The scene is viewed from the proximity of the quarterdeck, looking forward towards the larboard side and bow. In the lower right foreground is one of the ship's boats on the booms over the waist.The seaman on the left is walking along the larboard gangway, next to some hammock nettings that are covered with canvas.
Three guns are visible, two nine pounder long guns and a 32 pounder carronade being fired in the bows. As Alexandria has noted, Jack is standing on the railing, wearing his hat athwartship, and two epaulettes on his uniform (although he is entitled to only one as a junior post captain in 1804). A small gun crew on the forecastle has just fired the bow chaser using a linstock rather than lanyard and flintlock, observed by a Lieutenant (possibly Tom Pullings) wearing his hat fore and aft.
The immediate question is whether this is meant to be the Polychrest or the Lively. The two long guns suggest that it is the Lively, because the Polychrest was armed entirely with carronades. Only the bow gun here is a carronade (note the different type of gun carriage, the large diameter, and and the elevation screw instead of a quoin). The Lively is offically listed as being armed with only a single nine pounder and a 32 pounder carronade on each side of the forecastle, but she did have three ports, so it is not unlikely that she might have carried an extra gun.
The mast seen is the foremast, with both a forecourse having two rows of reef points, and a fore topsail shown, The yards are braced for the larboard tack, with the wind coming from the larboard side. The seas must be fairly lively, because the ship's roll has temporarily slanted the deck toward the larboard side.
The next question is what scene from PC does the cover portray. My first thought is the chase scene at the very end, when Lively goes after Fama. But there is too little activity to suggest a ship still in action. Only the bow chaser is manned, by a minimal crew. Another lissun (Bruce?) once asked Geoff Hunt about the scene, and I think that his response was that it was an ordinary gun exercise. But I'm troubled by that explanation. There is no gun captain aiming the gun, the gun crew is too small, and with the gun fired on the downroll with the deck slanted so, it looks as though any shot would plow right into the sea. I prefer to think that there is some sail sighted ahead, and the bow chaser is being fired only as a signal.
Another item of note is that if you follow the shrouds up to the top, you can see part of the catharpins. Not Jack's beloved cross-catharpins, but just the ordinary straight across kind.
© Don Seltzer