The Surprise is a frigate; she is famous for her prominent role in the movie "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" and also the respective books from Patrick O'Brian.
The Surprise can mount 9pd cannons or 32pd carronades on her gun deck, and on her weather deck she can mount either 6pd cannons or 18pd carronades. Bow and stern chasers both can mount either 6pd cannons or 18pd carronades.
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The Surprise is a 38 gun frigate with similar size to ships like the Frigate or the Belle Poule however the Surprise has a very light armament of only 9pd cannons on her gun deck compared to the Belle Poule with 12pd cannons or the Frigate with 18pd cannons, on the flip side due to her lower armament she can easily be sailed with a lower amount of crew, especially considering she has 40 less crew than either the Frigate or Belle Poule.
Here is the Sailing Profile of the Surprise. The Surprise stands out compared to all other frigates, and in fact most other square-rigged vessels, in that she is a strong sailer at any point between point 90-150 and in fact performs decently even at points 165 and 75. This is the strength of the Surprise's sailing behaviour - her modest base speed is balanced by her being able to perform well or very well across a broad range of directions relative the wind. Other frigates and ships of the line will have great difficulty escaping the Surprise on any point other than a broad reach, yet here too the Surprise is strong and with her bow chasers she is ideally suited to drawn-out pursuits. Her upwind capabilities are obviously not sufficient to allow her to catch the speedier fore-and-aft rigged vessels but they are good enough to generate an element of unpredictability and well... surprise in combat against unwary square-rigged opponents. Essentially, the Surprise is a dedicated hunter; designed to chase down enemy frigates and ships of the line, slowing them with well aimed shots from her bow chasers, and denying them escape at any point of sail. A Captain of a Surprise must merely make sure not to bite off more than they can chew and provoke a broadside-to-broadside combat with much heavier ships.
The HMS Surprise, originally under french service the Unite, was designed by Pierre-Alexandre Forfait and was designated as a corvette under french service. The Unite launched on the 16th of January 1794.
On 20 March 1794, lieutenant de vaisseau Jean le Drézénec, who was 41 years old and had entered the naval service soon after the revolution from a career in the merchant service, arrived to take command of Unité. He supervised the fitting out of the ship, and found the long guns were too large to be easily reloaded, and the lower sails were also too large. He notified the authorities, who urged him to finish fitting out the ship because a major naval operation was imminent. Soon afterwards, Unité took part in the battle of the Glorious First of June by escorting the dismasted Révolutionnaire as she was towed by the Audacieux. In June 1794 Unité completed repairs in Saint-Malo and Brest to damage she had sustained in the battle. In the following months she escorted merchant vessels along the coasts of France. On 28 September, with the corvette Bergere and under the command of Lieutenant de Vaisseau Gouley, the two ships left Brest to sail northwest in between Ireland and the islands of the Hebrides and St Kilda to intercept enemy merchant ships. On 17 October, the ships captured a 200 ton merchant ship Dianne. The next day the weather turned foul and the two ships were separated. Unwilling or unable to continue the mission alone, Unité searched for Bergere fruitlessly for sixteen days before finally returning to Brest on 1 November.
After repairs, Unité was ordered to join the Mediterranean fleet at Toulon, and arrived there in March 1795. She spent the remainder of the year either blockaded in port or serving as a courier. In April 1796, she was ordered on one such courier mission to North Africa to deliver personnel and messages to the port of Bône. At the time, Le Drézénec, who had been recently promoted to capitaine de frégate, was suffering from smallpox and was incapacitated. Consequently, her first lieutenant, Lieutenant Le Breton, commanded Unité. Captain Thomas Fremantle in command of the frigate HMS Inconstant had heard there was a French frigate in Bône, and sailed to intercept her. When Unité arrived in the afternoon of 20 April 1796, the watch aboard Unité identified Inconstant as a neutral vessel and Le Breton did not clear the ship for action. About an hour later, Inconstant sailed alongside, boarded and captured Unité intact. About a year after capture, Unité was renamed HMS Surprise because another French ship also named Unité had already been taken into the navy. Surprise was re-classed by the British as a 28-gun sixth-rate frigate, though she carried twenty-four 32-pounder carronades on her main deck, eight 32-pounders on her quarter- and fore- decks and two (or four) long 6-pound cannons as chasers. As in the French Navy, this led to difficulty in her rating, considered a fifth rate from 1797-98 but a sixth rate the rest of her commission. Also, she bore the main-mast of a 36-gun ship, just as unusual as her large armament.
Under Captain Edward Hamilton, Surprise sailed in the Caribbean for several years, capturing several privateers. Surprise gained fame for the cutting-out expedition in 1799 of HMS Hermione. Hermione's crew had mutinied, and had sailed her into the Spanish possession of Puerto Cabello. Captain Edward Hamilton of Surprise led a boarding party to retake Hermione and, after an exceptionally bloody action, sailed her out under Spanish gunfire. The Spanish casualties included 119 dead; 231 were taken prisoner, while another 15 jumped or fell overboard. Hamilton had 11 injured, four seriously, but none killed.
After the Treaty of Amiens, the Royal Navy sold Surprise out of the service at Deptford in February 1802 and she was broken up.