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Thread: A book recommendation - Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

  1. #1

    Default A book recommendation - Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century

    Hey Fellow Sailing Enthusiasts!

    I've been re-reading, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century by Sam Willis and had to mention it here (I did a write up many years ago on this book, before the forums got all messed up). This is a small book, yet packed with awesome information, much of which I've not seen elsewhere. It's still the most informative book I've read on actual fighting and sailing techniques used in battle. There are plenty of other books out there that go deep into other aspects of the period, be it ship design, sailing and rigging, accounts of specific battles and fates of vessels, but this one book take you through all the key elements of an engagement, from sails on the horizon, to repairing damage post battle.

    This one book (at only 171 pages of main text) packs more information on HOW engagements actually happened and were fought than any book I've read to date. For example, it covers such things as - how did captains identify enemy ships, what were the techniques they used? How were chases actually conducted when one ship wanted to engage, the other wanted to run? How did captains size up enemy vessels, both in terms of their sailing ability and firepower to help prepare for battle? How was station keeping actually accomplished within a squadron? How did ships effectively communicate with each other and squadron/fleet commanders keep control of a large number of vessels?

    The other great thing about this book is it's only ~$32 from Amazon. I'm honestly thinking of buying another one, in the event it goes out of print someday - just to have another copy.

    If you have any interest in getting a sense of what it was like to play the game of cat and mouse on the high seas during this period, this would be it!

  2. #2
    Admiral of the Blue.
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    Thanks for bringing this book to our attention again Ryan.
    I'm sure that a lot of our new shipmates will be unaware of it as was I.
    Rob.
    The Business of the commander-in-chief is first to bring an enemy fleet to battle on the most advantageous terms to himself, (I mean that of laying his ships close on board the enemy, as expeditiously as possible); and secondly to continue them there until the business is decided.

  3. #3
    Master & Commander
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Mad Hatter View Post
    Hey Fellow Sailing Enthusiasts!

    I've been re-reading, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century by Sam Willis and had to mention it here (I did a write up many years ago on this book, before the forums got all messed up). This is a small book, yet packed with awesome information, much of which I've not seen elsewhere. It's still the most informative book I've read on actual fighting and sailing techniques used in battle. There are plenty of other books out there that go deep into other aspects of the period, be it ship design, sailing and rigging, accounts of specific battles and fates of vessels, but this one book take you through all the key elements of an engagement, from sails on the horizon, to repairing damage post battle.

    This one book (at only 171 pages of main text) packs more information on HOW engagements actually happened and were fought than any book I've read to date. For example, it covers such things as - how did captains identify enemy ships, what were the techniques they used? How were chases actually conducted when one ship wanted to engage, the other wanted to run? How did captains size up enemy vessels, both in terms of their sailing ability and firepower to help prepare for battle? How was station keeping actually accomplished within a squadron? How did ships effectively communicate with each other and squadron/fleet commanders keep control of a large number of vessels?

    The other great thing about this book is it's only ~$32 from Amazon. I'm honestly thinking of buying another one, in the event it goes out of print someday - just to have another copy.

    If you have any interest in getting a sense of what it was like to play the game of cat and mouse on the high seas during this period, this would be it!
    I agree with Ryan. I own a copy of this densely packed book as well. Excellent chapters on chase and escape, fighting tactics, the weather gage. Plus 1 from me on recommendations for related readings that will get you excited for the next time you hit the tabletop high seas.

  4. #4
    Admiral of the Blue.
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    On your recommendation, I have just ordered one from Amazon.
    Rob.
    The Business of the commander-in-chief is first to bring an enemy fleet to battle on the most advantageous terms to himself, (I mean that of laying his ships close on board the enemy, as expeditiously as possible); and secondly to continue them there until the business is decided.

  5. #5

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    Doubt you'll be disappointed Rob! Would love to hear what you think once you get into it.

  6. #6
    Admiral of the Blue.
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    I daresay you will hear all about my deliberations in due course Ryan.
    Rob.
    The Business of the commander-in-chief is first to bring an enemy fleet to battle on the most advantageous terms to himself, (I mean that of laying his ships close on board the enemy, as expeditiously as possible); and secondly to continue them there until the business is decided.

  7. #7
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    Sounds good will have to get a copy, soon

  8. #8
    Admiral of the Blue.
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    Arrived today, and glancing through it I already know three new facts, and have another one explained far better than ever before. Also a great sketch of what the clearing of the cabin screens really means on the gundeck.
    It seems to live up to your recommendations chaps. The next naval novel I read, and it will be by my elbow as a reference.

    Rob.
    The Business of the commander-in-chief is first to bring an enemy fleet to battle on the most advantageous terms to himself, (I mean that of laying his ships close on board the enemy, as expeditiously as possible); and secondly to continue them there until the business is decided.

  9. #9

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    Some of the facts I found fascinating were, the small ship details that captains used in identifying a French vs English ship at distance. How a captain would stand on certain decks of his ship and look at enemy vessels to see if he could see the horizon or not, to better understand the height of an enemy ship and if she could easily be boarded. How frigates, used for scouting, actually used their sails in an up down fashion to identify sporting enemy ships and how many. How captains would watch enemy crews work insailing their ship to get a sense of how "skilled" the crews were. How a captain could look for certain characteristics in how enemy ships sailed to identify their sailing capabilities once combat started. The whole thing on using sails as a signaling method was in general interesting..... there are more good nuggets of info in this book than any other.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for the tip regarding this book, after looking at a preview version online and reading a few reviews I ended up ordering a copy for myself and another for a friend. Seems like a fascinating book, and I'm looking forward to the read!

  11. #11
    Midshipman
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    Just ordered one myself as well!

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