Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars

Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars

by Jay Worrall


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, October 22


“Inspired by the salty tales of seasoned maritime novelists C. S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian, [Worrall] delicately balances action and adventure with introspection. . . . Fans of seafaring military sagas will welcome [Sails on the Horizon].”—Booklist

The year is 1797. Napoleon Buonaparte is racking up impressive wins in the field against the enemies of revolutionary France, while on the seas England is putting up a staunch resistance. Twenty-five-year-old Charles Edgemont is second lieutenant aboard the British ship Argonaut. When orders come for the Argonaut to engage in an all-but-suicidal maneuver to prevent the escape of Spanish ships off the coast of Portugal, he leads his gun crews bravely—until the deaths of the captain and first lieutenant elevate him to commander.

For refusing to yield to enemy fire, Charles is permanently promoted and generously rewarded by the Admiralty, becoming wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. Yet upon his return home, his newfound riches prove no help when it comes to winning the heart of Penelope Brown, who regards war as sinful and soldiers as little better than murderers. Changing Penelope’s mind may just be the hardest battle Charles has ever fought—at least until fresh orders send him back to sea, where he faces a formidable adversary in a series of stirring battles of will and might.

“Well executed . . . demonstrating Worrall’s expertise in ship and sea warfare history . . . Readers will root for [Charles Edgemont]. . . . He handily defeats veteran seamen, takes enormous chances and is always rewarded.”—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345476487
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/11/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 606,969
Product dimensions: 5.22(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Born a Quaker into a military family, JAY WORRALL grew up in a number of countries around the world. During the Vietnam War he worked with refugees in the central highlands of that country, and afterward he taught English in Japan. Worrall has worked in developing innovative and humane prison programs, policies, and administration. He is married and the very proud father of five sons, and he currently lives and works in Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt


St. Valentine's Day, 1797

Eight leagues southwest of Cape St. Vincent, Portugal

"The f-flagship's signaling again, sir. 'engage the enemy,' I think it says." The adolescent midshipman stood in an oversized jacket and flapping trousers at the top of the forward ladderway, squinting into the distance along the line of British warships, each laboring more or less one cable's length behind the other, pointed toward a gap between two large Spanish squadrons. He fairly danced with excitement.

"Thank you, Mr. Bowles. You may come down now," said Charles Edgemont, the second lieutenant aboard His Britannic Majesty's sixty-four-gun ship of the line Argonaut. At twenty-five, Edgemont's career in the navy had already spanned thirteen years, seven as a midshipman himself and six as a commission officer. His responsibility with the ship at quarters was the upper gundeck and its twenty-eight brightly painted black twelve-pounder cannon, neatly aligned on their carriages, fourteen to a side. The smallish and outdated Argonaut, captained by Sir Edward Wood, had taken her position as the last in the nearly mile-long fifteen-ship English line. Charles had watched as the fleet arranged itself into formation earlier in the morning and knew the order of battle. Leading the van was Culloden, seventy-four guns, under Captain Thomas Troubridge, and then the Blenheim and the Prince George, both grand ninety-eights. The flagship, Victory, with its hundred guns and Admiral Sir John Jervis, took station seventh in the line, near the center. The fleet sailed on an easy gray sea, through intermittent gray mist, under gray skies with a chill wind blowing steadily if moderately from the west. The Argonaut's crew had long since been ordered to quarters, the sails shortened, the topgallant masts struck down, and the courses brailed up in preparation for battle. Sand had been scattered on the wetted decks to improve footing and reduce the chance of fire. The guns were charged, double-shotted, primed, and run out, each of their six-man crews standing anxiously beside them.

"My G-God, there's a lot of 'em," Bowles reported, his voice breaking. "There must be near a score in the group awindward. T'other bunch alee ain't but about half that large." Billy Bowles was fourteen, a pimply youth with sallow skin and unruly hair, assigned to the gundeck. Charles had taken a liking to the boy but thought him too tender for a life in the navy. He was easily bullied by his messmates in the gun room and Charles had come across him bruised and reduced to tears more than once. "The Culloden's almost up to them," the boy bubbled on. "Can't be more than a mile and a half afar."

"Come down from that ladder and take your station," Charles said. "We'll be up to them soon enough."

"I see a four-decker, sir, and a bunch of three-deckers! Oh, my God."

Exasperated, Charles jumped to the ladderway and grabbed the apparently deaf midshipman by the back of his coat. "Look, the flagship's signaling again," the boy squealed. Charles looked down the line of ships until he saw the signal flags on Victory's halyards, repeated by the frigate Niger standing to windward: "Admiral intends to pass through enemy line." At the same moment he saw clouds of smoke erupt from the sides of the nearest Spanish warships, answered immediately by a broadside from Culloden. A moment later, the sounds of the great guns rumbled like distant thunder. "Get to your station," he said to the boy, pulling him down the ladderway. "You can watch through a gunport."

The roll of cannon fire slowly grew louder and more intense as the British line engaged the Spanish fleet in sequence and larger numbers from both sides became involved. It had been cold and foggy earlier in the morning and Charles had pulled on a woolen sweater under his uniform coat. Now he felt beads of clammy sweat under his arms. He began nervously drumming his fingers against his trouser leg. It came to him that, despite the span of time he had spent in the navy, he had never seen one of the great guns fired in anger. Through years of training and practice he knew well the mechanics of their operation, the bellowing roar so loud it could make the crew's ears bleed, and the recoil as the brutes leapt inward on screaming trucks with ample force to crush anyone in their way until jerked to an abrupt halt against their breechings. He had been told by others who had survived major fleet actions off Toulon or the Saints or on the Glorious First of June of the giddy jubilation that went with delivering a deafening broadside into an opponent and the horror of receiving the full weight of a well-delivered salvo. But by accident or fate or design, the Argonaut had not been present at those battles and Charles had not experienced it.

And now he would. He wondered how he would react. Some men, he had heard, rose in stature and determination as the world exploded around them in the din of battle. Others became paralyzed, unable to function, their only thought to protect themselves. The former were heroes, the latter cowards. It was as simple as that; everyone said so. He remembered—it had been hammered into him repeatedly at every level of his naval career—that, as an officer and a gentleman, it was his responsibility to set an example of coolness and courage before the men he commanded. He forced himself to stop rapping his fingers against his leg, deliberately rested one hand on his sword hilt, placed the other behind his back, and stood as apparently relaxed and indifferent to the approaching battle as he was able to manage.

"Silence, there," he snapped at a gun crew, some of whose members were clustered around a port, staring at the Spanish fleet and talking excitedly among themselves. "All of you, stand by your guns." Charles didn't really see anything wrong with the men looking through the gunports and discussing the oncoming battle, but Captain Wood would reprimand him sharply if he noticed any lack of discipline among the men under his charge. Charles had been reprimanded for apparent lack of smartness among his men before.

The devil of it was that he couldn't see what was happening. He caught occasional glimpses of Spanish warships through the forward gunports, including what he thought was the gigantic flagship, Santissima Trinidad, with 130 guns on four decks, the largest ship in the world. The now almost incessant cannon fire had grown decidedly louder, more immediately threatening, and a hint of spent gunpowder tainted the air. It was maddening not to be able to see anything of the progress of the battle, the positions of the fleets, or what damage had been done. He didn't want to climb the ladder to the upper deck; that would invite a rebuke from the captain for displaying undue curiosity and leaving his post. He also didn't want to gawk through a porthole like a common landsman.

"Mr. Bowles," he shouted.

"A-aye aye, sir," came a voice from close behind him.

"Mr. Bowles, get back up the forward ladderway and tell me what you see."

"Aye aye," the boy answered and cheerfully scurried away. After a moment he called down, "The Culloden's almost through their line, sir. The Victory and the Egmont are just coming into range. There's still a ways afore us."

"Do you see any damage?"

Bowles paused before answering. "Hard to say, sir. There's s-so much s-s-smoke. Seems most everybody's masts are still standing, though."

"What are the Spaniards doing?"

"The bigger group, the one to windward, is sort of sliding to the north like. If they can, I think they'll run with the wind back to Spain. Can't tell what t'other bunch are doing. Kind of circling about, tacking like."

"Thank you, Mr. Bowles. Let me know if anything important happens." Of their own accord, Charles's fingers resumed their nervous tamping against his thigh.

A cheer broke out on the upper deck and was quickly shouted down by cries of "Silence, there," from one officer or another.

"A dago's lost a mast, I think," came Bowles's voice. "Culloden has hoisted a signal . . . 'Acknowledge,' I think."

"Acknowledge what?" Charles asked.

"Oh, I see," Bowles said after a pause. "The admiral telegraphed for Culloden to tack and come back at the Spanish. Only Culloden acknowledged and came about afore the flagship signaled. We're all supposed to tack in s-s-succession when we get through the Spanish line, it says."

Charles longed to climb the ladder and see with his own eyes, but he contented himself with asking, "How long till we're in range?"

"Culloden's around, and Blenheim and Prince George. There goes Orion. About two more ships and we'll be up to the first. Right after Captain and Excellent. Wait!" Bowles squealed with excitement. "The Spaniards, the smaller group what was milling about, they've all come up to where our boys were turning. They've shot some yards off Colossus's foremast! Her head won't swing. Orion's backed and covering her. Oh, my God! Here comes Victory. Oh, such a broadside she just gave. . . . "

"Lieutenant Edgemont!" the first lieutenant's voice boomed down from the quarterdeck. "A Spanish warship's approaching to starboard. You may fire as your guns bear."

"Aye aye, sir," Charles called back. At last he would be tried in battle. "Starboard guns, aim true for the waterline," he yelled to the captains of his gun crews. "Prepare to fire on my command." His spine tingled with anticipation and he felt sweat on his palms.He was about to be in battle, a real battle. At the forewardmost cannon he knelt down and peered along the thick black barrel out the gunport. Almost immediately the Spanish seventy-four, with all sails set and gloriously ornamented with red-and-gold paint, sailed into view on the opposite tack. She had already been considerably knocked about; she had several parted stays, holes in her courses, and her hull was scarred. As soon as he was satisfied that the gun would hit her he jumped back and shouted, "Fire!" a little louder than strictly necessary. The gun captain yanked on his lanyard. Instantly the cannon erupted with a thunderous bang and leapt backward against its restraining tackle. Since they were firing to windward, the smoke billowed back into the gunport, momentarily obscuring any view. Charles knelt by the second gun, stepped back, and again barked, "Fire!" At the same time he heard and felt the larger twenty-four-pounder cannon on the lower gundeck explode in a single broadside, heeling the ship with their recoil. The two ships were passing a good deal faster than he had anticipated, so he yelled, "Fire as you bear!" The remainder of his starboard cannon crashed inward as one, the wind filling the gundeck with the acrid smoke of burnt gunpowder, shrouding everything. As the air cleared, Charles saw that the Spaniard was now well astern and beyond the traverse of his guns. She had suffered little if any additional damage that he could detect. He let out a deep breath and was about to congratulate himself on his coolness under fire when he realized that his target had not discharged a gun in her haste to escape.

"Worm and sponge out," he ordered in an almost disappointed tone. "Load with cartridge. Load with shot and wad your shot." He continued the sequence of cleaning and charging the cannon, mechanically ending with, "Put in tompkins. House your guns. Secure your guns."

Where was the rest of the Spanish fleet? Despite the risk to his dignity, Charles knelt by a starboard gunport and peered out. The larger body to windward sailed briskly northward out of cannon range. A glance to larboard told a similar story. The smaller squadron—he counted eight ships of the line—was tacking across the rear of the British line, where they could rejoin their sister ships. Charles searched in vain to starboard and port for the other British warships. They had to be more or less dead ahead or still in the process of turning. He tried to figure how the fleet, still tacking into the wind in succession, well beyond the rapidly departing Spanish, would be able to reform and engage before the enemy could unite to form a unified line of battle or, more probably, flee safely back to Cadiz.

He had almost decided that the enemy was bound to escape, that Jervis's fleet could not possibly come about in time, when he heard the shouted order "All hands to wear ship" from the quarterdeck and the sounds of pounding feet as sailors rushed to the shrouds and braces. He looked at the young midshipman still standing near the top of the ladderway. "What the hell's going on, Bowles?"

"We've gotten a s-s-s-signal from the flagship," the boy answered shakily, his complexion a deathly white. "Our number. J-just our number. We're to wear and engage the enemy more c-c-closely."

Charles's mouth worked for a moment but no sound came out, certainly not a coherent question he could ask Bowles that would explain what he wanted to know. He bounded for the ladderway to see for himself. It immediately became clear. The main body of the Spanish fleet was already well to the north and clear of the British line. Very soon they would turn to the east, and, with the wind behind them, collect the smaller squadron to make all haste for Spain, escaping virtually intact. The Argonaut had already turned and he saw that she was now on a course to cross just in front of the main body. He looked desperately around for the rest of the British warships. The Culloden, Blenheim, Prince George, and the rest of the British van that had already tacked were adding sail after sail in pursuit of the Spanish rear. Others, which had been toward the rear of the British line, Excellent and Captain among them, had worn after Argonaut in response to a second, general signal from Victory to "Engage the enemy more closely," which still flew. None of them would reach the Argonaut anywhere near in time to support her in what she alone was in position to do: Stop or at least delay a Spanish squadron of perhaps a dozen and a half heavy men of war.

"We're the only ones who can reach 'em, you see, sir," said Bowles's small voice beside him.

"Yes." Charles almost swallowed the word. His eyes grew wide as he studied the onrushing mass of two- and three-decked warships, with the immense Santissima Trinidad somewhere near the center. All of them were larger and more heavily armed than the Argonaut—many were much larger and much more heavily armed. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder and felt him shaking. "It will be all right if we just do our jobs," he said gently, well aware that there was no truth in it.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Sails on the Horizon: A Novel of the Napoleonic Wars 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished Mr. Worrall's first and I hope many more to come in this series. I just wish this series was as long as other authors on this topic ala Drinkwater, Hornblower, etc. I'm starting the second in the series and hoping a third is in the wings. The relationship between two opposite upbringings adds an interesting subline. This book had a very easy flow and has me wishing for more.
byroade on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is naval adventure in the mode of C.F. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels. If you like that sort of thing, you'll like it, if not, you may not. With that said, Worrall writes well and fluidly. His naval battles are intelligible, his characters drawn well, and his style is easy.Charles Edgemont, a young naval officer, finds himself thrust into the role of hero after his Captain and first lieutenant are killed in battle. Edgemont receives a battlefield promotion for surviving the carnage and his given his own command. When home he meets a lovely young neighbor, a Quaker, and falls immediately in love. She returns his affection but objects to his career. Will Charlie be able to prove himself an effective Captain? Will he win the hand of his one true love? Lively naval adventure, sympathetic characters, a strong woman, and some unusual themes for this type of novel strengthen this strong debut.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book to read! Hopefully the next book will flood up where this one ends and continues the saga of the Louisa and her crew
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LMHTWB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sails on the Horizon begins with the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, 1797, during the Napoleonic War. The main character Charles Edgemont is both promoted from lieutenant to commander of the small frigate HMS Louisa and made a wealthy man by his actions during this battle. When he returns home while waiting for his ship to be readied, he meets a young Quaker woman Penelope Brown and falls in love with her. Edgemont must return to his ship and face the task of training new recruits (mostly landlubbers) into fighting sailors.Overall, the story was well-paced with nicely developed characters. The inclusion of Quaker views and Penelope's difficulty with Charles' profession was an interesting twist. Unlike some Napoleonic naval novels, this book kept the naval jargon minimal so those not familiar with vanges or jib-booms could enjoy the story. Likewise, with the exception of Penelope's use of "thee" or "thy", the dialog was simple, without much attempt to reproduce various English dialects.On the downside, the author switches from points-of-view in several passages and leaves the reader wondering who this pertains to. Also, some of the characters and their relationships could easily have been expanded, such as between Edgemont and his First Lieutenant Bevan.On a personal pet-peeve note: I wish Worrall had left out the tiny section when Horatio Hornblower makes an appearance. It was cute to include, but it served no real purpose in the story and actually detracted from the story.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are three novels on a list of recommended historical fiction I've been working through that deal with the exploits of British Naval captains during the Napoleonic Wars. Two are rather celebrated. CS Forester's Mr Midshipman Hornblower is the first of the classic Horatio Hornblower series. I've loved those books since my teens, and all of those novels are on my bookshelf. Horatio Hornblower, as a lieutenant, even has a brief cameo in Sails on the Horizon. Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander is the first of the Aubrey/Maturin series on which the Russel Crowe film of that title was based upon, and I did enjoy it and intend to read further in that series. Placed beside those two, Worrall's book seems a rather weak sibling. The Hornblower tales are remarkable in pace, plot, and a character that is the Sherlock Holmes of nautical fiction: clever, brilliant, honorable and the inspiration for many incarnations, from Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army in the Napoleonic era, to David Weber's space opera heroine Honor Harrington. Unlike those other examples, I don't feel Worrall does enough to distinguish his work from Forster and O'Brian. Worrall's prose is at best pedestrian, and he certainly doesn't attempt a period style or tone such as O'Brian's novels. The captain and protagonist, Charles Edgemont, is fairly likeable but next to Hornblower and Aubrey seems to me bland. Worrall, unlike Forster or O'Brian, isn't British but an American, which makes me rather feel Worrall missed an opportunity to distinguish his series by say, setting it in the American Navy instead. Worrall's background does figure in the novel in another way. The biographical note states he was "[b]orn a Quaker into a military family." Charles' love interest, Penny Brown, is a Quaker, and the famous pacifistic beliefs of that sect do play into his courtship--romance certainly figures a lot more into this book than it does in all but one of the Hornblower books or the O'Brian book I read. But I don't feel that aspect rose above routine. I do love nautical tales and found this one entertaining, but this first book certainly doesn't leave me in a hurry to look up the rest--especially with over a dozen of O'Brian's to try on my long to-read list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Similar to many other British naval stories with a human twist
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think we have found a worthy successor to the acknowledged master and originator of the genre of historical sailing adventure stories, C. S. Forrester! I couldn't put this book down, as it was every bit as fun to read as any of the Horatio Hornby owe series of books. The breath of knowledge of life in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars that the author displays is on the same level with that of Forrester's. I would dare anyone to read this and not be constantly mindful of the similarities to Forrester's style of writing .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An enjoyable read. The inclusion of the Quaker characters adds a new dimension to the picture of British life. I look forward to more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was written and proof the author can make historical fiction come to the lively excitement this history deserves. Outstanding work by the author and a must read to understand and gain insite into the British mindset that was active during our countries formation and why the quakers won over so many to their way of life in Colonial New England.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once in a great while, an event transpires that reshapes the way we look at life. An event that mankind a little wiser, a little less naive. Cataclysmic events, like the toppling of the Berlin Wall or the invention of the automobile. The publishing of Sails on the Horizon doesn't even hold a candle to these events, but because my father wrote the book, it does represent a significant moment in my life, like the birth of my own son, or watching Super Bowl XXVII. Despite what you may be thinking, I *HAVE* read the book, and to be quite honest, I liked it. I thought it was well thought through, that it got to the point and didn't dawdle about too much (which I'm sure came as a suprise to anyone who has ever listened to my father *tell* a story). When judging a story in this genre, people tend to put a lot of weight behind the accuracy of the account of life at sea. This is very important to readers of these sorts of books, and some readers are very eager indeed to argue about whether the fo'c's'le (forecastle) is a section of a ship or a sort of window, whereas more astute readers understand that the more proper argument regards the amount of literary arrogance it takes to continue to replace four letters with three apostrophes in the word 'fo'c's'le'. Nonetheless, I think Dad did a close enough job in the 'life asea' accuracy department. To my knowledge, nobody who was actually aboard any ships back then has written in to complain. In summary, I give the book 'Five Starboards!' because it's the only pun I could come up with on short notice. Buying anywhere from one to sixteen copies of this book would be well worth the effort it took you to get to the end of this review.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read all the 'Master and Commander' series and had fervently wished Mr. O'Brian lived to finish the series. Some of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. Mr. Worrall couldn't take over Mr. O'Brian's command but he'd make a fine lieutenant and should feel welcome in O'Brian's wardroom. I look forward to reading the books that follow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I waited for this to come out for about a month and I was not disappointed at all. This is truly a great book and a realistic story. The details and the knowledge the author projects makes this worthwhile and a fun read. Highly recommended. Can't wait to the next installment.