North Channel Naval Duel

The formalities completed, Ranger turned sharply and fired a broadside at the following Drake.

The British were unable to reply immediately- and when they did, they found they had a serious problem. With full charges of powder, the four-pounders were unstable, and tended to tip forward; in the case of the two pairs of guns at the rear of the ship, most subject to the rise and fall with the waves, this meant that they could skid almost anywhere as they were fired, presenting grave danger to the gun-crews. In Navy records, Drake’s armament had been listed as only 16 guns, suggesting that the rearmost guns had been left aboard just for show. The original Gunner may well have known of these problems, and perhaps the Gunner's Mate too- but of course one was back in Portsmouth, and the other, since that morning, was aboard Ranger. After a few more broadsides, further problems emerged. Shrapnel from Ranger’s third broadside hit Lieut. Dobbs in the head, putting him out of action. Conditions on Drake’s gun-deck were so unpredictable that the "powder monkeys"- the boys who brought charges of gunpowder up for the great guns, in fire-resistant boxes- eventually became reluctant to do their duty. Twice the ship's Master had to go below to urge the acting Gunner to be more efficient in supplying the powder, when opportunities for broadsides were missed. Another utterly ridiculous problem was that the "slow matches" which were used to fire the guns kept falling into their fire-safety tubs and going out. The four-pound guns could not penetrate Ranger’s toughened hull anyway, so Drake tried copying the technique the Americans had been using from the start- aiming at the masts, sails and rigging, in order to slow the opponent down.

The combatants were very close together- but never close enough for grappling, probably because Captain Jones knew of the extra men hidden below decks on Drake. As well as the great guns, both sides were firing small arms at each other, and here too Drake failed. Little or no extra cartridge paper had been found since the previous night's embarrassing discovery, and soon the musketeers ran out of cartridges. That meant they had to load their guns the slow way, pouring in the right amount of powder, then putting in the shot. Musket balls were passed round in the Armourer's hat, and two powder-horns were shared between all the men on duty. With the other side much better organized, such inefficiency meant the difference between life and death. Drake killed just one of Jones's crew- Lieutenant Samuel Wallingford- by musket fire; another two who were firing from positions up the masts died as a by-product of a broadside. Four of Drake’s crew were killed, including, just under an hour into the fight, Captain Burdon himself, struck in the head by a musket ball. With both the Captain and Lieutenant out of action, command of Drake passed to the Master, John Walsh.

By that time, Drake’s sails and rigging had been reduced to tatters by Ranger’s broadsides, and even the masts and yardarms were seriously damaged; in the light wind, the sloop was more or less immobilized, not even able to turn to aim a broadside. Unable to load fast enough, the small-arms fighters had retreated to cover, so only about a dozen people were left on Drake’s main deck. A few minutes after the Captain died, the two remaining Petty Officers on deck went to the Master and advised him that they should strike their colors and surrender; after further consultation, he agreed. The colors had already been shot away, so Mr. Walsh had to shout and wave his hat instead. According to John Paul Jones's records, the duel had lasted one hour and five minutes.