Free Hosting

Free Web Hosting with PHP, MySQL, Apache, FTP and more.
Get your Free SubDOMAIN you.6te.net or you.eu5.org or...
Create your account NOW at http://www.freewebhostingarea.com.

Cheap Domains

Cheap Domains
starting at $2.99/year

check

A Day (or So) in the Life
by Sue N.

**Chapter Seven: The Saga of the Droits de l'Homme**

Addington noted every detail about him with utter
fascination, delighted at being able to observe a
naval frigate and her crew under such close quarters.
As he noted the condition of the sails, spars and line
being discarded, as he saw the damaged planking and
timbers being torn up, he had to marvel at the skill
of a crew -- and captain -- who could bring so badly
damaged a ship safely home.

Yet his knowing eye could also see the beauty beneath
the scars, and he could understand why Captain Pellew
was so proud of his ship. From her trim lines and the
plan of her sails, he could surmise she was a fast
sailor, and wonderfully easy to manoeuver. No doubt
she could run rings about the huge, balky Indiamen his
yards turned out, and he found himself sighing to see
her in action.

"One thing, however, puzzles me, Captain," he admitted
as they began their descent belowdecks. "She seems
rather larger than I was given to understand is
customary for frigates, yet I can plainly see she is
not one of the newer ships the Navy is turning out.
Have I perhaps misunderstood the specifications for a
frigate?"

Pellew laughed quietly. "No, Sir Robert, you have not.
You have in fact judged her quite rightly." Despite
the easiness of his tone, he glanced about carefully
as he led the party through the wardroom and beyond,
praying Mr. Kennedy had warned the men, and that his
warning had been heeded. "She is one of the older
ships, built in ë84 as a third-rate 64-gun ship of the
line with two gun decks. But as war loomed, the
Admiralty deemed that the old 64s too small to be
truly effective against French 74s, and so began
easing them out. The oldest ones were decommissioned,
and others were relegated to Channel duty.
Mercifully," his dark eyes travelled about the deck,
and his expression, for a moment, was that of a man
gazing upon his beloved, "the Admiralty realized
Indefatigable still had life in her. They had her cut
down a deck, reduced to 44 guns, and returned to duty
as a very large, very fast and very heavily armed
frigate."

Addington nodded slowly as he listened attentively.
"And is that how you were able to defeat the Droits de
l'Homme?" he asked quietly.

The engagement of which he spoke had taken place in
January of ë97, between Indefatigable and her consort
frigate Amazon, and the French 74 Droits de l'Homme.
The French ship had originally been part of a force
sent to invade Ireland; but the horrible weather in
Bantry Bay had defeated and scattered the fleet,
leaving ships to limp home as they might.
Unfortunately for the Droits de l'Homme, she
encountered Indefatigable and Amazon before she could
reach safe harbour.

Pellew had already encountered the French fleet in
mid-December when it had lain in Bertheaume Bay,
taking on soldiers and provisions for the invasion. On
reconnaissance duty, trying to deduce where the French
were bound, he decided to indulge a sense of mischief.
Disguised by gathering dusk and foul weather, he
slipped Indefatigable in among the fleet and proceeded
to play merry hell. The French admiral depended upon a
system of gun discharges and rockets for signalling
commands to his ships at night, a system Pellew
disrupted by firing his own guns and rockets, causing
vast confusion. One 74 ran aground upon some rocks,
while other ships tacked and wore at his command,
often only narrowly avoiding collision with one
another, sometimes unable to avoid such at all. Once
he had the fleet in satisfactory disarray, he ordered
Indefatigable taken out of the bay, in hopes of
persuading a nearby English fleet to attack while the
French were so vulnerable.

The hoped-for fleet, however, had gone, so no attack
was made. Instead, to Pellew's outrage and
frustration, the French fleet had managed to make its
way out of the bay and to Ireland, where the weather
was all that staved off invasion. Thus it was that,
when Droits de l'Homme limped homeward and encountered
the two British frigates, she was already
excruciatingly familiar with Captain Sir Edward
Pellew.

Upon spotting the huge ship, Pellew had a decision to
make. Frigates were not expected to engage ships of
the line; indeed, they were strongly advised to avoid
closing with them at all. And in Droits de l'Homme,
Indefatigable faced a ship with three times her
fire-power and five times her man power. But Pellew
considered there were some mitigating factors in his
favour. First, Droits de l'Homme, laden with soldiers
as well as sailors, was badly over-crowded. In
addition, they were in a great, heavy sea, awash in
enormous Atlantic rollers with a storm building. The
74 would be unable to open her lower ports in such a
sea, or would be able to open them only just before
firing, without taking any time to aim. Thus, much of
her fire-power would be negated. And, as Pellew and
Indefatigable watched, fate seemed to favour them
further as a powerful gust carried away her fore- and
topmasts. With such factors in his favour, Pellew
considered that, with Jack Reynolds and Amazon at
hand, the risk might be worth taking.

But perhaps the most crucial factor in his decision
was his crew. He knew his men, knew their calibre,
their character, knew he could depend upon them
without question and without hesitation. And they knew
him, as well, as a master of his craft. Between
captain and crew existed a perfect confidence that was
as valuable a weapon in battle as any gun. Where
discipline and seamanship would be deciding factors,
there was no ship better equipped with both than
Indefatigable.

And so the battle had been joined, at 5:30 in the
evening, in the midst of a howling gale, with none
involved having any clear notion of where they were or
how close land lay. Pellew knew only that they were
near France, but no more than that. But it mattered
not. Hour after hour, with seas rising to the point
that gun crews on the main deck of Indefatigable were
toiling in waist-high water and tossing so violently
that several guns broke the ropes of their
breeching-tackles, pulled the ring-bolts out of the
ship's side and careened madly about on the heaving
deck, maiming men who could not get out of the way
before the guns could be caught and secured; with
rigging shot away and repaired on the spot and
shattered spars simply cut loose and thrown into the
sea; the three ships pounded away, with the French
captain trying desperately to avoid the two frigates
that hounded him like terriers after a bone.

Shortly after midnight, having exhausted all her round
shot -- meaning she had to have fired at least 4,000
rounds -- the French ship began firing shell. By four
o'clock in the morning, Amazon had three feet of water
in her hold, only the stump of her mizzenmast
standing, and all her other masts and yards badly
damaged. Indefatigable had four feet of water in the
hold and all her masts damaged, but, due to the skill
and diligence of her crew, still standing. Droits de
l'Homme had 103 dead and 150 wounded; Amazon, three
dead and fifteen wounded; and Indefatigable, none
killed and nineteen wounded. And still the fierce
battle in the dark raged on.

At 4:30 in the morning, though, a break in the clouds
allowed enough moonlight through for Lieutenant
Hornblower, on the forecastle, to sight land dead
ahead, less than two miles away and with breakers
before it. Pellew immediately began shouting orders --
the signal for danger was to be made for Amazon, his
lieutenants were to cease firing, and Mr. Bowles was
to put the ship about across the wind. Exhausted hands
flew to braces and prepared to take her about,
allowing themselves no thought for her condition:
every mast was damaged, her topmast completely
unrigged, her sails in tatters, her rigging slashed.
With heart in throat the order was given, and about
she came, swinging into the wind, hanging dreadfully
in stays for a moment and giving all a sick feeling of
imminent disaster. But, as if driven by the
determination of captain and crew alone, her
close-reefed topsails gave a thunderous clap and
filled on the opposite tack, and she fair leapt away
from ignoble death upon the rocks.

Not so the hapless Amazon and Droits de l'Homme.
Lacking too many sails, the Amazon could neither bear
up into nor wear 'round the wind, and by five o'clock
she ran ashore. The Droits de l'Homme tried to bear
up, but lost foremast and bowsprit; she tried to
anchor, but the anchor would not hold. Again and again
she struck a sandbar, until she was turned upon her
side and stuck fast, with the sea breaking
relentlessly over her. The men who survived the
grounding were quickly swept away by the surging sea.

Alone of the three, Indefatigable escaped death by
grounding, but her peril was not yet ended. By 6:30 in
the morning, dawn was shedding enough light for her
position to be seen. Rather than in the sea off
Ushant, where he had supposed them to be fighting,
Pellew found himself in the Bay of Audierne, just off
Penmarck Point with the deadly Penmarck Rocks all
around. No rescue attempt for the stricken ships could
even be considered. And so for four more hours, the
exhausted crew laboured desperately against the storm
and clawed frantically away from the looming rocks,
until, by eleven o'clock, Indefatigable, beaten and
battered but alive, at last cleared the rocks and
stood out to open sea.

The battle had already become legend, and had made
heroes of Indefatigable's company. Whatever past or
present feats might come, Pellew and his men would
forever be known for having fought a French 74 in a
howling tempest in the darkest heart of night, running
her ashore and escaping the deadly Penmarcks,
surviving on little more than daring, discipline and
uncanny seamanship on the part of captain and crew. In
years to come, seamen would be able to command free
drinks from comrades simply by saying, "I was with
Pellew in Indefatigable when we fought the Droits de
l'Homme," and men would crowd about to hear the
stirring saga yet again.

Recalling the battle, and the men who had fought it,
Pellew smiled slightly at Addington and arched a dark
brow. "I suppose her size might have played some role
in the victory, Sir Robert," he granted quietly. "But
I prefer to think it was her spirit -- and the spirit
of her crew -- that brought us back to fight another
day."

Addington inclined his head, noting that Pellew made
no mention of her captain. And, the ship-builder
thought admiringly, this certainly was not a captain
to be discounted...
**********

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: The account of the battle with the
Droits de l'Homme is real, with Horatio and Bowles the
only fictional touches added. I did not dramatize it,
for there was no need. Our fine Sir Edward in real
life provided all the drama any author could ask!)
**********