Monday, December 31, 2007

The Spanish Main

I was watching the Spanish Main today. It's been years since I last watched it. As pirate movies it goes, it's ok- not painfully bad and not outstanding.

The plot revolves around a Dutch captain, Laurent Van Horn, who is carried into Spanish waters by accident. The unsympathetic (and overweight) viceroy seizes his ship. When next we see Van Horn, he is navigator on a Spanish ship delivering Francesca, the Viceroy's bride. Van Horn flirts with her and earns a whipping. This is only partially carried out when the Spanish ship is attacked by the ship the Barracuda which in turn is captained by a mysterious man also known as the Barracuda. This, of course, turns out to be Van Horn.

He takes Francesca as his share of the profits and eventually marries her. This causes Anne Bonney to get jealous.

Eventually Francesca is delivered back to the Viceroy along with Anne and some other loyal members of the crew who are sentenced to be burnt. It is up to the Barracuda and his remaining crew members to rescue them.

According to the host on TCM, the original script called for a slave uprising and burning the town. RCO couldn't afford this and substituted a more sedate ending.

This is a typical pirate movie from the 1940s. The Spanish are the bad guys and pirates represent freedom and virtue. The Viceroy has no redeeming features. He is fat, lazy, and dishonest. A surprising number of pirates are also dishonest (surprising for a movie).

The ships look good although the captain's cabin is larger than the ship. The costumes are horrible. The acting is fairly good with Maureen O'Hara as Francesca.

One surprising bit of authenticity - you get a glimpse of someone steering with a whipstaff instead of a wheel (the ship's wheel was invented in the 1690s). This is almost unheard of bit of accuracy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Captain Kidd's Ship

The wreckage of a pirate ship abandoned by Captain Kidd in the 17th century has been found by divers in shallow waters off the Dominican Republic, a research team claims.

The underwater archaeology team, from Indiana University, says they have found the remains of Quedagh Merchant, actively sought by treasure hunters for years.

Charles Beeker of IU said his team has been licensed to study the wreckage and convert the site into an underwater preserve for the public.

It is remarkable that the wreck has remained undiscovered all these years given its location, just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic in less than 10 feet of seawater.

"I've been on literally thousands of shipwrecks in my career," Beeker said. "This is one of the first sites I've been on where I haven't seen any looting. We've got a shipwreck in crystal clear, pristine water that's amazingly untouched. We want to keep it that way, so we made the announcement now to ensure the site's protection from looters."

The find is valuable because of what it could reveal about William Kidd and piracy in the Caribbean, said John Foster, California's state underwater archaeologist, who is participating in the research.

Historians differ on whether Kidd was actually a pirate or a privateer — a ship or captain paid by a government to battle the enemy. After his conviction of piracy and murder charges in a sensational London trial, he was left to hang over the River Thames for two years.

Historians write that Kidd captured the Quedagh Merchant, loaded with valuable satins and silks, gold, silver and other East Indian merchandise, but left the ship in the Caribbean as he sailed to New York on a less conspicuous sloop to clear his name of the criminal charges.

IU Anthropologist Geoffrey Conrad said the men Kidd entrusted with his ship reportedly looted it and then set it ablaze and adrift down the Rio Dulce. Conrad said the location of the wreckage and the formation and size of the cannons, which had been used as ballast, are consistent with historical records of the ship. They also found pieces of several anchors under the cannons.

"All the evidence that we find underwater is consistent with what we know from historical documentation, which is extensive," Conrad said. "Through rigorous archeological investigations, we will conclusively prove that this is the Capt. Kidd shipwreck."

The IU team examined the shipwreck at the request of the Dominican Republic's Oficina Nacional De Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático.

"The site was initially discovered by a local prominent resident of Casa De Campo, who recognized the significance of the numerous cannons and requested the site be properly investigated," said ONPCS Technical Director Francis Soto. "So, I contacted IU."

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mythbusters - Pirate Myths II

Around a year and a half ago Mythbusters did a pirate episode. It was pretty bad. Several of their myths are very questionable - waring eyepatches so preserve night sight, using rum as a cleaning agent, etc. A couple of weeks ago they did part 2. This one featured things from Pirates of the Caribbean plus burying someone in the sand. This one was much better.

I'm not sure how often someone was buried in the sand. A Blackbeard movie ended with the title character up to his neck in sand, waiting for the tide to cover him. Mythbusters proved that this would be fatal. You might be able to move a bit but the wet sand shifts and fills up any cavities.

The other two myths were using an upturned boat to walk underwater and the effectiveness of a cannon loaded with whatever junk was at hand.

I never thought that the scene with the upside down boat in PotC would work and Mythbusters proved this. They did stop short of making it work. This would have involved fastening anchors and other heavy weights to the boat until it was neutrally buoyant.

The final myth involved testing a cannon with various junk. In the movie the crew of the Interceptor was racing for shallow water and threw extra weight including cannon balls overboard. When it became obvious that they would be overtaken they loaded the cannons with whatever was left. While this gave them the satisfaction of fighting back, it was futile. Especially against undying pirates.

Mythbusters found that wood (a peg leg) and glass (a bottle of rum) were useless. Silverware didn't work at all but knives carefully packed in a canister were dangerous. A piece of chain was very effective. None of this should be a surprise.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Whydah

The Whydah was the first confirmed pirate ship found (there is still some controversy about the authenticity of the Queen Anne's Revenge which was found later anyway). Artifacts from the Whydah are currently on tour. We caught the tour in Cincinnati so I thought I should give my impression of it.

First of all, it is huge with 12 galleries. The exhibition not only includes the artifacts from the ship, it also includes a lot of information about the history of the ship (it was a newly-built slave ship) and the pirates aboard her when she wrecked off of Cape Code. There is even a full-size reproduction of the stern including the deck and captain's cabin and parts of the hold.

As for artifacts, they have everything you could ask for. The display begins with the ship's bell which is the proof that this is the Whydah. It had objects from everyday life, medical and carpenter tools. Most of the cannons are on display one way or another. A huge amount of treasure is on display with important individual pieces having their own display. Even the silk ribbon that a pirate tied to two of his pistols is displayed.

One surprise - one member of the crew was the youngest pirate on record - an 10 year old named John King. Surprisingly, his remains were the only ones found in the wreck and that only consisted of a leg bone and shoe.

Anyone who wants a peek into the life of real pirates should see this exhibition.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On This Day - Blackbeard

Nov 22, 1718 English pirate, Edward Teach (a.k.a. "Blackbeard"), was killed during a battle off the coast of North Carolina, near Ocracoke Island. British soldiers cornered him aboard his ship and killed him. He was shot and stabbed more than 25 times.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


It's (probably) not a pirate ship but this is still pretty neat. A very well preserved 17th century ship has been discovered in the Baltic. The ship is in such good condition that experts are not sure if it should be called a "shipwreck".

Most shipwrecks don't last very long. Shipworms (actually small clam-like creatures that leave a trail like a worm-hole) eat away the wood so that only encrusted metal pieces are left. Things are different in the northern waters. It is too cold for most of the creatures that destroy ships so a sunken ship can last for decades. The Vasa was in such good condition that it was essentially re-floated and towed to shore.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happy Birthday Robert Lewis Stevenson

Robert Lewis Stevenson was born on this date in 1850. His first and most popular novel was Treasure Island which was the basis for nearly everything that most people "know" about pirates.

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pirates on the Santa Maria

You want to do a haunted ship so what theme do you choose? Pirates, of course. Here we are during a set-up meeting. The pirate theme wasn't carried through very thoroughly but it was fun and a couple of special effects were well-done. I was one of the guides and I have no idea how many people I took through. I did get to take the last tour through. It was a small group - mother, father, and daughter. The girl was afraid to go on even after we gave her a "magic light stick" that repels the scary stuff. After seeing it work a few times she took the lead and wanted more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Modern Pirates and a Spanish Galleon

Ever since a salvage operation announced that they found a treasure ship in international waters, the government of Spain has insisted that they own the ship. They recently arrested the captain of the salvage operation.

Odyssey Marine Explorations - which owns the salvage ship - claims it found the 17th Century galleon in international waters.

But Spanish Culture Minister Antonio Molina on Wednesday said the Florida-based firm was made up of "modern pirates".

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pirate Attacks Up

According to news reports, pirate attacks are up 14 percent over last year. Of course, these aren't the romantic pirates in tricorn hats and wide boots. These are nasty characters who are likely to take crews hostage or kill them.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Avast, it's the Mythbusters again

I've been a regular viewer of the Mythbusters since their first episode and I've seen every episode since then multiple times. But...

I have real problems with the special two-part pirate episode. It has nothing to do with historical pirates and little to do with history at all. The eyepatch one is especially bad since they pronounce it confirmed. What they confirmed is that if you cover one eye prior to going into a darkened room you can use that eye to see. They should have admitted that there is no historic basis for doing this. Going down a sail by cutting it is a hollywood myth and they didn't test it properly, either. In the movie clip they showed it the sail is billowing outward in the wind (which help to hide the slide beneath it). When testing the myth they tested it inside with a flat sail. Then there is the one about splinters being more dangerous than the cannon ball. Granted, a cannon ball that actually hits you is going to do more damage but the odds of being hit by a single ball are much worse than the odds of being hit by one of a shower of splinters. These might not be deadly, at least not until infection sets in, but they are more likely to cause serious injury. What they proves here is that a bullet is more deadly than birdshot - same principle.

Regardless, the pirate episode is on again tonight. I may watch the Bionic Woman instead.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Yo Ho, a pirate's vacation for me

We just finished a pirate's vacation down the East Coast.

First stop - Williamsburg. Blackbeard's crew was tried and hung here. The trial was in the state house but reenactments are done in the court house. Also, Jamestown Settlements has a wide selection of pirate gear, some of it serious.

From there we drove down the Outer Banks to Beaufort, NC. The Naval Museum there has artifacts fro Blackbeard's ship on display.

Next we went to Myrtle Beach. No pirate associations here but all the souvenir shops have pirate T-shirts and stuff.

We spent three nights in Charleston, SC including Talk Like A Pirate Day (TLaPD). I was wearing a pirate T-shirt and several people stopped to comment on TLaPD. There are lots of pirate associations here. Blackbeard blockaded the city. In retaliation, the city later captured a couple of pirate ships and hung the crews including Stede Bonnet, the gentleman pirate. Anne Bonney lived in Charleston for a while before turning to piracy and local legend has it that, instead of dying in jail, her father bribed the guards to let her free and she lived out her days in Charleston.

We ate at the Queen Anne's Revenge restaurant. They decorated with antique weapons, pieces of eight, and other pirate memorabilia. Also, the food was good.

We went south through Georgetown which has a two-masted ship that does pirate cruses. It also has a nice pirate-shop where I got a cutlass.

We spent the night in Savannah which does not have any direct association with pirates. We did have dinner at the Pirate's House Restaurant which has a pirate theme. They claim to be haunted by several pirates including the fictional Captain Flint from Treasure Island. The restaurant is a rambling building. Parts of it are the oldest buildings in Savannah.

We took two days to get back home. For our half-way point, we stopped at a tiny town called Hillsville. The only passable restaurant turned out to be the Hillsville Family Fish House. This had a nautical theme including some pirate figures and three huge murals.

For good measure, Disney showed the pirate episode of Kim Possible that night.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Monkey Island Parody

Here is a collection of "outtakes" from Monkey Island 2.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day

I'm posting this a bit early - it's 11:30 on TLaPD Eve.

To celebrate, here's a picture of one of Blackbeard's cannons. We were at the museum where they are on display yesterday and I took the picture then.

Monday, September 17, 2007

15 Men on a Dead Man's Chest

I was listening to last year's Talk Like a Pirate Day podcast and I was intrigued by one song near the end. It was the long version of "15 men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." I decided to look up the words.

It is actually called the Derelict:
Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
The mate was fixed by the bos'n's pike,
The bos'n brained with a marlin spike,
And Cookey's throat was marked belike
It had been gripped
By fingers ten;
And there they lay,
All good dead men
Like break-o'-day in a boozing-ken—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of the whole ship's list—
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!—
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore—
And the scullion he was stabbed times four.
And there they lay,
And the soggy skies
Dripped all day long
In upstaring eyes—
In murk sunset and at foul sunrise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark—
Ten of the crew had the Murder mark—
'Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawing hole in a battered head—
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red
And there they lay—
Aye, damn my eyes—
All lookouts clapped
On paradise—
All souls bound just contrariwise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Fifteen men of 'em good and true—
Every man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew—
There was chest on chest full of Spanish gold,
With a ton of plate in the middle hold,
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there,
That had took the plum,
With sightless glare
And their lips struck dumb,
While we shared all by the rule of thumb—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

More was seen through the stern light screen—
Chartings no doubt where a woman had been!—
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a thin dirk slot through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot.
Oh was she wench…
Or some shuddering maid…?
That dared the knife—
And took the blade!
By God! she was stuff for a plucky jade—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest—
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight—
With a Yo-Heave-Ho!
And a fare-you-well!
And a sullen plunge
In the sullen swell,
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

While I was looking, I found numerous pages on Google that insisted that the song was based on real events. According to this, there is a small island called "Dead Man's Chest" and Blackbeard marooned several mutinous pirates on it. They had nothing but a dagger and a bottle of rum each. He expected them to kill each other but when he returned to check on them, fifteen were still alive.

One motto that I live by is that any story that is too good to be true is probably false. Especially if it involves pirates.

Sure enough. Wikipedia and Everything 2 have the real story.

The first four lines are from the second paragraph in Treasure Island.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow--a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest-- Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

Robert Lewis Stevenson was inspired by a book by Charles Kingsley which listed old, romantic island names that are no longer used. "Dead Man's Chest" is one of them. That's as far as it goes. No reference is made to Blackbeard or anyone else marooning anyone.

The rest of the song was written as a poem by Young E. Allison nine years after Treasure Island was published. The poem was popular and in 1901, a Broadway version of Treasure Island included the longer version and set it to music.

Here's the playbill with the words.

Everything2 also points out:

... Yo heave ho is a seaman's chant is that was commonly employed to synchronize oar work or hauling activities of the gang crew with everyone working together on the word heave Stevenson liked the rhythmical phrase so much that he turned it into the now familiar Yo ho ho colloquialism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Did They Wear?

What should a pirate wear? I saw some debate on this over the weekend. Some people insist that they were indistinguishable from regular sailors. I disagree.

First, a side-note. I'm talking about real pirates, not Buccaneers from the GAoP (Golden Age of Piracy). Buccaneers signed on for one raid at a time and were often recruited from poor hunters. Even the name "buccaneer" refers to this group hunting wild cattle and drying it over a slow fire (boucanning). The folks I am talking about were sailors who became full-time pirates.

First of all, pirates would be more exotic than your run-of-the-mill Jack Tar fisherman. Pirates were often widely traveled. A pirate cruise could go from the Caribbean to Canada and back or over to Africa. Sometimes they even went around to Madagascar. Even if they couldn't stop and do some shopping, there would have been opportunities to pick up (steal) some exotic souvenirs.

The codes that pirates sailed under called for sharing all plunder equally. The only exception was clothing. If you needed a new piece of clothing you could take it from someone your size.

Assuming even the slightest amount of success, a pirate would have more money than the average sailor. That was the whole purpose of pirating, after all. While he might not bein port long enough to have a tailor sew him some new duds, the used clothing business was thriving.

I've seen speculation that only a captain would dress fancy. This overlooks the fact that the captain was elected from the crew and a new captain could be elected at any time. The clothes did not come with the title. That would leave a fancy ex-captain.

The captain's share might not be all that large. The most commonly reproduced set of articles calls for the captain to get two shares. That would let him dress a bit better.

One big difference between a pirate and a regular sailor was weaponry. Most sailors only wore a short utility knife with no point (points would snap off). A pirate, on the other hand, usually wore a sash with one or more pistols tucked in it. These were good pistols, also. There are accounts of them bidding a fortune on fancy weapons.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pirate Weapons

I see a lot of mis-information on the Internet about the weapons pirates used. Several sites confidently say that they preferred the blunderbuss and had little use for the musket.

The blunderbuss is a short-barreled shotgun, The bell-like muzzle makes reloading faster. Without that, you would have to get out a funnel or risk losing some of your shot. The bell does not affect the spread of the shot. The short barrel does that and the bell is flared out further than the shot spreads.

A blunderbuss was a short-range weapon only. You can't aim it very well because of the bell and the shot loses momentum due to air resistance much faster than a musket ball would. You used these to fire at an individual or, even better, a group at point blank range. This was most useful when you were about to board a ship or were about to be boarded.

But, not all pirate combat was boarding. Until you were alongside an opponent you needed something with a longer range than a blunderbuss. That's where the musket came in. You could shoot the opposing crew at distances up to 150 yards (although at that range you were trusting to luck to hit anything).

There are accounts of pirates taking on large ships, using nothing but muskets and dug-out canoes. And winning.

During Morgan's time, most of the big raids were land assaults. These would approximate regular military combat where shotguns were never used. There is little justification for anything but muskets here.

I will note that rifles were known and could be useful but most rifles were expensive sporting weapons. Military commanders preferred rate of fire to accuracy of fire (soldiers seldom aim anyway).

On a related note, I was looking at boarding axes over the weekend. I saw two extremes. One was basically a light tomahawk with a delicate handle and a spike on the reverse side. The other was fairly massive - two feet long with a handle that could be used one-handed or two-handed.

I see the first style pictured pretty often on pirate sites. These aren't always as small as the one I saw but they are one-handed weapons. On the other hand, period woodcuts show a much more formidable weapon. Based on that, I went with the two foot one.

I was gratified later in the weekend to see some justification. We went to see Pirates III (again) and I noticed a couple of axes similar to the one I bought. While this is not the most accurate movie possible, they did a lot of research on their weapons. I would not use this as justification but it shows that someone else reached the same conclusion that I did.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Spain and the romance of piracy

Last night TCM had a tribute to Errol Flynn which included the Sea Hawk and Captain Blood. On the surface, these are similar movies. Each has an outcast sea captain fighting for England against Spain. One huge difference is that the Sea Hawk takes place in Elizabethan England and features a privateer. Captain Blood is an outright pirate although he is pardoned at the end. From the Spainish point of view, though, both were pirates. As the principals made the transition from patriotic privateer to pirate, the public didn't notice the difference.

All of this started with Columbus's voyage. As soon as he returned Spain and Portugal sent petitions to the Pope asking for a monopoly on pagan lands discovered. Since Spain was sailing west and Portugal was sailing to the east around Africa, the Pope drew a line across the world. All non-Christian lands west of this Line of Demarcation were Spanish. The rest were Portuguese (side-note - since South America bulges to the east, Brazil ended up on the Portuguese side and still speaks Portuguese).

None of this mattered until later in the 16th century when some English got the idea of trading with the Spanish colonies. They would sail to Africa, pick up a load of slaves, then sail to the Spanish colonies in America where they undercut the official Spanish prices. Since Spain had granted a trade monopoly, the colonies were officially barred from trading with the English. This lead to a little nicety where the English would fire their cannons a few times, the Spanish governor would surrender, and the peaceful trading would begin. For a few years this worked out nicely for everyone involved (except the African slaves). Then the Spanish plate fleet happened to arrive at a port the English were trading from. The English opened negotiations, saying that they were peaceful traders. The Spanish agreed to let them pass the next day then attacked the English at night. Most of the English were captured and turned over to the Inquisition. One of the few English who escaped was Francis Drake. He vowed to never deal peacefully with the Spanish again.

When Drake returned to the Caribbean, he was no longer trying to trade in peace. Instead he raided towns and captured treasure ships. Since relations between the two countries were already strained and this brought Elizabeth a huge profit, she knighted Drake. The attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada and the Duke of Parma's troops left a lasting impression on the English. Spain was the enemy, regarded much like Nazi Germany is today by the US. Anyone who attacked Spain must be an English patriot, regardless of current relations between the countries.

Spain didn't help matters much. They continued to insist that the Line of Demarcation gave them a monopoly on America. English colonists who fell into Spanish hands were treated harshly. The battle cry on both sides was "No peace beyond the line".

When Morgan raided Spanish cities in the 1680s he was going way beyond the terms of his charter but all was forgiven, both because he was successful and because the English still considered Spanish colonies fair game.

With the exception of Treasure Island, pirate movies prior to the 1990s followed this formula. It didn't matter if the hero was a privateer or a pirate, he was justified because he attacked Spain. It's the ambiguity that lets us cheer for pirates. As long as they attack the greater evil, they can be heroic.

Somewhere in the last decade or two, Spain lost its luster as an all-purpose villain. Now pirates fight each other (Cutthroat Island, PoTC I), the supernatural (PoTC I, II & III) or overbearing English authority (Cutthroat Island, PoTC III).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Paynestown III

See here for lots of pictures from Paynestown.

Plus, here's one of mine.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Testing the Boat - third trial

I tried the new sail at Paynestown. I think it is too big. I had visibility problems (I couldn't see under it). I also had to sit too far back in order to keep it taut. This raised the front of the boat up and made it more susceptible to waves. There were a lot of these because of passing speedboats and jet skis.

The wind was mainly from the south and we were camped on the north shore. I had some problems getting out far enough to do any sailing. I was able to sail east but I didn't manage to go west. I kept being blown sideways into shore. The conclusion is that I can't tack very well with the current rig.

I did learn a few things about sailing including how to do some course correction with the sail instead of the rudder.

Possibly my sail material is to blame. I'm using a cheap drop cloth instead of canvas. It is a loose weave and might be letting too much wind through. I have a poly tarp to try next. Possibly this combined with a smaller sail will be handier.

I also think that I will modify the rudder. The current design is inspired by the commercial version and is similar to the dagger board. It is long enough that it will drag in shallow water and has to be taken out. The other boats I saw over the weekend had "L" shaped rudders. I think that I will go with that. It should be a minor change.

I'm not the only one going through this. I talked with one of the other pirates about his boat. He didn't have much luck sailing either. He uses a lee board and thinks that it might not be placed properly.

It was interesting seeing the other pirate boats. Except for one 1960s sailboat that has been repainted, they were a combination of boats made from plywood and aluminum rowboats painted dark with a sail added. There was one dory that looked properly constructed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Paynestown II

This is us at the event.

Pirate Bowling. A pirate wasn't having any luck at lawn bowling so he decided to use his cannon. It was loaded with a blank charge and he was trying to use the concussion to move the ball into the pins. The pins are at the right. This try was a gutter ball. It took a half dozen tries to succeed.

Pirates of Paynetown

I'll be posting more about this event later. The quick summary - it was a great event.

This was the second annual Pirates of Paynetown event. The first one came about when some employees of the state park at Monroe Lake Resource Area were trying to think of special events that would attract people to the park. The friend of an employee suggested a reenactment. The trouble is that nothing historic happened in the area. The only thing it has is the state's largest lake. That suggested a pirate event.

It was a hard sell to the state. It would mean having unknown people camped in a non-camping area but they hesitantly agreed. Around two dozen pirates attended and by the end of the event the staff was asking about the next one.

This year went even better. Around 60 pirates showed up with 30 tents, seven boats of varying sizes and lots of weapons and artillery. The state provided ice and firewood and the main course for a pot-luck.

The highlight was an attack on the "village" by river pirates. I was among the pirates. We were a small band with small arms in rowboats. Initially we were repulsed when a larger boat came to the aid of the village but then it switched its colors - it was one of ours. With the support of its guns, we successfully raided the village.

The day also included weapons demonstrations and the hanging of the old captain - it seems the crew wanted better articles.

After dark the organizers opened the "Scurvy Dog Tavern" in a marquee. The crowd overflowed and the party moved out into the open air. There were a half dozen musicians singing and playing late into the night.

It was a hot weekend but cooler in the country than it would have been in a city. There was a cooling breeze most of the weekend.

The site itself was nearly perfect. It was well-shaded (important on a hot August day) and it overlooked the lake on three sides.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Piracy and Anarchy

For deep thinkers, the blog Cato Unbound has some thoughts on anarchy with some unexpected points. Self-government sometimes produces better results than a formal government. Piracy is given as an example.
One of the most striking examples of this comes from 17th and 18th-century pirates.[9] In many ways pirate ships were like floating societies.[10] And, like other societies, pirate ships confronted problems of theft of cheating. Since they were outlaws, pirates did not enjoy state protection. Government did not enforce employment agreements between pirates or other piratical “contracts,” nor did it prevent or punish theft between pirates, etc.
Read the whole thing.

It's all well and good to point out how pirates fashioned an ordered existence out of a lawless life, but... well, they were pirates. I don't remember seeing any first-hand accounts where the people being robbed were willing to excuse the pirates because of how much better their society worked.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Who Let the Cat Out?

"The Cat's out of the Bag now, Mr. Turner", Davey Jones, Dead Man's Chest.

Where did that phrase come from? Several pirate web sites and even a few books on pirates say that it refers to the cat o' nine tails being taken out of its canvas bag.

I disagree.

One reason I don't believe this is that it is not the explanation I grew up with. When I was in grade school I heard that this expression was paired with "pig in a poke". According to this explanation, someone would show up on market day with a piglet in a "poke bag" (an old expression for a bag). The buyer was cautioned not to open the bag or the piglet would get loose, thus a "pig in a poke" meant buying something unseen.

Sometimes the contents of the bag got loose and turned out to be a cat instead of a piglet. That "let the cat out of the bag" - it revealed a secret too soon.

The general usage of the phrase agrees with the pig in the poke version. The first recorded use was in 1760 in the London magazine:
"We could have wished that the author... had not let the cat out of the bag."

This has nothing to do with punishment and the cat o' nine tails version doesn't have anything to do with revealing surprises.

I'm even skeptical about the cat o' nine tails being stored in a bag. If you keep leather in a bag it develops curves, especially if it is put away wet. For best results you would want it straight. This is best done by hanging it by the handle.

As further confirmation, the French have their own version of the pig-in-a-poke/cat-out-of-the-bag saying:
"acheter chat en poche" (="buy a cat in a bag").

So where did the cat o' nine tails version come from? This message board attributes it to
CANOE (the Campaign to Attribute Naval Origins to Everything).

Another example of CANOE - the "square meal'. This is often attributed to the Royal Navy serving meals on a square trencher. Actually, it means a "fair meal". "Fair and square" were used together and interchangeably for some time. Look at FDR's "Square deal". This may have come from cockney rhyming slang.

I also saw the phrase "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" attributed to being flogged with the cat o' nine tails. The idea was that if you go easy on me, I'll go easy on you when your turn comes.

I don't accept that one either. The phrase needs no further explanation. The middle of the back is hard to reach and a really bad itch requires someone else to scratch it. The phrase means "If you do something for me, I'll do something for you." Common usage does not agree with the flogging version.

While I'm on the subject, "rule of thumb" isn't quite a nautical phrase but you would expect a ship's carpenter to use it. It means a rough measure. In the 1970s, a feminist invented a new meaning - that a husband could beat his wife with a stick as long as it wasn't thicker than his thumb. In this usage, the word "rule" changes meaning. Again, it does not agree with how people actually use the phrase.

While I'm talking about cats, I should mention the phrase "not enough room to swing a cat."

The actual derivation of this phrase is lost. It is often attributed to swinging a cat o' nine tails but this cannot be correct. Flogging was done in public as a lesson to the rest of the crew. The sailor was tied to the main mast on the open deck where there was always enough room to swing a cat o' nine tails.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A new sail

Jennie took some pictures while I was trying to sail over the weekend. After looking at them I decided to make a new sail. I knew that the first one was a bit small but I worried about tipping the boat with a larger one. Now that I have tried it, it is time to go with a bigger one.

I considered getting a new mast but I don't want one that is too big for the van. Also, I've read descriptions of sprit-rigged boats where the mast and sprit will fit in the boat.

The solution is to move the sprit up the mast a bit. This takes more strain so I couldn't just lash it to the mast and hope it holds. I drilled a hole in the mast and ran the snotter (I still love that word) through the hole and down to a cleat I had previously attached. I also slotted the base of the sprit so that the snotter holds it closer to the mast.

I haven't tried any math but I suspect that the new sail is twice the area of the old one. I'm not sure if this will make sailing easier or more difficult. I will be able to sit on the rear seat and handle both the sail and the tiller but that shifts too much weight back.

Yesterday I modified the daggerboard so that I can sit on the middle seat with it in. This distributes the weight better but I may have to lean back to keep the sail taut. We will see.

I'm still using a canvas drop-cloth. This is cheap but it might be letting too much wind through. I may paint it to seal it better.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

So long Pirate Master

CBS has canceled Pirate Master. People who care about the show will still be able to watch the remaining five episodes on streaming video from the official web site with one new episode posted each Tuesday.

I'm not surprised. The show missed its real market by a full year. Last year was the Summer of the pirate. This is the Summer of Harry Potter.

Also, the show was kind of boring. Each episode started with a race to find the treasure with two randomly chosen crews. The rest of the show was devoted to politics and who would be given the "black spot". Three contestants were given the black spot and the remaining crew voted on which of them would be "cut adrift" (eliminated from show).

The show had thing to do with pirates except for the backstory on the treasure. Somehow the crew with the current captain and officers kept winning week after week which made it even more monotonous. Also, the format seems self-limiting. At some point there will not be enough crew to go around - the format calls for three officers, three people with the black spot, and someone to vote. Maybe that's why there are eight contestants left but only five episodes.

Regardless, I don't care for all of the back-biting and politics.

My idea of a good reality sow starts this week - Stan Lee's Who Wants to be a Superhero? There was no backbiting or politics in the first series. Everyone was making a serious effort to act like a superhero and there was little money at stake. People were eliminated according to tests, both formal and informal. Not all of the tests were what the heroes thought they were.

But the big networks know better than the cable channels how to run a reality show. That's why Superhero is back for a second season and PM is off the air.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Testing the Boat II

I made a few adjustments in my sailing rig. I added a line for taking in the top of the sprit and I redesigned the rudder mount. Originally I made it so that the rudder could swing back if I hit bottom. This was based on the official version. The new version has a block which attaches to the boat in the slot meant for an outboard motor. There are three eyebolts which hold a dowel. The rudder is then attached to the dowel at four places. This gives it a lot more support.

Everything worked fine. I was able to sail around the lake. My biggest problem is that the wind gave out once I got a ways from the dock. I spent a while waiting for gusts strong enough to sail with but eventually I got bored and rowed back.

It is possible that the sail is letting too much wind through. It is a wide weave. I may paint it to give it more body. I'm considering painting it black with a skull and crossbones but I may just go for white.

After I tired of sailing I stashed the sailing gear and t Jennie out for a row. I had trouble with the cross-wind wanting to point the boat in a different direction but otherwise, it went fine. Jennie stayed in the boat this time. She is having trouble with her knees being stiff so climbing into the boat was difficult for her. I beached it and let her climb out the front which worked much better.

Conclusion - I will be able sail at the pirate event in three weeks but I will have to be by myself. If there is any sort of water-battle then I will be rowing.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Boarding Ship

Nearly every pirate movie ever made has a scene with the pirates swinging from one ship to the other.

What are those ropes attached to?

Pirate ships normally had 1-3 masts. You can't swing from these. You would be too high by the time you got to the other ship.

If the ship is square-rigged then it has one or more yards - horizontal spars that hold up the sail. There might be more than one on a mast but you can only swing from the lowest. Use a higher yard and you will run into the lower one with comical results. You also have to be careful not to run into the sail that hangs from the yard.

So we have at most three pirates swinging onto an opposing ship at a time. Not very effective.

The movies get around this by attaching the ropes to something off-camera.

In a later post I will describe how a real pirate battle was fought.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Last year Mythbusters did a pirate episode. One of the myths they explored was "Do the splinters caused by a cannon ball kill more pirates than the cannon ball itself?" They decided that this was a myth. I disagree.

First, I will grant that a cannon ball striking you is more likely to cause death than a splinter - even a juge splinter. That's assuming that it hits you. A cannon ball is pretty small - a few inches across. Unless you are unlucky enough to be standing in the path of a cannon ball you are not going to be hit.

On the other hand, if a cannon ball strikes the hull or a mast near you then splinters are going to fly everywhere.

My other point of disagreement - they heard the myth wrong. More people were injured by splinters than cannon balls. If they had phrased it that way then there would be no doubt.

Do not underestimate splinters. I just read an account in Under the Black Flag which describes someone being hit in the foot with a splinter. It pierced his foot and tore off part of his heel bone. That's a pretty good splinter.

Plus, once a dirty piece of wood has stabbed you, you might die a lingering death anyway. Many pirate ships did not have a doctor.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Testing the Boat

First - what is the best small boat for a pirate? I've been reading Under the Black Flag and it is clear that dug-out canoes were almost universal in the Americas. They were used as general open coastal and river craft, as tenders for merchant ships, and as small attack crafts by pirates. In a few cases, pirate attacks were made exclusively by canoes.

There are good reasons for their popularity. A small boat takes a lot of skilled effort to make. Someone has to cut the wood, saw it into planks, let it dry (possibly), plane it and finally make it into a boat. These all required skilled craftsmen.

On the other hand, making a dug-put canoe mainly requires a large tree and some time. You cut down the tree, cut it to length, then slowly use a smoldering fire to hollow out the canoe.

There are a lot of draw-backs to a dug-out. They could be quite wide but were always narrow. More important for modern pirates, they tipped over easily. This is especially important to my wife who has no small boat experience.

So we went with a plastic rowboat which looks like it was traditionally made.

It came ready to row but it took me a few weeks to get it ready to sail. The sail itself was easy but I also had to make a rudder and dagger board. Note - Dagger boards were not period. The technology needed to make a hole in the bottom of the boat and seal it to a guide is pretty modern. I half considered using leeboards which are attached on each side. You drop the one on the lee side (away from the wind). I didn't because the rowboat is really too small to accommodate the leeboards and the oars.

So we finally got ready to try the boat.

Getting the boat on top of the van is tough because Jennie can't help much. That means that I have to push a 100+ pound boat myself.

We went to a park with a small boat launch. Since we don't have a trailer we parked and I took the boat down to the water by hand. This wasn't difficult. The "wheel in the keel" helps a lot.

I launched it and Jennie got in. I rowed around a bit. It rowed fairly well. I had a bit of trouble steering because of a side-wind.

So we decided to try it with the sail.

For rowing, I sat in the middle seat and Jennie sat in the rear. In order to sail, I would have to be in the back and Jennie in the middle. I pulled the boat up to the dock and got out to get the sail and other equipment.

Having Jennie move was a bit of a disaster. She fell out in a classic Funniest Home Videos move. It seems that he knees are too weak to simply turn around so she had to stand up and lost her balance.

That's why she was wearing a life jacket.

So there she was, holding to the dock and unable to climb out. At someone else's suggestion, she held on to the boat and we pulled her to shallow water.

BTW, what would happen if Jennie tipped the boat over and spilled both of us out? Simple - I would climb back in then the the oars to tow her to land. Two years ago I was able to climb into the Pilgrim Shallop and it has higher sides.

New plan - I would test the sail by myself.

It worked. A moderate breeze moved the boat and I could change direction. I was testing to see how close I could sail to the wind when I had a problem. I had mounted the tiller using a wooden dowel and it wasn't string enough. Suddenly I was at the mercy of the wind. I tried to take the sail in but the sprit was harder to take in from the boat than I had hoped. I unloosed the snotter (isn't that a great term) but the sail was still catching the wind. I took the sail down completely which solved that problem but was more involved than I want.

Improvements for next time:

Obviously I need to come up with a better rudder mount. I think I will redesign the tiller, making it longer so that I can reach it from the middle seat easier. I also want it to pivot up so that I don't have to move around it when I am on the rear seat.

I also want to put in an extra line for taking in the sprit. That part should not be difficult.

So sailing time was much too short but it showed that I am on the right track.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cutthoat Island

There wasn't anything on tv so we pulled out Cutthroat Island. It was the first time we watched it since it came out in 1995. Along with Hook (1991), this was the main pirate movie from the 1990s and it was a box office bomb. What happened?

The movie itself isn't bad. The plot moves along. The acting is ok. Geena Davis is believable as a woman pirate. She is around six feet tall and an Olympic athlete (in archery). The sets, costumes, and ships all look great. The action sequences are a bit over-the-top with exploding cannon balls but they aren't laugh-out-loud bad.

Probably the concept itself was flawed. Davis had just married action director, Renny Harlin and they wanted to do a movie together.

I don't know why they chose a costume piece. Neither one had done one before. Davis was a minor box office draw. She had been in several movies that made money but she never had top billing and she was usually overshadowed by her co-stars. Harlin's career was pretty limited at the time with a flop or two (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane) and a couple of razzies.

Put it all together - little-known stars and director and a genre that hadn't produced a hit since the 1950s along with a big budget and you have a spectacular failure in the making.

No wonder people expected Pirates of the Caribbean to flop.

Regardless, it is a watchable movie. Several bits were lifted from the PotC ride. There is a treasure in a cave with skulls scattered around and a city reminiscent of Pirate's version of Tortuga.

If you need a pirate fix this will satisfy you.

Monday, July 9, 2007

On the Santa Maria

Jennie and I provided some color for a party on the Santa Maria. It was an interesting experience. The hosts originally figured that we would just be some people in costume that the ship rounded up. Instead, we literally wrote the book on the Santa Maria (specifically, we wrote the interpretive manual).

Everyone wanted to pose for a picture with the pirates. Here's one of me with the birthday girl (her 30th) and one of Jennie. The older attendees wanted to know about maritime life. It was a little confusing - should I answer based on the ship or based on being an 18th century pirate? I ended up doing a bit of both.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Monkey Island

Undead pirates! Monkeys! A young man who becomes a pirate and wows the pretty governor!  Cannibals who tie the hero to a stake! A voodoo priestess who gives advice. Sounds like a rip-off of Pirated of the Caribbean. In fact, all of this came from the Monkey Island series of computer games which premiered in 1990.

The hero of the games is Guybrush Threepwood, a young man who wants to be a pirate. He meets the pirate council who give him three tests. Along the way he meets some unusual characters including the governor of the Melee Island (it takes a while before they actually get to Monkey Island). The gameplay was mouse driven. There are several duels but, as it is revealed to Guybrush, the secret is not how you use your sword, it is your witty rejoinders. Guybrush also learns a little about the backstory - there is a treasure on Monkey Island guarded by LeChuck the undead Pirate and his skeletal crew. There is also a ship that went looking for Monkey Island. When it returned it was crewed entirely by monkeys/

By the time Threepwood solves the tests and becomes a pirate, LeChuck has kidnapped the governor. Threepwood must assemble a crew and acquire a ship (from Stan the used ship salesman). Like all good pirate destinations, there is no map to Monkey Island. Instead there is a recipe for soup. When the soup is made, it releases a cloud that causes everyone on the ship to fall asleep. When they wake up they are on Monkey Island.

The game is full of puzzles and jokes, many of them in-jokes referring to other games.

Of course, Threepwood manages to rescue the Governor and "kill" LeChuck. He has a brief fling with the Governor but they break up in time for the second game.

In all, there are four games. The first two are low-res 320x200 graphics. The next one uses much better graphics and is animated cartoon-style. The third one uses 3-D graphics and abandons the mouse in favor of the keyboard.

The end of the second game and parts of the third game have a parody of Disney-land. In his spare time, LeChuck built a theme park complete with a ride showing key scenes in the continuing fight between himself and Guybrush.

There is an open-source version of the SCUMM gaming system that the LucasArts games used prior to 1998 and fans have created a new game around Herman Toothrot, one of the minor characters.

Game creator Ron Gilbert credited the Pirates of the Caribbean ride as one of his inspirations. The game itself seems to have inspired parts of the movies, especially the voodoo lady. All of this was in the family. The games were produced by LucasArts entertainment which is owned by George Lucas whose company Industrial Light and Magic did most of the special effects for PotC.

Check it out - it's the most fun a pirate can have on dry land without sacking a city.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Aarr - Now THAT's a tall ship

The biggest yacht ever built - just under 300 feet long with masts 192 feet tall. And it sails without sending a crew aloft! Don't forget to look at the slideshow.

No word on how much treasure this beauty hauls. Just as well. No ordinary ship could catch her.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Eye Patches and Pirates

Pirates and eye patches seem to go together. Why? Here are some possible reasons:

Last year Mythbusters did a special pirates episode. One of the myths they explored was that pirates wore a patch over a perfectly good eye so that they could remove it and see in the dark. They tried it and it worked so they classified it as plausible.

Presumably a pirate would do this in anticipation of taking a ship and having to do a hurried search of the hold. There is a gaping flaw in this theory - no one in his right mind would cover an eye before going into battle.

The Pirate Master site says this:
Another theory: the eye patch stereotype predates the "Golden Age of Piracy" by some 200 years. Up until the 1500s one of the key tools of maritime navigation was the cross staff, which required the navigator to look directly into the sun at high noon. This led to a lot of sailor/navigators who were partially blind in one eye. After significant sight loss, many would likely have taken to wearing an eyepatch over the afflicted eye. By the 1500s other tools like the back staff had been invented which eliminated the need to look directly into the sun, but by then the sailor/eyepatch image had snuck into public consciousness.
There are lots of problems with this one. First, it gets the dates wrong. While the cross staff was invented around 1300, it was not used for navigation until after 1500.

More important, looking at the sun does not make you lose an eye. If you look long enough it causes blind spots. even with multiple blind spots, there would be no need to wear an eye patch.

Most important, this would only affect navigators and it would affect all navigators equally regardless of any association with piracy.

Unlike many things that we think of as "pirate", eye patches are not associated with sailors, just pirates. This makes this a very unlikely reason for wearing an eye patch.

There can be no doubt that piracy was dangerous. All of the surviving articles that pirates sailed under list cash sums to be paid to anyone who loses an arm, leg, or eye. There was good reason for this. Since pirates tended to attack any ships they came across, they might see more fighting than any other sailors, even members of a navy.

While some pirates undoubtedly lost an eye, this does not seem to be how they were perceived. When researching this posting, I looked over most of the period pictures of pirates. I couldn't find any with an eye patch.

The root of all pirate legends, Hollywood seems to have invented the image of a pirate wearing an eye patch in the 20th century. This site indicates that it came from the 1950 Treasure Island along with talking like a pirate and nearly everything else pirate-like.

Probably the people doing the research saw the same articles I mentioned above and over-represented pirates in eye patches.

I am still researching this but one strong indication is the lack of pirates (real and fictional) under Wikipedia's list of eye patch wearers.

So - bottom line, some pirates definitely lost an eye but not enough to influence the image of pirates until it was defined by Hollywood in the 20th century.

A pirate who wants to wear an eye patch is on solid historic ground but he should be in the minority and he should represent it as an eye lost in battle.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Pirate Master

I don't watch many reality shows and this is my first network one. I prefer something like Monster Garage or Junkyard Wars where people make something - or Robot Wars where they destroy each other's creations. But, Pirate Master has a pirate theme so I felt obligated to watch.

The format is simple. The contestants are divided into two teams by random chance and sent off to recover a treasure. The winning team chooses the captain for the rest of the episode. The captain chooses a first and second mate, decides how the treasure will be split, and chooses three people to get the black spot. One of the people who gets the black spot is "cut adrift". This person is chosen by popular vote from the remaining crew.

There is a lot of deal making and some bribes and pay-offs.

It doesn't really have much to do with pirates. In fact, it could as easily be called Treasure Hunters.

The show would be better if it followed the format of Stan Lee's "Who wants to be a superhero?" In that show, the would-be heroes were put to two tests each episode and people were eliminated on the basis of how they did in the tests and other factors.

I can see that here. Have a show called "Who wants to be a pirate?" The would-be pirates would compete in things like swordplay, plank walking, navigation, parrot-training (ok, this is a stretch). It would be a lot more fun to watch. It might also get better ratings. Pirate Master isn't doing very well.

What does a pirate look like?

How should you dress if you want to represent a pirate? This is a conundrum. The contemporary pictures were not drawn by eyewitnesses. At best, they represent how a contemporary person interpreted the descriptions of others.

There are a few eyewitness accounts. From that, the average pirate dressed like an average sailor. That means either long pants or slops and a short jacket.

The problem is that, if you dress like an 18th century sailor, most people are not going to know that you are portraying a pirate.

There are some things that you can do to liven up an impression. Sailors in general and pirates specifically would have access to some exotic accessories and some affected an unusual appearance.

Gold earings and a silk skarf or bandanna can certainly be justified.

Captains dressed better than crewmen, often dressing like a navy officer. They were more likely to add extra touches. Blackbeard is the ultimate example with a long, bushy black beard that he tied up with ribbons.

Pirates fought more often than regular sailors, probably more often than seamen in the navy. They walked around heavily armed. There are several descriptions of pirates wearing a sash with a brace (pair) of pistols tucked in it. They often wore a sword on a baldric.

Pirates often went into battle with a badric holding up to six holstered pistols. This was important in hand-to-hand combat. It takes several seconds and both hands to load a pistol and you only get one shot (or none if the powder is wet). The only way to get multiple shots was to carry multiple pistols.

I'm not sure about justification for bucket topped boots. At sea, pirates tended to go barefoot to avoid slipping. On shore, at port, they might dress up.

The tricorn (a three-cornered hat) was pretty universal from the late 17th century through the early 19th century. It is not something that a pirate would wear at sea - it is too easily knocked off while climbing the rigging or simply blown off, but it is something else that a pirate might wear at port to dress up.

The parrot as an accessory comes from Treasure Island. Long John Silver kept one. They are common in the Caribbean and were in demand elsewhere. Some pirates were known to give parrots as gifts. There is no reason why a pirate could not pick up a parrot as a pet or something to be sold later.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Pirate's Dinghy

Too many pirates don't have a boat. We didn't want to be land-locked pirates. On the other hand, we didn't want anything too large to handle nor did we want to spend all of our booty on a boat.

I spent days searching ads before I ran across Walker Bay. This is not a traditional wood boat. It is cast plastic. Still, it has a lot of things in its favor:

  • It's cheap.
  • It is tough - no "hole in the water that you fill with money."
  • The way it was cast it looks like a lapstrake wooden boat (one with over-lapping planks).
  • It is light enough for me to move by myself.
  • It is small enough and light enough to fit on the top of my van.
  • It can take a sail.
Here's what it looks like when assembled.

The sail kit that you can get for it does not look at all period and it more than doubles the price of the boat. I decided to make my own sail.

I started with a couple of old pike poles, and added a sail made from a canvas drop-cloth and some white duct tape. I used a sprit-rig which seems like the best choice because:

  • It was in use for centuries
  • It does not need standing rigging
  • It does not have a boom so my wife will not get hit in the head when tacking.
  • It is supposed to be beginner-friendly.

I added some wood-grain contact paper around the rail. It really improves the look of the dinghy.

Now I need to make a tiller and dagger-board and I'll be ready to sail.

So you want to be a pirate!

I've been reenacting in different periods for around 30 years but a lot of the events and sites that we used to go to have fallen through. So - my wife and I decided to try pirating. There are pirate events and we even know some of the people who go to them. Also, it gives me an excuse to get a sailboat which I've been wanting to do for years.

Getting a costume is easy. I've been doing a pirate with just the stuff from my closet for years. Recently I got a new coat, a nice, 1760-1770s gray wool frock coat with big buttons. It's nicely made and a good price.

Now, when doing a pirate impression there is the big question - should you go with what they actually looked like or what people expect? I'm compromising and calling myself a captain. They seem to have worn the longer coats. The regular seamen dressed like any other sailors with shorter coats that were easier when climbing the rigging.

The other thing I'm doing in having some sloops made. These were wide pants that end at the knee. They developed during the 17th century when most people wore full breeches that were gathered at the knee. I found out a couple of years ago that these hold water. The sloops are not gathered at the knee and are fairly light weight material so they can dry quickly.

I can use these with my other 17th century stuff so these should be generally useful.