Sunday 12 March 2023

Galleys & Galleons: the price of Trepang

Another dispatch from the antipodes as Mark returns to his Galley's & Galleons narrative campaign:

The price of dried trepang has shot up to unprecedented levels on the Canton Futures Market. It’s worth twice its weight in silver taels. Clearly this is no longer a resource that can be left for the local primitives to exploit. The Ming court orders An-te Hai (Admiral of the Tribute-Bearing Fleets) to intervene in strength to ensure Chinese control of the supply chain. Don Marco da Pattaya (Captain-General of the Indies) likewise decides to place the fishery under Portuguese protection. No-one knows what the Makassans and other traditional harvesters think about this.

The two squadrons met in the Arafura Sea off the northern coast of Australia, the most productive source of trepang.

The Ming Chinese (348) bring -
4 x War junks (3x42, 1 x72*)
(Hakka Merchant*, Conch Shell, Green Eyebrows, Lucky Breeze)
Q3 C3: Drilled soldiers, Flagship*, Lateen rigged, Reinforced hull
3 x Pirate (Wako) allied junks (Bean Sprout, Bitter Melon, Bok Choy) (3x50)
Q2 C2: Derring do, Intimidating, Lateen rigged, Reinforced hull, Yare

The Portuguese (356) bring -
1 x Galleon (Sa Caterina da Goa) (106)
Q3 C4: Chaser guns, Drilled soldiers, Flagship, Galleon rigged, Master gunner, Trained gun crews
3 x Fragatas (Sa Barbara, Sao Jorge, Sao Martinho) (60x3)
Q3 C3: Chaser guns, Galleon rigged, Master gunner, Trained gun crews
1 x Dragao (Dragao) (70)
Q3 C2: Airship, Bombs, Fiery attack, Lateen rigged, Master gunner

Apart from the Dragao (which can be towed by a surface ship) there are no high-tech vessels such as Submersible rams (too far from base for such unreliable contraptions) or very large ones such as Galeasses (too difficult logistically + they would slow down the rest of the squadron).

Both commanders are swaggering captains ! 

I used a set of contingent rolls to determine the game set up. The starting options were: (1) both sides enter from the same long table edge; (2) they enter from opposite edges; (3) one side is anchored near an island in the table centre. Naturally in accordance with Sods Law the least likely option (1) turned up. Further rolls determined that both squadrons will come in from the N, that the wind will initially be from the NW, and the Chinese will have the weather gauge and initiative.


So here we are as An-te Hai and Don Marco’s squadrons sail onto the table, having sighted each other at first light a couple of hours earlier. 

On turn 2 An-te Hai held his course, possibly to maintain his position to windward for as long as possible. His plan is to choose the right moment to swarm the Portuguese and capture them by boarding. The Ming squadron has quite respectable artillery, but lacks the shooting expertise of the Long Noses.

Don Marco altered course to starboard, parallel to the enemy. They’ll have to turn to port eventually and his plan is to get a bit closer, shake out his formation to bring all his guns to bear, then blast the Ming to smithereens at long range.

On turn 4 the Ming squadron turned to port (from broad reaching to running thus slowing from L to S movement). The junks Bitter Melon and Bok Choy opened fire at the Santa Barbara, but their shooting was wild. The Portuguese held their course, now converging on both the enemy and the Experiment Isles.

Turn 5, and both commanders are getting a bit worried about their tactical positions. An-te Hai turns another 2 points to port, now heading directly for the islands and also on track to cross in front of the oncoming Portuguese. Except for the Conch Shell which fails to read the signal and holds the previous course. The pirate junks continue shooting at the closest fragata but are wasting their powder.

Don Marco detaches the Santa Barbara to harry the Ming from their rear, and the fragata hauls its wind and begins a turn to starboard, to  swing behind the enemy and join the Dragao. It shot at the pirate junk Bitter Melon with its chaser guns, but its shooting was no better than the Ming efforts. The rest of the squadron holds course for a bit longer, but the Sa Caterina (Don Marco’s flagship) spills wind, slowing down to allow the other fragatas to pull ahead.

Turn 6, An-te Hai likewise divides his squadron. The pirate junks use their Yare ability to spin around and head for the Santa Barbara. Had the Bitter Melon not failed on one activation dice, it would have been able to contact the fragata.  The larger Ming war junks, belatedly joined by the Conch Shell, hold their courses.

The Sa Barbara turned to starboard (now close hauled), spilled wind to slow down, and fired a raking full broadside at (just barely) short range into the approaching Bean Sprout. Causing 2 damage including a critical hull hit. Dragao then chipped in with a fiery attack on the same target, sinking the unlucky pirates.

Sao Martinho and Sao Jorge both opened fire at the Boy Choy, no effect. Santa Caterina fell off the wind, and sent a full broadside into the Bitter Melon, no effect. 

Turn 7, and the Ming stepped up their attack. The large junks turned further to port and closed with the Portuguese. Green Eyebrows took the lead, shooting at the Sa Caterina, and Lucky Breeze shot at Dragao, but the Chinese gunnery continued to be off. 

Both the Pirate junks attacked the Sa Caterina. Bitter Melon made contact, grappled, and swarmed up the sides of Don Marco’s flagship, gaining a lodgement (won the first round of the boarding fight). Boy Choy should be able to join the fight next turn.

But the Portuguese weren’t going to take this lying down. Don Marco got off his Ottoman (make of that what you will) and led the counterattack. The Sa Caterina rolled 3 activations, and Don Marco and his crew won 3 successive boarding actions, driving the pirates back and capturing the Bitter Melon. 

Sa Barbara unleaded a full broadside at close range at the Hakka Merchant (An-te Hai’s flagship) causing 1 damage and hitting the Captain. Luckily this turned out to be the captain of the ship, not An-te Hai. Sao Martinho fired as it crossed the bow of the Green Eye rows, but lacked AP to make this a full broadside, and inflicted only 1 damage before having to alter course to avoid the islands. Behind it came the Sao Jorge, also shooting at the luckless Green Eyebrows, causing a second damage point.

So at the end of turn 7 (photo above) the Ming have lost 2/3 Pirate junks (1 sunk, 1 captured) and their large junks have 3 damage between them. The Portuguese havn’t lost any ships yet, though the big galleon (Sa Caterina) has taken 1 damage in the boarding fight and is still grappled to its erstwhile attacker Bitter Melon.

Turn 8. All the Portuguese fragatas are out of position, unable to support their flagship, and all the Ming ships are in positions to run towards it …

Bok Choy attacks Sa Caterina, grappling and boarding. But the attack is a failure, as Don Marco and the crew, unafraid of the derring-do of the pirates, defend vigorously and inflict 2 damage on the Bok Choy. And the ongoing boarding action prevents the larger Ming junks from shooting at the galleon. Green Eyebrows manoeuvres to attack Sao Jorge instead, but misses. Lucky Breeze takes a shot at Sa Barbara, and damages the fragata. Well done that Mandarin!

The Portuguese fight back. Don Marco and the Sa Caterina crew complete the defeat of the hapless Bok Choy, and cut the grapples of both Pirate junks, leaving them with prize crews aboard. I removed the “damage” caused to the captured junks, assuming it was mostly to rigging etc and can be fixed, if necessary after the battle with repair parties from the Portuguese ships. The Sa Caterina will keep her single damage point though, because why not.

At this point I called the game a win for Don Marco and the Portuguese. An-te Hai has lost all his allied Pirate junks. The war junk Green Eyebrows is badly damaged and, with 2 fragatas nearby, and hemmed in by an island, won’t ever see Canton again. His flagship Hakka Merchant is also damaged, and has lost its captain, but it and the 2 undamaged war junks can probably escape if they run for it immediately. On the bright side, the total loss of the pirates will make them an excellent scapegoat, especially as they are sponsored by a rival faction at the Ming Court.

Don Marco will send the two captured junks back to Malacca, escorted by the damaged fragata Sa Barbara. The rest of the squadron will now search for the trepang fishing fleet and persuade it to bring the catch in to Portuguese controlled ports for sale to the usual middlemen. There is no question at all of Don Marco taking a large bribe to allow continued business as usual.

Cheers from Pattaya

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