What do you mean you’ve not heard of my gorgeous Hermione, were you not here last week when I told the whole bar about my first and only true love. You were, well maybe it wasn’t a week ago maybe a little longer, my old memory plays tricks on me now and then.
Why don’t you order a drink and I’ll tell you about her, yes I’ll have a brandy, the 98, Martine knows which one, just tell her it’s for Jean and she will pour it from the right bottle. Just make sure it’s the green bottle, sometimes she forgets and pours from the blue one and charges the price of the 98. A mistake I’m sure but it seems to happen late at night when maybe my old eyes aren’t as sharp as they used to be.
I’ll keep your Hermione entertained while you are gone, don’t be silly Baptiste, she will be perfectly safe with me, she’s only 16 and I am, well I am much older, there was a time but that was then and this is now. Mind you these long winter nights a young companion to help warm the bed would not go amiss, but don’t you worry Baptiste just make sure you get the 98 brandy and all will be well.
Hermione, if you would be so good, please throw another log on the fire then come and sit close by me, my voice is not as strong as it used to be when I could roar into the teeth of a hurricane and they could hear me in the tops, yes nice and close, you don’t want to miss my words now do you. That’s right, sit on my right if you will, and block the draughts from the door, these old bones don’t like the cold anymore, but that wasn’t always the case, no, when I was younger no weather worried me, rain, snow or violent winds, nothing.
Well Baptiste, you were not long, Hermione and I were getting along famously, pull up a chair and I’ll tell you of the time my Hermione and I sailed together on the Mer Méditerranée we caused such mayhem to the old enemy Johnny Rosbif, they feared us then, and ran when they saw us coming that’s the truth.
My Hermione had long sleek lines and sailed like a witch in the night sky, she was a Concorde Class Frigate built in Rochforte in 78. The Class was a small one, only 3 ships, designed by Henri Chevillard and all built in Rochforte between 77 and 78, Hermione was the last and the finest. She carried 26 long 12’s, they were a fearsome weapon with the right crew and we had the right crew. In addition there were 6 long 6lb guns and that made her a 32 gun Frigate of 550 tonnes and 44 metres of pure delight.
The Class was not a lucky one, the original ship Concorde was taken by the British in 83 and Courageuse in 99 but Hermione’s fate was to be wrecked on rocks in 93 off Crosic on the south coast of Brittany. The pilot must have been drunk, if I’d been there I would have gouged the incompetent fools eyes out, but I believe he drowned, a fitting end for him.
I digress though, something that seems to happen more often than it used to but these things are sent to try us, so the daft old priest in St Benedict tells me each time I attend his decrepit church. No matter.
We were sailing in company, two of the finest ships in the French navy Courageuse and Hermione. Together we presented a fearful sight to the British ship HMS Leopard who had been anchored in the shelter of the cliffs of Belle Ile, indeed not far from were Hermione met her end but that morning we had no dark thoughts of the future, we saw an enemy ship and we would attack, of that I was sure.
Capitaine Mamoute commanding the Courageuse was the senior Capitaine, but he was a bold and brave seafarer, a man of a similar ilk to myself although not as handsome, not as handsome at all. I believe I digress yet again Hermione but I’m sure you understand when I think back and remember myself in my prime, and it wasn’t so long ago. You know that a man such as I, has a much longer prime than so many lesser men, but enough of that.
We had the wind on our starboard side, yes Hermione that is on the right hand side as you look forward. Baptiste you didn’t tell me you had such an intelligent grand daughter, beauty and intelligence, a rare and undeniably attractive combination in a young woman. Our enemy had the wind on his larboard side and slightly more favourable to him than to us, but we had undeniably the better ships and so we didn’t worry one jot for that.
I recognised the Leopard as a 50 gun 4th rate ship of the line, she was bigger and more powerful than we were but we had 72 guns to her 50 even though our 12 6 pound guns would barely scratch her paintwork.
Her Captain sailed an erratic course from the anchorage but Capitaine Mamoute was not to be fooled, at least that’s what he told me later but indeed I don’t believe he knew where the Leopard was going, if only I had been the senior Capitaine we would have taken her with far less casualties.
She had the wind in a favourable quarter and as she closed she made a lazy turn to starboard and fired her larboard bow battery from close range. He was a cunning fox the Captain of the Leopard because he had loaded double shot in his port guns, yes Hermione 2 balls are better than 1 at close range, I’m surprised you know that. Baptiste your Grand Daughter is a wondrously clever girl, you have educated her amazingly well for an old Bonapartiste.
I don’t understand, - you say that you have just repeated my stories of the sea and she soaked it up like a sponge, well my dear maybe I should give you a more personal education of naval combat, the cut and thrust of action, n’est pas.
Baptiste has the log fire flared up a little, it seems damnably hot in here. Not as hot as that day with the Leopard out sailing us, but hot enough.
Luck was on our side and as you know, the great Napoleon preferred a lucky general, I think that was because his Generals were poor tacticians, no where near as good as his Frigate Capitaine’s so luck was important for them, but skill was enough for us. Ahh if we had commanded at Waterloo instead of that bumpkin Ney then history would have taken a different turn. I do believe I’ve digressed again, my apologies Mademoiselle, but I know you understand these things better than most.
The first shots fired from the Leopard caused much damage to the Courageuse including a hole below the water line, if that was not plugged the ship would sink.
The Leopard came round so she could fire her starboard bow batteries, I told you he was a cunning one, but he made a fatal mistake and Courageuse was able to cross his bow and rake the ship with double shot in return, even so the casualties amongst our brave French seamen were horrendous. I ordered our starboard bow battery to fire but they were to avoid hitting Courageuse and so our fire was largely ineffective or the battle would probably have ended then.
The Leopard had been reloading her larboard guns as fast as they could and as soon as they had completed the task their Captain put his wheel hard over and brought his guns to bear on Hermionie. He knew we were his most dangerous adversary that day.
With a little naval tactics and some low cunning that I need not go into now, I was able to reduce the damage caused, but a lesser Capitaine would have suffered severely from that broadside. We gave him a heavy fire in return and shot away his Main mast and that was the end for him.
Courageuse helped us with another double shotted broad side that possibly put another hole through Johnny Rosbif’s hull but it was the dismasting that caused him to strike his colours. You understand the term Mademoiselle, but of course you do.
There was a slight misunderstanding when the Captain of the Leopard offered his sword to Capitaine Mamoute when it should have been me he surrendered to, but I suppose Mamoute had the seniority on that day. Did I mention he was 25 years my senior and that I was the youngest Frigate Capitaine in the French Navy, well apart from a couple of other fellows who are of no or very little account. When seamen sit around the fire, late at night discussing the great frigate Capitaine’s you will hear the name of Jean Vagabond mentioned with awe by more that one or two of them.
Well Baptiste I must be going, but maybe another glass of the 98 before I step out into this damn cold winter weather, I can keep your Hermione company while you fetch it for me.
HMS Leopard’s ships card at the end of the battle, you can see that she might have been sinking from the holes inflicted by Courageuse but it was when the Main mast fell that the ships crew lost heart.
Hermione’s ship card shows how a well handled ship should look after a severe battle, we were hardly touched by the devastating broadsides thrown our way.
Unfortunately this is how a poorly handled ship looks after a slight confrontation, this probably explains why Mamoute was lingering on the Frigate Capitaine’s list for so long. I tried to explain what the poor chap was doing wrong but he wouldn’t listen.
Well another famous victory for the old French Seadog (and fantasist) Jean Vagabond - Master of the Seven Seas not a long game, 3 periods of manoeuvring followed by 2 of intense action and Johnny Rosbif hauled down his jack, quick sticks as they say - somewhere.