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Thread: Somewhere south of Isle de France, 1782

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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; 02-23-2024 at 18:42.


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