[personal profile] vicki595

Chapter 3

"There is nothing more enticing, disenchanting, and enslaving than the life at sea."
                                                                                                                                    - Joseph Conrad


          BERMUDIAN boys went to sea in their early-to mid-teens, having already acquitted a basic knowledge of sailing by operating small craft in local waters; much like Sue had first done on her arrival. Learning to be a mariner was learning the family trade, and would take place in the context of a family setting, with boys usually sailing with their fathers, uncles or brothers. Unlike the hostile conditions recorded often for most going to sea for the first time, their sea education came with patience and care.

Sue had no family to learn from, and her well-known status as the daughter of the former Governor, and ward of the current, meant that she was unable to even try and pass herself off as boy; a strategy she would often employ in her later life. However, Mr. Perkins' previous service in the Navy meant that he was equally qualified to teach her how to sail, as he was to teach her how to conjugate Latin verbs.

Auriemma's father-in-law owned a small fleet of ships and although he was initially unwilling, he agreed to allow Mr. Perkins and Sue to help crew one of them in the spring following Sue's twelfth birthday. These ships primarily sailed south-west to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies, where Bermudans had been harvesting salt since 1681. They would then carry this salt to the colonies along the Atlantic coast, selling it for a high price in the North American ports. They would also move goods, including such items as grain, cocoa and wine, from the colonies back to the West Indies, and Sue's fellow crewmembers would begrudgingly admit that her memory was almost enough to make up for the fact that she was a girl.

However, Sue was not satisfied with merely schlepping salt and cargo between ports. She had grown up with stories from her father about his naval career, and had begged further tales from her tutor about his experiences. For Sue, the Royal Navy was the ultimate culmination of her skills and experiences and the best way she could think of to honor her father.

Auriemma did not like the idea, and although he tried to reason with Sue, her stubbornness won out and he was unable to refuse her wishes. Sue was fourteen when she joined the Navy as a "volunteer-per-order" or what was also known as a King's Letter boy. This rating was for young gentlemen who were training to be officers, who received a letter from the crown which virtually guaranteed them promotion after spending two years at sea and passing the examination for lieutenant.

With her previous experience and knowledge, Sue admitted in first letter to Jennifer that she was "quite certain that I could attain my initial promotion today, if only they would let me prove myself." Her confidence and skills would win her an equal amount of friends and foes onboard HMS Dover. Unfortunately one of her antagonists was the first lieutenant, after Sue had spotted an error in some navigation calculations and pointed it out to him. She would spend a lot of time in the crow's-nest, a place often considered punishment due its distance from the ship's center of mass, as any small movement of the ship was amplified and sea sickness could be a real problem for even the most experienced sailors.

"But despite how bad I may feel when I descend, if Lieutenant Summit is waiting for me, I will force myself to wait until he has gone again before I am actually sick," she writes, showing her strength of will and stubbornness in a rare letter to Jennifer. Sue spent nearly two years in the Navy, with only five, relatively short letters from those years either being sent or having survived. She tries to keep the tone of her letters upbeat, talking about the different places that the ship visits, though "none are really as beautiful as Bermuda," she admits.

Sue would also have her first encounter with a prostitute while she was in the Navy, and she did not hesitate to write to Jennifer about the sensitive topic. "We were in the tavern and they asked if I had ever been with a woman! And of course I had not, but I was not going to admit my true sex to them!" Sue tried to lie, but her shipmates did not believe her, instead pushing her towards one of the ladies who prowled the room. The encounter was an eye-opener for Sue, in more ways than one. "The fact that I was a woman did not seem to perturb her in any way," she writes, ink blots liberally splashed across the sheet. "She said that I was still entitled to my money's worth and took me to the bed." Mrs. Auriemma had taken Sue aside before she had left on the Dover, thoroughly embarrassing Sue as she had explained sex and the relationship between men and women. But this was not like what Mrs. Auriemma had been talked to her about. "I always felt I was different from other girls. Don't tell mother, but I never wanted what you have – a husband and children. I knew I wanted the freedom of the sea when we made our crossing to Bermuda, but last night made me wonder if there is something else I want."

Sue would not return to the topic in her other letters, and although she occasionally made reference to how she did not spend all her nights on shore alone, it is not until after she has left the Navy that she specifically mentions spending time with another woman.

Sue did not leave the Navy by choice. In December 1716, her knee was injured in a shipboard accident, and when the ship's surgeon removed her clothes to check for further injuries, it was subsequently discovered that she was actually female. She was forced to depart the ship at the nearest port, which was Kingston, Jamaica. It was a place she was well acquainted with from her time as a merchant sailor, and she was fortunate enough to be able to quickly find a Bermudian sloop docked and barter her passage back to Bermuda.

Sue made the decision to return to Bermuda and Governor Auriemma's household, rather than seek out her family in Philadelphia partly because of her love for the island, and also because she was only sixteen and not yet of age. Auriemma was in loco parentis for Sue until she was twenty-one and came into her full inheritance, or until she was married, whichever came first. She arrived back in St. George in February 1717 and spent the spring teaching in her old school.

But she soon grew bored of this sedentary lifestyle. "Although I appreciate everything the Governor does for me, this is not the life for me," she wrote. "Mrs. Auriemma has been hinting at a debutante ball for me, so we may start seeking suitors, but I obviously do not wish for such a thing and of course I dare not tell her of my proclivities."

Auriemma's father-in-law had passed on since Sue had last been on Bermuda, with his company having been sold upon his death. However, the new owner was a good friend of the Governor and after noticing the hours that Sue would spend staring out at the sea, Auriemma partially invested one of the company's new ships, with the agreement that Sue would be one of the crew.

For Sue, her time on the Marsiella (named after Auriemma's mother) would reunite her with an old friend. Rebecca Lobo, who since her arrival on Bermuda ten years previously had solely been known as Isaac, was serving as the quartermaster and as the second-in-command. The captain of the ship also had much in common with Sue and Rebecca. Her name was Jennifer Rizzotti.

Not much is known about Rizzotti, other than the little information Sue passed on to Jennifer in her letters. Like Sue, Rizzotti had served a number of years in the Navy, although she had never been discovered as a woman and had instead bought out her commission. The Marsiella was her first command and she was considered a fair and just captain.

Sue was initially tasked as the helmsman for the ship, although she soon proved her worth as a navigator as well. Rizzotti had also served as a helmsman during her previous naval career, and was more than willing in passing on tips and tricks to Sue, as well as frequently taking the helm when Sue was off duty.

Although the original intention had been for the Marsiella to be a merchant ship, two raids in quick succession by Spanish pirates pushed Jennifer to add armaments to the ship. She sought and received a Letter of Marque and Reprisal from Governor Auriemma, and the Marsiella became a privateer. Although Lobo, who had only ever served aboard merchant ships, expressed concerns, Sue, Rizzotti and a number of other naval veterans in the crew appreciated the shift in their duties. "I now wear a blade at all times when on duty and when we see the colors of France or Spain, we need not try to avoid and retreat. We are smaller and less armed than most of such vessels, but we are faster and when surprise is on our side, often victorious. It is such an exhilarating experience and much more lucrative than merely transporting goods!"

They would continue to cross the fine line between privateer and pirate for three years. They would continue to attack ships after their Letters of Marque and Reprisal expired and before they were able to return to Bermuda for new ones. However, they would not cross far enough to start to attack any English ships, only focusing their attentions on enemies of King and Country. Rebecca retired after the second year, marrying Steve Rushin, the owner of a tavern in Philadelphia, and Sue would take over her duties as quartermaster. "It may be hard work and a lot of responsibility but I enjoy it," she confessed.

Sue's responsibility would only increase the following year after Rizzotti also made the decision to retire in order to marry. Her final act of captain was to nominate Sue as her replacement, and the crew agreed, voting her in over just one other nominee, a crewmember known only as Leslie who, "only a few honestly seem to like."

Sue's first act as captain, upon Rizzotti's suggestion, was to make the ship truly hers by changing her name.

She called her ship the Storm.

Chapter 2
For Every Storm a Rainbow: Part 1
Table of Contents



April 2011

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