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William the Drake

The Pirate Ship: Hot Rods of the Age of Sail

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The ships that pirates used to practice their deadly craft were unique in their own right when compared to standard navy and merchant vessels. Very rarely did pirates actually build their own ships from scratch. Often, they captured ships and refitted them to serve the sole purpose of piracy. They were "souped up" and made increasingly deadly. 

 

There were a number of goals that every pirate captain wanted their ship to achieve. Often, standard merchant vessels (and very rarely naval vessels) did not fancy a pirates' designs. So Pirates would go about refitting a ship, almost always looking to improve upon three crucial aspects : speed, firepower, and cargo capacity.

 

 

No matter what vessel was to be used, the captain made sure that it would be refitted to utilize, if not over-utilize, these three aspects.

 

Speed: in order to acquire the most speed possible (needed for outrunning the navy) pirates would tack on as much extra sail as possible to catch any and all stray wind that could be caught. Stunsails (studding sails) of all kinds were used, anything that could get you that extra knot.

 

Firepower: One of the first priorities for a pirate captain would be to add guns to a newly acquired ship. any space on the decks that could provide for a cannon was utilized. Extra gun-ports would be cut out of the hull and more guns added. However, pirates would not rely on heavy cannon when fighting. Often, they would swap out heavier cannons for lighter variants. The idea was to not sink the ship, as a pirate wanted the ship in tact in order to plunder whatever was on board. Thus lighter guns would be used as well as demasting shot.

 

Cargo Capacity: As a pirate, you wanted to take as much from an enemy vessel as possible and also wanted to be able to carry as much crew as possible for boarding. This meant carving out their own vessel in order to carry as much cargo and/or crew as possible. This meant removing any frames and bulkheads that separated the hold (also lightening the ship, increasing speed). Anything deemed "unnecessary" for piracy was removed, increasing space and sometimes speed.

 

Now pirates also fancied a specific type of ship to suit their needs. Pirates were masters of hit-and-run tactics, and thus relied on smaller, faster and more maneuverable ships for piracy, such as sloops, schooners and brigs (there are a few large exceptions, such as Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, which was originally a frigate, or Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind, which was a Race-built Galleon). 

 

The pirates especially favored ships with low draft hulls. These ships would allow them to maneuver shallow waters where larger, deep draft ships would be unable to follow. Pirate ships were meant to get in quick, strike fast, and leave even faster. They did not want to stick around for reinforcements to arrive.

 

Pirates were usually former sailors, and knew how to sail. Often, pirate crews would be able to pilot a ship with the bear minimum of sailors needed, should the situation call for it. However, pirates needed more crew in order to attack and board enemy ships.

 

Edited: To clarify that the tripping out of the lower decks for extra space not just for cargo but also for more crew.

 

Main Source: Modern Marvels: Pirate Tech

 

Other Sources: The Great Ships: Pirate Ships, The Pirate Ship, A brief History of Piracy

Edited by William the Drake
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I can't seem to find an internet version of my preferred source, which was the History Channel's Modern Marvels: Pirate Tech.

 

However this suffices as a close second. As well as an assortment of texts, videos, shows and games I have viewed, read and played over the years.

If you find any issues, by all means please make them known. I fancy myself a pirate enthusiast, and any chance I can get to gain new knowledge or correct faulty knowledge I welcome it!

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A pirate ship didn't necessarily need a large cargo hold, as it would capture the ship kill, maroon or similar the crew and take it to a location where they could unload it. whether that was in a port directly or transferred to another vessel and then taken to port.

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Yeah, I hate to say this, other than speed, most of your other characteristics are false.

Most pirates-privateers had very small vessels, ultimately for speed. Cannons are largely useless to pirates as they destroy the ship and cargo inside, and therefore if I pirate even had cannons at all, they were largely used for effect. Instead, pitates tried to jam as many people on their ships as possible for boarding actions where they could capture the enemy ship whole and take what the pleased. Pirate vessles did not stay at sea for very long, most would never leave the sight of land as their ships could not carry enough provisions for more than a few days at most.

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Yeah, I hate to say this, other than speed, most of your other characteristics are false.

Most pirates-privateers had very small vessels, ultimately for speed. Cannons are largely useless to pirates as they destroy the ship and cargo inside, and therefore if I pirate even had cannons at all, they were largely used for effect. Instead, pirates tried to jam as many people on their ships as possible for boarding actions where they could capture the enemy ship whole and take what the pleased. Pirate vessels did not stay at sea for very long, most would never leave the sight of land as their ships could not carry enough provisions for more than a few days at most.

 

 

Firepower: One of the first priorities for a pirate captain would be to add guns to a newly acquired ship. any space on the decks that could provide for a cannon was utilized. Extra gun-ports would be cut out of the hull and more guns added. However, pirates would not rely on heavy cannon when fighting. Often, they would swap out heavier cannons for lighter variants. The idea was to not sink the ship, as a pirate wanted the ship in tact in order to plunder whatever was on board. Thus lighter guns would be used as well as demasting shot.

 

...

Pirates were masters of hit-and-run tactics, and thus relied on smaller, faster and more maneuverable ships for piracy, such as sloops, schooners and brigs

 

There were instances where pirates had to fight with intent to sink, usually when facing Naval vessels. Pirates had cannon that had this capability, but utilized them more often to disable a ship rather than sink it. Sailing on an unarmed ship was risky for anyone at the time, especially pirates that were perpetually wanted and hunted down.

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I seem to recall a documentary on the Queen Anne's Revenge. It stated that the guns on some pirate vessels were a collection of mix-and-match, due to the pirates lack of accessibility to guns of the same caliber. The Queen Anne's Revenge was supposed to have had a number of differently weighted guns aboard. In my mind the common pirate had to make do with what he was given, especially as he often did not have access to the shipyards and resources of the Navy, privateers nor even merchants.

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Pirates lost almost every encounter with any British navy ship... Tell you anything?

In comparison there vessels were mostly like Somali pirate vessels today..

 

Here is a typical pirate vessel

1201081357_piraty2.gif

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Pirates only came off well against unarmed or lightly armed merchants who didn't want to fight. Against any military vessel they were soundly beaten.

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Average Pirate Ships

Osprey - The Pirate Ship 1660 - 1730 Angus Konstam Illustrated by Tony Bryan

15701896174_87e20ef07a_o.jpg

16138445027_887eaaf9bb_o.jpg

 

Charles Vane's Ranger

16136933120_547a97e079_o.jpg

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I recall similar things being stated about the wide spread of cannon weight on pirate ships, however, whenever taking on new guns, the captains preferred the lighter variants he could get his hands on. Whenever capturing another vessel, cannon was often swapped.

 

And about going up against the navy? Well yes, as I said, the ships were utilized for hit-and-run tactics. The idea was to be able to hit the merchant, get the booty, and then high-tail it out of there and outrun any naval vessels.

 

The sloop was the most well-preferred pirate ship because of it's ability to sail beam and close haul better than the more common square rigged navy ships. It's small size was not a deterrent for pirates.

 

The pirate ships of the era were those redesigned not unlike the muscle-cars of the U.S. prohibition era: vehicles refitted for (mainly) raw speed. Thus the comparison being made in the title.

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The Queen Anne's Revenge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Anne%27s_Revenge is often trotted out as an exemplar of pirate vessels, mostly because it is associated with Blackbeard and they discovered/excavated it, but it wasn't.  Small ships with shallow draft that could sail close to the wind to escape navy ships was the norm.

 

RE: pirate cannon  No expert here, but I would think IF they had to use it against a merchant they would load chain shot to slow/stop her, then grape shot to intimidate the crew.  Being a pirate was all about intimidating the crew into surrender without firing a shot.  They ran from anything else.

 

Don't believe the hype...

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There was a reason for pirate ships being small. Small ships require small crews, and pirate crews had an equal share on any loot (once the captain and officer's bigger share had been deducted). The smaller the ship, the lesser the souls, and the bigger the share. Hence there was indeed a strong reason to have as small crews as they realistically could afford.

 

Pirates also had no established ranks. Captains weren't appointed by an admiralty, were chosen by their crews as kind of a "first among equals". A pirate captain trying to enforce a decision his crew didn't like would see him marooned in an island, and someone else taking command from him.

 

Pirates looked for light merchant prey in general, and used fear as a tool to win most boardings and to force surrenders. Most pirates weren't any more bloodthirsty than your average joe of the era, but the word was indeed that they were remorseless assassins. That weakened opposition and facilitated surrenders, but that also meant that their true combat capability was mostly based on thin air, and not on anything solid.

 

Pirates were pretty much erradicated from the Caribbean by the mid-XVIII century. The only reason why they had such an impact when they did was because the whole of Europe was immersed in a continuous series of wars which tied down most of their naval assets, specially so during the war of the Spanish Succession. With less naval ships patrolling the sea lanes Pirates had the ideal scenario to grow and spread. Once the european powers were at peace and naval assets could be sent to do proper patrol duty, piracy was mostly erradicated from the caribbean.

 

Most well known pirates weren't active for more than a few years before they were inevitably hunted down and killed. The more renown a pirate got, the more naval powers would look to capture or kill him. Piracy successes in the caribbean were pretty much what guaranteed their collapse in the long run.

 

 

And now , if you still feel like being a pirate when Open Sea happens, be my guest. I'll be the one hunting you as a privateer, after all :)

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Pirate ships were some of the first democracies of the new world. The selection of a captain, the nature of a cruse, any major decision was done via election. Captains were usually selected as the best-of-the-best sailors on board, as well as being charismatic and a sufficient leader. If the crew felt that their needs were not being met, a captain could be voted down and replaced.

 

While the presence of major wars may have been what kept piracy afloat, it was in fact the absence of war that helped start major piracy in the Caribbean. After peace had been brokered between the major euro powers, many sailors found themselves out of work and without pay. With so much gold bullion flowing in and out of the Caribbean, piracy was considered as a viable option to sitting around the docks with nothing to do.

 

Pirates would have started off as any other regular sailor, and as stating before, telling the difference between a pirate and average sailor would have been hard to do. Pirates would have just around the same skill with sailing and weaponry than sailors, if not better, however fear was the best weapon in their arsenal.

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Average Pirate Ships

Osprey - The Pirate Ship 1660 - 1730 Angus Konstam Illustrated by Tony Bryan

15701896174_87e20ef07a_o.jpg

 

 

 

That one looks pretty good for NA. Was there anything in the 14-20 gun range besides that blackbeard ship?

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Pirate ships were some of the first democracies of the new world. The selection of a captain, the nature of a cruse, any major decision was done via election. Captains were usually selected as the best-of-the-best sailors on board, as well as being charismatic and a sufficient leader. If the crew felt that their needs were not being met, a captain could be voted down and replaced.

 

While the presence of major wars may have been what kept piracy afloat, it was in fact the absence of war that helped start major piracy in the Caribbean. After peace had been brokered between the major euro powers, many sailors found themselves out of work and without pay. With so much gold bullion flowing in and out of the Caribbean, piracy was considered as a viable option to sitting around the docks with nothing to do.

 

Pirates would have started off as any other regular sailor, and as stating before, telling the difference between a pirate and average sailor would have been hard to do. Pirates would have just around the same skill with sailing and weaponry than sailors, if not better, however fear was the best weapon in their arsenal.

No matter how romantic looks the piracy on the TV and the Books - the democracy was never part of the sailors life - modern time or age of sails time - RamJB missed one small point - > the captain was chosen by the crew , but that choice is already decided as at most of the cases that person supplied the ship and gather the people forming the crew .How much successful was the pirates and how much they looted is once again a debatable - there was more over reaction to what actually happens and loses was over inflated to bring the attention of the government (also don't forget that was the period where the insurance company started to become more popular ) . Yes there was few successful pirates like Henry Morgan - but they was very rare cases , most of them danced on the rope even before they managed to takeover a ship.

 

P.S. Like RamJB said prepare to be hunted from every single faction in the game !

 

P.S.S. About the ships -> they was small standard vessels - captured or rented , very rare persons like Surcouf ordered a ship to be build or modified for them , but once again that is very costly enterprise .

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That one looks pretty good for NA. Was there anything in the 14-20 gun range besides that blackbeard ship?

 

Blackbeard's Queen Anne's revenge was believed to be a frigate and to have over 40 guns, however this sort of large vessel as a pirate ship was rather rare. 14-20 does sound like a fair, if not slightly high medium.

 

No matter how romantic looks the piracy on the TV and the Books - the democracy was never part of the sailors life - modern time or age of sails time - RamJB missed one small point - > the captain was chosen by the crew , but that choice is already decided as at most of the cases that person supplied the ship and gather the people forming the crew .How much successful was the pirates and how much they looted is once again a debatable - there was more over reaction to what actually happens and loses was over inflated to bring the attention of the government (also don't forget that was the period where the insurance company started to become more popular ) . Yes there was few successful pirates like Henry Morgan - but they was very rare cases , most of them danced on the rope even before they managed to takeover a ship.

 

P.S. Like RamJB said prepare to be hunted from every single faction in the game !

 

P.S.S. About the ships -> they was small standard vessels - captured or rented , very rare persons like Surcouf ordered a ship to be build or modified for them , but once again that is very costly enterprise .

Pirate ships were in fact very organised and the power lied with the crew. Each ship and captain even had its own code of rules (the most famous of which being Bartholomew Robert's pirate code). If a pirate captain did not appease his crew with successful cruses and ventures, then the crew would mutiny and replace him.

 

It is in fact the famous Pirates that we here about, because they were such a nuisance to their respective European powers. There was still piracy besides them, but they are not as prominent because they did not cause as much trouble as the "poster boys" of piracy. Also, it was true that any European power wanted to make an example of (and keep record of) pirates it captured, the last thing they wanted to do was advertise pirates who were leading the esteemed Royal Navy on wild goose chases.

 

And as I noted, pirate ships were often reffitted stolen ships. Are you all even reading the OP? ;)

 

And of course I know I will be hunted down without rest, that's what makes it fun! A pirate's life fer me!

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Adventure Galley 


 


Captained by Scottish sailor William Kidd, the 287-ton, three-mast Adventure Galley was launched along the Thames River in 1695. As part of a venture planned by New York Colonel Robert Livingston to curb attacks against British ships in the East Indies, Kidd was instructed to hunt down pirates and enemy French ships and steal their treasure and goods. To facilitate the mission, which was funded primarily by prominent English noblemen, the Adventure Galleywas outfitted with 34 guns and 23 oars for maneuvering the ship in calm winds. Pirate hunting, it turned out, wasn't easy. Kidd had agreed to pay back the investment if he didn't return any treasure, and when finding pirates proved too difficult, he resorted to attacking allied ships. Kidd abandoned the Adventure Galley, which had developed a rotten hull, off the coast of Madagascar in 1698. He hoped to receive a pardon from Livingston in New York, but was returned to London, found guilty of piracy, and executed in 1701.


 


fregat_adventure_galley_1.jpg


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Slave ship Concorde 


AKA Queen Anne’s Revenge


 


English pirate Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, captured the Concorde, a French-owned slave ship, in the West Indies in 1717 and made the vessel his flagship. Slave ships, which often featured a central partition to protect the crew against a slave uprising, made good pirate ships because they were built for speed. Blackbeard added 26 guns to the vessel, which already boasted 14, making the renamed Queen Anne's Revenge one of the most powerful ships in American waters. In May 1718, Blackbeard blockaded the port of Charleston. After looting five merchant vessels, he ran the Queen Anne's Revenge ashore on Topsail Inlet, and the ship suffered extensive damage when it slammed into the submerged sandbar. Given that Blackbeard knew the area well "“ he had sailed off the same coast the year before "“ many historians believe he wrecked the Queen Anne's Revenge deliberately in hopes of killing off some of his crew and increasing his share of the fortune. The ship was discovered in 1997 off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, and marine archaeologists have been bringing up treasure from its remains ever since.


 


2053.jpg


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Fancy


 


In May 1694, while stationed aboard the privateer Charles II off the coast of Spain, Henry Avery plotted a mutiny that would launch his new and short-lived career as a pirate. Following the successful takeover, Avery, who was a former Royal Navy midshipman, renamed the ship the Fancy and set out with his newly liberated crew to seek a fortune. Avery steered the Fancy, which boasted nearly 50 guns and a crew of 150, to the island of Johanna off the Cape of Good Hope. There, the ship was cleaned and restructured to increase her speed. Avery and his crew terrorized ships in the Indian Ocean until late 1695, when they set sail for the Bahamas, enormous fortune in tow, for an early retirement. Governor Nicholas Trott offered refuge in exchange for treasure, including 1,000 pounds of ivory tusks, and Avery also presented Trott with the Fancy. While several of his men were later captured and sentenced to death, Avery vanished and died a free and wealthy man.


 


pirate-ship-decoration-model-fancy2.jpg


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Whydah


 


The Whydah was believed to hold treasure from more than 50 ships when it sank in a storm off the coast of Cape Cod on April 26, 1717. Professional treasure hunter Barry Clifford discovered the ship in 1984 and has since recovered more than 100,000 artifacts from the site. The Whydah was originally launched from London as a slave ship in 1715; the name was derived from the West African port of Ouidah in present day Benin. While navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola on its second voyage, the Whydah was overrun by pirates led by "Black Sam" Bellamy, who claimed the vessel as his flagship. Bellamy and his crew sailed north along the eastern coastline of the American colonies when they ran into a Nor'easter. The boat slammed into a sandbar, split, and sank. Of the ship's 146-man crew, only two survived.


 


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Royal Fortune


 


If Bartholomew Roberts fathered any children during his adventures on the high seas, he may or may not have named all of them Royal Fortune. In July 1720, Roberts captured a French brigantine off the coast of Newfoundland. He outfitted the naval frigate with 26 cannons, renamed her the Good Fortune and headed south for the Caribbean, where the ship was repaired and renamed the Royal Fortune. Soon after, Roberts captured a French warship operated by the Governor of Martinique, renamed her the Royal Fortune and made the ship his new flagship. Roberts then set sail for West Africa, where he captured the Onslow, renamed her the Royal Fortune, and, well, you know the rest. Roberts died, and the final Royal Fortune sank, on February 10, 1722, in an attack by the British warship HMS Swallow.


 


royal-fortune-black-bart-model-ship36b2.


 


HMS Swallow who sunk Royal fortune


 


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I can't seem to find an internet version of my preferred source, which was the History Channel's Modern Marvels: Pirate Tech.

And it shows. The History Channel is junk. I know, my best friend's parents made plenty of documentaries for them.

 

There was nothing unique as pirates vessels. As your second sentence immediately demonstrates. They weren't purpose-built, but captured.

 

And neither did you mention any unusual retrofits. Studdingsails were used by naval and merchant vessels routinely. As for increasing firepower and cargo capacity, wouldn't naval and merchant vessels already sail around with maximum firepower and cargo space, respectively?

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Splendid stuff Wind!

 

And it shows. The History Channel is junk. I know, my best friend's parents made plenty of documentaries for them.

 

There was nothing unique as pirates vessels. As your second sentence immediately demonstrates. They weren't purpose-built, but captured.

 

And neither did you mention any unusual retrofits. Studdingsails were used by naval and merchant vessels routinely. As for increasing firepower and cargo capacity, wouldn't naval and merchant vessels already sail around with maximum firepower and cargo space, respectively?

 

Modern Marvels was part of a better time when the History Channel aired actual history. Back when things like How It's Made and The Revolution were the norm (and The Revolution is even stretching it.) That's before the History channel became just another ratings beast and aired things like *shudders* Ancient Aliens and Pawn Stars for views.

 

Just like actual history, some of us feel that older history was waaay better ;)

 

Now, as far as additional cannon, merchants crews were not trained combat seamen, so whenever a merchantmen did have cannon, it was usually in minimal amounts. As far as the navy goes, Ships were built by design as well as by grade (SoLs were measured by the amount of guns it carried.) Even as Wind noted in The Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard added over 20 extra guns to its armament.

 

And for extra sails, yes the navy did use stunsails, however, as noted in another post, they were not often utilizing all options available. They would only use some stunsails. (To avoid looking like "A white Elephant on the Sea" I will have to look for the post later) Pirates used all possible variations of stunsails and then some.

 

For cargo space, especially with naval vessels, the lower decks were separated and divided for different crew and officer quarters, as well as additional separations for cargo and Marines. Pirates would strip the lower decks down to the bear minimum, resulting in both extra space and speed.

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