When the Artésien reached the mouth of the harbour, she spotted the British fleet at anchor, and signalled Suffren that the enemy was in sight. Suffren, assuming (correctly) that the fleet had men ashore and would be in some disarray, immediately gave orders to attack, leading the way with his flagship, the Héros. Johnstone, who was in the process of ordering ship maneuvers to separate ships that had drifted too close to one another when the French squadron was spotted, had to scramble to prepare the fleet for battle.
Suffren's orders were for his line to anchor before the British fleet and open fire. This he did with Héros, taking on Hero and Monmouth, the two largest British ships. The Annibal soon came to his aid, and eventually drew most of the fire. The Artésien, whose captain was killed early in the engagement, captured a troop ship in the confusion, and then was blown out of the action by a breeze. The Vengeur passed along the anchored British fleet, exchanging broadsides, but never anchored herself, and passed out of the action, while the Sphinx also failed to anchor, and only contributed minimally to the action.
Suffren, with the advantage of surprise, maintained the action with the two anchored ships for ninety minutes until damage (Annibal lost two of three masts) before signalling a retreat while maintaining fire. The Annibal lost her third mast on her way out of the harbour, and was slow to follow the Héros.