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Encounter off the Galapagos, 1813


The Age of Fighting Sail, Post Captain, 1/1200 scale

I rarely game the same thing two weeks in a row. However, as most of my wargaming crowd were doing other things (storming compounds in Sangin, fighting tank v tank actions in Normandy or slogging it out in Dark Age Mercia), only Peter was left, and up for a game. The week before he’d expressed an interest in playing Post Captain again. so we could get a better understating of the rules. So, that’s exactly what we did. this week though, rather than British versus French, we left the French in port, and moved the action to within a few miles of New York. Picking from a selection at random, Peter got command of the small sixth rate HMS Surprise, (28), while I got the USS Adams (28).I know purists will say that the “dear old Surprise” was sold out of the service in 1802, and broken up, but in Patrick O’ Brian’s world fiction stepped in, and she was bought as a private man of war, commanded by Jack Aubrey. She went on to become His Majesty’s Hired Vessel (HMHV) Surprise, despite a new HMS Surprise (of 38 guns) being commissioned in 1812. We merely tinkered with history, so my favourite sailing ship could make it onto the tabletop.In British service she was armed with carronades, although in the Jack Aubrey novels she wad a 12-pounder frigate. I have ship cards for both Surprises, but to make the game more novel we retained her all carronade armament. As for the USS Adams, in June 1812 she was rearmed with 18-pounder long guns, and used as a powerful little commerce raider. So, we set our fictitious encounter in the South Pacific, where the Adams (Captain Morris – played by me) was preying on British whalers. The Surprise (Captain Pullings – played by Peter) was sent halfway around the world to stop her. Actually this back story was invented after we randomly decided what ships we’d use. Still, it’s nice to have a context for a game.As this game was a leaning curve one we deliberately limited ourselves to one ship a side. If we finished the game quickly, then we would swap sides and try again. We drew the ship cards at random (I have a selection of suitable models), and landed up with a fairly evenly-matched contest. It could have been very different. If one of us had chosen one of the big American 44-gun “super frigates”, then the game would have been very one sided. Being an American set of rules Post Captain rate the “Jonathans” very highly, with a greater chance of having a crack crew than the British. In this game though, both sides had equally competent “crack”crews, thanks to the die we rolled while setting things up. The same pre-game calculations also decided that the Americans had the weather gauge. The two sides started 36 inches (1,200 yards) apart.The problem of course was that the carronade-armed Surprise had to close the range, ideally to within a few hundred yards, while the Adams could play “long bowls” with Peter’s British frigate. The wind wasn’t working in Peter’s favour, so he gradually worked his way closer, while I opened up a long-range but rather ineffective fire on him. One success though, was that one of my few hits led to the loss of the mizzen topsail and yard. As both of us were under “battle sails” this meant the Surprise lost one movement factor off her speed. That little thing would eventually dictate the outcome of the game. Incidentally, at the start we used the model of a brig rather than the Adams, which was a small frigate. This was largely down to me not having my glasses on, but the mistake was soon remedied! The rational could have been, I suppose, that the American ship was disguised as a whaler – a favourite trick of “Lucky” Jack Aubrey in those same waters.So, for the next hour of game play the situation continued, as the Surprise edged closer, while I fired on her as she approached. Apart from knocking out an upper deck 24-pounder carronade (actually a group of three guns) the fire continued to be ineffective. I was concentrating on the Surprise’s rigging, but as fast as I was cutting shrouds Peter’s crew were knotting and splicing them back again. When the range closed to 800 yards (about half a mile) the Surprise began yawing, so her guns could bear. She peppered away, but again, despite one shot killing a crew factor (about 24 men), this fire wasn’t too accurate. Of course it didn’t help that he needed a “1 on a D12…When the range dropped to 400 yards things became a little more interesting. I tried to tack out of the way to keep my distance, but that would mean my stern was facing the Surprise, and he could rake me. I couldn’t wear, as that would shorten the range dramatically, so my only option was to continue to edge away from him, while keeping my guns bearing. Still, the range kept dropping, and now the carronades were almost in effective range. That’s where – at around 200 yards (6 inches) they kit me with a lot more potency than my long guns can hit back.So, it was time to get out of the way. As the Surprise bore up I turned away and ran for it. My plan was to increase the distance between us again, and then to turn up into the wind so my guns could play “long bowls” again. Thanks to that difference in speed the Adams managed to edge away, shrugging off a final long-range carronade broadside as she went. Thanks to the angle Peter never quite got a stern rake on me, and before long I was out of range. That’s actually where we ended the game. it was almost 10pm, and despite playing for two hours we hadn’t reached a conclusion.That wasn’t the fault of the rules – quite the contrary. The random selection of the two ships and their relevant capabilities, and the equally random positioning of the them on the tabletop dictated the course of the game. This would be a game of manoeuvre and seamanship, rather than a broadside and board ’em in the smoke kind of action. Both Peter and I learned a lot about the way ships move in Post Captain, and gained an even more healthy respect for the rules, which worked superbly. Next time though – for more of a game – we’ll try it with a pair of evenly-matched frigates like the Chesapeake and the Shannon. We certainly want to play again – this rules system – and the lovely miniatures – had rekindled my love affair with the Age of Fighting Sail – and the world of “Lucky” Jack Aubrey.

 

 

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