As soon as these prizes could be repaired, they were ordered to sail for England, with several of the British ships of the line as an escort, and with them went more than a hundred merchantmen from the West Indies. In command was Admiral Graves of Rodney's fleet, a sailor who was to prove himself as noble in misfortune as he had been illustrious in action. His ships were in no condition to encounter heavy weather, for the battle had pounded and shattered both antagonists, and refitting had to be done in makeshift fashion for lack of dock-yards and material. British bluejackets and French prisoners were blithely willing, however, to run the risk of keeping afloat so long as they were homeward bound. The Ardent and the Jason came so near to sinking, even in smooth seas, that they had to be ordered back to Jamaica, but the rest of the fleet moved on until a few of the merchant ships parted company to steer for New York, leaving ninety-three sail in all to cross the Atlantic.
The season was September, and strong gales blew from the eastward, which made it weary work thrashing into the head seas. Two more of the crippled French men-of-war signaled that they were in distress, and the admiral told them to bear away for Halifax. At length the wind shifted suddenly to the northward and increased to a roaring storm.