The Las Aves disaster
Following his successes at Cayenne and Tobago, d'Estrées planned to attack the Dutch at Curaçao island. His fleet—12 men of war, 3 fireships, 2 transports, a hospital ship and 12 privateers—met with disaster, losing 7 of the men of war and 2 other ships when they struck reefs off the Las Aves archipelago due to a navigational error on 11 May 1678, a week after setting sail from Saint Kitts.
ccording to the captain of d'Estrées flagship Terrible, Nicholas Lefèvre de Méricourt, d'Estrées was solely at fault and had abandoned the ship to its fate. Navy minister Seignelay received other reports, including d'Estrées own, which told a different story and one more favourable to the unpopular admiral. According to these, the pilots of d'Estrées ships had been unable to agree on their position on the morning of 11 May, and the navigators had been unable to fix their latitude. To avoid the risk of running onto shoals and reefs, d'Estrées sent three privateer ships ahead of the fleet to get timely warning of hazards. When night fell, the privateers fell back closer to the main body, but still ahead of it. These privateers, however, were light ships and of shallow draft, so that they passed over the reef before they even noticed it. They fired guns to warn the fleet following them, but there was not enough time for the large men of war to change course and the result was that nine ships were lost. Loss of life was light, only 24 sailors being lost, some drowned, dead drunk.
With the loss of half his fleet, d'Estrées had to return to France. He was exonerated of personal responsibility for the disaster.
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