Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
The Opportunity is an old Royal Navy vessel, that during the Boer war was upgraded with an advanced, state-of-the-art steam engine by it’s privateer captain. The upgrade makes the Opportunity one of the fastest ships in the sky, but it is lightly armed and armoured compared to modern naval airships. However for chasing down merchant shipping, or running from naval patrols, few can beat her.
After the Boer war ended in 1881, the Opportunity fell into the hands of William Sackville, who remains it’s captain to this day.
Notable Crew members
A detailed listing of the Opportunity’s specifications can be found here
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The Opportunity is an old Royal Navy vessel, due to be decommissioned when the Boer War broke out in 1880. The British Government made a number of airships, such as the Opportunity, available for sale to prospective privateers at that time. Such ships were sold into private hands fully equipped, including their armaments, under the condition that the owners hold a letter of marque issued by the British Government, and that the vessels remain auxiliaries of the Royal Navy. This ensured that the Royal Navy could legally recall the ships, or activate them for operations as part of the Navy, should the Admiralty decide it.
After a short period operating as a privateer and merchant raider, it became clear to the captain of the Opportunity at the time (Captain Samuel Leverton (Retd) ) that the Opportunity was not sufficiently fast enough. Despite being built for the navy as a long-range corvette, it’s somewhat obsolete engines meant that the Opportunity took too long to chase down merchant shipping. In the time it took to catch up to a merchant ship and force them to heave-to, the Opportunity’s prey could flee towards the last known positions of Dutch patrols, forcing the Opportunity to break off the pursuit. With Captain Leverton’s financial backers pressuring him to make good on his promises of Dutch prize vessels, Leverton sought out a way to upgrade the Opportunity.
The multiple-expansion steam engine was at the time, the most advanced steam engine technology widely available, and other privateers in Captain Leverton’s situation were refitting their similarly obsolete airships with these engines. Instead, Captain Leverton reached out to former colleagues in the Royal Navy (from which he had retired in order to seek his fortune as a privateer), asking around about what the developments in engine technology were. He ended up being put in touch with Charles Parsons
At the time recently graduated from Cambridge, Parsons is a mechanical genius, having first built a steam powered car at the age of 15. Parsons had approached the Admiralty for funding to develop his revolutionary idea for a different kind of steam engine, the principles for which he had developed for his thesis at Cambridge. The Admiralty demanded to see a working prototype, which Parsons did not yet have. With some money from his father (the Earl of Rosse) Parsons had founded C. A. Parsons and Company, to develop his idea into a working prototype that could be demonstrated. Unfortunately Parsons had been having trouble getting the expected performance from his test platform, a surface ship with his steam turbine engine installed. The engine was performing fine, producing the expected power, but there was some kind of as-yet unknown interaction between the propeller at high speed and the water, that meant the ship was performing much slower than expected. The poor performance did not impress the Admiralty, and Parsons was facing ruin.
When Leverton found Parsons, Parsons was desperately trying to determine why high speed propellers in water did not perform as expected. Captain Leverton proposed an alternative: Leverton would pay Parsons the entirety of the proceeds from privateering so far, in exchange for a set of turbine engines for the Opportunity (at cost-price) where the problems of propellers in water would be moot. If all went to plan, the Opportunity would be able to raid Dutch air-shipping like no other vessel in the skies, and the resulting fame would redeem Parson’s invention with the Admiralty.
The deal was struck, and after a refit performed in record time, the Opportunity’s combination of unparalleled speed, long range and endurance, and light but sufficient weapons and armour, saw her go on to become the terror of the Dutch Merchant Navy’s Air Fleet. The fame garnered by the Opportunity in the newspapers in Britain, and the equally well advertised fact that the Opportunity’s success was made possible by Parson’s new engine, saw the Admiralty award a generous contract to Parsons for the exclusive development of steam turbine engines for the Royal Navy. As such, there are now a small but increasing number of Royal Navy Airships that can attain the speeds that the Opportunity can achieve, but there are no others known to be in private hands.
Unfortunately, such fame came at a price for Captain Leverton. The Dutch Navy decided to make an example of the Opportunity, and refitted a number of Merchant Navy airships as Q-ships and set about hunting her down. In the closing weeks of the Boer War, one such Q-ship was ordered to heave-to by the Opportunity. When Captain Leverton and First Lieutenant Sackville brought the Opportunity alongside the Q-ship, the Dutch opened fire. Captain Leverton was mortally wounded in the opening salvo, and his dying command to Sackville was to get the Opportunity and her crew away from the Dutch and safely back to port.
Sackville took command and ordered a difficult series of manoeuvres to get the Opportunity out of the arc of the Q-ship’s guns long enough to find concealment in the clouds. Once he had broken contact with the Dutch Q-ship, Sackville was able to rally the few survivors of the crew, a small crew to begin with, and limp the Opportunity back into port. While repairs were hastily begun, and new crew brought on board, Sackville met with the financial backers in London who had loaned Captain Leverton the funds to purchase the Opportunity. Sackville turned over Leverton’s logs and other documents to the bankers, as ownership defaulted to them at that point as per their contract with Leverton. However, based on Leverton’s praise of Sackville’s abilities in those documents, it was agreed that ownership of the Opportunity, and the balance of Leverton’s debt, would be transferred to Sackville. The deal was struck hours before the news broke that the war with the Boers and the Dutch had ended, ending the lucrative days of privateering.
Since then, Captain Sackville has remained the captain of the Opportunity, and has kept her a going concern through chartering to wealthy merchants in a hurry, and occasionally by hiring on as a mercenary ship to small far-off countries. Unlike many of the other ships sold by the Navy at the same time, the Opportunity has never been involved in anything truly objectionable, such as piracy or indiscriminate destruction while serving as a mercenary. As such the Opportunity still has the good reputation it earned raiding the Dutch, even if that reputation has faded in the public awareness. Unfortunately, this refusal by her captain to allow the Opportunity to be involved in dishonourable activities has meant forgoing many lucrative but distasteful jobs. This, combined with the high running costs of such a specialised vessel, is the reason for the recent financial hardships faced by her Owner/Captain.