tagHow ToPirate Adventure Source Ch. 02

Pirate Adventure Source Ch. 02

byR. Richard©

Pirate haven:
A pirate ship had to have a base, a place where supplies could be bought, a ship could be repaired, booty could be sold, information could be gathered and the crew could rest and relax between missions.

Many coastal towns and many islands have been havens for pirates. The inhabitants might or might not engage in piracy themselves, but pirates were their customers.

In a pirate haven, pirates could purchase the kind of food needed aboard ship. Dried foods that would keep during an ocean voyage were essential. A staple was ship's biscuit or hard tack. Ship's biscuit was simply bread baked two or three times so that it had a hard crust and would keep for a long time. The bread was so hard that it could not be chewed until it was softened in water. Dried meat and dried vegetables were also common pirate rations.

Water was essential aboard ship. However, the water was stored in wooden barrels and would turn green with algae in time. Officers preferred wine, while the crew mainly drank beer.

A pirate needed gunpowder to use in cannon and also in the flintlock pistols they often carried.

Wooden sailing ships had to be repaired frequently. One of the problems leading to frequent repair is the shipworm (Teredo navalis).

A shipworm is a marine bivalve highly specialized for boring into wood. The shell is greatly reduced and modified into a rasp for grinding into wood. The shipworm has a long worm-like body that is protected by the wood into which it is boring. Teredo can only invade new wood when they are in the larval stage and during the short larval period when they are free swimming. An initial entrance hole in a plank may be so tiny it can't be seen. The first hint of problems comes after the interior of the plank is nearly destroyed and the wood disintegrates.

In the era of wooden-hulled ships, the danger of a ship literally sinking under the crew was very real. Quite often a ship's crew had to abandon or rebuild their ship because it was 'rotten' from the holes bored in its bottom by shipworms.

The man who could repair a ship was a ship's carpenter. A pirate ship would not normally carry a ship's carpenter, because he would have demanded a share of the loot despite not being a fighting man. Thus, a pirate ship would normally be repaired in a pirate have by a shore based ship's carpenter.

In addition to carpentry services, a pirate ship had to be regularly resupplied with rope for ship's lines, canvas sails, blocks, tackle, etc.

The booty from a successful pirate attack had to be sold. A pirate might sell some of the very valuable loot himself. However, it was normally more efficient to use a pirate haven based middleman. The middleman had a strong, well defended warehouse and, usually a front business to account for how he acquired the pirate booty.

A pirate was interested in high-value, easily transported booty or loot. A ship loaded with corn was not a really good pirate target. The ship full of corn would have had to be sailed to a pirate haven and a buyer found for the corn. A ship carrying gold or jewels was a prime pirate target.

In order to select a profitable target, it was convenient for a pirate to have spies in normal ports. A spy would determine that a high value cargo was due to be shipped and then he could notify a pirate of the prize, in return for payment.

Even after a high-value target had been identified, there was the problem of actually finding the ship. Of course, the oceans are vast and it would be very hard to locate a ship at random on the ocean. However, much of the world's shipping is done in fairly restricted shipping lanes. The shipping lanes usually have favorable winds and currents. The shipping lanes also avoid hidden rocks and reefs. Even though most ships used the shipping lanes, it was not easy to find a lone ship at sea.

A pirate ship did not spend all of its time at sea. When it was in a pirate haven, the pirate crew could drink and carouse in waterfront taverns. Of course, a pirate haven would have women available for the pirates. However, history records that many of the pirates maintained homosexual relationships instead of or in addition to their relations with women.


Oared Ships:
The first ships that were really warships were galleys. Galleys are large seagoing vessels propelled primarily by oars in battle and equipped with sails for cruising. Galleys were narrow ships built for speed and normally carrying a ram.

The Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Byzantines, Arabs, and other ancient peoples all used galleys for both war and trade. However, galleys came to be known as warships. The galley was the standard European battle vessel until the late 16th century, when the sail-powered and more heavily armed galleon began to replace it.

The early Greek galley possessed a single mast with a broad rectangular sail that could be furled. The mast was stowed or lowered when rowing into the wind or in battle. The Greek galley was a true seagoing warship. It typically possessed a bronze-shod ram.

In the 8th century BC, the bireme was created. Descendant from the galley, it was about 25m (80') long, with a maximum beam of about 10'. The bireme had 2 banks of oars - hence its name. The Phoenician bireme had a single pole mast with a square sail and steering oars to port and starboard, with two banks of oars

By the 6th century BC triremes were in use. The trireme had 3 banks of oars, and a full spar deck instead of the center-line gangway of the early bireme. By the 5th century the triremes measured a length of 40 m (125'), a beam of 6 m (20') and a draft of 1 m (3'). They were manned by 200 officers, seamen, and oarsmen (about 85 per side), with a small band of heavily armed marines. The trireme could reach 7 knots under oars.

The various galleys, biremes and triremes were basically warships. They could carry cargo, but were not very efficient as cargo haulers. Probably their major use as cargo haulers was in waters made dangerous by pirates or other warships.

Galleys would not make good pirate ships. The cost of feeding many rowers would make the use of a galley impractical. Also, the oars would make boarding another ship nearly impossible.

Galleys were not really ocean going ships. They were long and narrow and not too stable. They were mainly used to move from port to port, hugging the coast.

A galley could use its square sail to be pushed by the wind. However, sailing into the wind was impossible,

The caravel was a small two-decked sailing ship developed by Portuguese fishermen. It was used widely during the 15th century by maritime nations of the Mediterranean. Many of the fleets dispatched to explore the New World sailed with a large complement of caravels. It was used by 15th- and 16th-century explorers, including Magellan and Columbus. Two of Christopher Columbus' ships, the Nina and the Pinta, were caravels.
The squat, 3-masted caravel was slower than the galley, but designed to sail into the wind. It offered more space for cargo, and more spacious living quarters in long voyages. Initially lateen rigged - triangular fore-and-aft sails set on a long, sloping yardarm - on two masts, the caravel soon sported three masts - foremast, mainmast, and mizzenmast - with square sails on the forward two and a lateen sail on the third. The lateen sail enabled a ship to take advantage of a wind from the side of the vessel.

The caravel, which replaced the oared galley, was itself later replaced for long voyages by the heavier, deeper-draft Carrack.

In the 15th century the Carrack appeared. The Carrack full-rigged, was more manageable than earlier sailing ships, and capable of ocean voyaging. The Carracks were the "great ships" of Henry VII and Henry VIII. They began with lines of beamy, seaworthy merchant ships, but added stronger timbers, masts, sailpower, broadside guns, forecastles and aftcastles. The forecastle was triangular and overhanging.

Armed with hundreds of iron and brass guns, Carracks of more than 1 000 tonnes served as both merchantmen and men-of-war. To facilitate trade between the New World, and the Far East, Spain built Carracks up to 1600 tonnes.

The Galleon was one of the most popular ships used by pirates because they were sturdy enough to withstand battle, carry large loads of supplies, and loot.

The Galleon, successor of the Carrack, was a large, 3- or 4-masted ship, primarily a warship, developed during the 15th and 16th centuries. During the latter 16th century, it was the standard vessel of European navies. Galleons were more slender than previous sailing ships, their lines resembling those of the oared galley; and they were built without the earlier overhanging forecastle that had made sailing to windward almost impossible. Sir John Hawkins streamlined the English galleons ever further, and it was his light, maneuverable fleet that defeated the heavier ships of the Spanish Armada (1588).

A high, square forecastle rose behind the bow, the three or four masts carried both square and lateen sails, and one or two tiers of guns were carried broadside. The galleon had rigs similar to those of the three-masted Carracks, with the addition of topmasts and with up to three decks.

With the development of the galleon, naval battle tactics were revolutionized. Where earlier ships had to use oarsmen to bring them within boarding range of the enemy, the galleon could hold its position into the wind and use its broadside banks of cannon to shell enemy ships lying at a distance.

In the second half of the 16th century the Galleon was developed primarily as a fighting ship. The Galleon showed most of its guns through ports cut in the hull, and its handling was improved over that of earlier ships by increasing the length-to-breadth ratio of the hull and by reducing the size of the forecastle and the afterdeck. Its size and armament capacity made it the dominant warship of the late 16th century.

The name was derived from "Galley", which had come to be synonymous with "war vessel" and whose characteristic beaked prow and slender shape the new ship retained. It had a greater length to beam ratio than the Carrack (initially 3 to 1, but later increased. The triangular, overhanging forecastle of the Carrack was changed to the long raised beak of the galley projecting beyond the stem with a square-ended forecastle set back under the foremast. Larger galleons might carry a single mizzenmast or two relatively small masts - the 2nd one called the bonaventure. A larger, leaner Galleon sported a number of heavy guns until they ran the full length of the broadside in one or two tiers (later 3).

The largest Galleons were built by the Spanish and Portuguese for overseas trade. Galleons were the forerunners of the full-rigged ships that came to dominate naval architecture until the general introduction of steam propulsion in the mid-19th century.

The well known Viking longship (circa 800 AD) was a low, sturdy, open galley with high bows and sterns and a row of oars down each side. Longships were long and narrow, and of shallow draft, so that they could be beached easily. Like all ships of Northern Europe for nearly five centuries, they were clinker built - that is, constructed of overlapping planks, built with iron nails and caulked with tarred rope - and had a single, large square sail. A single side rudder on the starboard quarter was used for steering. Highly seaworthy, a necessity in rough northern waters, they were limited in warfare, however, and could fight at sea only by running alongside to grapple and board.

Circa 1000 AD, there were basically 3 versions of the long ship. The smallest, with less than 40 rowers is sometimes referred to as the knarr. The typical longship had up to 60 rowers. It was maneuverable and fast; proving most valuable in battle. These ships reached Greenland and America around this time. The largest vessels, the drakkar (or dragon ship) had more than 60 rowers. However, they were never numerous because they were expensive, although formidable in battle. As such they were used mostly by kings.

One of the finest surviving longships is the Gokstad ship found in 1880 beneath a burial mound in southern Norway. Dating from about 900 AD, it measures 25 m (80 ft) long and 5.25 m (17 ft) wide. The Gokstad vessel is built of oak and pine, with a heavy wooden keel and featuring a high, graceful prow and stern, the former having a curved figurehead. Its overlapping planks were nailed together and lashed to 19 ribs and cross members. There were 16 oar holes on each side of the hull and 32 shields mounted one over the next along the gunwales. A huge square, painted sail was carried upon a single mast amidship, whose yard measured 11 m (36 ft) across. The craft was steered by means of a steering oar fixed at the aft end on the starboard side.

To the end of 1200s, the English used clinker-built, single-masted square-rigged descendants of the Viking long ship. To judge from the Bayeux Tapestry, the ships used by William the Conqueror to invade England in 1066 were of this design, except for being partially decked and having a corvus (small castle) at bow and stern. From the corvus soldiers used their bows and arrows against the enemy before they came close enough to board.

The dhow is a traditional Arab ship. The word dhow has been applied by Europeans to many different types of Arab traditional ships. What they all have in common is one or more triangular sails, called lateens and a carvel-built hull. The dhow is indigenous to the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, India, and East Africa. A larger dhow may have a crew of approximately thirty while smaller dhow have crews more typically ranging around twelve.

The junk is a type of sailing vessel used primarily for coastal trade. A junk has a projecting bow and high stern. Junks have been used in eastern Asia for thousands of years.

The Junk had a flat bottom, flat bow, and a high stern. It had two or three main sails. This ship was easy to steer because the rudder could be raised and lowered when it was needed.


The Brigantine usually had only two masts with two sails rigged to each mast.


Schooners had a narrow hull and two masts. Its two main sails were large and smaller sails were placed at the bow and stern. This ship had a large bowsprit


The Frigate had three masts, a raised forecastle, and a quarterdeck . This ship carried anywhere from 24 - 38 guns.


The Sloop had a narrow bow which allowed it to move through waves easily. This ship was smaller and faster than the others. Mainly lateen sails.


The Man-o-War carried an average of 65 cannons, but some carried 100. This ship had three masts with square rigged sails.

[Please see Pirate Adventure Source Material Ch 03 for further information.]

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