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What's a Polychrest?


The word Polychrest is defined by that paragon of reference books, The Oxford English Dictionary, as "something adapted to several different uses; esp. a drug or medicine serving to cure various diseases."

The ship Polychrest was Jack Aubrey's second command, after the Sophie (see Post Captain). Brian Lavery writes, in his essay "Jack Aubrey's Ships" in Patrick O'Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography:
Aubrey's first two ships, the Sophie amd the Polychrest, were fictitious, and rather unusual vessels.... The Polychrest....had been designed to carry a secret weapon, later abandoned. She was double-ended, in that head and stern were alike. She apparently had a very shallow draught, as she had no hold. This was compensated for by the use of sliding keels, rather like those used by modern dinghies (and in fact a few vessels were built with such sliding keels, mostly to the design of Captain Shanck. Her armament of twenty-four 32-pounder carronades was a very heavy one for a ship of her size, but would only have been effective at short range. She was three masted, square-rigged, but was unusual in that she had two main topsail yards. She was 'the Carpenter's Mistake', ' a theorizing landsman's vessel...built by a gang of rogues and jobbers'.

Thanks to Charley Seavey, aka Desert Sailor , for pointing out the omission of the word polychrest on the Norton POB FAQ!
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