When it’s Better to be Lucky than Good

Lorri is gone for the day and I’m stuck in my notary studies, so it’s a good day to listen to Laura Nyro and write about yesterday’s big adventure.

What adventure, you ask? Well, a game of course. What is a bigger risk-taking in the middle of a pandemic than getting together with friends. No, I don’t mean to be flippant about it. I survived my second vaccine, barely, on Wednesday. Michael had his first vaccine a while back, and I think George is giving up vaccines for Lent, but everyone is careful.

George’s pristine table in the Kettler bunker. The land and bar mark the entry and exit for Raleigh and Hampton. The fighting will take place on that end of the table.

We actually planned to get together a week ago, but the Puget Sound region was blanketed with snow for the only time in 2021 and we postponed. But I promised to head out to George’s bunker in Steilacoom. When I woke up with a terrible case of nausea, dizziness, headaches and fever, early Thursday morning, all I could think of was uh-oh, they’re really going to think I’m avoiding this. But by Thursday afternoon and after a good night’s sleep I was ready to go for it.

Turn two. Raleigh and Hampton make their way on to the table and fire introductory volleys. “Hello Miami. How are you? Got something I want to share with you.” Michael’s Housatonic and Massasoit maneuver for position in the background. George does a super job of gussying up stuff for the camera.

I’d planned for a small, simple Ironclads scenario I’d had perking away for a while we could easily do with three players, or add a fourth commander if one was available. It was loosely based on the adventures of the ironclad Raleigh and its challenge to the federal blockade off the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Fort Fisher in North Carolina. I didn’t want to include the fort. The actual incident occurred at night, but I wasn’t hot to do a night battle–more complications.

Raleigh and Miami size each other up on turn 2. The Raleigh is the excellent Richmond class model by Thoroughbred. The Miami is Stephen Taylor’s fine model from Bay Area Yards.
Three shots, three waterline penetrations leaves Miami barely afloat, but keeps her bow 100 pdr. Parrot as a persistent source of annoyance to the Raleigh

I gave Raleigh a very small consort, a Maury gunboatish Hampton. Their mission was to start across the bar at the mouth of the river, ready to make a mess of members of the Federal blockade and be back across the bar by the end of turn 12. At the end of that turn the ebbing tide would be too shallow and the Raleigh would either have to face a dangerously reinforced Union foe, or risk grounding on the bar. Historically, that’s exactly what happened. Raleigh stuck on the bar and as the tide ebbed the weight of her armor crushed her wooden decks and broke her back according to historian Donald Canney.

Hampton thunders all the defiance its pair of eight inch navies can muster. Housatonic and Massassaoit fire back with similar ineptitude. It won’t remain quite so safe for long. Hampton is a Throughbred Maury gunboat. Massasoit is also an aged and in need of upgrade Tbred Sassacus class double-ender. Housatonic is George’s brilliant rendering of another Stephen Taylor model. Really special model.

I created two Union commands, each with two wooden ships. One had a pair of double end gunboats, a Miami class with a 100-pdr. bow pivot I thought might be useful. The other was a Sassacus-class with its plethora of useful but not super effective guns. . The second command had another Sassacus class, plus a Housatonic class loop, with more useful guns including an 11-inch Dahlgren which is always handy. Except for the Miami, however, all the Union vessels had broadside guns, which meant lining up a shot, which was always a bit of a challenge.

With Miami barely making way, George introduces a new phase of the game with Sassacus moving into range.
Sassacus is actually George’s terrific Bay model of Conemaugh. George is a master at his craft.

The set-up was simple. Raleigh and Hampton began just across the bar with me in command. George was immediately across from me with Miami and Sassacus. Michael was closer to the middle of the table with Housatonic and we’ll call it Massasoit. The battle would be fought at pretty close range over half the 8′ X 5.5′ table. Doubled range for the Raleigh‘s four 7″ Brooke double banded rifles. I would only fire shell.

The first turn began uneventfully as I took the Raleigh to port and managed to put myself out of arc for all my guns. Union fire was relatively desultory with a few clangs that chipped my blue paint, but nothing serious.

Housatonic and Massasoit crept toward the shoreline, driving off the Hampton with damage. Massasoit made the turn back toward the middle of the table, while Housatonic struggled to engage Raleigh with her nasty main battery.

Turn two got a bit more interesting as I was able to line up all three guns to starboard on Miami. Three shots, three waterline criticals. Flotation damage and an engine hit left the double ender scarcely making way. Hampton tried to make its way through the gap between the scrum and fired both eight inch guns at Massasoit. Flotation hit and some lesser damage. Cheers. It would be the last the little ship would have on the day.

Michael began by maneuvering his ships close to coastline but rapidly broke off his double-ender toward the middle of the half of the board we were using. Massasoit got the best shot of the day on the Raleigh, opening a seam and inflicting two points of flotation damage. Housatonic continued to creep along near the shoreline, popping off with it’s 30 pdr bow pivot. George maneuvered Sassacus into range and attitude so it too could pepper Raleigh. Little Hampton did not escape attention either. Shots by Massasoit told on the gunboat, but it would not be the last.

Turn five began with things looking up in the air for Raleigh. A new factor entered the game. Reinforcements for the Union in the form of the monitor Weehawken started on a distant border edge, but something Raleigh didn’t want to take a chance on tangling with. Maybe too far to play a role in the game except as a reminder–“don’t go there.”

It wasn’t like things weren’t happening. Lots of hits by Raleigh were doing some damage. On turn six however, there was a bunch of action. Housatonic took a serious critical penetration that started a level II fire and an engine hit. that would last a couple of turns. It was at a point when its broadside could have made a difference, but instead really slowed everything down. More mostly inconsequential fire at the ironclad, though a couple of armor hits were starting to chip away a bit. Penetrations, but not criticals were leaving some exposed areas to those 100 pdr. Parrots at doubled range. Weehawken let loose with an 11-inch Dahlgren at long range at Hampton and the 120 lb round struck the little ship with force. The buckets began to come out as the gunboat began to look for open sea and a way out of this mess.

Raleigh gets off a couple of shots at Housatonic setting the big sloop afire, which you can barely see.

The real wrap to the game, however, came on turn nine, when Sassacus suffered a pair of waterline criticals (after having already taken a few flotation hits.) One did five flotation hits and serious damage to the hull, and left the ship just a mess of body parts. George could run the engine and one gun. (we opted not to use morale rules.) Another shot at Housatonic dismounted both the 30 pdr pivot gun and the forward 100 pdr.

A whole bunch of bad as Sassacus suffers a series of serious hits including severe flotation damage and a fire on turn nine. The die is cast.

Turn ten Raleigh turned for the bar and home. Hampton was sunk by fire from Massasoit. A final shot at Sassacus set it ablaze without any crew to fight the fire. It was a goner. The following turn the game ended with the ram headed up-river to home.

Would love to do lots of crowing about this game, but it’s tough to shoot it out with an ironclad. I rolled reasonably well, but at that range, with those guns, it’s pretty hard to miss. With almost every hit a penetration and in most of those cases critical penetrations, it was fire, load and watch the fireworks.

Two old buddies having a good time with a really old game. Kevin (L) and Michael (R)

I had a lot of fun. I’m hoping my friends did. I was at George’s house from a little after 10AM until just after 4PM. Of the six hours probably three max were spent playing the game. The best part was just the hanging out catching up part. I love the old Ironclads rules in all their 1979 era goodness and despite the best efforts of many fine men to do better, they are by far my favorite set of ACW naval rules, or for that matter any set of rules except maybe Fire and Fury and anything by Daniel Mersey.

Thanks to Michael for being an enthusiastic Ironclads warrior. It was great to see him as always. Thanks to George for being an enthusiastic host. He has such a great space and would love to see it filled with a friendly game, which is hard during these dark times. Thanks again to George for allowing me to use a bunch of his wonderful photos. A few are mine, but the best ones are his.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++What I’m listening to. I haven’t done this in a while, but I’ll give it a shot or you can stop reading at this point.

I’ve always liked singer/songwriters. If they’re good their music gets picked up by other artists and some great covers ensue. But I’m happy to give those original creative agents the attention they deserve.

In one of my post Christmas trips to Rainy Day Records I was able to snaggle a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Clouds. The best known song on that record is the beautiful “Both Sides Now” which has been covered by-seemingly-everyone who can sing. It is a beautiful song. The album also has “Chelsea Morning” and “I Don’t Know Where I Stand” are also quite good and memorable. This record is very representative of Mitchell’s folk roots, so if you’re a folkie, you’ll love this record, even if it is 50 years old. I also picked up her follow-up Ladies of the Canyon, the second album the Canadian performer recorded at A and M studios in Los Angeles. More great songwriting that would be picked up by others. Notably, Crosby Stills Nash and Young would go on to make Mitchell’s “Woodstock” an anthem. But the idiosyncratic “Big Yellow Taxi” would be much fun and her own. Though covered by many, the album also includes “The Circle Game.”

I’ve long been a fan of Gordon’ Lightfoot’s work. I was turned on to him when I was in high school and heard “If You Could Read My Mind” on AM radio. I’ve assiduously added many of his albums to my collection. I recently watched. Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, a documentary, on Amazon Prime. It was terrific. Made in 2019 it was mostly time with the artist in his Toronto home recounting his career. Great stuff. But most importantly it shared Lightfoot was recording an album. A quick trip to Allmusic revealed he had indeed released a record of new material at the age of 81. Guess who has it? It’s actually very good. Lightfoot has lost his deep baritone and his voice is thin, but the songs are still great and they are very well arranged. Mostly Gordon with a guitar. The album is Solo, the songs are mostly nostalgic, not surprising for someone who was once declared dead on national radio when he was very much alive. Trust me, Gordon Lightfoot still has some living to do.

Unfortunately Laura Nyro is not alive. She died of ovarian cancer in 1997 at the age of 49. She was a terrific writer and I made a point today to listen to three of her albums. For those not in the know. Nyro was a lot like other artists that write some brilliant songs covered by others but don’t enjoy similar commercial success on their own releases. Lots of pop artists covered her songs, including The Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night and Barbara Streisand to name a few. Her voice was strong and soulful and her music could be joyful and passionate or deeply introspective and personal. One of her best-known records is 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, and I listened for the first time. I also listened to a much later album done after she stepped away from the business for a while, Mother’s Spiritual (1984.) I finished with New York Tendaberry, which I’ve heard many times before.

All the records are super and reflect a point in time in Nyro’s life. Eli is often considered the pinnacle of her songwriting success, is terrific with great production and lots of accompaniment. Mother’s Spiritual takes place after the birth of her child and many of the songs examine the role women in American life, children and motherhood. Both these records are great. However, for me, Tendaberry is glorious. It is dark. It is soulful. It is deeply introspective. It appeared in 1969 after the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and on the heals of the tumultuous 1968 election and following the complete unraveling of the Vietnam War. Don’t miss “Save the Country.” It was a hit for The Fifth Dimension; for Laura Nyro it is masterpiece.

While its absolutely fitting and past time the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame considers inducting Carole King in 2021, Laura Nyro received her induction in 2012. Yet if one compares their legacy, Nyro remains largely unremembered. Is it because she had far less commercial success? Is it because Nyro took long breaks in her career and continued to produce music more fitting to a certain time while musical styles and trends passed her by? Is it because the success she enjoyed as a popular songwriter were for truly “pop” artists and therefore aren’t a part of the canon? I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I think it’s sad.

3 comments on “When it’s Better to be Lucky than Good

  1. Bill. says:

    Great looking game! Ironclads is a bit clunky but with only half a dozen guns it can still clang away. George is a master modeler indeed and has a nice gaming area. Here’s to better times and more opportunities to game face to face.

  2. Dean says:

    Nice gaming, Kevin. I have to admit I really thought Big Yellow Taxi was about all the construction going on in Waikiki when I was growing up in Hawaii.

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