Nautical Thoughts

August 11, 2018

Those Tall-Ship Novels

Deep in us all there dwells adventurous marrow, ever yearning for the resolute and brawny tales of the tall ships on high seas. Stories that flout gentility and challenge psyche’s conventionality of modern life. “Take me back,” it cries. Only the Age of Sails can mollify that longing. Times when those who took to blue waters fought the waves and sea-born enemies with adept hands and keen minds. That hunger cares not for happy or bountiful endings, unless it is earned through courage, blood, and resolution. Give it a nautical story of adventure and love, of boldness and peril, then it will quiet.


July 1, 2018

Films and Dolphin Strikers

Actors and singers hate audience members who cough or any interruption that keeps the audience from being immersed in the production.

The same can be said for anachronisms in films or TV series. To those who spot them, those out-of-period errors break the viewer’s concentration. Hearing Stars and Stripes Forever (Sousa wrote it in 1896) in a movie set in 1869 (The Lone Ranger) for the average viewer would probably go unnoticed. The use of Apple Corporation stocks (that didn’t IPO until 1980) in a Forest Gump scene set in 1974 is unlikely to cause any disruption to the general enjoyment of the story. However, a  film showing a P-51 strafing the trenches of Verdun during WWI on the silver screen might cause a titter, an F-100 would evoke a gasp and an F-117 outright laughter.

It is a matter of familiarity. Those errors that are obvious to more people will get higher scores on the “tsk-tsk to guffaw” scale. Only specialists cringe when spotting a dolphin striker on a 17th-century frigate (Frenchman’s Creek [1998]) or 16th-century kilts on medieval warriors (Braveheart). Although it’s of little importance to the storyline, for those who do notice, it’s as unsettling as a cellphone ring in a darkened theater.

Context and attention to the minutiae is a must if a director wants to be respected by movie-goers and critics. The greater the director, the more effort he puts into the details. And whether a tall-ship or muscle car, getting the right prop for the right era is essential in keeping an uninterrupted focus on the plot’s real message. For all of Hollywood’s sake, guys, put the right ship in the shot.


June 15, 2018

The Other French La Renommée Ships

So many naval ships under the French ensign were named la Renommée over the centuries, the name must rank as one of the most frequently used for French ships. The following is a listing of some of the vessels, from mailboats to galleys to frigates, that saw service for France. Many others that were privately owned are not listed. La Renommées below served the navy between the mid-1600s to the early 1800s. And more preceded or came after these listed.

1. La Renommée, 1628 to 1640, a 24-gun fourth rank frigate of 300 tons with 16 iron cannons and 8 cast iron cannons. The keel was laid down in 1627 and she was commissioned in 1628. Her full crew compliment was 125 men. The frigate was commanded from 1628–1629 by Achille Valancay; 1629–1635 by Pierre Challard; 1636–1637 by Chevalier Charles Duval de Coupeaville; 1638 by Charles Daniel; and 1639–1640 by Chevalier Jean-Augustin Garnier de Rousset. She saw action at the Battle of Isles de Lérins on March 24, 1637 against the Spanish Catholic Monarchy. The French laid siege for 45 days until the Spanish capitulated the islands of Saint-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat. The frigate was condemned in November of 1640.
Nomenclature des Navires Français de 1610 a 1661 by Alain Demerliacérins_Islands


2. La Renommée, 1648 to 1654, a 24-gun fourth rank frigate of 300 tons. with a crew of 147 men. Launched in June of 1648, and captured by the British 38-gun frigate Nonsuch, renamed Renown in December of 1651. She was refitted as a fireship and later sold off in 1654.
Nomenclature des Navires Français de 1610 a 1661 by Alain Demerliacée


3. La Renommée, 1653 to 1654, a 30-gun fourth rank frigate of 208 tons. with a crew of 147 men. The keel was 68 ft. 0 in. long; breadth 24 ft. 0 in.; and draught 12 ft. She was captured by the British and renamed the fifth rate Fame frigate in 1653.
Nomenclature des Navires Français de 1610 a 1661 by Alain Demerliac


4. La Renommée, 1661 to 1667, was a 24-gun flute storeship of 400 tons built in the Netherlands in 1650 and purchased in Amsterdam in October of 1660 by Intendant Nicolas Fouquet, French Superintendent General of the Royal Finances. The flute was added to his large personal fleet but seized by King Louis XIV in late 1661 or early 1662 upon the ship’s return from Martinique. Fouquet had been accused of embezzlement and actions against the crown. The king confiscated his property and imprisoned him from 1661 until his death in 1680.


5. La Renommée, 1665 to 1676, was a galley constructed by Chabert with the keel laid in Toulon in July of 1664. She held 25 port oars and 26 starboard oars. The galley was 141 ft. 0 inches long of 200 tons with a draught of 5-½ ft, and launched on March 15, 1665.  At commission in June of 1665, she carried a crew of 130 men, 4 officers, and 260 oarsmen. The galley was condemned in 1676 at Marseille.

French Warships in the Age of Sail: 1626-1786, by Rif Winfield & Stephen S. Roberts


6. La Renommée was an 80-ton barque longue acquired in 1676 of unknown origin. She carried 6 guns and 70 crewmen and was last mentioned as in service at Toulon in 1776.

French Warships in the Age of Sail: 1626-1786, by Rif Winfield & Stephen S. Roberts


7. La Renommée, 1680 to 1691, of the Dauphine Class galleys, was constructed by Jean Baptiste Chabert at Marseille. The keel was laid in 1679 and launched in 1680. She was 143 ft. 0 in. long of 200-300 tons with a crew of 130 men, 7 officers, and 360 oarsmen. The galley carried a 36-pdr forward, flanked with two 8-pdrs and two 6-pdrs, and 12 small hand cannons (pierriers). She was commissioned in May of 1690 and rebuilt in 1690 to 1691.

French Warships in the Age of Sail: 1626-1786, by Rif Winfield & Stephen S. Roberts


8. La Renommée, 1691 to 1701, was an Illustre/Duchesse class galley, constructed by Pierre Hubac. Her keel was laid in 1690 at Marseille, launched in May of 1691, and commissioned in June of 1691. She was 144 ft. 0 in. long of 200-300 tons with a draught of 8-9 ft. with a crew of 130 men, 4 officers, and 260 oarsmen at 25 port oars and 26 starboard oars. Oar lengths were 36 ft. 5 in. The galley carried a 36-pdr forward, flanked by two 8-pdrs and two 6-pdrs, and 12 small pierriers. She was condemned in June of 1701 at Marseille.

French Warships in the Age of Sail: 1626-1786, by Rif Winfield & Stephen S. Roberts
Souvenirs de Marine Conservés, vol. 3, by Admiral Paris


9. La Renommée, 1698 to 1712, was a frigate designed by Antoine Tassy and constructed in Bayonne. Her keel was laid in 1697 and launched in early 1698. She was commissioned in June of 1698 as a 48-gun. The lower deck carried twenty-two 12-pdrs; the upper deck twenty-two 8-pdrs; and the quarterdeck four 6-pdrs. She was 120 ft, 0 in. long of 550 tons with a draught of 15-½ ft. She carried a crew of 250 men in war. During peace, she held 40 guns with a crew of 205. She was struck from the records in 1712.

French Warships in the Age of Sail: 1626-1786, by Rif Winfield & Stephen S. Roberts


10. La Renommée, 1741 to 1746, possibly a French East India 30-gun frigate with 250 men. From 1745 to 1746 commanded by Capt. de la Gâlinais in a fleet in the Indian Ocean under comte de la Bourdonnais with l’Achille (72-gun), Phoenix (36-gun), Bourbon (36-gun), Neptune (54-gun, en flute with 30 guns), Saint Louis (54-gun, en flute with 30 guns), Insulaire (30-gun), Lys (40-gun, en flute with 30 guns), Duc-d’Orléans (56-gun, en flute with 30 guns).

Shipwrecks of Madagascar by Pierre Van den Boogaerde
Batailles Navales de La France, vol. 1 by O. Troude


11. La Renommée, 1745, a French privateer corsair with twelve 4-pdrs and 3-pdrs, of 150 tons, was chartered for naval service and sailed from Dunkerque, France on November 27, 1745, in an invasion fleet of two frigates and six privateers for Scotland. On December 5th, the ship ran herself aground at Montrose on the south bank of the shipping channel to disembark 150 Royal Ecossoise and three picquets of Irish troops from the Dillon’s, Lally’s, and Roth’s regiments to join Prince Charles. Also unloaded, were numerous artillery pieces. The Jacobite troops used the cannons to attack the British Hazard sloop of 14 guns, stranded by an ebb tide in the harbor. Fire from both the shore batteries and la Renommée forced the sloop to surrender.
Annales de L’Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques: La Mission du Marquis d’Éguilles en Écosse (1745-1746)


12. La Renommée, 1767 to 1783, designed and built by Antoine Groignard, was a frigate of 30-guns. The keel was laid at Brest (some sources say Toulon) in September of 1766, launched August 22, and commissioned in December. The final long-hull, 12-pdr frigate carried 30 guns and no secondary guns (some sources say 30 8-pdrs on the upper gun deck and 10 8-pdrs on the quarterdeck). She was 145 ft. 0 in. long (Pied du Roi) at 600 tons with a draught of 14 ft. 1 in. The frigate carried a crew of 220 plus 7 officers.  She was condemned in August of 1783 at Brest.

French Warships in the Age of Sail: 1626-1786, by Rif Winfield & Stephen S. Roberts
Nomenclature des Navires Français de 1610 a 1661 by Alain Demerliac
Souvenirs de Marine Conservés, by Admiral Paris
The History of the French Frigate, by Jean Boudriot and Hubrert Berti


13. La Renommée, 1794 to 1810 (See plan), was originally launched as the Républicaine française, a 32-gun frigate at Bordeaux. Commissioned in March of 1794 as a Galathée class frigate, she was 923 tons, 146 ft. long, 40 ft. beam, and an 18 ft. hold depth. The frigate was renamed May 30, 1795, as la Renommée while under the command of Lieutenant François Pitot. She cruised the French coast off Brest and in June 1796 patrolled in the West Indies. Thomas Drury aboard the British Alfred (74-gun)  captured her on June 13, 1796, after a 10-hour chase and battle. She was commissioned in Jamaica under the British ensign later capturing the French privateer Triomphante ( 6-gun) in 1798 and Spanish privateer Neptune (4-guns) in 1799 along with a merchant vessel. She served in the Egyptian campaign in 1801 as a troopship. In 1805 she was repaired as a 38-gun frigate and patrolled the Channel and Mediterranean and participated in a number of cutting-out missions and captures against the Spanish in the Mediterranean between 1806 and 1807. Renommée was broken up at Deptford in September of 1810.

The London Gazette, Various Issues 1796-1850
Batailles navales de la France, Volume 3 by Joachim Troude, 1867
Souvenirs de Marine Conservés, by Admiral Paris


14. La Renommée c. 1800, unarmed mailboat, length 17 ft. 1 in., keel length 13 ft. 4 in., width 5 ft. 6 in.

Souvenirs de Marine Conservés, vol. 2 by Admiral Paris


15. La Renommée, 1808 to 1813, 44-gun frigate. She sailed from Brest in February of 1811 in a squadron with the le Clorinde and la Néréide (44-guns), to relieve Port Louis, Île de France in the Indian Ocean. Capt. Roquebert was wounded and surrendered the frigate to the British Astrea (36-guns), Phoebe (36-guns), Racehorse (18-guns) and Galatea (36-guns) off Île de France on May 21 after a day-long battle. She became the Java (38-guns) and was captured by the American USS Constitution (54-guns) heavy frigate in December 1812 off Brazil. The Java was abandoned, set ablaze, and exploded January 1, 1813.

The Naval Chronicle: Volume 28, July-December 1812



May 6, 2018

To Build or Not To Build

Whether contemporary or historic, ship model building can be a great pastime. In addition to testing your patience and creativity in problem-solving, it promotes manual dexterity, the sense of touch, and exercises one’s visual acuity. Together with these positive aspects, a trying area is one’s resolve to complete the model. Many a masterpiece remains unfinished in the closet or on a basement shelf, sporting spider webs instead of rigging, set aside for any of a host of reasons.

Before thinking about joining the ship modeling family, one should take into consideration numerous factors.


Compared to other hobbies, the cost of a ship model might seem a trifling insignificance. Yet the expense of a kit can be a shocker to a beginner, some ranging over a thousand dollars. Even just the plans for a ship might approach a few hundred dollars. Depending upon the components used, the extent of detail, and the quality envisioned by the builder, ship modeling costs vary widely. Many scratch-built ships employ the use of unconventional materials or at least costly materials. Some use bone, ebony or exotic woods, custom molded pieces, ivory, gold plating, or hard-to-find linen drafting cloth for tall-ship sails. In addition, one may find they will need new equipment to complete a project such as a metal lathe, micropower tools, or expensive carving knives. As in undertaking any project, a little research into all the associated expenses would be a wise idea.


Oh, the beauty of one of those museum-quality ships! Who wouldn’t feel pride in producing such elegance and detailing in a finely crafted model? Yet we often forget the efforts made to produce them. Would we have the years to complete such a task or the skill? It might be better to shoot for a smaller scaled ship than the two or more foot long, plank on frame, full-rigged vessels. A well-done miniature is far more handsome than a hastily finished 1/48th scale model. Half hull models are themselves impressive upon a wall. Weigh the hours the task will take before committing to it. Dedicating effort to a model that is never finished may as well never have been begun at all.


OK, you have the money and the time. Do you have the determination to weather the frustrations, overcome the tedium, and solve the obstacles of the venture? Choose the model that fits not just your wallet and schedule, but your personality. If long-term tasks are too stressful, boring, or you lose interest in them, then go with a less time-consuming or challenging model. If you are not detail oriented, then pick a model that comes with the detail already done or settle on one that includes less. Better to match your characteristics to the model’s than abandon it when it requires more than you can give.

Common Sense

The old joke about building a full-size sailboat in a basement with only a door applies here. Will your spouse or family appreciate your new-found hobby? Can your family room/den accommodate a three-foot-long tall-ship model? Take the time to reflect on how your decisions will impact those around you, including the effects of the three above topics; cost, time, and resolve, in your plans. Perhaps a smaller scale might do just as well, or a model allowing time for watching your son’s baseball games, or a case for the model to prevent damage from your cat’s curiosity. Don’t let unplanned future details interfere with enjoying your hobby, think ahead.

So, you’ve given it thought and you’re going for it? Great! Join a modeling club, watch the videos, read the books, and check out the websites. Welcome to the ranks of the millennia-old craft and have a blast.

—Purser Dave