Thomas Chochrane took command of his first vessel on April 22, 1800, HMS Speedy, a 14 gun brig sloop, the smallest class of warship in the British navy. On May 6, 1801, at dawn, Speedy sighted a strange ship off the Barcelona coast and went to investigate. There was a light breeze and it took some 2 hours to get close enough to identify her. She was the Spanish xebec frigate of 32 guns, the El Gamo, capable of destroying the Speedy to a wreck with two or three broadsides.
The alternatives facing Cochrane were not all that pleasant. Flight was impracticable against a larger and faster ship. So, instead of retreating, Cochrane continued towards her and gave the order to clear for action, At 9:30 am the El Gamo fired a warning shot and hoisted Spanish colours. Her decks were crowded with 319 men on board, the Speedy had despatched many of her crew with prizes to Port Mahon so had a reduced crew of some 54 men. As soon as the Spanish flag was hoisted Cochrane acknowledged by running up the American Stars and Stripes to confuse the enemy. The ruse worked, with the Spaniard holding fire while Cochrane tacked, ran under her lee and came close alongside, apparently to converse, but instead, running up British colours, he opened fire, Speedy’s decks now safely under the higher guns of the El Gamo.