This blog focuses on a small niche in the language services market, namely the adaptation between French and English (and to some extent other language pairs) of technical journalism for clients who seek to influence a clearly definied readership. Typical projects include website localisation, press releases and technical articles designed to shape opinions rather than simply inform. My blog is also a repository for occasional items of interest to translators and linguists in general.
02 July 2017
Here is my translation*.
by François Bellec
Signal flags and pennants were run up to the mast-tops enjoining
all vessels to make ready to sail and heave their anchor cables to short stay. After
checking the acknowledgements indicating that all were ready, the board of dignitaries
on the flagship countersigned the order to depart. Seconds later, the decks were
swarming with sailors. The Master jumped down from the aftercastle then stood above
but a couple of paces back from the Captain, dom Afonso de Noronha, and Viceroy
who had closed ranks without exchanging a word. From here the Master was within
easy hailing distance of his men.
The signal to make ready to sail had stirred the fleet and
lifted spirits both on deck and in the rigging as the crew hoisted signals
repeating the Captain-General’s orders. Church bells across the city began pealing
loudly but were soon drowned out on deck by the bell on the forecastle
breastwork. Trumpets, shawms, sackbuts, recorders, cornetts, cymbals and drums
helped give a relatively common event for a sailor an air of festive, even historic,
After going through the motions of a formal exchange with the Captain-General
and Captain, the Master piped for the crew’s attention then cupped his hands
– Loose the foresail!
On hearing the order repeated on the Master’s mate’s whistle,
the foremast topmen unfurled the foresail. Flapping gently against the mast, it
hung from the yard with the cross of the Order of Christ spread out wide. Held
by her anchor but feeling both the ebbing tide and the north-easterly, the
carrack rolled gently from side to side, her foresail filled but backed, her
bow to the city and her stern to the Atlantic as if reluctant to leave. François,
acutely aware of the challenge to come, particularly for a vessel ten times
bigger than anything he had ever known, wondered just how the Master planned to
swing her bow to the open sea. The rest of the fleet had been swung around, bow
to sea, by their boats aided by the morning flood tide. They were thus ready to
set sail just a soon as the flagship had shown the way. Bastião Cordeiro, the
flagship’s Master, had st himself a task and a half. Supremely confident, he had
obviously thought hard about his daring but pointless manoeuver for the pure pleasure
of it and for the sheer bravura of offering Portugal’s Viceroy of India a majestic
departure. With the entire fleet ready to sail, every sailor watched the
flagship intently as they awaited the audacious manoeuver.
– Heave the anchor to short stay!
Under the forecastle, sailors impatient after the long
wait strained at the capstan to the tempo of a shanty and the click of the pawl
on the ratchet ready to prevent the drum from unwinding. Chests and arms on the
bars, they began to haul on the anchor heavy cable – thick as a man’s thigh – and
warp the carrack against the tidal stream. Taut under the strain, the cable
dripped wrung water and reeked of tar and sludge. After a few minutes that felt
like hours, the Master’s mate, hanging from a foremast shroud, swung out over
the Tagus to check that the anchor was straight up and down. With a blast of
his whistle and a wave of his arm, he stopped the capstan then went astern to
– Anchor apeak!
– Brace the foresail to starboard! Loose the sprit-sail! Weigh
The men on the capstan bars strained harder than ever to break
out the enormous cast-iron anchor, its flukes deep in the riverbed as if
hanging on desperately to the Portuguese mainland. Finally, up she came. Dark,
shiny and dripping, like the skeleton of some sea monster.
– Anchor up!
– Cat the anchor! Helm hard to starboard!
The order was relayed through the hatchway to the helmsmen
under the quarterdeck. Heaving hand-over-hand on the helm tackle, they forced the
tiller and rudder hard over to the starboard stops.
Responding gently to the tidal stream, Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo began to
make way astern while turning slowly upon herself to larboard under the
combined action of the breeze forward – the foresail had filled while the small
sprit-sail under the bowsprit backed – and the rudder’s resistance. François
explained to his companion that it looked as though the ship would come to a
standstill when perpendicular to the wind, with no hope of completing the
intended turn given the hull’s size and windage and that she was making no
– So …?
– Well, either they drop an anchor or we run aground.
– Is this the way it’s usually done? It seems very
complicated doesn’t it?
Several sailors were busy securing the great bower to the
starboard cathead, well aware that if ever it were to shift as the ship rolled
with the first swells on leaving the channel, the moving mass of iron could wreak
– Loose the main-sail!
The brails loosed, the passengers below were startled by a
great whooshing and flapping as the unfurling canvas billowed and filled
fitfully. The huge red cross of the Order of Christ spread out as if
challenging the forces of evil hampering the sail’s smooth filling as it fought
the blustering wind and flung rigging and blocks in a crazy dance punctuated by
Suddenly, as if there had been a quick change of scene,
the carrack stood magnificent under the intensely blue sky with a scattering of
small cumulus presaging fine weather. Like a bold monument to discoverers and
the glory of Portugal. Leaning toward the open hatch at his feet, the Master gave
an order that nobody heard, but which resulted in a large splash aft and a
shudder under foot. A few seconds later, the ship heeled to starboard then began
to make way astern, a motion that both surprised and unsteadied many of the
onlookers. As the kedge anchor that had just been cast from the stern took hold
and its cable took the strain, the carrack lost way astern. The passengers’
view of the world now began to turn as if by enchantment.
– Harden up the foresail! Brace the mainsail to larboard
and fill! Helm amidships!
To the tempo of the Master gunner’s strident whistle, the deck
hands hauled feverishly on the tackles to brace the mainyard. The main sheets being
one of the gunner’s responsibilities, he had one of the four petty officers’ pipes
on deck. To the measure of the yeoman’s pipe and aided by several of the ship’s
boys, other sailors hauled hand over hand on the sheet tackles to fill the
mainsail. The ship began to speak, as pleasant to the sailor’s ears as a babe’s
babbling to its mother’s. The forces of evil having, it would appear, yielded,
the enormous sail suddenly filled with a clap. And just as suddenly, all went
quiet aloft. The moment he felt that the heading was right and the sails in
hand, the Master shouted down the hatch:
– Let the kedge anchor go!
Cut clean with an axe, the cable shot through the hawsehole
then whipped through the air, leaving the kedge anchor in the Tagus mud. A cork
buoy bobbed on its pendant indicating the spot in the ship’s wake where a
shipyard barge would later recover the precious item of crown property. The
signal flags were hauled down, indicating to the other vessels they should
weigh anchor in order of precedence according to their Captain’s rank.
– Hoist the fore topsail!
Impatient after the long wait, the topmen shot up the foremast
shrouds while the mainmast topmen stood ready at the foot of theirs. When the
carrack had gathered sufficient headway, the Master fine-tuned his pyramid of canvas,
adding a couple of Order of Christ crosses to the skyscape. Since Prince Henry
the Navigator’s time, the blood-red crosses on raw canvas symbolised the
country’s Christian faith and the Order’s moral authority over the discoveries.
They also evoked Henry’s critical role in funding expeditions when Portugal was
still a poor cousin, which is to say before it became the richest country in
the world and foreign courts referred to Manuel I, with bitter envy, as the ‘pepper
– Hoist the maintopsail! Loose the mizzen!
The lateen mizzen-mast sail unfurled then filled with a
clap like a musket shot that startled the dignitaries on the aftercastle, including
those who were just beginning to feel as though they were getting their sea
The Master crossed himself then handed over to the Tagus Pilot.
On a broad reach and under full sail, with the rest of the fleet in her wake, Nossa Senhora do Monte do Carmo was
ready to work through the channel. The Master’s authority, the arcane skill
that enabled him to drive the huge carrack where he wanted, to have her respond
to his voice like a well-trained horse, had charmed the onlookers one and all.
Suddenly, François bellowed “Bravo!” and the crowd responded with applause,
laughter and lively conversation. On the quarterdeck, the Viceroy himself wiped
the furrows from his brow and applauded elegantly, the Captain following suit
with compliments and courtiers accompanying them with applause. Resenting the
tributes to the rough Master’s skill, the High Seas Pilot-General went below
before the manoeuvre had been completed, a worried scowl on his face.
words. EN: 1,573 words.
The original is entitled L’arbre de nuit, literally ‘the tree of
night’. This appears to correspond to what is now called night blooming jasmine
(Cestrum nocturnum) or possibly Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac). The version proposed
here is simply a working title.
* My thanks to Graham Cross who, in addition to being both an eminent translator and an experienced sailor, has sailed on a modern replica or a carrack