteen to twenty men to maneuver each cannon, and was going twenty-knots through the Caribbean waters, to set itself up—and eliminate, as soon as he got sight, the Peron, as the captain had told Ernestina,
“I want to get rid of these treasure hunters, these brigs and sloops and all, wanting to rob the Mosquito Coast, once and for all, get rid of these so called gold diggers that want to plunder her wealth, like the Peron, she will set a good example, the news will spread fast once we destroy her and her crew, every last one of them.”
The Peron was by far no warship, but because of its size, it could hug the coast, sail closer to the Honduras and Nicaragua channels and Joe had wanted to do some quick and heavy log cutting for a long time, this moment was heaven sent he felt. Captain Peron had avoided that area for years, saying “It’s too dangerous and painstaking work.”
He just simply didn’t want his ship blown out of the sea, or trying to outrun the British. Joe always had second thoughts on the matter, but after years of trying to persuade him, he gave up. Now it was his day. In a few hours he’d be on his way.
And so the voyage began, with an outburst, “Shedder any blood!” and Joe was hoping there’d be no blood shed upon its return. To Joe, this was a good omen.
As they sailed out of the harbor, Joe now captain for sure, I mean, actually feeling like a captain, in command of the ship, something he always wanted, the top and bottom of the iceberg for him, it was a magical moment.
‘It will all go smoothly,’ Joe told his second-self, the You, the second voice inside of a person. “It will be a peaceful endeavor, we mean no harm, and can a country own a coast area that is six-thousand miles away?’ And he looked about, ‘How silly,’ he thought, own this and own that so nobody can make a living, it belongs to everybody.’
Early Dawn Light
The Peron with its sails ruffled and fluttering in the heavy winds of the Caribbean, was fast on its way to the Mosquito Coast, Joe made a quick speech, which often times captains do, as he had seen Captain Peron do. Little was said, but it made him feel more like a captain in charge, and he added,
“This is a log cutting voyage, we have no intentions of taking booty from any villages or plunder any ships on the way. Let’s cut the wood we need and get the hell out of the rainforest and on back to Havana.”
((In the mean time, Joe had explained to the crew they’d each would get two-percent and he’d take twenty-percent of the take, or profits from the wood, and other people had to be paid off with the rest. He wasn’t lying, he was really trying to be a good captain, honest. He even had a gleam in his eyes.)(Perhaps those who want something the most, appreciate what others have the most, who never take time to appreciate what they have themselves, and Joe never figured he’d ever have such a chance as being Captain of a ship.))
Seen from afar, the Peron didn’t look as ragged as it really was, chopping through the clear tinted blue and green waters of the sea.
Onboard the ship—not all that conformable, with thirty-heavy muscled, sweating seamen, cramped for space, sleeping in the wind swept nights, and sunny days, wherever and whenever they could find space—Joe was desperate to reach the Mosquito Coast before anyone got out the word of what he was doing, and he knew sooner or later it would get out, it always did.
Little food was given out to adjust to the rough waters of the sea, and at night they could only sail by the light of the moon, otherwise, they’d have to find shelter by one of the dotted islands thereabouts, and they did just that. When at sea, the Captain told the men to simply bare their butts and use the sea as their toilet, the ship was not accommodated with such luxuries for one and all.
Captain Joe did not anchor the ship but two nights, and never during the day, in fear someone might spread the word he was headed for the Mosquito, time was of the essence, and they’d be chasing him on the way back. He had crossed latitude 20, and was on his way towards 15, beyond the Yucatan, beyond Trujillo.
It was on the 8th day when Joe and his crew could all see the tip of the horizon, and near noon, one could see the outline of the Mosquito Coast, an obscure profile.
“Sail ho!” shouted a crew member. With is spyglass in hand, and his left eye closed, his right eye picked up a ship, no flag, no insignia, just a big ship. They had been making good speed.
Captain Joe had to make a decision; it had to be British, for he was too close to the coast for it not to be,
“Ready about!” Joe yelled, and the crew quickly turned the ship about. ‘Odd,’ he thought, ‘it’s as if they’re waiting for us’
The ship was heading towards them; Joe put the spyglass back to his right eye, he saw the flag going up, it had the British colors, and it was an old war ship, ‘the Münster’.
“Damn!” Joe said, then thinking, ‘one cannon to their sixty…! She sold us out, that witch.’
Joe’s wooden-leg did a kind of tapping on the deck, jumping, his nerves were like sparks in a windy fire, it had a mind of its own.
“Try and shoot them out of the water,” yelled the captain to Samuel Llosa, ahead of the fifteen man team who took care of the cannon. Knowing ahead of time gloom was forth coming, knowing the captain of the Münster would have to make a show of it, an example out of them, so the crew could later on get drunk and spread the word around the Caribbean not to tread on the British Mosquito Coast. And he knew it was not a matter of hours before the Münster got within shooting range of a half mile, it would be there within minutes.
A Black Day
It was a dark unlucky day thought Joe, turning and running was now out of the question, I suppose it was always out of the question for him. It would be one shot from his cannon, or capture and capture meant death anyhow. If they were lucky, and the captain was in good spirits, he might allow one or two to live, to remind his kind not to attempt it a second time.
Joe could see the ship’s hull now.
“Perhaps it is better we don’t fight, they’ll blow us right out of the water,” said Samuel Llosa.
“They will anyhow,” said Joe.
Then Joe pointed to the Münster, “Fire!” he yelled. The ball fell short, and splashed into the water.
The gun ports were now open on the Münster, on two decks, “What a way to die,” whispered Joe, “If only Captain Peron was here to see me.”
Then Samuel Llosa, jumped overboard knowing any minute the ship would be bombarded, and perhaps he could survive on some drift wood left over from the ship, then no sooner had he hit the water, twenty-rounds from the cannons aboard the Münster were fired at the Peron, as Captain Joe yelled “Fight on!” and he got his wish, he went down with the ship.
(It was said, the Captain of the Münster fired a hundred rounds on the small sloop, as if he allowed his men target practice, and upon searching the waters, saw Samuel Llosa, and simply smiled, never said a word to his crew, and sailed on by.)(Another legend says, Samuel Llosa made it to the shores of Honduras, and all the way down to Lima, Peru, where he lived until he died of old age, telling and retelling the story of ‘The Black Day,’ so he called it.))
Part Two of Two
Blood of the Münster
((1870) (Port Havana))
Remember the Blood of the Münster
In the streets of Havana, after the bombardment of ‘The Peron’ the summer before, where a hundred old fashioned smashing cannon balls had left the muzzles of the heavily bronze cannons (1801 Spanish Peder style, 508 pounds each, fifty-inches long; bore diameter 37.16; the cannon carriages not included with the weight), onboard the Münster, the mercerenary ship guarding the interests of England, off the Mosquito Coast of Honduras, all the way down and along Nicaragua’s coastline, was now docked at the Port of Havana.
People on the streets of Havana, were calling the Captain’s actions “Madness” on the seas, that “We no longer live in the 16th Century, where we can do as we please by killing whole crews of ships, who might have bad intentions, but have not acted them out in full.” (It was a time when the law of nations were being written and formidable opinions of state pratice by scholars from ten nations were taking effect in the Caribbean especially on coastal rights, and where there was no law of judicial decision, it was left to the customs of a civilized nation and Cuba was a colony of Spain.) Of course the British disavowed this act of insanity, and withdrew its contract with Captain Apolinario and his crew. Having done that, the Captain and the crew were left to the authorities of Havana, or Spain. And the opinions of those seeping out of the United States.
Apolinario was careful in what he had to say, especially in his boasting at Delia’s Inn about his sinking the Peron, mercyfullesly, lest he be hung by those who had family, or friends on the Peron, and surely there were a lot of them. As he told his crew, “Even a light causal gesture could cause a fight to be triggered in the name of retaliation for a deceased member.” Evidently, he had not taken this into consideration the day he sunk ’The Peron.’
The Spanish authorities on Havana made the Münster off limits to the Port of Havana, and was about to apprehend the crew members and its captain, when Captain Apolinario, the night before had scanned the streets and inns of Havana, trying to roundup his crew, finding 489 out of a total of 700, and were out of the harbor before sunrise.
Their aim was to sail to Port du Prince, Haiti, he had friends there, but knew he’d be exposed, and there were many shallow islands in-between, and the Bahamas Passage, coral reefs, and he’d have to anchor in open waters at night or try to maneuver those extending coral reefs, and find a save cove to hide his big ship in. Surely, Havana would send out a warship, Spain had them guarding the forfeited great walls of Havana.
The Captain’s suspicion
Now in the Bahama Passage, Captain Apolinario found himself pacing back and forth between the stern and the bow, he spotted a warship sent out by Havana, or so he thought. It had no flag, but it was huge, in full sail.
“Perhaps she’ll ram us,” he murmured near silently to himself, on the bridge; the helmsman steering her steadfastly.
“I know it’s a Spanish man of war,” he said aloud as if the seamen in on the bridge were a mile away.
The water was all lit up by the bright sun. He could see land, extending outward, but his mind was so confused he couldn’t make out what island it was. He couldn’t concentrate.
He was looking to see if he might find a gap in the reefs but the sun made everything invisible to him. He felt he knew the waters, he ordered to lower some sail, break the speed. There was a coral undersea, under him, he had but five fathoms of shallow water, he knew he couldn’t go any shallower, but the ship carried itself into four fathoms of water and then three before he knew it, and it abruptly stopped with a sharp jerk and ripping, she was more than stranded, and the warship was becoming more visible, and to Apolinario’s surprise his suspicions were not right, it was a Danish Ship, with a Danish flag on it.
He had torn the rudder right off the ship, and it was now marooned on sand, with its sides ripped open.
“Had I been able to concentrate,” he started to say, and a few crew members turned to listen to him, and he shut up quickly, “Damn them coral heads and sand bars,” he said.
No. 779 83-20-2011)