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Thread: Somewhere south of Isle de France, 1782

  1. #1
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    Default Somewhere south of Isle de France, 1782

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    Another wave lifted the port quarter and slid along the keel toward the bow. Sailing on a broad reach, the Dutchess of Cornwall gently rolled in that corkscrew way that ships roll when on a broad reach, rolling along, bound for the Cape of Good Hope. Like so many previous voyages, the ever reliable trade winds were hastening her passage homeward across the Indian Ocean.


    She was not a new ship, and her lateen mizzen was a constant reminder of that. She had made her first voyage east before the Seven Year's War had ended and for twenty years she had brought the treasures of the East into the West without change.


    This time was different. With England at war with the Bourbons, the run past Isle de France was always a challenge. In the past, her captains had always managed to elude the French frigates that hunted from there. Today, with the war with the colonies and their French allies winding down but not over, the French had found the Dutchess.


    Captain Harold Tenley stood on the quarterdeck and gazed forward. The crew had just furled the main and forecourses and the topmen were throwing on the gaskets readying the ship for the impending conflict. Under fighting sail, Tenley had a clear view of his approaching opponent. Still more than two cables to leeward and off the starboard bow, a French Concorde class frigate was laying as close to the wind as she could, courses and t'gallants already neatly tucked away. She was making a good 7 knots, and every now and then her bow would dig into a wave and throw a rainbow of spray across her foredeck. Captain Tenley mused that it was almost a pretty scene if you could discount the open gunports down her side.


    The oncoming clash couldn't be avoided. A frigate captain would consider an British Indiaman a challenging though irresistible target that could bring him wealth and fame to retire by. On the other hand, the Dutchess of Cornwall pretty much matched her opponent's strength in broadside and was half again the frigate's size, in every other aspect she was deficient. Her cargoship hull allowed her to transport riches but with fighting sails set she struggled to make 5 knots. Her sides were as tall as a 3rd rate to allow her to carry the broadside of a frigate in addition to her cargo. That came with the corresponding handicap for sailing to windward. Lastly, as primarily a merchant ship, she almost certainly carried less that a third of the crew of the frigate.

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    The Frenchman brought his ship into the wind. "Almost certainly," Harold thought, "he's going to cross the wind and continue to close." Here was an opportunity, if the Dutchess could just be encouraged to her best speed, to rake the frigate as she bore off on the new tack.

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    It was not to be. The old Indiaman fell a hundred yards short of being able to rake her opponent.

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    The raking opportunity having passed, Captain Tenley decided the best course was to close and hit as hard as they could.

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    The French captain misjudged his vessel's closing speed and were only able to bring his aft broadside to bear. Nonetheless, both ships suffered from the strength of the first exchange. The Frenchman's shots smashed home as the Dutchess of Cornwall rolled to a wave and showed her waterline and at least one ball struck her between the wind and the waves. On the frigate, chaos ensued as the Indiaman's full broadside smashed into the port quarter gallery and swept the men from the ship’s wheel.

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    The Indiaman began a ponderous turn to leeward as the frigate struggled with her steering.

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    The Dutchess continued to turn and the French got their helm under control once again and bore off in pursuit.

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    For her aggression, the frigate got a sharp rap on the nose.


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    The French returned the favor with their starboard aft broadside.


    To be continued...
    Last edited by Dobbs; Yesterday at 18:42.

  2. #2
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    Enjoyable reading.
    Rep to get the end !

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    Rather up my street Dobbs.
    I must revisit my Bombay Marine and see if I can bring these unruly Frogs to heel.
    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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    A good report, Dobbs. As Simon, wrote...rep pending the conclusion. :)

  5. #5
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    Even though tacking an Indiaman in the heat of battle wasn't a tactical maneuver that he would typically think a good idea, at this moment it seemed like what was needed. Captain Tenley gave the command and the Dutchess of Cornwall swung her bluff bow into the wind. As the French frigate turned downwind, the Indiaman's broadside roared.

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    In her ponderous way, the Dutchess bore of on her new tack. As her sails began to draw, the frigate threw another broadside at her.

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    The ships continued to circle. Tenley's crew lobbed another broadside at the frigate. So far the Dutchess had been managing to hold the upper hand, though not in a way that couldn't change in a moment.

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    The Frenchman swung into the wind and delivered a painful blow through the Indiaman's stern galleries. It hurt, but at least it was not a full-on rake.

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    Hoping to take the French captain unsuspecting, Harold gave the order to throw the Dutchess back into the wind.

    In her own surprising maneuver, the frigate feinted out of the wind instead of finishing her tack, making the range long for the Dutchess of Cornwall's broadside. Even so, her guncrews cheered as the mizzen t'gallant mast teetered for a moment, then fell to deck with a crash. It was the least effective mast hit that could be made, but at least it was a constant visual reminder that the Indiaman's shots were telling.

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    Dutchess crossed the wind, but lay with no way on. The French frigate opened the range while licking her newest wounds.

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    As the Indiaman began to move on the new tack, the Frenchman once again luffed up, and delivered a raking broadside. One shot smashed into the cutwater below the waterline. Overhead, another shot shredded the neatly furled maincourse sail. Harold surveyed the damage. It wasn’t good, but it could have been a lot worse.

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    Harold shook his head. This French captain knew his business and was pressing his advantage. The frigate could tack and come out of the wind and still have way on. Tacking an Indiaman was like dancing in lead boots. The Dutchess was barely moving at two knots, but he was going to have to throw her into the wind again anyhow and hope for the best. The helmsman put the helm down. The yards swung and again the ship ponderously luffed up. The gun captain saw his opportunity and the broadside spoke.

    The telling rake struck the Frenchman cruelly. The beakhead dissolved under the flight of nine pound shot. The broadside continued to wreak havok down the length of the ship, savaging her gun crews. As an exclamation point on a brutal sentence, the mizzen topmast snapped at the crosstrees and the topsail dropped into the water to starboard, pulling like a sea anchor.

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    The Dutchess of Cornwall hung into the wind.
    She had no way on at all and her sails lay all aback against their masts. The foretopsail was braced around to get her bow to swing to port, but it hadn't started to happen yet.

    Dragging her fallen yard, the Frenchman came on.

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    The Dutchess was beginning to turn. As she turned, the backed foretopsail yard began to swing, and as the ship turned enough for the sails to draw, one by one, the foretopsail, maintopsail, and mizzen topsail billowed then filled with a crack. The sails were now drawing, but it would still be a few moments before she started to move.

    Meanwhile, the French frigate, still burdened by her fallen mast, sagged off to leeward. She was going to pass close, but at least the Frenchmen weren't going to be able to board.

    The two ships were almost abeam of each other when the Frenchman fired and the Dutchess' crew responded in kind.

    Tenley noted that the French broadside was getting pretty ragged. He had a brief moment of satisfaction that his crews were still firing as a battery, then the French shots hit. It didn't feel bad, but the carpenter’s boy was suddenly on the quarterdeck, saying that the pumps were falling behind the incoming water.

    As the frigate swept by, it was obvious that the exchange had been at least even.

    20 - The painter completely forgot to paint this picture of the battle. Luckily, nothing particularly dramatic happened. Both ships turned downwind. The French frigate cleared the wreckage of her mast, and the Dutchess of Cornwall began to accelerate.

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    After the last close pass, the frigate had turned onto a starboard broad reach. It took a while for the Dutchess to get some way on and swing her bulk around in pursuit and by then both sides were running their guns out again. For the most part the exchange just threw some splinters around and sent a fresh batch of men off to the orlop deck.

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    Yes, it must be! The French were quitting the field of battle. Even with the mizzen damage she was faster than the Dutchess of Cornwall. Now that she was beyond long range, men could be seen climbing the ratlines to drop the remaining t’gallants and courses.

    Captain Harold Tenley turned to the bosun. "Mr Ajax, you may tell the crew to secure the guns. Please tell the carpenter that when he has stabilized the leaks, the bulkheads can go back up. Once the work is done, let the crew know we'll splice the mainbrace. Oh, and send someone to let the passengers know that it's safe to come out of the hold."
    Last edited by Dobbs; 02-06-2024 at 19:54.

  6. #6
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    The Butcher's Bill:

    Dutchess to the right
    Frenchman to the left

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  7. #7
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    Very well written story.
    What an adventure rep worthy.

  8. #8
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    An unexpected outcome for the British Dobbs.
    Well sailed.
    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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    Indeed, well sailed. Three cheers for the crew of the Dutchess (sic) - curious about the spelling, says the chap who lives on "Duchess Street" and has seen some spell it "Dutchess".

    I like your detailed logs.

    Rep sent.

  10. #10
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    Hmmm, as to the spelling, I can only say that the log of the Dutchess of Cornwall predates Mr Webster's dictionary efforts. That, and I went with the first spelling Google coughed up.

    Thanks for the Rep, gentlemen. A pleasure spinning yarns.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dobbs View Post
    Hmmm, as to the spelling, I can only say that the log of the Dutchess of Cornwall predates Mr Webster's dictionary efforts. That, and I went with the first spelling Google coughed up.

    Thanks for the Rep, gentlemen. A pleasure spinning yarns.
    That is true - English used to have more varied spelling. Now we just have UK (proper?? ) and US spelling. I will say that "Dutchess" gives it an nice period feel. I was just curious if that was the name (and spelling) of a real ship of the period.

  12. #12
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    The Dutchess was not a real ship. It seems that many Indiamen had Duke/Count/Place names. My grandmother was from Cornwall, so I just sort of went with it.

    Likewise Captain Tenley was supposed to be Captain Tetley, since he commanded a tea wagon. I just remembered my tea names wrong.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dobbs View Post
    The Dutchess was not a real ship. It seems that many Indiamen had Duke/Count/Place names. My grandmother was from Cornwall, so I just sort of went with it.

    Likewise Captain Tenley was supposed to be Captain Tetley, since he commanded a tea wagon. I just remembered my tea names wrong.
    I likely would have missed the Dutchess vs Duchess spelling if it hadn't been an issue around our street being called "Duchess". When we first moved in, it was a new street that had been entered into the digital geo-location universe by someone as "Dutchess". We had a few years when delivery people, taxis, etc. would phone us up to say they couldn't find our address (i.e., the correct spelling came back as "address not found"). Then giving directions caused more issues since "Duchess" is off of "Gough" - rhymes with "cough".

  14. #14
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    I wonder if it would have gone any better if you just gave your latitude and longitude?
    Last edited by Dobbs; 02-07-2024 at 15:53.

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dobbs View Post
    I wonder if it would have gone any better if you just gave your latitude and longitude?
    Not sure. That was 20 years ago. Anyway it all got sorted - at least with respect to google maps, etc., but I still check when giving someone my address to make sure they spell it right.

  16. #16
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    Yet again a nice action Dobbs and I imagine Captain Tenley nee Tetley in his tea waggon must be very pleased with the outcome.

    I could almost feel the warm wind on my cheek as we sailed south of the Isle de France, great prose made a good fight better.

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