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    Re: Master & Commander
    From: John Kabel
    Date: 2003 Dec 5, 22:19 -0500

    Navigation issues aside (since Crowe learned about both sextants and
    violins just for this movie), I was very disappointed.  I've read the
    series at least four times, and it quickly became obvious that it wasn't
    any one O'Brian book represented on film.  I've been able to trace
    allusions from even the last book in the movie.  No wonder there is not
    likely to be a sequel!  Where would they start?
    But, Aubrey carried at least two chronometers.  These had to cost more than
    sextants.  I suspect that 9-10 officers learning on the Surprise
    quarterdeck might have been stretching it, but on a large man-of-war, it
    would not be out of line.  Many of the officers of the day started rich
    before they went to sea.
    John Kabel
    London, Ontario
    > Last night I watched the Peter Weir/Russel Crowe epic Master and Commander:
    > Far Side of the World and thought I would share some observations as they
    > pertain to navigating and ships. I am an out and out Patrick O'Brian fan and
    > have read the entire Aubrey/Maturin  series twice - all 20 or so books - so
    > be warned of bias.
    > In the books O'Brian portrays the sacred rite of the noon sight thus: The
    > first officer or navigator on a British warship, often with the aid of
    > practicing midshipmen, would daily observe the sun for meridian passage. At
    > the point when the sun finally begins to sink after culmination the officer
    > turns to the Captain and says:
    > "He's away. Noon Sir?" Note that the officer is asking the captain a
    > question.
    > The captain would reply:
    > "Thank you Mr Smith. Make it so."
    > The ships bell would then be rung signifying noon and the nautical day would
    > begin.
    > This sequence was repeated in virtually all O'Brian's books and was hinted
    > at in the film. I love O'Brian's suggestion that the officer has to ask the
    > Captain whether it is, in fact, noon. The passage of the sun across the
    > meridian was not enough to presume that noon had occurred. On an English Man
    > O' War it was noon when the captain said so and not a minute before or
    > after. However I have a question: Why was noon regarded as being at the
    > point when the sun began to fall. This technically was well past noon
    > although it would have but a negligible impact on the calculation of
    > latitude. Was this just a flight of fancy on O'Brian's part or did this
    > actually happen? Possibly our English contributors could assist here.
    > At the point in the movie where the noon site is being taken, Aubrey is
    > instructing the ship's gentlemen - its young midshipmen - on the art of
    > taking noon sights. There are about 9/10 of them all armed with a sextant or
    > quadrant. About four of them are wielding sextants. Since the film is set in
    > 1805 I find this a bit difficult to believe. At that point the sextant was
    > only coming into common use and would I believe have been a fairly rare and
    > expensive item. I doubt if any English  warship would have carried four of
    > them and certainly they would not have been entrusted to the tender care of
    > a midshipman, who was only one rung up the totem pole from a common seaman.
    > Am I right in this hypothesis?
    > Furthermore, I read recently that until well into the 1800's, the noon
    > sight - requiring less exactitude - was taken with the cheaper and more
    > robust quadrant. The sextant was preserved almost exclusively for the more
    > demanding lunar Distance where precision was vital.   If this is so then the
    > foredeck scene on Lucky Jack Aubrey's ship was well adrift.
    > My understanding of how Napoleonic era naval actions involving Frigates or
    > Men o' War were fought is that the action, once joined, was only terminated
    > when one side "struck its colours" i.e. hauled down its flag to indicate
    > surrender. Hostilities  immediately ceased and etiquette required that once
    > struck, the colours could not be hauled up again and fighting recommenced by
    > the losing side. Capitulation, by striking the colours was a constant theme
    > in O'Brian's books, where he showed it occurring in the American and French
    > as well as the British navy.
    > In the critical scene after the English ship "Surprise" had taken the larger
    > French Man o' War, "Archeron", Jack Aubrey the English captain asks an
    > officer "Have they struck yet?"
    > The officer replies "Yes Sir, they have hauled  their colours."
    > "Good" says Russel Crowe/Aubrey"
    > However, in a long shot of the two ships supposedly on the day following the
    > battle, the captured French ship is shown with the French naval ensign still
    > hauled aloft with the British ensign flying beneath. I suggest that this is
    > factually incorrect for a couple of reasons. Once colours were hauled they
    > were only run up again in the defeated ship if the defeated captain wished
    > to recommence the contest. Also I do not believe that an English naval
    > captain would ever have allowed the English  ensign to fly on  the same pole
    > as the French ensign with the French flag ascendant, especially in a
    > captured warship.
    > I am not a naval historian but would appreciate any light the list could
    > throw on any of these matters.
    > It's a good flim go and see it. However be warned. An American film directed
    > by an Australian with an Australian leading man trying to play the part of
    > an Englishman will not please everyone.
    > Kieran Kelly
    > Sydney
    > Australia

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