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The Daily Aubrey-Maturin: Master and Commander (Book 1), Chapters 10-12 (pg. 296-406)

Your daily dose of off-topic shenanigans

The First Battle of Algeciras
The (First) Battle of Algeciras, July 6, 1801
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images


The showdown that’s been brewing for the past couple chapters, David vs. Goliath, that is Sophie vs. Cacafuego lives up to the prematch hype. It’s a scene evidently inspired by Thomas Cochrane’s real life engagement and capture of the 32-gun El Gamo with the 14-gun HMS Speedy.

In their first encounter, Aubrey used deception to get away form the much larger ship. This time, he does what all small fighters must do against bigger opponents: get in close and nullify their advantage in terms of reach. The Sophie charges head on, and briefly flies the American flag, creating confusion and hesitation long enough to pull up right next to the much bigger ship. The Sophie’s so small in fact that the Cacafuego’s guns can only fire over the deck, ripping the sails to shreds but causing very little if any loss of life. Meanwhile, the Sophie can fire straight into the bigger ship, delivering bodyblow after bodyblow.

And despite a massive disadvantage in terms of numbers, Aubrey & Dillon can lead the pincer charge across, kill the captain, and force the surrender of some 300 men with just 50. Unfortunately, Dillon is one of the three (3!) casualties suffered by the crew of the Sophie. Billy Bones, we hardly knew ya.

The Speedy and El Gamo
The Speedy and El Gamo’ (c1802), from ‘Old Naval Prints,’ by Charles N Robinson & Geoffrey Holme (The Studio Limited, London), 1924
Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images


Success is short-lived, in part because Aubrey has been sleeping with his boss’s wife for a while, and while he’s not the only one to have an affair with her, Captain Harte doesn’t take too kindly to it. And so, not only does Aubrey get the clap (and not the applause kind), he also doesn’t get his expected promotion to “Post Captain”. And Harte sells off Aubrey’s prized capture of the Cacafuego, while also denying him a promised 37-day “cruise” (i.e. more harassing of shipping lines and the associated prize-taking).

Instead, after a brief but boring trip to Malta to get retrofitted, the Sophie’s charged with another escort mission, this time to Gibraltar. That’s way too boring for these adrenalin-junkies (even without Dillon there to be constantly looking for a fight), so on the way, Aubrey decides to blow up some enemy cargo ships that he spots in a harbor. They’re successful in that regard, but the massive fireball attracts the attention of a nearby French force, and a trio of frigates chase down and surround the Sophie.

Those are odds that not even Rocky Balboa could overcome, so Aubrey surrenders and taken prisoner (but he’s an officer, so it’s all very civilized and nice; he’s even allowed to keep his sword).


As it turns out, the French force whose attention Aubrey attracted were part of the force trying to link up with the Spanish and French fleet at Cádiz. But to get there, they have to get past Gibraltar, and the blockade of the British squadron under the command of Sir James Saumarez.

This is real life event, the Battle of Algeciras, and it’s in fact two battles. Aubrey & Co are on board the French ships as prisoners for the first one, then get to witness the second one a few days later while being on “parole” on shore in Algeciras (i.e. waiting to be exchanged for prisoners of equal rank but allowed to walk around, all on the honor system). Spoiler alert: it’s a famous win for the British fleet, solidifying their control of the Mediterranean.

Afterwards, Aubrey has to answer for his surrender of the Sophie in a “court-martial” but is obviously acquitted despite his own trepidations, and reinstated back into service awaiting his next command.

Algeciras Bay.
The Bay of Algeciras (or Bay of Gibraltar, if you will), and the French ships
Photo by: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

And thus, we come to the end of book 1: “Master and Commander”. Next up, book 2: “Post Captain”.





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