1. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    A ship heading to battle against two - historical examples?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by IlaridaArch, Jan 12, 2016.

    Hey!

    I need help regarding this. I have been unable to find believable source for naval fighting in a world similiar to 17-18th century. Do anyone of you know a historic battle, where for example one pirate ship would have faced two other ships? How would it play out?

    I see this must have happened numerous times during human history. Just haven't found any good examples of this.
     
  2. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    While I can't think of any examples there would be a lot to consider, such as the size and armament of each ship, how experienced and healthy their crews are and the condition of the hulls.

    Naval vessels are typically well stocked and disciplined, making two of them a formidable force for a single pirate ship to go up against. The pirate ship would need a lot of canons on both sides to be able to take them down.
     
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  3. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Not a pirate ship, but during the War of 1812 USS Constitution managed to capture two opposing warships single-handed. The two British ships were much smaller, though.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_HMS_Cyane_and_HMS_Levant
     
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  4. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ToeKneeBlack is assuming the other two ships are Naval, rather than two merchantmen...

    A lot depends on which scenario you're looking at, how well armed each ship is, whether the two ships will combine well against the singleton.

    The big thing with 18th century naval warfare would be the "weather gauge"...are you upwind of the other ships, thus able to just blow down upon them at your option? Or downwind, where running away may be your best option...if you're fast enough. (John Paul Jones famously said "I will have nothing to do with a ship that will not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way.")

    @Robert Musil 's resource looks very good...to be borne in mind is that the American frigate was much larger and carried more men than the two British vessels, despite this it is probably only because of Stewart's exemplary ship-handling that he was able to win. If either/both of the British vessels had managed to cross ahead/astern of him it's not unlikely that their raking fire would have decided things otherwise.

    Also to be borne in mind is that the American fleet of those days was renowned for the accuracy of their shooting (they practiced!) and the British for the speed (they only practiced the drill...they didn't actually fire the damned guns - too expensive!). A lot of actions during this war were decided by the Americans disabling the British vessel (shooting down their rigging) and then generally running away to continue their career of commerce-raiding.

    Or, how to capture a larger ship whose crew outnumbers you 6 to 1...

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cochrane,_10th_Earl_of_Dundonald
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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  6. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    Depends on the opposition, I think. If they're naval vessels, the pirates are unlikely to win. There are cases where a trained naval crew won engagements in which they were badly outnumbered by pirates. Against armed merchantmen, I think the pirates would have a decent chance, but there are so many factors at play it is impossible to say for sure.
     
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  7. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just my opinion, no real knowledge here, but I doubt that a pirate ship for disguise purposes, would be flying its jolly roger flag on the open seas. If the pirate ship saw either of the naval ships (thinking you meant naval ships based on your naval fighting wording) it would turn tail and run from them/it in a manner to hopefully not be observed. There is nothing to be gained by attacking a man of war type ship for a pirate crew. If you are including things like Spanish galleons lying low in the water due to a large cache of precious cargo and barely able to maneuver effectively, then they might go after the one that is in whatever position that makes the other ship unable to come to the first one's defense quickly.
     
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  8. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Thank you all for the responses, lot of good stuff!

    All those wiki pages were interesting and gave me lot to think about regarding this chapter, so thank you very much.

    Guess I could give you guys more info about this battle; I have one of the main characters as a captain on a merchant galleon which is lightly armed with cannons (havent figured out the numbers and sizes of the cannons yet). He is experienced and knows the local waters extremely well. By secret, he is also a smuggler as by my world-building, merchants are strictly taxed (hungers for wealth).

    Keeping it short, there is certain group of people that wants this captain under their control, as he is a leverage to anyone around this region. Knowing he won't do it voluntarily, this group hired two vessels to attack and board his galleon, their goal to capture him and take him forth to this group. So just like pirates sometime forced and slaved someone to serve on a pirate ship, here happens really similiar thing.

    Regarding the plot, the captain will win this one as I need him to be renown for the later events. Winning a battle with small odds serves this purpose and also strives really well for the upcoming plot-twist.
     
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  9. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your captain will require a VERY manoeuverable vessel and a first-rate crew - top-drawer ship-handling by a competent and motivated crew was key to the USS Consitution case...and even then, it wasn't a shoo-in. On the other hand, you have the option of your MC dismasting one or both of his adversaries, and then either fleeing the scene, or leading the second vessel away to defeat it on more level terms.

    My personal favourite would be for your MC to be attacked by 2 larger vessels, dismast one by a sheet-backing manoeuvre similar to the Constitution, lure the second vessel away and then board her a la Cochrane. And, not to be overlooked, during the battle, your MC captain will ALWAYS be thinking "Where's the other bugger? When's he going to come out of the fog and board me while my concentration's on the first ship?"
     
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  10. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Yeah I figured that on this case, manoeuverability is the top priority regarding the ship, hence I picked the word Galleon for his ship. Galleons evolved from caravels/carracks/nao's by being longer, lower and narrower. Longer hull combined with lower forecastle gave galleons more stability in the water, but also improved the manoeuverability.

    And galleons had lots of uses from war'ing to merchanting. It really varied by the country that built it, so I think as a word, galleon is superb for my story. No huge gambling with accuracy. Just have to figure out the ship designs for the other two. Corvette. A sloop. Sloop-of-war.

    "During the Age of Sail, corvettes were one of many types of smaller warships. They were very closely related to sloops-of-war. The role of the corvette consisted mostly of coastal patrol, fighting minor wars, supporting large fleets, or participating in show-the-flag missions."

    I liked this course as well. Also been thinking of going with the knowledge of local waters; maybe the captain would be able to lure one of the vessels to hit a sandbar or some rocks near shallow waters.

    Some research:

    "Most corvettes and sloops of the 17th century were around 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 meters) in length and weighed 40 to 70 tons. They carried 4 to 8 smaller guns. Corvettes slowly increased in size and capability, until 1800 when they reached lengths over 100 feet (30 meters) and weight ranging from 400 to 600 tons (365 to 544 metric tons). One of the largest corvettes during the Age of Sail was the American ship, USS Constellation, built in 1855. The ship was 176 feet (54 meters) long and carried 24 guns. It was so large that some naval experts consider it a frigate. It has also been referred to as a sloop-of-war."
     
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't use galleon...in my mind it relates to the large and cumbersome Spanish galleons that were run rings around by the lower and nippier English ships during the Spanish Armada of 1588.

    As far as local water's knowledge...there was one episode during the Armada when Frobisher (I think) engaged 4 Spanish galleasses (sailing ships made more manoeuvrable by also being rowed) off Portland, when Frobisher's knowledge of the local tides enabled him to slip from a tidal stream going left into one going right and back again, thus outmanoeuvring the Spaniards.

    But if you're fighting close inshore, there's serious risk for BOTH parties of running aground, especially if the wind's a bit lively, and a lee shore is a whole new barrel of things for a sailor to worry about!
     
  12. IlaridaArch
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    IlaridaArch Active Member

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    Yeah the regular thought of a galleon is the spanish and portuguese ones. But like I mentioned, it highly varied throughout the countries and even inside a one. After researching different ships that are called galleons, the range is insane. Some were 26 meters long, but one called Vasa (made by swedes around 1620) is 68 meters. So I think as a word it isn't too problematic, as long as you describe the ship well enough to give the right image of it. And of course, the other two ships are given proper introduction of being bigger. It's more or less about which kind of word for the ships describes my world-building best and I feel galleon is pretty suitable. Frigate would do as well, but what I understood, it would be a step into a bigger ones.
     
  13. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, no. Galleon is more 16th century. By the 18th century, the Royal Navy had a fleet of ships-of-the-line (such as HMS Victory - same length as Vasa, but rated at 104 guns) which were supplemented by the smaller and more widely-useful frigates, and then by a whole host of varying smaller types.

    For commerce/piracy think East Indiamen...large merchantmen which would have carried some armament.
     
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  14. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    It's not the right era but from memory three ships were sent to destroy the Graf Spay during WWII. And it was a hell of a messy set of battles that they only just won.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  15. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Admiral Graf Spee (6 x 11 inch guns) was initially hunted down by a cruiser squadron...Exeter (6 x 8 inch guns), Achilles & Ajax (8 x 6 inch guns). After something of a stand-off (Exeter was very badly damaged, but Graf Spee was too) the German ship took refuge in River Plate, only to scuttle herself when it became apparent that she didn't have long enough to complete repairs before neutrality laws meant that she would have had to put to sea again, where Achilles and Ajax were still on station, and about to be joined by the undamaged Cumberland (8 x 8 inch guns) who had steamed up from the Falklands.

    There's divided opinion about whether Graf Spee was badly enough damaged, and whether she scuttled because of deliberately easily-decrypted radio intercepts that led her to believe that Cumberland was on her way. My opinion is that she'd already had to run from the initial battle, so why would she fancy even a rematch at those same odds?

    What should be borne in mind is that Graf Spee's top speed was 26 knots, against the 30 or so of each of the British cruisers...so they had the edge in manoeuvrability, and were able to divide her attention.

    In Napoleonic times, neutrality laws were a little more relaxed, and a daring commander (such as Cochrane) would probably have organised a cutting-out operation to sneak men in rowing-boats into the harbour, board the enemy vessel and either commandeer her, or scuttle her/set her alight. And while harbours nowadays are large expanses without street lights for the most part (no streets, you see!), back then they would have been positive black holes.
     
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  16. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I'm unsure of the numbers involved on each side, but when Sir Francis Drake went up against the Spanish Armada he was vastly outnumbered, but still managed to kick the crap out of them. That was in the late 1500's, so armament and strategy should be similar.

    Please disregard. I just looked it up and Drake was not outnumbered. I blame my history teacher. ;)
     
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  17. furzepig
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    furzepig Member

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    This is an old topic, and I'm not sure the original poster is reading this anymore, but I can't sleep and I'm bored . . . so very bored . . . :p Incidentally, one of my own characters is an early 17th century privateer, so that's why I have this information more or less at my fingertips.

    Some questions, if you're still there, and still care . . .

    Is it important that the captain spend a lot of time fighting ship to ship with two opponents? Because if it's not, you might show off his stated knowledge of the local coastline by having him strand or wreck at least one of the enemy ships.

    Do you actually want him to get boarded? A battle fought hand to hand is very different than one conducted over open water. A question to ask yourself is whether the people who want to capture this captain also want his ship. If they want the ship too, there will be a boarding party, and there will be a focus on things like firing chain shot into the rigging to disable the ship without destroying it. If the enemies don't care about the ship, they may do something like "rake" it, i.e. fire cannonballs at the hull's weak points in the prow and especially the stern. The goal would be to punch big holes through the ship lengthwise, and sink it. Since this fight is two against one, another logical thing to do if the ship is considered expendable is to put an enemy ship on either side and turn all the broadside artillery against the captain's vessel. Since they want the captain alive, the enemy captains would presumably not use anti-personnel projectiles like grapeshot and the smaller varieties of round shot.

    The captain's options would pretty much be to:

    A) Run away. This might work out for him if his ship has got more canvas to catch the wind, has a fore-and-aft rig that allows it to sail very close into the wind, has a fairly shallow draft, has had its hull cleaned more recently, or has oars. I know you prefer the galleon style, but galleasses could be awfully fast. Running away would be a nice pick if you want to showcase the abilities of the captain's ship and/or his sailors.

    B) Stand and fight. Exactly how he might do that would vary somewhat depending on when in the 17th/18th centuries you set your story. The classic exchange of broadside blasts is characteristic of the later period. Earlier on, broadside guns would be angled to fire toward the bow or the stern rather than straight out. That means that you approached your enemy with your nose first, or ran from him and fired from your tail. Depending on the situation, your captain might or might not have the luxury of firing many guns at once. He might not have enough personnel to accomplish a Royal Navy-style simultaneous multi-gun attack. It's also likely that a civilian captain's cannon would have come from a variety of different sources, and be different lengths and weights, which would affect how quickly they could be re-loaded. Somewhere in the book "Safeguard of the Seas" by N. A. M. Rodger the author attempts to estimate how long it would take to reload a 17th century English cannon, and comes up with a guess of about 15 minutes. Not sure if he meant breech loading or muzzle-loading guns. (Maybe it didn't matter.) By contrast, the British Royal Navy of the Napoleonic Wars is said to have had a reload rate of 90 seconds. So this is an area where the time period will matter. I no longer remember the source, but I read somewhere that 17th century cannon took so long to reload that captains sometimes preferred to set their sails so that the ship turned around. That way they could fire guns from the starboard broadside, the bow, the port broadside, and the stern sequentially. (Obviously the wind needs to cooperate for this to work.) If you wanted your captain to shine in this area you might emphasize that he puts a lot of effort into training his gunners--and his sailors as well, if you want the ship to spin as it shoots.

    Random stuff . . . you're right that there were few or no ship "classes" during the period you're talking about, at least not when compared to the 19th century. A galleon could be a lot of things to a lot of people. That said, there was a type of ship famous for fast, maneuverable transport in shallow coastal waters, and that was the sloop. They could look like a lot of things, but they had fore-and-aft rigging and were relatively small, with shallow drafts. They did exactly all the things that your smuggler captain would need. If I were a slightly dodgy early modern ship's captain, I'd sail a sloop. Just saying.

    Also, while I admit I'm not an expert on the topic of what people called things, I don't recall people in period using the word "galleon" very much, except when they had to differentiate a ship from a galley or a galleass. You might get more mileage out of "merchantman," which was what people called any ship that wasn't a ship of war. A character talking about your ship might say something like, "The Slightly Dodgy is a 100-ton merchantman with fourteen guns," or something like that. (And that's a lot of guns for a merchantman . . . but it pays to be on the defensive when you're slightly dodgy.) If you want to get more specific, you can talk about how many masts the ship has, or whether it's a square-rigger or a fore-and-aft rig.
     
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  18. jannert
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    Have you watched the excellent film Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe? Might give you some ideas. And it's a very good film with a slight twist to the ending.

    The commander of a fairly small ship might be able to sneak in under the range of guns on a larger ship (which could not alter their angle of fire) and blow holes in the opponent's ship without taking more than superficial damage to their own rigging and masts. This would require stealth, though, as they would have to get in very close for this ploy to work, and the bulk of the larger ships would affect the smaller ship's ability to sail. However, if the small ship could pull that off between two large ships sitting fairly close together, the two larger ships might actually blow each other apart while the smaller ship skated past. Mind you, they'd have to be captained by dunces. Ah well....
     
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  19. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would probably be past the ability of most pirate crews to pull off, but it might (emphasis on might) be possible if your pirates were a mutinied naval crew. And if they were fighting inexperienced opponents, they'd definitely have a better chance.
     
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  20. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not really likely.

    Sneaking in close enough to be below the level at which the larger ship's broadside would bear?
    1/ You'd have to be VERY close alongside for that to work: Napoleonic broadsides were at their most effective at a range of only a couple of hundred yards. And, that close alongside, you risk a collision that would damage the smaller ship more.
    2/ Close enough alongside would mean that a) the larger ship would steal your wind to a degree that would hamper your ability to manoeuvre and b) their broadsides would rip your rigging to shreds...hampering your ability to manoeuvre.
    3/ Close enough alongside and they'd take the chance to board you.
    4/ A clever captain would time firing his broadside to take advantage of the roll of the ship, on the upward roll to lob the shot further, on the downward roll to lower the shot's trajectory - and fire into a smaller opponent close alongside.

    Sailing between two ships and getting them to blow each other apart?
    1/ They'd have to be captained by dunces.
    2/ A ship-of-the-line was so called because it could stand in the line of battle...with all the ships following each other, in a line. Not sailing abreast.
    3/ The larger the ship, the faster. In general. So, with exceptions, a much smaller ship would be unlikely to "skate past" in an overtaking manoeuvre. Sailing in opposite directions, the larger ships would seek to intercept. i.e., Ram.


    A mutinied naval crew would probably have mutinied because of lack of respect for the captain and officers, and following a healthy disrespect of orders requiring them to perform the drills necessary for good ship-handling. They would also be officered only by ordinary seamen, not officers. Most successful pirate captains had experience as a ship's officer.
     
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  21. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    Many mutinies occured because of the absolutely draconian discipline that was tossed down for the most minor of offenses. Same reason so many sailors willingly joined pirates.
     
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  22. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Concur with all of the above.... Men of war, or ships of the line typically carried 64 guns, and pirates would be much smaller and lighter, also with lighter cannon. They are unlikely to do much damage to a warship.... Remember Constitution got the nickname "Old Ironsides" by having warships' cannon balls failing to penetrate her hull.

    Assuming the pirate is comparable to the warships, the maneuver of choice is "crossing the T" in which the attacking warship crosses the two victims in trail, wind permitting. This maneuver keeps most of the enemies' guns unable to bear. The attacker's load would be chainshot, two cannonballs tied together with chain, which will go through the rigging like a scythe, hopefully shredding enough lines that sails start collapsing and tangling, and if he can shear a stay, then masts may topple. Also canister, basically grape shot that will inflict a lot of personnel casualties. He will have to cross the bow at about 100yards or so, so let's see 5knots, they will be closing on him at 2.5 yards per second, so he has about a minute to fire broadsides as above to do enough damage to take ship one out of the fight... and when he clears the no fire cone of the bow, a few of the heavy guns will be able to bear on him briefly. So hopefully, he will fire while he is closing/opening to not allow good aiming, which will be awkward for the defender because of the angle. Ships of the era had light cannon, often swivel mounted, fore and aft, but they probably won't do much damage. Ship two will be out of the fight, blocked by ship one and probably out of range.

    The problem is the squadron commander will see this crossing situation setting up minutes in advance (2000 yards/mile at 2.5 yards/sec, depending on when they see him), and the counter is to bear around to the same course as the pirate is on, bringing all of the guns on both ships to bear broadside on the attacker. He is likely to be swimming shortly after.

    BTW they will be observing the attacker closely for a long time whether they know he is a pirate or not, because at some distance he will be in a "constant bearing, decreasing range" condition, which means a collision or close crossing is imminent. Therefore, long before the attacker is close enough to fire, they will have altered course, probably toward him so as to pass astern, or away to cross his bow. Not much, just enough to open a bearing drift to the right or left. In either case, the defenders will be the ones with the broadside advantage.

    A lot of things would have to align to make this doable, and the victim would have to be asleep at the helm.

    Crossing the tee did not become a common maneuver until steam and long range cannon made it more practical... The maneuver of choice would be take the 'weather gage," to gain the windward side of the opponent, because as you closed, your sails blocked his winds, and you had the advantage of closing on him with greater maneuverability. Then you slugged it out broadside at close range. But the two fleets or ships could spend hours trying to outmaneuver each other to get into this position. This is not a scenario for one light ship up against two heavies!
     
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  23. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cannons of the era were adjustable in elevation.
     
  24. jannert
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    Well, see, I'll leave the naval stuff to experts! :) Just playing around with a few ideas, and realised partway through ...dunces.... I was coming up with plans that would make Wile E Coyote blush.
     
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  25. furzepig
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    Just figured I'd reiterate that things in the naval world changed a lot between 1600 and 1799. Exactly what was possible and what was common varied depending on the time period.

    In the "early" period, call it 1600 to 1675, people were still making the mental adjustment away from boarding as the major means of dealing with an enemy ship. In the medieval world, sea battles were just viewed as land battles you happened to have on ships, and cannon were secondary to close up, hand-to-hand fighting. Cannon were not terribly accurate and they hadn't yet fine-tuned the system by which cannonballs really smashed the hull. Earlier cannonfire tended to punch straight through a hull, leaving a small and easily patched hole. The "line of battle" tactic existed in 1600, but with cannon being less important, it wasn't the first thing people turned to. (I've already mentioned the early positioning of guns and methods of firing in my previous post.)

    Also, in the early period, discipline aboard royal naval vessels was not what it later became. Inexperienced aristocrats were still preferred for officer positions, as opposed to middle-class career sailing men. That worked about as well as you'd expect. In England, there was a continual crisis over how to pay the navy, so sailors shunned it in droves. They much preferred to work for merchant or privateering captains (or pirates), because then they had a chance of getting paid. There was a lot of desertion and a lot of mutinies in the Royal Navy during this period, despite increasingly draconian discipline. This sort of thing was not happening on merchant, privateer, and pirate ships. Captains did not set themselves up to be autocratic mini-kings on private vessels, and pirate ships were often outright democracies.

    So if you're writing about a captain on a private ship before 1675 (which is what I'm doing), most of the Horatio Hornblower tropes--and 90% of the information on the internet--are going to be anachronisms.

    You'll have a much easier time researching your story if you set it after 1675, particularly if you use British Royal Navy ships. That's when you get the line of battle as a matter of course, ships lining up to blast each other away broadside, swift and efficient reloading, and a captain who is regarded as a minor god.

    Of course, all that predictability can be a little dull. The wild and weird seas, crawling with pirates and privateers, were fairly well tamed by 1715. And the clothes of the 1630's were fabulous. Just saying.

    So any and all details in this thread are conceivably wrong for you, depending on when you set your story.
     
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