HMS Polychrest

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HM Sloop Polychrest is a fictional Royal Navy sloop-of-war commanded by Master and Commander Jack Aubrey in the Patrick O'Brian novel, Post Captain. The Polychrest's name -- a word meaning a medicine that may be used for several purposes -- refers to the multiple uses that her designers originally intended for her. Polychrest, like a traditional man-of-war, mounted a single tier of twenty-four pound carronades. In addition -- and unlike a traditional warship of her era -- she was also designed to carry a rocket launcher intended to destroy an enemy ship-of-the-line at a range of one mile. In order to accomodate this unusual weapon, Polychrest employed retractable sliding daggerboard keels and a pointed stern, allowing the vessel to absorb the recoil of the rocket without damaging the ship.

SPOILER WARNING:  Plot or ending details for "Post Captain"  follow.

In Post Captain, the reader learns that the Polychrest's unusal rocket weapon was a failure; the one (and only) test of the weapon resulted in an explosion that killed the weapon's designer. Rather than scrap the vessel, the Admiralty chose to commission her as a traditionally armed sloop-of-war during the period of rapid re-armament that immediately followed the Peace of Amiens. It is rumored that the command of the Polychrest was refused by multiple officers before it was ultimately offered to Commander Aubrey. Jack Aubrey is aware of this, but heavily in debt and desperate for a naval command, he accepts the First Lord's offer of the Polychrest.

Polychrest in active service is slow, unweatherly, and makes an inordinate amount of leeway. Her unusual appearance -- pointed on both ends -- earns her the derisive nickname, "the Carpenter's Mistake," and also makes her remarkably un-stealthy because she is so recognizable from a distance. Aubrey also soon discovers that her builders had unscrupulously scrimped on the use of copper bolts that were supposed to bind her hull timbers together, making her somewhat unseaworthy and even dangerous. Aubrey comments that she "makes eighteen inches of water an hour in flat calm." Polychrest has the dubious distinction of being the only one of his ships in the entire Aubrey-Maturin series that Jack "could not love." Aubrey refers to her later in the series (in the novel Desolation Island) as "that wicked Polychrest."

Jack Aubrey has command of the Polychrest during that period of the series when both he and Stephen Maturin are both pursuing Diana Villiers, the lowest point of his relationship with Maturin. It is when this conflict had reached its climax -- the eve of a duel between the two men -- when the Polychrest is ordered to conduct a close reconnaisance in the shallow and complicated French port of Chaulieu. These orders also coincide with a plan by the Polychrest's crew -- suffering under the unchecked tyranny of Aubrey's First Lieutenant -- to mutiny and carry the ship to France. Maturin warns Aubrey of the impending mutiny, and Aubrey's quick and capable response to the crisis allows the Polychrest and her crew to conduct an spectacularly successful raid on Chaulieu the same evening. They capture the valuable French corvette Fanciulla, and either destroy or capture several French gunboats. The Polychrest, after spending several hours grounded and battered by French shore batteries, and finally succumbing to the inherent deficiencies of her construction, sinks under the wounded Jack Aubrey's feet as the crew withdraws from Chaulieu with their prizes.

Aubrey and his officers are acquitted of the loss of Polychrest, and the action at Chaulieu earns Aubrey promotion to the rank of Post Captain. The Chaulieu action in the Polychrest also has the unspoken effect of wiping clean the dispute (and unconsumated duel) between Aubrey and Maturin, and marks a renewal of their close friendship.

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