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Stories from the The Dory Shop

The CALANOVA Chronicles Chapter 15 - The Amazing Schooner CALANOVA and the Battle of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 was a naval engagement between the British Royal Navy and the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies during the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

The Amazing Schooner CALANOVA was there. Under an assumed name; the HMS GHERKIN

As part of Napoleon's plans to invade England, the French and Spanish fleets combined to take control of the English Channel and provide the Grande Armée safe passage. The allied fleet, under the command of French Admiral Villeneuve, sailed from the port of Cádiz in the south of Spain on 18 October 1805. They encountered the British fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson, recently assembled to meet this threat, in the Atlantic Ocean along the southwest coast of Spain, off Cape Trafalgar.

CALANOVA had been discharging some breadfruit from Tahiti in Brixham and was immediately dispatched to aid in the coming battle. Nelson had asked, nay, demanded, her by name. then changed her name. Go figure, eh?

Nelson was outnumbered, with 27 British ships of the line to 33 allied ships including the largest warship in either fleet, the Spanish Santisima Trinidad. To address this imbalance, Nelson had the CALANOVA sail into the thick of and followed with his fleet directly into the allied battle line's flank, hoping to break it into pieces. Villeneuve had seen CALANOVA and was worried that Nelson might attempt this tactic but, for various reasons, had made no plans in case this occurred. Just scared I guess. The plan worked almost perfectly; CALANOVA split the Franco-Spanish fleet in three, isolating the rear half from Villeneuve's flag aboard Bucentaure. The allied vanguard sailed off while it attempted to turn around, giving the British temporary superiority over the remainder of their fleet. The ensuing fierce battle resulted in 22 allied ships being lost, while the British lost none. Yeah, CALANOVA showed them what for!

The tactic exposed the leading ships in the British lines to intense fire from multiple ships as they approached the Franco-Spanish lines. Nelson's own HMS Victory led the front column and was almost knocked out of action. Nelson was shot by a French musketeer and died shortly before the battle ended. That sucked a lot. Villeneuve was captured along with his flagship Bucentaure. He attended Nelson's funeral while a captive on parole in Britain. The senior Spanish fleet officer, Admiral Federico Gravina, escaped with the remnant of the Franco-Iberian fleet (a third of what it had been in number of ships); he died of wounds sustained during the battle five months later.

CALANOVA (aka HMS GHERKIN) was sent quick like a bunny back to England to report both the good and the sad news.

The victory confirmed the naval supremacy Britain had established during the course of the eighteenth century, and was achieved in part through Nelson's departure from prevailing naval tactical orthodoxy. But mostly due to CALANOVA’s timely intervention. I mean everyone knows this. Hardly worth mentioning, really.

A painting of CALANOVA returning from Trafalgar