Sea motive

Sea motive

I – 1781

At Yorktown, British pride was seen to fall,
The World Turn’d Upside Down was heard by all,
French ships besieged the Britons till they fell,
Ad’mril de Grasse’s men had tales to tell,
American and French cries heard o’er land,
Their armies fought together hand by hand,
At anchor, the French fleet in Ches’peake Bay,
New orders see them sail upon their way,
Intrigues out on the Carribean sea,
A fleet of thirty five for King Louis.


de Grasse in early November set sail,
By months end he had crossed the oceans veil,
But plans against the isle of Barbados,
By strong trade winds were lost, all turn to dust,
Instead a new plan based upon St. Kitts,
Was hatched to make England’s fair isle submit,
In anchor, off the port of BasseTerre,
Six hundred British men saw in dispair,
Ten times as many Frenchmen come ashore,
A siege begins; the tightening grip of war.


But Ad’mril Hood of Royal Naval fame,
Got wind of the foul Gallic plan to shame,
Sailed from Barbados with a fleet of ships,
In battles blast the French he hopes to whip,
He could by stealth sneak in a sleeping bay,
Attack a few trapped ships along the way,
Asleep at rest and anchor in BasseTerre,
A plan ennobled! Those who care to dare,
Must risk their all if Victory’s smile they wish,
And hear the sounds of captur’d flags swish.

IV – 1782

Jan’ry twenty fifth sees England back at sea,
For the port of St Kitts, Hood wants to free,
Breath of Subsolanus! Guide on the ships,
And let them close the range to blows and grips,
Collision delays Ad’mril Hood’s plan,
Alerting the French to the schemes of man,
de Grasse alarmed sets sail with his fleet,
Southwards heading the Venti’s whims to beat,
Hood turned about and headed back the same,
Ships weave and tack in Ad’mrils deadly game.


Next noon, the hills of Nevis were covered,
As onlookers watched the fleets maneuver,
Hood tacked to starboard and towards St Kitts,
Which threw the French, and de Grasse on his wits,
The French turned round and began to pursue,
The English fleet ahead, their sails in view,
By two, the English fleet began to anchor,
French hearts were in a rage filled with rancor,
A French port now regained by England’s men!
Whose sailors now sigh and mutter, ‘Amen’.


The rage of de Grasse ensures battle new,
Next morn as the French sailed along and through,
But exchange of cannon fire will not shift,
The English oak stood firm, returned short shrift,
Pluton led the van and soon was shattered,
Her decks destroyed, sails rent and were tattered,
France turned away and back out to the sea,
The isle now had new owners for the quay,
Audacity! Call out aloud Hood’s name,
The capture of this port adds to your fame!


Britain stirs and returns back out to sea,
Our other famed Ad’mril called Rodney,
By Feb’ry nineteenth he reached Barbados,
A fleet of a dozen o’er Atlantic’s cross,
By Feb’ry twenty fifth, the two fleets do join,
Rodney and Hood, thirty four ships o’er line,
de Grasse pursued, anchored in Fort Royal,
Martinique’s safe harbour for Frenchmen loyal,
The quarry scented and chased into his lair,
The British wait for France and Spain to dare.


One hundred and fifty miles south to north,
Would see sailors artful maneuvers spring forth,
Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe,
A battle to be fought in this Carrib group,
France and Spain now made plans for Jamaica,
‘To redraw the lines of the map maker’.
At Cap Français, with fifty ships of the line,
Twenty thousand troops would cross the deep brine,
Rodney’s fair command: ‘This plan to dispel,
And to break France and Spain, their aims to quell’.


April eighth France once more sets out to sea,
With ships o’er the line numbered thirty three,
Convoy of one hundred and fifty sail,
With which to land across the oceans veil,
An invasion Fleet! The moment comes near,
For failure or success, cries or good cheer,
England at sea numbered but thirty six,
With these ships they hope to end the French tricks,
‘Twixt isles Dominica and Guadelope,
Near Îles des Saintes lay the next battle group.


April ninth finds fleets becalmed on the sea,
Waiting for the breezes from the Venti,
Which issued forth gently from Volturnus,
Enough winds for sails to fill with the gusts,
Fleets begin to head slowly towards each other,
de Grasse made his convoy head out for cover,
And sent his van out to attack England,
Some nine ships o’er line who made the stand,
Rodney’s ships tacked to join in the battle,
Causing the French ships to turn and scuttle.


April twelfth sees final battle begin,
As the two fleets sail, one will know chagrin,
France sails from compass points north to the south,
Expecting blasts of fire from cannons mouth,
From England’s ships who before blazing forth,
Sail from the compass points south-west to north,
Volturnus breath keeps sails upon their course,
The Venti’s breeze, the ships sole motion source,
Thus a line of battle is to be joined,
Prize money to be won as ships purloined.


The race of two fleets on opposite tack,
The loser may find themselves on the rack,
As gain of weather gauge in age of sail,
Gives possessor first choice in deadly hail,
France wins but overshoots the English van,
Marl’boro fires first on sixth ship as best can,
Le Brave’s seventy four cannons soon make reply,
White smoke pours out each ship to fill the sky,
England sails close towards the enemy’s lee,
Sailors whisper ‘God! make their shot miss me’.


Line of sail diverge past their meeting point,
French van tack south west, continues fleets join,
Ships slide past by and fire with full fury,
The sailors lot, the cannons killing spree,
Thus English rear feels full fury and might,
And enters the fray, the hard battle’s fight,
But breath of Auster! Venti’s change of fan,
The French ships on south tack must change their plan,
Creates a gap, a hole in line of sail,
Which Rodney finds, and tears back the battle’s veil.


Luffing to the wind, Rodney breaks French line,
HMS Formidable and five more behind,
Interval abreast, the whole English rear,
Soon follow where their Admiral did dare,
The French line caught, England now punctured thrice,
Gift of Fortuna Belli’s roll of dice,
France forced off to leeward in deep disarray,
Their van soon scattered and no more did stay,
So duel for French ships now became the norm,
As each fights for its life through cannon’s storm.


de Grasse in his flagship, crowded by nine,
Strikes Ville de Paris colours o’er the brine,
HMS Barfleur, Hood’s flagship takes the fame,
De Grasse offered his sword, the Ad’mril’s shame,
Ardent, Glorieux, Hector soon followed suit,
César blew up; a sad final salute,
Thus four ships captured, an Ad’mril as well,
Rodney’s fame and fortune made; tales to tell,
His dogged tenacity in pursuit,
Showered forth prize money, Vict’ry’s fair loot.


Yorktown’s loss caused Britain troubles and woes,
The white flag, an army succumb’d to blows,
But soon the tales returned to daring do,
And once again the nation hoped anew,
At Westminster the cries were heard with glee,
‘Our Navy triumphed once again at sea!’
Judged in the balance, tumults twists and turns,
Loss and Victory, wars gamble sometimes earns,
Good Christians know pride comes before the fall,
Fortuna Belli’s whims confounds us all.


The full poem is available as a powerpoint slideshow file here (3.5 MB file!).





Sea motive