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I'm curious about the "mechanical" aspects in the course of a naval battle in the 17th century. To explain better, here are some questions whose answers would provide a text-answer explaining the course of a battle:

  • What were the distances between the vessels?
  • Did they have one single burst with all cannons or were they cadenced?
  • How long did it take from one burst to another (if they were cadenced)?
  • How long did a battle take?
  • How much damage could a vessel take (for each of the common types in that age)?
  • Is there a common number of vessels in a fleet? That is, what is the number of vessels the one would commonly see in a battle, if there were a number?
  • Is all this related to territory? That is, battles were different in europe, central america, north america, etc.?
  • What else?
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1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You might find this enlightening: Naval tactics in the Age of Sail

Also: Line of Battle

To address your main points:

Distance: The fleets could get pretty close, Battle of the Chesapeake page has a quite good map. Also it was possible for ships to pair off a fight in close quarters like at Quiberon Bay). I can't say, but the artists representations look plausible. The "Line of Battle article" also details French innovations in long range tactics (with chain shot) that may have resulted in more stretched out engagements.

Broadside: This source suggests that a broadside would be rolling rather than simultaneous.

Time: Chesapeake lasted about an hour, but there was 6hours of build up beforehand a days of standoff after. Quiberon lasted from 3pm (excluding a couple of hours of pre-battle manoeuvres) until nightfall at 5pm, but the french seem to have lost many ships by 4pm.

You should also be aware of the importance of the Weather Gauge *. Having it provides a fleet with initiative, well used at battles like Glorious First of June

The impression I get is that naval tactics at this time were conservative and indecisive *. With battles like Saintes and Trafalger towards the end of this period becoming more aggressive in seeking to break the enemies line to deliver Racking fire more start a more decisive mêlée.

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While the question refers to the 17th Century, all of the battles given as examples in this answer are from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The source page for the 'broadside' link also contains a number of errors and therefore needs to be treated with some caution. –  Steve Bird Dec 19 '14 at 7:30

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