It was the best of times, for truly the sea gods were gazing favorably upon Captain Rusty Nail and Missy as they made their stealthy approach to the poorly guarded Fort Matanzas. This small 50ft square fort built of coquina was located just north of the Matanzas inlet on the Matanzas River, a mere 16 miles south of St Augustine, the pirates’ ultimate destination.
In 1565 Spain’s opening move in establishing a colony in Florida was the massacre of French soldiers near the inlet; Matanzas is Spanish for slaughter/massacre. The fort’s construction in 1740 was Spain’s last effort to ward off the British. Pirates posed a constant threat and often used the intracoastal waterway behind the fort to make a careful approach to the River. With the construction of Fort Matanzas, St Augustine was now fully protected. After Francis Drake’s raid on St Augustine in 1586, England repeatedly harassed the Spanish colony. 1740 brought a 39-day siege of the town by James Oglethorpe who finally fled back to Georgia with onset of the hurricane season. Immediate work began on the fort with labor supplied by convicts, slaves and additional troops from Cuba. When Oglethorpe haughtily returned in 1742 with 12 ships, the nearly complete fort’s cannon drove off the scouting boats and the warships left. The fort had just paid for itself.
Ortolan found the fort bustling with activity as she entered the Matanzas River at high noon with the current running strong and the winds blowing at 18kts. Typically the fort housed 7 men: officer, 4 infantrymen and 2 gunners. During a crisis it could hold 50, but today was no crisis, yet 20-30 people could be seen on the fort’s main deck. In a brazen move the ship anchored near the fort. The fort’s lookout was easily spotted through Missy’s spyglass – but too busy primping to notice the new arrivals. Captain Rusty Nail & Missy enjoyed a noon-time feast before making a nearly unobserved beach landing in their scouting dory.
Small boats and oddly dressed inhabitants (?), or visitors perhaps, were milling about as the two dragged the dory onto the small beach, ordering nearby old hags to watch the boat, or else. The pirates’ clever disguise worked well as they blended in nicely with the crowd; a crowd eager to board the supply scow to the fort. Several observant gentlemen inquired about the strange ship nearby and no suspicions were raised when the pleasant couple offered answers to the various queries. Much knowledge was acquired as the boat’s Captain and the Sgt. at Arms shared facts and stories about the fort while a favorable tide made for a quick crossing to the fort. Loaded with five canons, even the four six-pounders could reach to the inlet, a mere half-mile away. Most well made cannons of the day, when capacity loaded with gunpowder could reach targets three miles out (but that was the limit), traveling at speeds well over 200 mph. The sentry box was well positioned and the observation deck allowed for a sweeping 360 degree view.
The two pirates abandoned their plan to take the fort, instead sailing north toward St Augustine, home of Castillo de San Marcos, a splendid fort far more worthy of pillaging.
The well guarded city was approached with care with plans to take it by storm the following day, allowing the cover of night to shield the ship and its occupants. Remaining unannounced until the morning would ensure the new arrivals would blend in well with the few other ships in the harbor. The pirate couple were eager to scout about, their visit of November past had provided them with an excellent layout of the town and they intended to see and do more this time, acting as would any visitor to this fine city of beautiful buildings, lions and horse-drawn carriages.
Captain Rusty Nail escorted Missy aboard the Red Train with the Fountain of Youth soon in their sights. Magnolia St proved to be as beautiful as promised, canopied with Oaks and Spanish Moss. A quick drink of the mineral laden water which bubbles up from a huge aquifer most surely guaranteed another 100 years of youthfulness. Gorgeous peacocks roamed freely and mister show-off white feathers was a sight of billowing loveliness. Nearby cannon fire spooked the always on edge duo and they hurried away aboard the next train.
The train conductor provided excellent details and stories about the city’s history and stopped at all the most desirable places. Shops, eateries, wine cellars, churches, museums and a new place that produced an elixir of many forms called “chocolate”. Missy was quite taken with this delicious food and consumed vast amounts in the “gelato” form, surely designed to add some meat to her bones. Behavior was exemplary this trip and the gallows as well as the city jail were avoided.
The chest of gold coins was dwindling with each passing day and the Captain, after graciously agreeing to dining out (the foods of this new city being far superior to the contents of Ortolan’s pantry) finally insisted that the plundering cease, although who was being plundered was difficult to say. The shops were enticing, each calling out with their special wares displayed. Missy felt renewed as she relieved more than one shopkeeper of his “local” garments and footwear.
The next morning, in a daring move, Ortolan re-positioned herself right in front of the fort, preparing for a quick getaway out the inlet as well as affording an excellent view of the Castillo. Nearby revelers and bridge traffic meant that the ship would hardly be noticed as she moved closer yet to the Castillo,the pride of St Augustine. Aye mateys, ’twas a move that the two might regret.
The Captain suggested his wench might do well to launder the dirty pile of garments on the rocks nearby. With an icy stare Missy reminded the Captain of the wonderful new devices now available and surely a few more coins could be spared? Pockets nearly empty, he acquiesced, yet imagined the price that would need to be paid.
As the sun rose, the city inhabitants still sleeping off the night’s revelry, Ortolan slipped the anchorage and escaped with the outgoing tide. Where will they turn up next?