Chart 3-1

Ship Maneuvers in Patrick O'Brian's H.M.S. Surprise

(Volume 3 of the Aubrey/Maturin novels)

by C. F. Keller

This chart shows positions of the major ships in the first encounter of HMS Surprise with the French group under Linois. Two of the French ships, Berceau and an unnamed brig, are too far southwest to appear. Ship tracks are given for four ships, Marengo, Belle Poule, Semillante, and Surprise. Locations correspond to times when:

  • 1. the French are first sighted;
  • 2. Surprise tacks to SSE;
  • 3. Surprise turns to SSW;
  • 4. Surprise has run through the "gap".

    For relative speeds of the ships, I have Surprise with drag sail in water originally sailing slower than Semillante and Belle Poule, with Semillante slightly faster than Belle Poule. After point #3, I delay the French since they are surprised by the maneuver (for example near that point Marengo could have changed to the opposite tack threatening to intercept Surprise, so the turn to SSW was indeed not what Marengo was expecting to do.) After that I have Surprise sailing 12 knots and the French about 9. Note: if I increase Marengo to 10 knots, she overtakes Surprise. Also - Surprise could have been sailing at 13 knots?? The resulting positions of the four ships at point #4 is about right, since POB says Marengo is closest.

    A word about distances. I used a scale that put Marengo about 8 miles from the frigates at point #3. I don't know how far away ships can still read flag signals, but this must be close to the extreme (another reason Marengo might be geting ready to tack back towards the rest). This scale, however, brings Marengo within the two mile circle for cannon fire that POB says Aubrey wants to avoid. So I don't have this quite right. If, however, flag signals can be read at greater distances (or signal guns seen/heard), then this chart can have its scale adjusted to keep Marengo just out of range. (Note that at point #2 Semillante does fire a bow chaser and is just out of range).

    Chart and text copywrite 1996 Charles Keller. Page maintained by

    Helen Faith Webb (or Murphy)
    MIT 54-812
    Cambridge, MA 02139

    Phone: (617)253-0950
    Fax: (617)258-7401

    Last modified April 19, 1996.

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