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Thread: The Bomb and the Lugger

  1. #1
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    Default The Bomb and the Lugger

    British – 1 mortar ketch

    French – 1 chasse maree

    These miniatures were made from the SoG Swan and Alligator miniatures. The rules are of my own creating, inspired by SoG and Post Captain.

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    Only one sail dotted the horizon, and it was the wrong one. Lieutenant, recently become Commander, and thusly Captain Philip Ambercrombe, of His Majesty’s mortar ketch Meteor, surveyed the rest of his immediate world. To windward lay the one sail, tanbark and hull down. To leeward stretched the French coast. The previous evening hadn’t brought much of a storm, but its passing had scudded the escorting brig completely over the horizon to windward while Philip’s ungainly command had sagged off to leeward. Now, on a lee shore as the new day had dawned, there had been a moment of hopefulness with the lookout’s cry of “Sail ho!”, but it had quickly become apparent that the sail in question was not square rigged. Instead, the yards were set at the jaunty angle of a French lugger. As an affirmation, it wasn’t too long before the rusty hue of the lugger’s traditional tanbark color could also be made out. It was too much to hope that the approaching lugger was a fisherman. Instead, it was more than likely the privateer Agilité, that had been troubling these waters. Philip turned to his midshipman peering over the halfdeck at the stranger. “Mr Elwin, in my cabin you will find a bound document. Please weight it with some grapeshot and bring it to me here on the quarterdeck.” The sealed orders, meant to be opened a mere 10 minutes of latitude farther south, might remain a mystery forever if things went poorly today.

    Philip’s gaze swept the waist of his small command. His meager crew had almost finished clearing for action. The 4 pounders were ready for business and the bronze mortars sat tidily stowed on their mounts. Intended for bombardment of a stationary target while the ketch herself was stationary, the mortars would be useless in the oncoming clash. It was a pity that the weight of shot of those two guns could not be included in the ketch’s broadside. Their contribution would have made Meteor a force to be reckoned with. Well, the 4 pounders would do what the 4 pounders could do.

    The crew had trimmed Meteor to fighting sail; staysail, main topsail, mizzen topsail, and spanker. Under this, she was just above a beam reach on a port tack, pushing to windward at a touch under a knot. In the coming fight Meteor’s only advantage was time. The longer she could last, the more likely the brig would find her.

    Peering through his glass at the lugger now less than a mile distant, it was obvious that she was in fact Agilité and she was cleared for action. A large French tricolor flag snapped from her fantail. She was moving easily through the water on a starboard broad reach. Even under only her fore and main courses she was easily making 8 knots. A continuous shower of spray rolled off her lee bow as she shouldered through the waves.

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    Philip lowered his glass and turned to the sailing master. “Well, Mister Brynne, we’d best get some speed on her and water between us and land so we’re ready to maneuver when Agilité gets here. Trim us in and bring her up closehauled.”

    “What was the Frenchman thinking?” Philip watched from his tiny quarterdeck as one moment the lugger tore down on a broad reach, then suddenly put her helm down, came up closehauled and luffed up. It was a maneuver that certainly showed her ability to live up to her name, but perhaps also showed that her captain was also cautious about sailing into a potential trap.

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    Her captain apparently confident of no surprises, allowed Agilité to feint out of the luff and swept back onto a broad reach. Meanwhile Meteor, still closehauled, worked herself up to close to 6 knots.

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    “Mr Brynne, let her fall off 2 points and I think we can let the hot work begin.” Meteor eased off on a close reach. A little over a cable away, Agilité came up a few points. Simultaneously, both ships unleashed their broadsides.

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    The satisfaction of the meaningful blow to Agilité’s waterline evaporated as Meteor’s quarterdeck jumped to multiple impacts. The look on the helmsman’s face and the freely spinning wheel told the story. Philip gave a brisk call to the waist. “Hands to relieving tackles! Let’s keep her off those cliffs” Already Meteor was yawing to starboard.

    The unplanned starboard turn continued. Through the quarterdeck skylight, Philip could hear the men at the relieving tackles straining, and slowly Meteor began to turn to port. Astern, Agilité bore off onto a run.

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    The helm was still being problematic. Now Meteor wouldn’t turn. In a masterful demonstration of seamanship, Agilité crossed her stern for a raking shot at just over a cable. Philip winced as the French broadside roared, but relaxed as no splintering wood sounds followed. Water geysered to either side of Meteor’s transom.

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    “You should have helm now, sir!” Philip responded to the carpenter’s welcome call from the aft cabin by having the helmsman put his back into the ship’s wheel and throw Meteor up into the wind. Meanwhile, Agilite’, turning to avoid the lee shore, charged right into her broadside inside of a hundred yards. It was not a rake, but Meteor’s aft guns gave Agilité a sharp rap on the nose.

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    Meteor’s square sails were backed against the mast and the yards were swinging as her crew hauled her braces to ready her for the new tack. She was turning, but not turning fast enough. Philip had hoped that they could get across the wind and Agilité would pass astern and onto Meteor’s fresh side. Instead, Agilité was driving straight into Meteor’s port bow. With a splintering crash, both ships came to a halt, with the lugger's bowsprit projecting over Meteor’s bulwark just forward of the mainmast.

    There was an opportunity here that shouldn’t be missed. Through the noise of the general chaos, Philip shouted to be heard by the bosun, “Mr Harford! Get some men to tie that bowsprit to the mainmast! Ready boarders!” Philip leaped from the quarterdeck and ran for where the two ships ground together. A light rain of lead was falling from musketfire. At the forecastle of Meteor and the bow of Agilité, two walls of men converged. Above the sound of the struggle, Meteor’s 4 pounder broadside roared and Agilité’s mizzenmast toppled into the sea.

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    On the forecastle, things weren’t going so well for Meteor’s crew. Philip took a swing at an overly bold Frenchman, then turned to grab the bosun’s shoulder. “Harford! We’ve got to get the two ships apart or we’re done for! Get some men to cut the lines and pole that lugger off us!”

    During the melee the ships had weathercocked, and, now free to navigate, each slowly bore off on an opposite tack. Meteor’s guns were still reloading, but not so Agilité’s. The ketch’s previous gunfire had chewed up the lugger’s starboard side, but not enough to keep her from presenting a loud, but ineffective broadside. Philip locked his knees to keep from flinching as the rounds whistled low over the quarterdeck.

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    Meteor was still turning out of the wind, but Agilité was answering her helm and closehauled on a starboard tack. Once she had enough way on, she would certainly tack and bring the battle back to the beleaguered ketch.

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    Meteor was finally out of the wind's eye, and her main and mizzen topsails filled with a soft rumble. A hint of a wake grew under her taffrail. Running was the best plan. Time was the only thing still on Meteor’s side.

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    Philip peered over the quarterdeck’s rail at Meteor’s waist. The ketch was still quite shipshape after 20 minutes of hard fighting, but the crew was another matter. Of her crew of sixty-five, there had to be less than twenty visible on deck, and most of them were visibly wounded. Philip idly wiped sweat from his forehead. Where was his hat? His hand came away bloody. When had that happened? A splintering crash amidships coincided with a distant roar off Meteor’s port quarter. Agilité had luffed up and let fly with another broadside. There would be no escape. Running was only delaying the inevitable. When Agilité finished her tack she would be down on the ketch and her decimated crew in minutes. Philip tested the weight of his still sealed orders, turned to the flag halyard and began undoing the hitches.

    A shout came down from the maintop, “Captain, a sail! A sail and a Union Jack! The Frenchie’s seen ‘er too!”
    It was the brig, and the lugger had seen her. Instead of a tack, Agilité had chosen to feint and was already accelerating closehauled on a starboard tack for the horizon. The brig would never catch her, but Meteor would live to fight another day. Philip sat down heavily on the corner of the skylight.
    Last edited by Dobbs; 01-05-2023 at 07:27.

  2. #2
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    A very gripping read on this fine Boxing day morn Dobbs. That certainly was a touch and go encounter. A pity the Bomb did not manage to use those Mortars which would have been interesting to see in action. Still another time pahaps, once Captain Ambercrombe opens those sealed orders who knows what they may instruct him to do?

    Great AAR.

    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.

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    Thank you very much for the Rep, Rob!

    Since a bomb ketch needs to be anchored to use its mortars and the target has to be stationary, I haven't come up with a good adventure to feature them.

    As to the sealed orders, I don't know what they say. As our resident Admiral, if you have any idea as to their contents, you could slip me a PM and I'll see how Captain Ambercrombe makes out.

  4. #4
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    The sealed orders arrived whilst Captain Ambercrombe was hove to making repairs. They stated that the inshore squadron which the Admiral commanded had been in pursuit of the Agilité for several days, as it was known to be shipping a special cargo. Having lost sight of the Frenchman during the storm, it was fortuitous that following the action with Meteor, Agilité had taken refuge in a secluded bay protected by the guns of a small fort whilst she also affected repairs. Meteor's escorting Brig had chased her and had her pinned down, but could not come within range of the fort's guns to affect a capture. Worried that the weather may turn and force the Brig to abandon its position on a lee shore, Ambercrombe was instructed to proceed with all dispatch to the adjacent bay which was out of sight of the Fort, anchor on a spring, and bombard the anchorage in order to drive the Agilité out of the bay and into the arms of the waiting Brig, which by standing off the harbour. The Brig could signal the accuracy of the fall of shot to Meteor by flag signals. It was imperative to the safety of the realm that Agilité and its cargo be taken, and not lost by the sinking of the ship.
    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.