Master & Commander ...
Tim Hitchings vs Ron Glass
Ron Glass vs Brian Wool
GM Hitchings oversees his fleet
the all important wing gauge
In Nelson's Shadow ...
Wooden Ships & Iron Men continues to draw new players,
those who played in the past but haven't played in many years,
and players who haven't missed the tournament for years. Many
of them hadn't been born when Avalon Hill published the game.
On the other hand, some of them are retirees. None, however,
are old enough to have sailed with Nelson.
Play began on Monday with the typical, "I'd better just
play with one ship until I get used to it," approach. Matched
players had a choice of sailing British ships of the line (SOLs)
or French frigates. Such was the level of play through Wednesday,
when the press gangs shanghaied the lion's share of new players.
More adventuresome play began in earnest on Thursday by competitive
players setting out with two- and three-ship squadrons. The two-ship
squadrons could be British frigates or SOLs, or a face-off between
Russians and Turks. Three-ship squadrons could be French, British,
or Spanish SOLs or American Frigates.
The annual Fleet Action was featured on Saturday morning and
afternoon. Six gamers started the day. One had to leave for another
event but was seamlessly replaced by a new arrival.
the commentary by enthusiast Paul Owen, one of the Dutch captains:
"This year, the scenario was a meeting engagement at Dogger
Bank between a British fleet of six SOLs and six frigates escorting
nine merchant vessels against a similarly outfitted Dutch fleet.
The goal of each fleet was to escort its merchants safely off
the opposite side of the board. I served as the rear commodore
of the Dutch fleet, with the SOL Holland and a frigate under
my command, as well as three of the merchants.
"Our objective was to exit the Dutch merchants off the
north edge of the board. Unfortunately, we started beating upwind
against a northerly breeze. Admiral Ron Glass had us start in
a tightly packed formation on a starboard tack beating northwest,
as we'd sighted the British sails to the northeast and wanted
to keep the merchants as far from those British guns as possible."
"The British had formed up their merchant fleet in an
orderly square formation of three files of three ships and sent
them on a southeast starboard broad reach. Their three SOLs formed
a line abreast ahead of them, and their three frigates continued
that line to the south. Under full sail, the British warships
raced ahead of the British merchants and threatened to cut off
our Dutch fleet, with the British SOL turning northwest to parallel
our course while the British frigates maintained a southwest
reach to cut off our rear and set up a crossfire."
"Since I was in the rear position of our escort fleet,
I was in the most immediate position to thwart the British advance,
so I brought Holland and my frigate about. The six British warships
were nearly upon me, and I barely had time to take down my full
sails, rig for battle, and line up on a southern run with the
wind at my back to confront the enemy. Admiral Ron by now had
reversed course and begun to bring his van back along the edge
of the Dutch merchant formation as the enemy opened fire."
"I started to take heavy damage but was grateful for
the arrival of Admiral Ron's reinforcements. I tried to fall
into line behind him, but the British had turned the corner on
my rear and put Holland under a succession of rakes. The British
focused on Holland's rigging and a series of heavy broadsides
knocked down one mast after another until she was completely
immobilized. Once a British SOL raked her bow, the captain of
the Holland struck the Dutch colors rather than sacrifice the
lives of any more brave sailors."
"We had successfully engaged the British warships, however,
and Commodore Hitchings came down from the northwest nearly unmolested
by the British escorts and intercepted the British merchant fleet
single-handedly. Just then, the Little Mermaid of the Wind smiled
on us natives of the Netherlands, as the wind backed to a southwestern
breeze, perfect for our merchants to turn down to a port broad
reach and make haste for the north. Admiral Ron meanwhile grappled,
boarded, and captured a British frigate that had come alongside
his SOL. Our frigates turned east and gave chase to the British
merchants that had turned south and then southeast in attempt
to disengage from us."
"In the end, Tim awarded the victory to the Dutch for
having captured a British frigate, immobilizing a British SOL,
and successfully escorting the merchants to safety at the cost
of only one struck SOL. Although I took more damage than I dished
out, in the final analysis, my participation in the fleet action
in combination with my actions the previous day placed me sixth
overall in the tournament. Tim, as the Game Master, disqualified
himself from the semifinals, and Malcolm Smith, the British fleet
commander, elected not to advance. So I squeaked into the semifinal
round as an alternate."
Here's the British perspective, by Admiral Malcolm Smith:
"The Dutch fleet escorting merchant ships was leaving home
when it chanced upon a fleet of the Royal Navy (RN) escorting
merchant ships coming home from Scandinavia. Both fleets had
three ships of the lines (SOLs) and three frigates. Both fleets
had a similar problem - both needed to protect their own merchant
ships while capturing the other fleet and merchant ships. The
wind favored the RN at the onset.
"The RN pushed their warships to the fore to chase the
Dutch while having the merchantmen follow closely to be guarded
by their fleet. The Dutch ships split while half guarded their
merchantmen, the other half - two SOLs and one frigate moved
to confront the British. The early action favored the RN as one
Dutch ship was forced to strike as all masts went down. This
early success was balanced by the Dutch capturing one RN frigate
and sinking another."
"When major success seemed imminent for the RN, the wind
changed to strongly favor the Dutch. The captured frigate was
able to escape back to Holland and the Dutch Navy was able to
let the merchantmen have a clear escape while chasing down the
British merchant ships. The RN was able to provide enough of
a screen to allow the merchants to avoid serious damage while
the remaining time for the exercise expired."
"Lessons Learned--The ability to accurately predict changes
in wind was lost by modern landlubbers. Both sides erred in allowing
their fleet to separate allowing the enemy to attack isolated
ships. A cohesive RN would have destroyed half the Dutch fleet
before the other half could close to within gunshot range. The
merchantmen would have remained safe with a complete RN more
than able to deal with half a Dutch fleet. This action showed
the problems and opportunities of ships in the age of sail."
The Semifinals, as reported by Paul Owen
"As the bottom seed in the semifinal round, I faced Jeff
Miller, the top seed. Tim gave us each an option of three orders
of battle, and I selected three British 38-gun frigates, one
with an elite crew and two with crack. Jeff had chosen two American
44-gun elite-crewed frigates, and so I found myself in a very
similar situation to that of last year's semifinal against Evan
Hitchings, having an extra frigate against American superior
crew quality and gunfire.
Unlike last year, however, I was less successful in maintaining
the integrity of my line. Jeff was masterful in his maneuver,
and we danced around each other for 12 turns before I finally
started shooting. He employed my favorite tactic of shooting
for the rigging to gain a maneuver advantage first, and he did
it better than I could have done myself. I lost a rigging section
on all three frigates and trailed one of my ships just far enough
downwind of the action that she never fired a shot after the
"From that point on, it was essentially a two-on-two
battle, and the American superiority in crew and gunfire took
its toll (despite Jeff's atrocious dice luck). After the tournament
regulation time and three overtime moves, neither of us had achieved
a clean victory, so it came down to points based on damage. Jeff
won by the score of 60 to 52 and so eliminated me from the tournament.
"I learned later that in the Final, Jeff would face Ron
[Glass], who had commanded the Dutch in the fleet action and
who beat last year's champion Dale "Dan" Long in his
semifinal match. (We knew it wasn't going well for Dan in the
semifinal when he turned from his table briefly and asked us,
'Either of you guys know how to handle a ship on fire?') Ron
would go on to beat Jeff in the Final and win the Wooden Ships
tournament as the new champion."
Here's Jeff Miller's report on the Final:
"The Final gave a choice of four British crack SOL, five
Russian average SOL, four French Average SOL, four Average Spanish
SOL - including a 130 and a 112 gun. "I was tempted to go
with the Spanish for those guns, but ended up taking the British
which my opponent did as well.
"Good game but I spent most of it unsuccessfully trying
to catch up point-wise. I managed to get into position to 'cross
the T' across the stern of Ron's line of battle. Then the wind
shifted, which only would result from rolling a 9, and locked
my fleet in irons (i.e: the wind changed to hit me head on).
Almost made up for that but just couldn't gain enough ground
"Had a great time with this tournament though, and the
GM gives out two painted miniatures to those who make it to the
[semifinals]. So no wood, but two new ships to play!"
Congratulations to Ron Glass, both for his leadership in the
Fleet Action and for his championship play.