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Clearing for action - how long did it take in real life?


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I was reading that in real life SOLs took an hour to clear for action. In films like hornblower and master and commander they seem to clear for action in under a few minutes. There would have been a few types of clearing for action I imagine. At least one that was fast and another more thorough one.

The fast one used for when one is genuinely surprised by an enemy which would be rare and a slower more deliberate one preparing for a set engagement where the enemy may have been in sight for hours. A lot would have needed to be done, fires put out, belongings stowed in the hold, boats let go and tied to the rear, hammocks turned into barricades, boarding nets erected if chosen. Fires lit for matches. I ask because I was thinking that perhaps this game should involve some time to do these things before one can attack or during battle. A preparation bar similar to boarding gi ving more buffs according to the level of readiness reached. I would dearly love to see ports open and cannon run out but know that is too intensive and that often one level of cannon was left open in the tropics anyhow. But yes curious to know if any ship actually missed clearing for action.

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The 20 second countdown when you attack pretty much simulates both ships sighting each other and clearing for action I believe.


As to how long it really took, I'm not sure either.  Generally, the two (three?) off-watches' hammocks were already stowed on the sides to hinder boarding - the only hammocks that needed stowing were for the watch that was sleeping at the time of being drummed to quarters.  Similar to what you mention, there was splinter netting and fearnaught screens to erect, galley fires to be put out, "belongings to the hold" only really applied to the captain and maybe the officers - I think most sailors' sea chests were there already - they weren't littering the gun deck with them.  Guns' bowsing and tampions to be removed, gunports opened and guns run out.  Bulkheads to be struck and removed (this was a pretty fast process I believe), deck sanded, and slowmatch to be lit (for those ship that still used matchlock).  Ships' boats to be deployed over the side and trailed from the stern wherever possible.  Finally powder to be brought up for the guns.


I think you're also right about a partial clear in an emergency.

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Well we aren't talking about modern day speeds here. Unless your lookouts were entirely incompetent, there was inclement weather, or you were surprised at night, the sailing speeds involved here, even when stationary, would allow 2 hours at least from time of sail sighted to time of engagement. 


If you were dumb and didnt clear for action when another ship was on an intercept course, maybe, but I'd like to see some historical accounts for that.



But for sake of argument, the Surprise in Master and Commander from what I understand shows a good example of what clearing for action meant. Crew were woken by the drums, hammocks were pulled down and repurposed a s splinter guards. There were moveable walls as well as furniture that were moved and stowed for combat, (wardroom, sterncastle) guns were pulled from storage and placed at their gunports, the ports were opened and the guns were loaded. 


A well drilled crew could accomplish all this extremely rapidly, and I dont think the times shown in Master and Commander were unreasonable.


In the real navy, on much larger vessels, with more complicated systems, safety requirements, and crew responsibilities, we can still go from unprepared to prepared in a few minutes. Battlestations/General Quarters drills have been part of navy life for centuries. 



I'm not sure whats so different about a SOL that it would require an hour to clear for action. Any additional furnishings and temporary walls would be balanced out by the larger crew, I'd think.

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It seems it didnt take that long.This excerpt from  the book "Jack Tar";Life in Nelsons Navy mentions it was a few minutes.


"The Drum and Fife Beat to Quarters,bulkheads were knocked away,the Guns released from their Confinement,the whole dread Paraphenalia of battle was produced,and after a few minutes of hurry and confusion,every man and boy was at his Post"

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