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    Re: Master & Commander
    From: Bruce Stark
    Date: 2003 Dec 7, 17:24 EST

    Kieran,
    
    I sent your posting along to a friend who's fond of O'Brian's writing. His
    response was so informative I've asked his permission to post it.
    
    >Hello, Bruce --
    
    Thank you so much for that very interesting e-mail.  I am, like so many, a
    great fan of Patrick O'Brian.  I've read all 20 books of the Aubrey-Maturin
    series and I've seen the movie "Master and Commander."  As you read what is
    written below (and I DO hope you'll read it), please keep in mind that
    O'Brian is largely a construct of his own imagination:  he was not Irish, he
    was English; his name wasn't Patrick or O'Brian, it was Richard Russ; and
    most importantly, he had never really been to sea -- he tended to get
    seasick on even the smallest body of water and so avoided it.  He wrote the
    Aubrey-Maturin series by researching battle reports of different ships
    engaged in the Napoleonic wars and he invented (out of "whole cloth") the
    characters in those novels as well as their conversation.  There really was
    a frigate HMS Surprise; it had been sold out of the Royal Navy in 1802, so,
    as his biography states, "he could appropriate her for his fiction without
    trampling on history."  That said, my comments re Kieran Kelly's remarks
    follow:
    
    I agree with him entirely when he comments that after the meridian sight at
    noon, the navigator or first officer would observe that the sun was
    beginning to sink and thus would report to the Captain that it was noon.  As
    Kelly says, it was technically past noon when the Captain was informed.  But
    life on board went on, eight bells were rung, and the sea day begun.  I
    think that surely O'Brian invented this.  For instance, the U. S. Navy
    handles this situation in this manner:
    
    At about 10 minutes before calculated noon, the Officer of the Deck (the
    conning officer) would send his messenger to find the Commanding Officer and
    instructs the messenger to say, "The OOD conveys his respects and reports 12
    o'clock noon.  Herewith are the noon position report and the fuel and water
    reports.  The chronometers have been wound and compared and he requests
    permission to strike 8 bells on time."  The CO takes the reports and says,
    "Thank you.  Tell him to make it so."  At this point the messenger races up
    to the bridge and reports to the OOD what the CO has said.  By this time the
    Navigator is observing the track of the sun.  At his signal, the OOD
    instructs the Bo's'n's Mate of the Watch to strike 8 bells.  Thus an exact
    noon is noted by the ringing of the ship's bell and it is dead accurate with
    a well trained bridge watch.  Sometimes this takes a bit of doing, but
    rather quickly they all get on to it and we can all set our wrist watches
    accurately.
    
    As to Kelly's comments re sextants and octants, I also agree with him.  I
    suspect most ships in the Royal Navy and in other maritime entities didn't
    even carry a sextant; in the time of the Napoleonic Wars sextants were quite
    expensive and the model of octant in use at that time was really quite
    accurate.  I, too, doubt that expensive gear such as a sextant would
    be trusted to the fumbling fingers of a midshipman.
    
    Finally, I, too, noted the captured French ship flying the French ensign,
    with the British Union Jack flying beneath it.  I do hope that LT Tom
    Pullings, who was directed to take the captured vessel into port and
    possession by British or allied authorities, would have quickly corrected
    this faux pas.  I see Hollywood working here, not historical accuracy.
    Once a vessel struck her colors, they weren't rehoisted.  Captured was
    captured.
    
    Kelly has a marvelously sharp eye and I am impressed by his knowledge of
    naval history and customs.  I would really like to read other "pertinent
    posts" of his as he puts them out. <
    
    The rest was personal correspondence for me and Janice. Ken Kyle was a
    Commander in the US Navy, retiring in '77. I've sent him the Archive's
    address,
    in the hope he may chose to join the List.
    
    Bruce
    
    
    
    
    
    
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