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a boy against the rovers

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Sea being the sea with all its particularities and most notably wind and tides has always been the best ally and the worst opponent for any naval enterprise.

You can see this clearly across the entire timeline covered by Naval Action, where the best laid out plans wouldn't work due to conditions at sea not allowing time tables to be maintained or because distances could not be covered.

More often than not it became a mixture of human design and nature, where able seamen would take advantage of the "terrain" that the sea is and understand its ever changing landscape, as opposed to the rigid nature of conflict on land, where hills are hills and troops legs are not affected by winds.

Due to this two particulars, the ever changing nature of the battlefield at sea and the able human behind the controls, a singular episode of a boy at the command of a pilot against a sea rover vessel is made possible.


10th January 1800

... a singular instance of seamanship, valour, and dexterity, occurred in the escape of a pilot-boat from a French privateer.
The vessel was the Amity, belonging to Bembridge, on the look-out for ships.
About ten in the morning they discovered a lugger privateer about two miles distance, which they could not perceive before in consequence of the morning being hazy.
There being little wind, the enemy was rowing with thirteen oars on each side and fast approaching. The master of the pilot-boat thought it best to leave his vessel immediately, there being no other means of escaping, he and another man, therefore, got into their small boat, and desired James Wallis, the boy, to come also but he bravely answered  - "he would remain by the vessel, whatever might be the consequence".

Thus resolved, he gave them his watch and all the little money he had, with the little request they would give to his father; they promised to perform his request, and immediately left him to his fate when the privateer was only a quarter of a mile distant.

In a few minutes she shot up under his lee quarter, with an intention to grapple the pilot-boat; and having fresh way, lowered her main-topsails and lug sail. The lad observing their design, just as they were in the act of heaving their grappling irons, put his helm down and went about, whilst the privateer fired small arms and swivels into her.

This manoeuvre obliged them to make sail and tack; when they had made all the sail they could, the young man with great judgement, tacked, and weathered them about the length of the lugger: the privateer having gained his wake, tacked also. The youth continued to tack every time the privateer set her sails, which was repeated sixteen or seventeen times: they likewise constantly fired when near, and particularly when crossing at a distance, never more than thirty yards.

After manoeuvring in this dexterous manner for above two hours, a fresh breeze, happily sprung up: the pilot-boat was then on the last tack, and had gained about a cable's length to windward, when she crossed the privateer, which after firing all their swivels and small arms, bore up and left him.


- British Trident Vol. IV -

- Clark's Battles of England -

- Gentlemen's Magazine Historical Chronicle VOL IXX -



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Thanks for the interesting episode!

I'd suppose the boy had some experience with the lugger rig and the pilot boat was gaff-rigged. Nonetheless an astounding example of the art of seamanship, because he had to handle the boat alone and would risk his health and probably his life each time tacking, because the french privateer most likely wasn't amused by this maneuver.

And by the way, i would fire the master and the other man of the pilot boat!

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