An extract from the Rupert in Gambia story

The campaign has a full and detailed narrative which accompanies the turn by turn mechanics. All of the narrative is based on events which happen in the table-top wargames combined with the role-play conversations and the umpire controlled activities. 

So far, the narrative runs to over 5,000 words for the first ten turns. Below is an extract from 5th March, five days into the campaign and it detail with a contact on river between the only operational ship in the Royalist squadron and two Republican merchantmen making their way back to England. 

Hopefully, it is an interesting read.

When the sun rose at six o’ clock on March 5th the English had already been at work some hours, taking advantage of the relative cool of the early morning to get much of the heaviest labour complete before the heat became oppressive. Just before eight, a musket shot rang out from the fighting top of Swallow. Two sail had been sighted upriver heading seaward. They had passed St Andrew’s Island, barely visible in the morning haze and if they held course and speed, would pass in a couple of hours. With the wind in the west, it was likely they were making headway on the current. The alert halted all activities as Swallow was the only operational vessel in the squadron. Rupert took control, ordering out two shallops from Constant Reformation and a further two launched from the careenage. All were under sail and in total, contained over one hundred men armed to the teeth. The hesitation of the previous days was absent. Swallow moved briskly into the nearest channel. It wasn’t long before the ships were identified as English which simultaneously created a frisson of excitement and nerves. 

The encounter described in the narrative 

Still some distance off, the smaller had changed course and chosen a northern channel but the larger, which had the look of a well-armed if old-styled merchant, continued on its bearing which brought it presently within hailing distance. Rupert enquired after the master and whether the ship was in service of the Commonwealth. John Whalley confirmed his allegiance and proudly declared his familial ties to the Lord Protector, a cousin once removed. When challenged, Rupert explained his own ship was loyal and that they were merchants seeking respite from the cruelty of the oceans. Whalley clearly suspicious, commented that Rupert’s ship looked to be no merchant and carried battle damage. He asked her name to which the response Swift, created consternation. Whalley was not familiar with it. As the ships closed one upon the other it was clear the Commonwealth vessel would cross Swallow’s bow at a range of less than thirty yards. The stiff exchange proceeded with Whalley asking after Rupert’s service during the war of liberation the response to which was clearly considered vague and unsatisfactory.

The Royalist careenage on the western shore of the Gambia river.

 Two Royalist shallops had kept apace with Swallow and now lay to windward whilst the others had pushed well out into the river toward Dog Island to interdict the progress of the smaller vessel. Their presence raised a pointed question as it seemed anomalous to the yarn about merchants taking refuge from the elements. Whalley’s final unfinished comment pointed to Rupert’s distinctly un-English accent but was interrupted by his bellowing the word Fire!

Pride of Bristol, for that was the name of Whalley’s slaver ship, lay across the beak of Swallow and her gunnery should have proved fatal. His crew demonstrated much inexperience of war as most shot fell wide and splashed into the river despite the perfect raking angle. Cursing his luck and sensing the best chance had passed, Whalley ordered his ship hard about and charged into the shallops. The first was cloven and its men thrown into the water with many crushed, concussed or drowned. The second took evasive action, scraped along the starboard side of Pride and emerged behind her. This reckless ramming caused significant hurt to Whalley’s ship leaving a wake of splintered timbers and trailing lines. All prospect of subterfuge abandoned, Rupert had Swallow turn sharply within the confines of dangerous shallows to lie across the stern of Pride. Although supervised by the experienced gunner Babbington, the Royalist broadside was not the coup de grâce intended. Even with its ancient hull sorely scarred, Pride of Bristol retained hope of escape. Both ships came parallel, bearing west into the wind although Whalley’s moved mostly by the power of the river. As guns were reloaded and run out, Swallow’s prospects of victory looked more favourable. Whalley’s crew were no warriors.

Rupert, aboard Swallow in company with longboats sails out to challenge the unidentified ships.

 Their fire was ragged and fell short. Babbington, under the censorious eye of his prince, did not fail a second time. The larboard guns smashed the length of Pride’s hull and fire broke out aboard. By then she was barely afloat and drifted aimlessly onto a mudbank where she bottomed quickly, up to her quarter deck in about two fathoms. The fires which had finally loosened her old timbers and caused the hull to collapse hissed out angrily as water engulfed the wreck. An added drama unfolded as Swallow ploughed on directly toward the now partly exposed ruin of Pride of Bristol. Throwing her helm hard to starboard she missed clipping the protruding, tombstone-like stern and found herself faced with an immediate secondary hazard, the very mudbank on which her enemy had foundered. The quick thinking of Galopim, the Portuguese pilot resulted in Swallow continuing her acute starboard sheering manoeuvre and just making the deeper water north of the extensive, muddy slab. Cheers and applause rung out spontaneously across her deck as the men thanked God and the Portuguese for their safe delivery.

The decisive broadside which ignites Pride of Bristol and causes her to founder

 Many of Whalley’s men had died in the gunnery battle and consequent inferno and of those aboard when she went down, only eleven were picked up by one of the shallops. Regrettably, Whalley was not amongst them as Rupert had vowed a particularly unpleasant end for this traitor.  All the while, the smaller vessel had slowly worked her way downriver in the lee of mudbanks but now found herself exposed in open water and facing Swallow and the surviving shallop from Constant Reformation.  Demonstrating admirable coolness, Rupert hailed the other master who identified himself as Ezra Bunzell in command of the ketch Chastity out of Milford. Asked if he would heave to, he barked defiantly that as a Leveller and fervent anti-Royalist, all he had to offer were the muzzles of his cannon which duly belched forth. Their fire was less impressive than his rhetoric as not one shot found its mark. Swallow made two passes to come alongside and board and before the successful third attempt, the shallop had grappled Bunzell’s ship and a brutal combat played out on her cramped deck.

The Leveller captain Bunzell opens fire on Swallow

 The Leveller crew was diminutive in number but fought like demons and soon, all the Royalists from the long boat had been killed or wounded. It behoved Rupert to leap upon the bloody deck and overpower his enemies, killing Bunzell in the process. Although the battle was over, there was unfinished business at the wrecked Pride of Bristol. The few survivors were interrogated about burden and on securing assurances of their safety, they offered information about slaves who, by then had tragically drowned, ivory, various precious items and most interestingly, a quantity of gemstones acquired from the fabled mines somewhere at the headwaters of the river. In the afternoon the remaining shallops clustered about the stern of the wreck whilst divers went in off the mudbank. After strenuous efforts but with no loss of life, most of the ivory was recovered from the forward hold together with a sealed casket found in Whalley’s cabin.

Ezra Bunzell's Chastity triumphs over a longboat full of Royalist musketeers

 This was one of the easier areas to access being that the stern lay in clearer water and only a few feet below the surface. When opened, it was indeed found to contain precious stones and taken in conjunction with additional cargo found aboard Chastity, the value of Rupert’s niggardly war chest was doubled in the course of a few hours. The Royalists had taken a weatherly and largely undamaged ketch of 14 guns together with eleven prisoners who as pragmatists, all agreed freely to join the squadron. In addition, the haul of booty eased the straitened finances of the fleet. The Royalists lamented the cost of this sharp action. Twenty-six men had been lost when Whalley rammed the shallop. A further twenty-one had been killed or were permanently incapacitated from their wounds during the frenzied fight with the Levellers. Swallow had also suffered some twenty-seven of her complement to be struck down during her duel with Pride of Bristol and subsequent overwhelming of Bunzell’s ship. It had indeed been a bloody day.

Rupert's Swallow has overwhelmed Chastity and the battle is ended