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Live Free or Die!

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 14, 2008

     Posted by Jesse


One of the most complex and exciting aspects of these festivals is the battle sail.  During these sails, several ships leave the harbor and test their skills as they maneuver to fire upon one another.  While there are no actual projectiles fired from the ship’s guns, each gunner carefully takes aim just as in the age of fighting sail.  In fact, what most people don’t realize is the amount of work that goes into one of these spectacular sails.  Not only is the gunner constantly moving from one side to another, swabbing, reloading, and firing, but the rest of the crew is also scurrying about handling the sails for maneuvering.  With all ships tacking and jibing around, each captain has to strategize how to get his guns to bear on the other ships.



 During the first battle in Oxnard, I was sailing aboard Lynx as we chased down the Californian, Curlew, and Irving Johnson.  At one point, Californian was only about one boat’s length ahead of us as each ship’s gunners quickly and expertly loaded their weapons.  Inch by inch we gained on Californian as all on board watch the other gunners in anticipation of incoming fire.  Just as we reached our target, both ships rounded up a bit so that each broadside faced the other.  In full 19th century character, Saul, Lynx’s gunner, shouted “Live free or die” and fired away.  After that, it was “Fire all” as smoke and sound billowed across the short distance between us.  As soon as the guns were fired, all gunners jumped to the gun barrels and immediately began swabbing out the guns in anticipation of the next shot.  To our great delight, Saul on Lynx had his guns swabbed, reloaded, and ready to fire before the others. 


For three hours the battle went on like this in such a fashion that all hands and passengers were constantly engaged.  Finally, after an exciting albeit exhausting sail, all ships put back into the harbor and were made fast until the next morning of tours and sails.  Needless to say, aboard these ships and with their crews, there is never a dull moment.


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