Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneThe French FleetA Squadron of stout Ships...
-- A NEW VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD
William DampierMay 11, 1678
One Hundred Miles North of the Venezuelan CoastThey came from the east, running before the steady trade winds that blew along Venezuela's north coast and the islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Ponderous and beautiful, graceful in their heavy and slow way, the ships drove along under deep topsails and fully bellied courses. The French West Indies fleet -- great engines of war, like Hannibal's elephants, but vastly more powerful.Indeed, those ships, Le Terrible of seventy guns and five hundred men, Le Bellseodur of seventy guns and four hundred fifty men, Le Tormant of sixty-six guns and four hundred men, and the fifteen other battleships of the fleet were among the most deadly fighting machines on earth. On May 11, 1678, they were on their way to Curac ao, the last Dutch outpost in the West Indies, to drive out the Dutch and conquer that island for France and her king, Louis XIV.The events of the night of May 11, 1678, are described in official reports and memoirs, but perhaps the best account comes from William Dampier. Dampier was a sometime Royal Navy officer who circumnavigated the globe three times, sailed with the pirates of the Caribbean and the Pacific, and chronicled his adventures in the best-selling book A New Voyage Round the World. What Dampier did not witness himself he heard firsthand from men who were there. In Dampier's words, the fleet of French admiral Jean Comte d'Estre es was a Squadron of stout Ships, very well mann'd....By the time the fleet sailed for the Netherlands Antilles, the Franco-Dutch War had technically beenongoing for six years. In reality, the previous century of European history had been little more than one long, protracted war between the major powers -- France, Spain, England, the Netherlands -- interrupted now and again by shaky peace.The last of those wars, known as the War of Devolution, had ended in 1668, just four years before the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle concluded the conflict between France and Spain, which had led to the creation of the anti-French Triple Alliance, composed of the United Provinces, now known as the Netherlands, England, and Sweden. Four years of peace, and now they were at it again.The French fleet that descended on Curac ao had been preparing for action in the Caribbean for a month. Their preparations were well known in the region and caused no end of anxiety, since no one knew for certain where they were bound or on what unhappy island they might bring their force to bear.By April 26, Governor William Stapleton on the British island of Nevis could actually watch the fleet gathering in the harbor at Basseterre, the chief town on the neighboring island of St. Kitts. The sight did not please him. He later reported to the Lords of Trade and Plantations that he was forced by the clamors and cries of the people to secure the helpless sex, old men and children.That Governor Stapleton should have been so uncertain about whom the French intended to attack is hardly surprising. Ten years before, England and France had been enemies. Four years before, they had been allies against the Dutch. Who knew where they stood now?At daybreak on the 27th of April, the French were under way. Their actions indicated that perhapsGovernor Stapleton's fears were well-founded. All day long the fleet tacked, back and forth, trying to make headway against a southerly wind, appearing to close on Nevis.Fortunately for that island, those unweatherly seventeenth-century men-of-war could make no progress. Though they worked to windward for better than twelve hours, the French fleet simply could not sail the few miles between St. Kitts and Nevis.To the great relief of the English colonists, the French fleet finally gave up trying. Governor Stapleton reported that about sunset they bore away. I am] Apprehensive they have gone to Martinique to wait for further orders or to take in men to attack some part of this government... The target of the French fleet was still a mystery.There is only one man who we can say with certainty knew the destination of the fleet, and that was Admiral Jean Comte d'Estre es. Fifty-four years old in 1678, d'Estre es had been in military service since he was twenty.D'Estre es was born in Soleure, in present-day Switzerland. He was of impeccable lineage, like any officer destined for high command. He also had the good fortune to be born during an era of almost constant warfare, when military men could count on regular employment, and the opportunity for distinction and promotion was high.Comte d'Estre es' first interest was not the navy. He entered the French army in 1644 and fought in Flanders for the next three years, being promoted to colonel of the elite Navarre Regiment by the age of twenty-three. By the time he was thirty-one, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant general.For all of his rapid promotion, Comte d'Estre es was not the ideal soldier. His courage wasnever questioned; it was demonstrated amply on many occasions. He was a proud and arrogant man (hardly an anomaly among the aristocracy of France), unpleasant to those who served under him, difficult with his superiors. He was described as a brave man, but a bad leader, and a worse subordinate.Not until 1668, after quarreling with his senior commander in the army and subsequently quitting the service, did d'Estre es join the French navy. He had never sailed as anything but a passenger before, but thanks to his years of military service, his connections, and his noble birth, he was made vice admiral of the West Indies only three years after entering the navy.D'Estre es...
In 1678, most of the French Fleet in the Caribbean sank on the killer reef of Lad Aves island, devastating the French naval power and sparking a new age of piracy. A renowned explorer interweaves the legend of this maritime disaster with the story of his expedition to the wrecks. 84 b&w photos and drawings.
An extraordinary and dramatic tale of shipwrecks, underwater discovery, and the dawn of the golden age of piracy.
On January 2, 1678, a fleet of French ships sank in the Caribbean Sea, one hundred miles off the Venezuelan coast, on the killer reef of Las Aves Island. These wrecks, which claimed more than 1,200 lives, proved disastrous for French naval power in the region and sparked the rise of a golden age of piracy, an era that was forever to alter the shape of the Americas. In The Lost Fleet, writer, explorer, and deep-sea diver Barry Clifford interweaves the dramatic tale of this maritime catastrophe -- and the dangerous upsurge of piracy in the world's seas -- with the contemporary account of his own expedition to document and explore the wrecks.
Tracing the lives of fabled pirates like the Chevalier de Grammont, Nikolaas Van Hoorn, Thomas Paine, and Jean Comte d'Estrées, The Lost Fleet delivers a stunning portrait of a dark age, rich with historical detail and romantic drama. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the outcasts of European society came together to form a democracy of buccaneers, settling on a string of islands off the African coast. From there, the pirates made their fame and fortune by haunting the world's oceans, wreaking havoc on the settlements along the Spanish main and -- often enlisted by French and English governments -- sacking ships, ports, and coastal towns.
Now, two hundred and fifty years later, Barry Clifford has followed the pirates' destructive wake around the world all the way back to Venezuela. With the help of a remarkably accurate map, drawn by Jean Comte d'Estrées (the captain of the lost French fleet) himself, Clifford was able to locate the exact site of the disaster and the wreckage of the once mighty armada.
Beautifully told, epic in scope, and steeped in period detail, The Lost Fleet is a mesmerizing account of historical discovery and underwater reclamation for anyone with a heart for adventure and history, myth, and treasure hunting.
About the Author
Barry Clifford is the author of Expedition Whydah and has been the subject of a PBS National Geographic Explorer episode. He established the Expedition Whydah Sea Lab and Learning Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The Whydah project has beenwas called a model for private archaeology by the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. He lives in Provincetown.