Action of 6 May 1801The Action of 6 May 1801 was a minor naval engagement between the 32-gun xebec-frigate El Gamo of the Spanish Navy under the command of Don Francisco de Torres and the much smaller 14-gun brig under the command of Thomas, Lord Cochrane. El Gamo was subsequently captured. The skirmish is notable for the large disparity between the size and firepower of El Gamo and Speedy – the former was around four times the size, had much greater firepower and a crew six times the size of Speedy, which had a reduced crew of 54 at the time of the engagement.
BackgroundIn March 1800 Commander Lord Cochrane took command of Speedy; he had been operating in the Mediterranean and had fought many actions from its base in Port Mahon in Menorca.
Speedy was cruising off Barcelona at dawn on 6 May 1801 when a large enemy frigate was sighted. The frigate, a xebec-rigged vessel named Gamo, commanded by Don Francisco de Torres and carrying 319 men, was armed with 8- and 12-pounder guns, with 24-pounder carronades. This amounted to a total broadside of 190 pounds, more than seven times that of Speedy. Gamo had "22 long 12-pounders, 8 9-pounders and 2 heavy carronades". Furthermore, Cochrane had only 54 men on board Speedy, having sent men away as prize crews for ships previously taken.
BattleInstead of evading the Spanish frigate, Cochrane closed on her, and at 9.30 a.m. Gamo fired a gun and hoisted Spanish colours. In return Cochrane hoisted American colours. The Spanish hesitated, allowing Cochrane to get closer, hoist British colours, and evade the first broadside. Gamo fired another, which Cochrane again evaded, holding fire until Speedy ran alongside her and locked her yards in her rigging. Gamo attempted to fire upon her smaller opponent, but her guns were mounted too high and could not be depressed sufficiently, causing their shot to pass through Speedys sails and rigging. Cochrane then opened fire with his 4-pounders double- and treble-shotted, their shots passing up through the sides and decks, the first broadside killing the Spanish captain and boatswain.
Seeing their disadvantage the Spanish second-in-command assembled a boarding party, at which Cochrane drew off, pounded their massed ranks with shot and musket fire, before drawing in close again. After having their attempts to board frustrated three times, the Spanish returned to their guns. Cochrane then decided to board the Gamo, and assembled his entire crew into two parties, leaving only the ship's doctor to command and crew Speedy. The British then rushed the Gamo, boarding from bow and waist, the boarders at the bow had their faces blackened to look like pirates. The Spanish faltered at this, and were then set-upon by the party that had boarded from the waist. There was a hard-fought battle between the two crews, until Cochrane called down to the doctor, at the time the only person on Speedy, ordering him to send the rest of the men over. At the same time he ordered the Spanish colours to be torn down. Thinking that their officers had surrendered the ship, the remaining Spanish seamen stopped fighting.