29 — Navigation

Juan Perez de Padilla – 22 July 1355

It was nearly half an hour before the Prince emerged from the cabin at the rear of the boat.

Juan found it difficult to look the Prince in the eye. If the Prince had just spent the night with his sister, why had the Prince asked for him to join them?

The Prince did not appear to notice his discomfiture. ‘I am really pleased you could come. Joan… the Countess of Kent?’

Juan narrowed his eyes. This really was becoming a difficult conversation. ‘Yes, Sire, I have met Joan several times.’

Yes, yes. Joan has told me about the chronicle you have started to circulate and she gave me a copy. I was surprised how far you have come in such a short time, and now I want you to help me.’

The Prince hesitated before continuing. ‘Joan will join us soon as will Al… the lady Trencavel.’ The two ladies spent the night in the same bed. I think Joan believed that Alyse was apprehensive at this new experience of sleeping on a boat. It is wonderful that they get on so well together, especially when circumstances dictate that we must spend so much time together. They are currently assisting each other to dress, but perhaps we should make a start.

Juan breathed a sigh of relief, obviously, his worries about Alyse spending the night with the Prince were unfounded.

Juan raised his eyebrows. ‘How can I help?’

‘Your chronicle could be used to inform people, citizens, at all levels of society of changes, especially changes which will benefit them.’

‘Yes it could, but that would mean I have to know and understand both the improvements and how and why they would confer benefits.’

‘And that is why you are here today. I am about to conduct a review of the improvements I have made to the navigational systems on the Gironde estuary.

One of the most boring parts of my job is telling people what is being done to help them to improve their lives. I have to tell the same story over and over again. People ask questions but then appear to be disinterested in the answers. Using your chronicle could do a lot of that hard work for me. So as we sail up the estuary, I want you to see just what improvements have been made.

Joshua Blount, our English captain advised me and so I will leave it to him to explain how 60 miles of an estuary, vital for Bordeaux’s trade, but plagued by reefs and sandbars, can be navigated more safely. We will then spend the night at Royan, right at the mouth of the estuary

Tomorrow I want to simulate an entry to the estuary from the open sea, perhaps doing it several times, to ensure that our solution leaves nothing to chance.’

Juan nodded. Privately he doubted he would understand enough of the principles of navigation in two days to be able to write about it. Nevertheless, he turned his attention to Joshua.

Joshua waved his hand towards the banks of the river. ‘ For hundreds of years, possibly much longer, this river has been navigated by a small select group of people. They avoid the sandbanks and reefs by lining up two features, such as a strip of sandy beach and a church spire and sail along that path. The winds are almost always from the south-west so very few changes of direction are needed. Obviously alignments travelling up the estuary towards the sea are different those travelling south towards Bordeaux.

The use of these landmarks requires an intimate knowledge of the estuary. It was knowledge which has been passed, quite literally, from father to son.’

There are several problems. In inclement weather it is not possible to see some of the landmarks which are more distant from the river. It is not possible to use the landmarks at night and last but not least, increases in the volume of shipping mean that there are not enough people with the knowledge to provide a pilot for every ship. The incidence of ships running aground or being wrecked on the reefs just off Royan is increasing.’

‘So what have you done?’

‘It is a question of what the Prince has done. I provided some guidance but he provided the finances. He has built a network of towers along both banks of the estuary.’ He pointed to the front of the boat. ‘You see those two vertical poles. They are sighting poles. If those are lined up with a pair of towers on each side of the estuary then we know we are in the channel. Once we sail past one set of towers we can then use another set and so on all the way up the estuary. Come with me.’ he guided Juan into a cabin which enclosed the helm. This enclosure is in itself an innovation. it protects the helmsman but it also protects these charts. He held up a chart which showed the profile of the estuary and the positions of the network of towers.

Juan raised his eyebrows.”Oh

Joshua continued. We are now passing L’ĂŽle Patiras.’ he jabbed a finger at the chart, indicating their location. ‘We can now see these two pairs of towers, one either side of the estuary. The helmsman will now steer so that he achieves an alignment on both sides. It would need really extreme weather for the towers to be hidden.’

The Prince had been listening intently. He now grabbed Joshua’s arm. ‘ Let me try, I want to get a feel for it.’

Joshua used his lips. ‘Certainly sire. ‘ As the Helmsman gave up the wheel to the Prince, Joshua turned to Juan.’ I know the Prince is a more than capable helmsman but he has never seen the completed system of towers before. The fact that I am prepared to let him take the wheel shows that I have total belief in the system. Ah! Here come the ladies.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

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