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[Many thanks to Gérard Delacroix for his help in the writing of this text and to Bernard Kientz for his drawing]
The Protecteur as a 64 gunship as a matter of fact never existed!
It seems that the Paris (France) 'Musée de la Marine' 64 gunship model had been wrongfully named by the admiral Pâris, keeper of the museum at the end of the 19th Century. He thus christened this model with the help of a commentary written on a time register, but whithout checking the name's truthfulness, especially regarding the ship's armament.
Well, a 64 gunship named Protecteur really existed; her building began under the direction of Noël POMET under the reign of the French king Louis XV, in 1757 in Toulon (harbour of the south of France), was launched on the 21st of May 1760 and sailed until 1789. She was furthermore commanded by Mr de Grasse Limermont and was part of the count of Estaing's fleet during the Grenada campain on the 6th of July 1779.
However, this vessel is representative of the sailing ships of this time. The model shown in the museum was restored in 1880, and was built at a scale of 1:33.
The Protecteur was armed with guns which cannonballs' weight identify the guns : the bigger ones, placed in the first battery (the lower deck), fired 24 pounds (almost 12 kilograms) cannonballs, the 12 pounds guns threw 6 kg cannonballs, and the smaller ones, the 8 pounds guns, fired a 4 kg charge.
The maximum range of these guns was 3 700 meters, but the best efficiency (precision and destructive effects) prescribed to fire them to a range of about 600 meters...
The guns were the only long-range weapons aboard the ship. Their handling was dangerous, time consuming, as well and it took even a well-trained crew several minutes to recondition one of these huge machines after a fire.
A 24 pounds gun and its carriage weighed about 3 tons, and it needed no less than 13 men to operate it. The 12 pounds guns needed 9 sailors, and the 8 pounds; 7.
When a 64 gunship fired, about 330 men had to work simultaneously, locked in dark and smoky decks. One unique broadside threw 260 kilograms of iron cannonballs on its target.
Some fifty people (often ships' boys, hardly 12 years old) had to carry the gunpowder and the cannonballs from the magazine, in the depth of the ship.
During the battles (and also the rest of the time), the ship had to be maneuvered, and another hundred people or so were divided among the decks and aloft.
To this floating town had to be added Marine Light Infantry troops, which consisted of some hundred soldiers, divided among decks and tops, and who fired once the ships were close enough.
It was not rare that during war times, a ship such as the Protecteur accommodated 600 men, who had to be fed and quartered during several months straight of.
Such a promiscuity in a space so confined led to health problems that could take catastrophic proportions in no time. The ship surgeon would found himself completely cut off, and only depended on his knowledge, his implements and the famous more or less water down rum to take of all the harms that did not bound to happen during the ship's missions.
The fresh food was rapidly eaten, and the men had to be fed with salted meats (pork, beef or cod) and more or less limpid water, taken from barrels on the hold of the ship. The daily water ration for the seamen was 4 liters (including cooking needs), and was often rationed when the reserves became too low...
During long missions, Scurvy affected seamen with lack of C vitamin seamen. The crew was also weakened by all the wounds suffered during normal sailing : falls, battle injuries, leading very often to amputations, the surgeon working in a small and badly lit sickbay.
A tourniquet, a rapid alcohol bumper, and the amputation saw did its work. No wonder that numerous men wounded during the battles died from their injuries in the days following the fight.
Such life conditions were endured by the crew whith the help of an iron discipline : navigation laws were implacable as far as punishments are concerned; the irons, whipping with ropes, 'run the bowline' ('courir la bouline', in French), that is to run between two lines of seamen handling ropes, or worse, the 'hold' punishment ('la cale') : let a tied on man fall in the water from the yardarm, or worst the 'great hold' ('la grande cale'), where the man was pulled underneath the ship! Finally the convicts would be put in prison or to death by hanging.
Despite all this, these ships represented the golden age of the sailing navy; a ship such as the Protecteur measured 74 meters long, 14 meters wide and 64 meters in heigh! Her main mast was 90 centimeters in diameter, and the whole ship weighed 3 000 tons...