|Naval History of Great Britain - Vol III
moles were constructed, a capacious basin dug, and a bridge thrown across the river. By means of a dam the waters were confined, and the vessels kept afloat; and, to prevent any annoyance on the part of the British, immense batteries were erected at all the commanding points. As a still further protection against a bombardment, a strong line of heavy gun-vessels was moored across the road ; which, by nature, was difficult of approach, on account of the numerous shoals and sand-banks in its vicinity. Vimereux, situated about a league to the north-east of Boulogne, was actually formed into a port expressly to receive the flotilla ; and the harbour of Ambleteuse was deepened and enlarged, to answer the same purpose. A glance at the chart of this coast will show how difficult the whole of these ports are of access on account of the sands. No vessel, indeed, beyond a gun-brig in size, can approach near enough to do any execution. The tides, too, which cross each other in an extraordinary manner, are very serious obstacles in the way of a bombarding force.
Corresponding exertions were making on the opposite side of the Channel. An immense number of small vessels, armed each with one or two heavy long guns, were stationed at the Nore and at all the most assailable parts of the English coast; as were also several large armed ships, mounted with heavy carronades, and which ships, although not in a state to go to sea, answered perfectly well for floating-batteries. Mortella (sic) towers were also erected along the coast; and an immense army, composed of regulars, militia, and volunteers, were ready, on the first summons, to rush to the point of danger. In mid-channel and along the French coast, British cruisers were constantly on the watch, ready to blaze away upon the vessels of the flotilla, the instant they showed themselves outside the sands and batteries by which they were protected. The commander-in-chief on the Downs station, Admiral Lord Keith, had this important service under his immediate direction ; and several enterprising officers had the command of flying squadrons, that cruised close along the French coast.
On the 20th of February, in the morning, the British hired cutter Active, of six small guns and about 30 men and boys, commanded by Lieutenant John Williams, being off Gravelines discovered, within three quarters of a mile of the shore, 16 sail of French gun-boats and transports running from Ostend towards Boulogne. In spite of the great disparity of force Lieutenant Williams gallantly gave chase; at 10 h. 30 m. A.M. commenced a running fight with the flotilla; and at 11 A.M. compelled the outermost vessel, a horse-transport, to haul down her colours. The delay in taking possession of the Jeune-Isabelle enabled the other vessels to get under the protection of the batteries, before the Active could again make sail in pursuit.
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