First Chapter China Jewel

CHINA JEWEL: Modern tall ships sail to China amid evil and treachery #MYSTERY#thriller#sea














A novel by

Thomas Hollyday


China Jewel by Thomas Hollyday

All rights reserved.

Copyright Thomas Hollyday 2013

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Publisher’s note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Published by Solar Sipper Publishing, Division of Happy Bird Corporation,

PO Box 86, Weston, MA 02493

Print ISBN number 978-0-9854753-0-7










“Il faut cultiver notre jardin”





From the Canton Register of June 14, 1835


“It is reported the following late today for all of us in the tea trade community. That America’s fastest tea clipper, the Peregrine, has lost to a British competitor, the Willow, from Liverpool.

“These ships, the Peregrine and the Willow, were the two gallant sail left today which had not been vanquished by other contestants and their final heats enthralled the spectators. The wind was again up but changing directions and the brigs started twice. The Willow upset the day by maneuvering to the weather beam each time, standing forward at the end several lengths of the Peregrine. Each time the Willow began the race on her reach no more than fifty yards from the side of her opponent and with such brilliant maneuver and being on the starboard tack, thrust ahead and maintained to the windward of Peregrine, robbing her of wind. The Peregrine, with her fast Maryland cotton sails, gradually bore up on the Willow but even in her crews’ best expertise the older sea-logged brig never accomplished a position close to the Willow beam. The two trials were much alike; the Willow always in the lead for the Gold Cup and this was despite that the Willow gave her royals to handicap the match.

“After the race, the agent from the Barlow Company of Liverpool, owner of the Willow, was heard to say, ‘The Yankee brash will be quiet tonight, I wager.’ ”

“The American captain, Tolchester, grimly declared, ‘Peregrine will come back. She’s not finished yet.’ ”



Chapter 1


May 20, 6 AM

River Sunday, Maryland



The handmade iron anchor links rattled up the sharply curved black bow of the Peregrine. Her crew strained against the old-fashioned capstan lifting the chain and its anchor from the River Sunday harbor mud. Others climbed aloft in the raked masts or lined up on deck hauling long braces. They skillfully maneuvered the fore topsail backward to the wind so the ship would turn toward the open sea.

Jim “Flower” Cutter smiled as he watched his creation stand forth with the wind and current. His strong face softened for the first time in many weeks of hard work. The Peregrine sailed today to race the world.

This assignment had been his toughest by a long shot. Four months ago, Bill Johnson, president of Johnson Company, had reached him at a project oil well site in West Africa. Jim Cutter’s boss and old friend sounded desperate.

“Change of assignment, Jimmy,” his boss explained, in his unmistakable tone of authority as the head of one of the world’s biggest consumer products multinationals. “You got to come back to the states, go down to the eastern shore of Maryland, and take over my Peregrine sailboat race program.”

“I don’t know anything about sailing,” Cutter had replied.

“I can buy sailors,” Bill had said quickly with a typical impatience Cutter recognized all too well. He could picture his boss’s face smiling without humor. “What I need is somebody I have complete confidence in. You’re a former Army Ranger who knows how to kick ass. You’ll get the ship launched. Hell, she’s still up on the shore being built while the competition is doing shakedown runs. I got too much money and Johnson stock staked in this venture to screw around anymore.”

Bill told him only that the Peregrine was to join old-fashioned square-riggers sponsored by multinationals from all over the world in a sail race suggested by the Chinese. The novel idea was a twenty-first century competition among replicas of nineteenth century craft. The tall ships would compete along the original tea trade route from the Atlantic around Cape Horn to Canton, now Guangzhou, China. Bill said the thrill of watching such an adventure had excited a huge world audience and hopefully a lot of his consumers.

When Cutter arrived in River Sunday, Jolly met him at the small airport. He introduced himself as the shipbuilder. He was a well-rounded short man with white hair, young in muscle and with the grin of a leprechaun. As they walked quickly to Jolly’s truck the little dynamo made it clear. “I told them I needed some bigger fists to get things moving. Your job, Jim, is to stand behind me, stare ‘em down, and spend Bill’s money. I’ll do the rest to make her sail.”

“Can do,” said Cutter right away. “I got a lot to learn about the boat. I’ve been studying the plans Bill sent me.”

Jolly smiled and replied, “First off, she likes to be called a brig. She’s temperamental and deserves respect like any lady. You’ll get used to her, don’t worry.”

It helped Cutter was as tough as the workers in the yard. When he arrived, the white craftsmen were complaining the minority workmen got more pay for less work. He negotiated an agreement. However, a few weeks later a couple of the carpenters insisted their white counterparts still received too much money. A firm glance from Cutter kept them on the job.

He was in his early fifties, tall with a round face, twinkling blue eyes, and curly hair that he got from his Irish mother. He saw humor in life and laughed often and heartily. Yet, he could look at a worker with a persuasive stare that would sell a used car to a used car salesman. Afterward, that same man would come out swearing to trust Cutter to have his back.

If Cutter had a weakness, it was an unbending willingness to choose his job over his family. His Army Ranger past made him like to win and not think about quitting. His former wife Rosa, before she divorced him and took away his young and only son, knew this well. She said he was similar to a general who, having won one war, looked forward to the next.

His attitude might be changing after all these years. Jolly picked up on this one evening when they were relaxing from work at the boatyard. Cutter’s son, Jamie, who he had not seen for ten years, had joined the Peregrine boat crew. Jolly said, in his amused way, “You know, boss, since your kid arrived in River Sunday, you’re almost a different guy.”

“Hell, Jolly, I didn’t even know Jamie was here. I had to find out from you guys in the boatyard. No skin off me.”

“I dunno, Boss. You’ve changed. Maybe you hustle a little easier on us around the yard.”

“I’m learning how to please you River Sunday folks.”

“It’s something more. You know Bill Johnson up in New York is all you got to make happy.”

Today the Peregrine was leaving for the voyage into the Atlantic to reach the official starting line. In a few days she would meet the other racers and begin her quest for the prize. Cutter took a moment to look down at the white peonies in the garden at the pier. They are as beautiful as the Peregrine, he thought. His mother had told him these flowers were originally from China. That was centuries ago when the plants were imported by the British gardeners. Cutter had grown up knowing about, of all things, flowers. It was his fascination to observe them wherever he was, able to touch blossoms gently with his strong hands. This time, though, he broke off his reverie. He looked up quickly and admired again the new ship, his creation, the pride of this little town.

Even from the distance Cutter heard the chants.


My Tommy’s gone on the Eastern Shore,

My Tommy’s gone and I’ll go too;

Hurrah, you high low,

For without Tommy I can’t do.

My Tommy’s gone a high low.

My Tommy’s gone to Baltimore,

My Tommy’s gone and I’ll go too;

Hurrah, you high low,

For without Tommy I can’t do.

My Tommy’s gone a high low.


“I bet you the chantey hasn’t been heard over these waters in maybe a hundred years,” said Jolly in a proud voice, standing next to him.

Cutter said, “I worry about us having sailed her only two shakedown cruises down the Bay.”

“We done what we could in the time we had, Jim. Besides, the Peregrine’s captain has her in line. He’s got coastal and Caribbean experience handling square-riggers. The other captains available had ocean time but only with single-mast boats.”

Cutter nodded. He agreed with Bill’s choice. He too wanted a man who could handle a brig where fore and aft cloth mixed with square sails. His two-masted brig was designed to be used for coastal sailing with the fore and aft sails. The square canvas was hoisted to get the air from behind in ocean trade winds. It took know-how to make it work.

Jolly added, “You can’t hide it, Jim. You’re worried about your boy, aren’t you?”

He could not fool Jolly. Cutter tried to hide his concern. The boy had become a part of his life again. He had not seen Jamie since his former wife took him away on a British flight from that dusty African town. Since then, the boy had lived in Argentina with his mother and her new husband.

Cutter answered, “One thing, he’s not afraid of climbing up high masts.”

“You got that right. He’s a natural born top man up in the spars,” replied Jolly. “The boy has no rust in him, just fresh steel and timber.”

Out in the harbor more sails were let go from yardarms and dropped to fill with wind. The crew adjusted the staysails and jibs to the early southeast breeze. The square cloth slapped and grew taut with the braces and sheet lines. As they provided thrust, the Peregrine, towering over the spectator boats, sailed ahead. The outward tide added speed. The ship’s wake became a white curl sliced upward by the curved sharp bow. The water raced along the black planks of the hull and out from the sides of the deep canted rudder.

She moved towards the Chesapeake, past the town’s famous rock pile rising like a tiny island in the harbor. The monument, constructed to honor the freed local slaves after the Civil War, would normally have been the center of attraction for tourists, but not today. All eyes were on this classic replica ship as it passed on its port and starboard sides the sleek late twentieth century ocean yachts. They were owned by observers from American, British, and French competitor teams, as well as many smaller weekend cruisers and sloops. Overhead, helicopters from Baltimore, photographing live video for the national and overseas news, droned like big searching bees looking over the strange white and black flower below.

In front of her a gray United States navy guided missile frigate was moored. Her ensign flew at the center masthead; a Sikorsky Seahawk helicopter warmed up on her deck. The Assateague, a 110-footer from the Coast Guard, also stood by. To her starboard, on shore, hundreds of white, tan, and black families were standing in the backyards of their houses, silent as the ship heeled and gathered speed. Next to them, craftsmen were clustered on the wooden and steel railway of the shipyard or the tarpaper-covered roof of the long white woodworking shed. Seamstresses who created the antique Peregrine cotton sails stood on the town pier, their faces glowing. Here also the local high school band belted out the state song “Maryland My Maryland.” With them a white-haired choir from the Flying Tigers World War Two veterans club sang in harmony. All in all, the birth of this ship was treated as a resurrection by the townspeople; a rebirth of their heritage.

Morning shadows from the taller brick buildings spread over Cutter and the other spectators. When the band stopped, they heard the commands of the mates and the continuing cracks of sails filling with wind. The sailors climbed aloft, letting go more cloth and shifting the great controlling lines that adjusted the yardarms.

“Good party on the Peregrine deck last night,” said Jolly.

Cutter nodded. “The town newspaper editor said it’s the best Goddamned thing that has ever happened to this town.”

He paused, then said, “You got us all set?”

Jolly leaned over and whispered, “The navigation people estimate her to log two hundred twenty nautical miles a day.” The little man looked around suspiciously at the other revelers, many of them competitors, here to learn Peregrine race secrets.

“Keep at it,” Cutter said. “We need all the speed we can get.”

At the party one of Bill’s advertising staffers had approached him. She was a twenty-something, dressed in an expensive suit and heels. Her leather computer briefcase hung with a wide strap over her slender shoulder. She laughed with excitement, saying, “Jim, you wouldn’t believe our web site. We’re selling thousands of little plastic boat models and all kinds of black tee shirts with falcons on them. We’re rock star viral on YouTube.”

The highlight was seeing his son with several of his fellow crewmen. The crew dressed, tanned and handsome, in the Peregrine black shirts and white trousers.

“We got the situation well in hand, Sir,” Jamie had said. He was a strong, tall man, with the fresh face of youth. His voice held a trace of the Spanish he had spoken most of his teenage years when living with his Argentine mother in Buenos Aires. His eyes showed respect, but his father could spot no signs of love.

“We’ll beat ‘em all,” a companion had yelled out, his red face contrasting with his long yellow hair as he hoisted his beer. Another crewperson, the ship’s cook, had her music pod booming the US Marine cadence of Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman.”

Below deck Cutter had smelled the new wood, the varnish, and the sweat of the crewmembers. A whale-oil lantern swung from a cross beam casting old-fashioned shadows.

He had moved around the thick mast in the center of the passage, the crew hammocks and storage on each side of him. He stopped and examined the wall planking. He looked closely at the frame timbers holding the planking. He remembered he had been told that the ship needed twice as many; that she was built too light for the pounding of ocean weather.

He remembered the continuous arguments while they were constructing the Peregrine. It was a choice between less weight, more speed, or more safety. The French competitor had more frames but it was a heavier boat.

Jolly had told him, “Don’t forget, the nineteenth century crews handled these flimsy hulls and got home.” He remembered though that this was the twenty-first century.

He traced a spot over his son’s hammock. That was the location of the waterline. The Peregrine was low in the water for speed. If she swamped with water in a storm, this whole area would flood quickly. His son might be sleeping here.

Above the hammock were pinned the following words:

“Use the wind. Do not let it use you.

Cutter smiled. So the boy remembered after all. He knew where that saying had come from.

Cutter’s mind returned quickly to the morning celebration around him. More music soared over the harbor. The band had shifted to its local version of the Star Spangled Banner, heavy with percussion. A young girl’s voice sang in a variety of keys among the drumbeats. The Flying Tigers serenaded with her. A large American flag which had been hand-sewn in the old manner by a group of women from the refrigerator division of Johnson Company bustled out from its halyard suspended off the massive spanker sail. Following that unfurling, at the mainmast the orange and black flag of Maryland was hoisted and began streaming backward. From the foremast, the triangle pennant of the nineteenth century tea company, Williams Trading of New York, now part of Bill’s company, was hauled up into place. The ancient yellow streamer, embossed with a constellation of small blue stars, stretched far out to starboard in the breeze. It had been personally delivered by a lively white-haired descendent, who waved from the pier, cheering like a teenager.

As he scanned the flotilla, Cutter spotted a long green yacht with no one on deck. He motioned to Jolly. “That boat is still here.”

Jolly nodded as his constant grin left his face. They both knew the silent ocean cruiser had been anchored in the harbor for a week.

About the time that yacht arrived, one of Jolly’s workmen had fallen from the Peregrine foremast while doing last minute adjustments. He was killed and police had not ruled out foul play. A bearded stranger seen in the yard was still being sought for questioning.

Cutter yelled in the direction of the yacht, “Your dirty tricks haven’t stopped us yet, you bastard.”

At this moment the horns of the various yachts began a chorus to honor the brig. The sonorous foghorns of the larger ships out in the Bay answered these. The noise deafened, like a Fourth of July but without fireworks.

Jolly said, his voice raised over the din, “Can’t beat the sendoff.”

Cutter nodded. The brig rounded the last point of the harbor heading south into the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic. Soon over the far dark ridges of loblolly pine trees appeared only the flags and pennant at the tips of the raked masts. He snapped a former Ranger salute to his son, Jamie, and to his son’s young and enthusiastic shipmates. He hoped the Peregrine and its crew found the luck they needed. He prayed he’d meet all hands in China, still fresh and proud.



“Come on,” said Jolly. “New York called again. The jet is warming at the town airport.”

CHINA JEWEL: Modern tall ships sail to China amid evil and treachery #MYSTERY#thriller#sea

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