History repeated itself yesterday as the American fleet of tall ships once again defeated the British naval squadron in a re-enactment of the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.
Almost 200 years ago, a 28-year old Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry took on the British Navy which had never before been defeated. Sailing from the Put-In-Bay harbor, Perry wanted to prevent the British fleet from re-supplying Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario.
With much more powerful guns on the British ships, the only way the Americans could win would be with the wind at their backs. Perry’s ships could do damage to the British fleet, but only if they could get within close range.
As the battle began, Perry’s ship, the Lawrence, took considerable damage and could not continue fighting. He famously took his “Don’t Give Up the Ship” flag, and made his way via a small longboat to the other major gunship, The Niagara.
With a fortunate gust of wind, he was able to maneuver the Niagara around the British line, unleashing his carronades on the previously wounded British flagship, The Detroit. Hemmed in by their own ships, the two largest British ships collided and were repeatedly slammed by American firepower from all sides. One by one, the British ships surrendered, giving the Americans a victory which would turn the tide of the war.
To commemorate the event, 17 tall ships took part in the re-enactment sailing out of Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island on Lake Erie. An estimated 2,000+ small boats accompanied the ships as they sailed out 8 miles north to the site of the original battle.
Grey skies and a miniscule drizzle were present as the tall ships loaded up with passengers and left the Put-In-Bay docks Labor Day morning. Taking turns using the docks, subsequent boats docked and loaded, taking some time to get the entire fleet out into the open waters.
A 500 foot “stay clear” zone had been requested of all pleasure boaters around the battle zone, but many didn’t “get the memo” and had to be requested to leave by the Coast Guard. Luckily, as the pleasure boaters were being dispersed, so did the grey overcast skies. As the battle actually began about 1:15 p.m., blue skies and a 10-15 knot wind made for great sailing weather.
Professional actor Billy Campbell portrayed Perry during the battle. He sailed into battle on the tallship Windy which was to portray the original flagship Lawrence. After much cannon fire from the Sorlandet, portraying the British ship Detroit, he climbed down into a longboat, (this time with a outboard motor) and quickly made his way to the Niagara (playing itself.)
After raising his flag, the Niagara turned to starboard, outflanking the British line and fired the final shots causing the British to surrender.
There would be no government cover-up of this battle, as thousands upon thousands of onlookers captured every second of the battle on their cellphones.
Slightly too long for Twitter, Commodore Perry’s famous message once again rang true…””Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry”.