At 8.30am. on 20th August 1799, the 38-gun British frigate Clyde, Captain Charles Cunningham, was cruising near the Cordovan lighthouse, off Rochefort, when she sighted two ships to the south-west. Captain Cunningham gave chase immediately and, by 11.00am., had recognised both vessels as French. When the two enemy ships separated soon afterwards, Cunningham decided to go after the larger which, when he caught up with her at 1.30pm., revealed herself as the 36-gun frigate Vestale. After a spirited action lasting almost two hours, during which the Frenchman put up a gallant fight despite sustaining serious damage to her sails and rigging as well as to her hull below the water-line, Vestale struck her colours and surrendered.
Throughout the engagement however, the other enemy vessel, the 20-gun corvette Sagesse, stood off inshore and, apart from firing a few desultory rounds, did nothing to assist her consort. Once Vestale surrendered, Sagesse immediately crammed on more sail and fled the scene to take refuge in the Gironde estuary where Captain Cunningham, wisely, declined to follow. In the event, the captured Vestale was deemed too badly damaged to be assimilated into the Royal Navy but Captain Cunningham was nevertheless congratulated by his superiors for what was widely perceived as his classic 'textbook' action.