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Sea Legends: historical sources for inspiration

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Here are links to the very nice blog "The Dear Surprise" (sort of web-companion to the PO'B novels) and an article on the life aboard a privateer in 1800, giving excerpts of the log book of the privateer Charles Mary Wenworth, 16-gun ship based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Very interesting, even if log books are always very synthetic on the actions carried out.


This blog (known by Admin I guess) is a good introduction to the life aboard a man-of-war in the age of sail (https://thedearsurprise.com/tag/getting-started/), with original articles from scholars or contributions borrowed to other specialized blogs (eg Broadside) and good illustrations and photographs (including a gallery on uniforms from the NMM: https://thedearsurprise.com/royal-navy-uniforms-extant-garments-gallery/ and https://thedearsurprise.com/royal-navy-uniforms-lt-william-hicks/). The articles on prize money (https://thedearsurprise.com/an-introduction-to-pay-and-prize-money-in-aubreys-royal-navy/) and on the customs in the wardroom (https://thedearsurprise.com/customs-in-aubreys-royal-navy-the-wardroom/), for instance, are very interesting.

Enjoy you reading !



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I gave up hoping Game Labs would add my suggestions to their game.   I try to find some way to use what they have created in a manner that matches the type of gameplay I enjoy.  NA is a good game, and Sea Legends will be good also.

I wish you were developing a game.  It would be astounding.  I think I get more enjoyment from your posts than I will from Sea Legends.  Please keep adding ideas.  It's nice to dream about the type of game you describe.

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Thank youMacjimm for your encouragement !

I am certainly not capable of developing a game, and what the developers in NA have done so far is remarkable. NA is a beautiful game, by far the best on the age of sail (what a nice surprise when I found the first informations on this game a few years ago), but it's not exactly a simulation (I am a bit lost in the complexity of the game (clans, port battles, perks, craft, etc.) and its jargon for gamers, as I am not a gamer myself…) but an open-wolrd game, in which you have to invest hours and hours to get to a certain level (I am still struggling with the exams ;-)).

Whereas SL is presented on the website as a solo 'true' simulation game that allows you to immerse yourself in this exciting period, the age of sail, and playing a warship's captain, in a map which is entirely yours. Actually it is exactly what I expected in the early development of NA, when I was completely a beginner in gaming… 

That's what motivates me to give some historical clues that might inspire developers. I am sure that Admin already has most of the information, as you must be a fan of the period to engage in the development of such a game ;-).  I am also well aware, however, that there are important constraints - in terms of fps, coding, game engine, gameplay, etc. - that are not always easy or impossible to overcome, so I am not expecting too much (too much expectations lead to disappointment ;-)). The goal of making a game that's fun to play and attracts a sufficient number of players limits what can be done. I'm sure the developers are doing everything they can to make a great game that will match what many of us dream of, that is a game that recreates, at least in some aspects, the "wooden world" that a frigate was in the 18th century. NA gave us the ships and the feeling of what were the battles from a tactical point of view. Here we can expect to live it at the deck level ! 

And btw I am sure your suggestions are welcome by the developers, as the game is still in its first stages of development !

The new blog on SL websites will tell us more in a few weeks I am sure !  I hope we can buy the game soon… 

Have a good summer

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Posted (edited)

Hi everybody,

First steps as a captain

If SL gives us the opportunity to sail a ship from the captain’s point of view, it would be nice to begin our career at its very first stage:

I don’t exactly know how a smuggler’s career began, but probably in a obscure tavern on a remote shore in Cornwalls, trying to conclude a secret agreement with a unscrupulous trader and some accomplices on shore...

- In a privateer, it began when you find a ship owner and when you get your letter of marque from the competent authority (see the posts on privateer’s career).  

- As a Navy lieutenant, you began when you received your very first commission as (master and) commander (rarely directly as a post-captain), sometimes after long years waiting a change in the Navy list... 

At the beginning of a captain's career or when he got a new ship, many decisions had to be taken before going at sea. It could be nice in SL to simulate some of those decisions, especially those related to the fitting out and the manning of the ship. Of course, the situation was very different if we consider a Naval career, a privateer’s career or a smuggler’s career. While in the Naval career, officers, guns and stores were allocated by the Admiralty (commissioned officers) or the Navy Board (warrant officers, fitting out equipment, stores) or the Ordnance Board (guns) (with some negotiations possible with the captain), in a privateer’s or a merchant/smuggler’s career, economic considerations were to be taken into account (the budget to fit out the ship was limited).

Here are elements of a Naval career, but most would be necessary to launch a privateer or even a smuggler (disguised as a peaceful merchant ship). For specific aspect of the privateer’s career, see the former posts on this topic.

a.       Most important decisions the captain had to take before sailing his ship fo the first time:

-          Going aboard the ship in her mooring or visiting it in a dry dock in the dockyard (together with the master shipwright and his assistants)

-          Summoning the ship's standing warrant officers (master, boatswain, gunner, carpenter)(if not already aboard) and the other warrant officers (clerk, purser, surgeon; armourer, master-at-arms, caulker, sailmaker, ropemaker); in the Navy, each ship had her allowance according to its rate

-          Summoning the lieutenants (via a message to the port-admiral’s office requesting the officers to report aboard), then the midshipmen, the senior petty officers and then the rest of the crew (infra)

                    -          Reading his Admiralty’s commission to the officers and the crew if present (otherwise later); in a privateer, the crew had to                                   sign an agreement (see post on this)

-         Initiating and supervising the fitting out of the ship: in the Navy, this required to ask the ship's allowance to the dockyard’s officials, the Victualling Board and the Board of Ordnance to organize the release of the ship’s stores and equipment, taking into account that each class of vessel has its establishment: allowance of guns; stores entitlement, etc.; otherwise (in the merchant navy), the equipment had to be hired or bought to private dockyards; most important equipment to find were:

o   Masts, yards, rigging, tackles, blocks, sails (including spare ones), tar and small equipment (tackles, blocks, pitch, copper nails, roves, augers, etc.)

o   Guns and ammunition (shipped from the ordnance wharf) and small arms

o   Boats (launch, barge, cutter, pinnace, jolly-boat,… according to the rate of the ship)

o   Equipment and furniture for officers’ cabins

o   Stores and victuals: 

§   Victualling (water, drinks, grog, food, livestock, firewood for the galley), according to crew and mission duration (eg blockade)

§  Hammocks or beddings and mess equipment

§  Slops (for the seamen without spare clothing)

§  Supplies for the surgeon 

o   Ensigns and pennants.

-          Finding furniture, stores and quality food for the captain’s cabin (at his own expense);

-          Opening the muster book, in which the details for victualling and wages of every seaman of the ship’s company are to be entered (task for the first lieutenant), and preparing all the books of account (task for the purser)

-          Finding and mustering the crew, with :

o   volunteers

o   men from the ‘quod’ (landsmen or even felons supplied by all the counties in England under the quota system)

o   pressed men, from land or ships without protection against press

They had to be registered in the muster book by the first lieutenant (sitting at a table set up abaft the mainmast, together with the clerk); the first lieutenant rated the seamen according their declared skills and gave to each seaman his duties

-          Designating, with the help of the first lieutenant, the petty officers among the able seamen (or those who already served in such rate before);

-          Finding a servant and a steward (to be responsible for the captain’s own stores and to assist the purser)

-          Supervising the distribution of slops to seamen without spare clothing (task for the purser)

-          Opening the ship’s log book

-          Supervising the watch & station bills proposed by the first lieutenant; sometimes the seamen could choose their watch and mess table, giving them the possibility to mess with close mates

-          In the Navy, opening and reading the Admiralty’s / Admiral’s orders; caring for the Articles of war, the Admiralty's Fighting Instructions and ‘Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea, Established by His Majesty in Council’ (dictating the manner of the conduct of the command – eg how to stow the rum, to cut up the salt beef, etc)

-          Writing and publishing the Captain’s Orders laying down the captain’s expectations of conduct of every officer and seaman and how the ship is to be run : liberty entitlements, how to salute the quarterdeck, use of fire on deck and smoking, when to keep silence, etc.


b.      Sailing the ship for the first time


When the ship was fitted out and crewed, the captain would :         

-        Unmoor the ship and go at sea for a first trial

-          Carry out trials at sea, to test and discover the ship’s characteristics, strengths and limitations

-          Trim the rigging and ballast after trials to optimize its performances; a trick was to move the guns on deck to test different trimming configurations, rather than to move the stowage in the hold

-          Train the officers and the crew at guns and carronades

-          Train the officers and the crew at sails and signalling.

Then the ship was 'battle-ready'... This was quite a program ! 

Edited by Bonden
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Hi everybody,

Sea Legends : captain’s and officers’ main duties, decisions and functions at sea

Here are some historical indications on the practical organization of a Royal Navy sixth- to fourth-rate ship and on the main decisions a captain and his officers and midshipmen had to take at sea, whether in action or not. Some would apply to privateers, other for sure not. In smugglers, I guess (but I haven’t made any research), merchant navy rules applied, which were more flexible, less strictly enforced (no Articles of war applied!) and involved less crew. I will try to make some research later on the organization of a merchant ship. 

In a Navy ship, a plenty of officers and crew would execute the captain’s orders in a complex chain of command, on the top of which stood the first lieutenant. 

-          The captain passed his instructions about the conning of the ship to the master who translated them into specific orders to the quartermaster(s) at the helm or forwarded them to the master’s mate on the forecastle. Fighting orders were given by the captain to his lieutenant(s) and shouted to the deck ; in the heat of battle, midshipmen would carry the order and shout it down to the deck.

Elements of such complex organization could be simulated in the game (eg the report of a lieutenant on damage and casualties during the battle), other could not or only by ‘invisible’ AI calculations, for sure (eg, the multiple tasks endorsed by the various officers). I don’t know what is possible and what is not. As already said, developers have their own objectives and constraints in regard to gameplay, fps, coding effort, fun and other more commercial considerations ;-). My point is, like always, to give clues on some interesting historical facts that can be an endless source of creativity and fun in a historical simulation game.

Most informations  are taken from:

- G. Fremont-Barnes, 2009. Nelson’s Officers and Midshipmen, Osprey (very detailed and useful description of Navy captain’s and officers’ tasks and responsabilities)

- M. Adkin’s Trafalgar Companion (Section 3 and 4) which includes very detailed account of the functions of each kind of (commissioned, warrant and petty) officer in a Royal Navy three-decker

- N. Blake & R. Lawrence, The Illustrated Companion to Nelson’s Navy, Chatham Publishing

- R. & L. Adkins, 2009. Jack Tar, The extraordinary lives of ordinary seamen in Nelson’s Navy, Abacus (one of my favorite books on the period, full of quotations from letters, diaries and other manuscripts and details unknown on Nelson’s sailors)

- J. Stockwin’s Kydd Series.

The post is quite long, it will be divided in shorter posts (some could be edited later). I will first focus on the captain, the commissioned officers and the midhsipmen. Later I will come to the warrant and petty officers and the crew.

Master and Commander : De l'autre côté du monde | Netflix

Edited by Bonden
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          1. Captain (commander or post-captain)

a.       Main captain’s responsibilities, decisions and activities when the ship was not in action


-          Ultimate and powerful authority on everybody and everything aboard: the captain was commanding but also judging the violations of the rules; only death penalty could not be ordered without convening a court martial; captains, however, expressed their authority in very different ways, some ruling with the lash, other through courage and personal example (G Fremont-Barnes, p. 36)

-          Main duty: to implement Admiralty’s orders and especially to ‘burn, sink and destroy’ as many enemy vessels as possible

-          Responsibility for everything occurring to the ship and his crew

-          Responsibility for guns and small weapons, stores and provisions (registered in inventories and accounts, indicating the daily expenditure of food, drink, ammunition and other stores and to be reported to Admiralty), shipmuster rolls, discharges, discipline, cleanliness of the ship (infra) crew’s health and the overall performance of his ship

-          Responsability to man his ship when the captain receives his commission (see former posts)

-          Responsibility to ensure that the men received sufficient training at gunnery and small arms

-          Responsibility to keep the ship clean, dry and well ventilated by having the men sweep and scrub the decks, open the ports, pump the well and bilges, etc.


-       In charge of the discipline, deciding the punishment in case of infringement of any rule (from Articles of war to captain's orders)

Picture of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

-          Responsibility to protect the secret of the signals and signal book

-          Taking the main decisions regarding course and seamanship (in battle, see b infra) ; however, the captain stood no watch and did not intervene in the ordinary working of the ship unless a problem arose

-          Checking ship’s position at noon with the midshipmen ; training them and providing experience to them

-          Promoting seamen and petty officers; proposing for promotion warrant and commissioned officers to Admiralty

-          Reading the Articles of war and/or sea service in absence of a chaplain (on Sunday)

-          Keeping the keys of the magazines (and having them watched by a sentry).


-          In charge of the ‘slops’ (bedding and clothing for seamen without spare clothing), sold to the men via the purser


mac30.jpgThe Master and Commander revealed: The real Captain Jack Aubrey ...


b.      Captain’s main decisions and orders in action (see also later posts on fighting)


-          Identifying strange sails spotted by lookouts (if not on deck, he had to be summoned on deck each time a strange sail was spotted)

-          Deciding to chase or fly (if sailing independantly; in a fleet, signaling to the admiral the presence of a strange sail)

-          Clearing the ship for action ; inspecting the ship when cleared for action, offering encouraging words and giving general instructions (on firing) to the men at their stations

-          Sending the men to have a (cold) meal (if relevant)

-          Beating to quarters

-          Pacing on the quarterdeck to await signals, to supervise the manoeuvers, to send messages below and to receive regular reports concerning damage and casualties, being an example of courage for the crew

-          Deciding the ammunition type for the first broadsides (after, lieutenants responsible for gun sections could decide it)

-          Maneuvering and positioning the ship, taking tactical decisions (including to target hull or rigging), according to all relevant factors (wind, broadside weight, distance to target, etc.)

-          Ordering to fire a broadside from a side (and any change of side) or to hold the fire

-          Ordering to prepare for and to board  

-          After the battle,

o   inspecting the damage, including damage to the hull with the carpenter, and supervising repair

o   if a ship surrendered after a boarding action, receiving the sword from the adversary captain and ensuring that the prisoners are treated as prisoners of war

-          During cutting out expeditions, organizing the expedition with his lieutenants and, in some cases, leading the expedition

                       -      Allocating a prize crew to sail the prize to port.


Edited by Bonden
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             2. Commissioned officers (commission from the Admiralty, on advice from the captain; mess in the wardroom/gunroom[1])

a.       First Lieutenant (on rated ships) (messed in the wardroom/gunroom; had not to stand watch)

                                                               i.      Not in action


-          Second-in-command, taking over if the captain was incapacitated or died

-          Responsibility for the smooth day-to-day running of the ship; perceived as the ‘Prime Minister’ (‘captain proxy’) of the ship by the crew; did most of the work; it was said that it was better to sail with a bad captain and a good first lieutenant than to have the conditions reversed (Adkins, p. 25)

-          Responsibility to preserve discipline and to ensure proper navigation

-          Responsibility for the rating of the crew and designating petty officers

-          Proposing a quarter (station) bill (list on which every man’s duties aboard and in action were detailed) to the captain

-          Proposing the watch bill to the captain (dividing the crew into (2, rarely 3) watches);

-          the first lieutenant did not take a turn as officer-of-the watch (only other lieutenants) but was expected to come up when problems required his presence

-          Assigning each seaman to a mess (of 8-12 men in a frigate); sometimes, seamen could choose their messmates

-          Presiding over the wardroom (he had the right to get the best piece of meat and the first glass of wine)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Alchetron, the ...

                                                             ii.      In action


-          Assisting the captain on the quarterdeck and being ready to take over should the captain die

                   - Supervising the operations in boat actions and landing operations. 

James D'Arcy in Master and Commander as 1st Lt. Tom Pullings ...

[1] In frigates and lower rates, there was no wardroom but only a gunroom.  

Edited by Bonden
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b.       Lieutenants (messed in the wardroom/gunroom; had to stand watch)

                                                               i.      Not in action (tasks set by the first lieutenant)

-          Keeping the watch, meaning that they were in command of the ship if the captain was not on deck, and thus had total control and responsibility for everything that occurred during their watch; the captain would have determined the circumstances in which he was to be called (depending on the confidence he had in his lieutenant’s ability)

-          During their watch:

o   seeing that the helmsmen kept the ship on course, that the log was updated every hour and that the rate of sailing was marked on the board that stood on the quarterdeck

o   Monitoring the men to ensure they were alert and properly turned out at their stations

o   Ensuring that the midshipmen and the master’s mates performed their duties

o   Reporting any sighting of unidentified ships (strange sail) and shifts of wind; during the evening (when the captain was in his cabin), when a strange sail was spotted, he had to send a midshipman to inform the captain, to get the ship ready for action and keep the ship beyond gunshot until the captain and the crew are ready

o   Making sure that the lookouts men were awake and did not remain too long at their stations

o   During the night, seeing that the master-at-arms and corporals did their rounds to prevent any trouble amongst the men and did check that no unauthorized candles/lamps were burning or that no one was smoking (except in the galley) ;

o   Sending a carpenter’s mate twice during the watch to sound the well and to see that the lower gun deck ports were closed 

-          Managing administrative divisions of the crew

-          Receiving every morning a report from the boatswain on the state of the rigging and a report from the carpenter on the state of the masts and the yards; reporting any problem to the captain

-          Ensuring that the men kept themselves clean, that the hammock were washed and the men’s clothes scrubbed

-          Ensuring that no boat left the ship or came alongside without instruction to do so

-          Inspecting the ship’s firearms and training the crew at muskets

-          Serving as signals officer

o    it included to monitor the admiral’s signals and to answer them and to record them in the logbook

o   It included also the keeping of lanterns at night

o   ensuring that the stern windows and ports were closed to avoid any detection at night

o   in foggy conditions, ordering fog signals (drum, bell, firing a gun)

-          Serving as treasurer or caterer in the wardroom/gunroom

-          Taking precautions to prevent accidents resulting from squalls or shifts in the direction of the wind

-          Monitoring the steering of the ship

-          Seeing that the position of the ship was regularly entered in the logbook

-          If necessary, commanding a party on shore to press men (idem for the master’s mate)

2003 – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – Academy ...


                                                             ii.      In action


-          Preparing the ship for action and reporting to the captain when she is ready

-          Supervising the men during the fighting and seeing that they remained at their stations and served the guns with all the energy they could muster

-          Commanding a section of guns and ensuring that the gun captains discharged their weapons only after sighting correctly

-          Leading a boarding party

-          Seeing that no loose powder lay on the deck 

                      - Commanding a small party in boat actions or landing parties in cutting out missions

Cinémavis #49] Master and Commander : De l'autre côté du monde ...

Edited by Bonden
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Posted (edited)

               3. Midshipmen (mess in the midshipmens’ berth (cockpit); had to stand watches)

a.       Not in action


-          Learning navigation, mathematics and astronomy from a schoolmaster or equivalent (or even from the captain), seamanship (including to furl, to reef, to bend and unbend sails) and gunnery (often with the help of experienced seamen); learning from the captain useful skills like French language, drawing (to sketch profiles of coastal landmarks for instance) or even dance)

-          Performing a myriad of tasks (assigned and monitored by the lieutenants) :

o   Performing service in the boats (ferrying men and supplies btw ship and shore)

o   Keeping the men in order when working (especially aloft) and reporting to the lieutenants those derelict in their duties

o   Delivering messages throughout the ship

o   Ensuring that hammocks were stowed each morning and cleaned regularly

o   Encouraging and monitoring the men aloft

o   Supervising the hoisting in of stores

o   Commanding parties bringing in water

o   Collecting and carrying for the captain and the lieutenants

o   During night watch, staying awake to help make soundings and mark the ship’s position on the chalkboard


Test Master and Commander, de l'autre côté du monde Blu-Ray

b.      In action


-          Supervising sailors’ work with the rigging and sails or at the guns

                      - When required, taking part to the fighting as a marksman or as part of a boarding party

Cast and Crew in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World ...Hello, Tailor: Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World. (Part 1)

Edited by Bonden
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