Chapter 1 Notes


Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was published in 1601: ‘Yond Cassius has a mean and hungry look. He thinks too much, such men are dangerous.’  Click here to read the play and some good study notes.

HMS Impérieuse

Her vital statistics are accurate and were taken from Thomas’s autobiography. The facts and incidents on Thomas are also true and were taken from his bio and various books written about his life. If you’re looking for a good one to read to add background and detail to the man, I recommend The Sea Wolf, The Life of Admiral Cochrane, by Ian Grimble.

People have asked me why British Warships often had French names. The French in general built better ships than the English, but their crews were in general not as well-trained and as a result the Royal Navy often captured French warships. The Navy’s officers and crew were paid prize money for every captured ship and the ships were pressed into service with British crews.

Dr. James Guthrie

There are no facts or descriptions of James. Thomas speaks of him as a friend in his bio, but does not describe him or provide details beyond his participation in the taking of El Gamo. You can read about the taking of El Gamo here. This event is acknowledged as one of the greatest single ship actions ever waged – Thomas captured a 32 gun Frigate with 319 men aboard, in Speedy, his 14 gun brig and 54 men. One of whom was the good doctor and James actually steered the ship in to allow the boarders to climb up to the much larger ship’s deck.

Kumité swords. 

Here’s some information on a few of the “long” swords of the kind which Sensei Takano gives to Josh when he leaves Portsmouth. This type of sword dates back to the 12th C and by 1400 were being signed by the master craftsman who forged the sword. The slightly curved blade enabled a faster withdrawal from the scabbard. The sword has a long handle to allow it to be gripped by two hands, a detail I omitted in the story.

The best swords were made from about 200 layers of steel deposited one at a time, quenched with oil or water after each pouring. The sword’s steel, through  the quenching process, reached the stage called martensite, a very hard form of steel. And the many layers of it were essential because the blades would hit other sword blades with tremendous force during a fight. The sword would chip away one layer at the point of contact, but would not shatter.


Portsmouth is called Pompey by its locals and all members of The Navy. Portsmouth has been around a long time: King Richard granted the town its charter in 1194. In 1495, the first drydock in Europe was commissioned here by Henry VII. It’s now the oldest surviving drydock in the world. Dickens was born in Pompey on February 7th 1812, a few months before Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia. Pompey is now home to the Historic Dockyard, housing old warships and museums. It is also the resting place of HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar. Victory is the oldest surviving warship on duty. She’s the Admiral’s HQ for the Portsmouth Navy Base. Tours available, although obviously the active section is out of bounds.

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