Both twenty-pound guns discharged their load of grapeshot, chain and silverware at the
port stern of the Focault, cutting her captain and her stern rigging to pieces. Thatcher was
now standing very close to his men controlling the whipstaff, the long pole hooked directly to
the rudder, and yelled, “Hard aport!” The crew moved the heavy rod, which pushed the
rudder as far and as quick as they could, to bring the Phoenix’s port gun deck to the stern of
the Focault, now a site of chaos as the crew on the port stern had been raked by the shrapnel
from the Phoenix’s guns. The damage to her sails and rigging was superficial as the Focault
continued to move away from the turning Phoenix, hoping to get swiftly out of gun range. But
as the port cannons came into view of the stern, Caesar ordered each gun fired one at a time, a
steady cadence of balls slamming into the stern of the Focault, shattering her windows and
scoring hits on her hull, and, at last, the final shots striking at her tiller.
Thatcher was using the confusion on board the Focault to right his ship to give chase.
With her captain now dead on her decks and men scrambling to ply sail to the undamaged
rigging and masts, the Focault now suffered from a lack of maneuvering, as those last few
shots had blown away the whipstaff from the tiller, meaning she had only the sails and the
skills of her First Mate to take her out of harm’s way. There was hope among the Frenchmen
that the concussion of fire had carried across the waters to the other five ships in their convoy;
however, their French companions continued their southern course as the Focault had peeled
off, heading north to her ill-fated interception of the Phoenix.
Mr. Thurmond was demonstrating his talents at seamanship as he took charge of the sail
crew, plying full sheet to take advantage of their unscathed sail and rigging. The sight of that
full crest of sail should have been intimidating enough for the Focault, but when her desperate
crew looked behind they saw a sight few would ever expect to behold, as now all the
Phoenix's ports were opened and out came those long sweeps, methodically slapping at the
water, giving her that extra one or two knots to chase down the Focault more quickly. The
small bow chasers of the Phoenix harassed the crew at the Focault’s stern, as they desperately
tried to run out her guns. That continuous fire of grapeshot made the task of fixing those guns
exceedingly dangerous and sent men to seek out the deck rather than place their heads in that
deadly zone of fire. Yet their curiosity of those strange rows of oars pushing the Phoenix
forward could not help but fascinate and alarm these Frenchmen as they attempted to ready
their ship for the broadside to come. Thatcher directed the Phoenix to come to starboard of
the Focault, and the first moment he could apply a gun to her hull, Caesar began ordering fire.
As each oar retreated into a port, seconds later a gun took its place. Yet on the starboard side
the oars continued to push, driving the nose of the Phoenix toward collision with the Focault,
pushing her bow ever closer to the hull of the French ship. As the port guns continued to
blister the hull, those relatively harmless bow chasers now poured deadly fire into the sails,
rigging and crew that populated the weather deck, now a hell of flying splinters and shrapnel.
Thatcher stood between the bow guns, a boarding ax in hand, as his Malagasy crewmen
began to pour forward to follow his lead. As the bow of the Phoenix slammed mercilessly into
the starboard hull of the Focault, Thatcher held the wood frames of the bow chasers to steady
himself and brace for the jolt. The moment the two ships came to rest, Thatcher leaped onto
the deck of the Focault, swinging that boarding ax, in truth a simple woodcutter’s tool, with
deadly efficiency to anyone still standing on her deck. The Malagasy came across like a tidal
wave, hacking and slashing at everything that moved. Caesar now joined the fray, a saber in
one hand, a dagger in the other, as he led the men into the dark, dank hold of the Focault.
The paralyzed French were in no mood to fight after such a brutal assault on their ship and
crew, and for those still standing surrender came quickly and easily, as the African warriors
seized control of the Phoenix’s first prize.