Monday, April 28, 2008

Pirates of the Scioto

My wife and I decided to try to start a local pirate group, the Pirates of the Scioto. I started a Yahoo Group for this and I asked the Santa Maria about being able to hold pirate events on the ship. If I get an ok then I will put up a recruiting posted at the ship.

What we want the group to be is an extension of how we have approached recreating piracy - keep the basics accurate but allow some things to be over-the-top because, after all we are pirates.

I'd like to see keep costumes based on late 17th/early 18th century clothing, especially sailor's clothing. At the same time, if we keep it too accurate then no one will know that we are pirates.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pyratecon 2008

Pyratecon has come and gone. I didn't hear the official attendance but the organizers were hoping for 1,000 with 600 pre-registered before the event started.

With those numbers, several of the venues were too small. The pirate party Thursday night was fine. The bar was full but there was plenty of room outside and it was a nice night. The pirate dinner Friday night was far too crowded. Organizers asked people to stagger their arrival but the first ones in didn't leave so it just got more and more crowded. At one point I heard a waitress wonder if the balcony could hold everyone. The first band was good but it was hard to hear them. I would have liked them to play longer. The second band wasn't as good although they were acceptable. The bar events on Saturday night were a lost cause. If you were lucky you could stand close enough in Bourbon Street to see the bar.

The dealer rooms were a little crowned on Friday morning but things thinned out over time. I would have liked to see more vendors selling historically accurate items but that's me.

We went to most of the workshops and talks. They were all good and were under-attended. The sea-chantey workshops were especially fun. The celebrity actors from Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl were interesting. They all played small but important parts as members of the cursed crew. None were in the sequels (no surprise, TBS showed the movie Sunday and I noticed that all three were killed outright or blown to bits). They were all interesting characters and happy to be part of the festivities.

The Saturday night parade was a huge success. Hundreds of pirates marched (swaggered?) up Bourbon Street, watched by thousands of people. The only problem was at the end when most of the parade wanted to keep going past past the Funky Pirate bar that was the official end.

So - who attends a pirate convention? There were several different types.

At the low end were the semi-pirates. These were people who had some sort of costume. There were some people who could (and probably did) wear the same outfits to goth bars and ren fairs. A lot of people had fancy costumes - red or black silk shirts, brocade coats, etc. Then there were the historic pirates. That's the group we were part of. Then there were the people doing specific characters. We saw a very good Blackbeard, eight or nine Jack Sparrows, two Barbosas, a Tia Dalma, and a couple of British Naval Officers who might have been doing Norington.

There were also a couple of ninjas which seems like asking for trouble.

A lot of locals got into the act. We noticed several costume-shop pirates in the French Quarter after the parade. Outfits like these. I always wondered where someone could wear one of these outfits in public - the French Quarter.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Almost time for Pyratecon

Just a day and a half before we leave for New Orleans. I'm looking forward to this. Not that I expect much accuracy. But, a chance to run around the French Quarter dressed like a pirate doesn't need much excuse.

Just to get in the mood on the way down I have my N800 Internet Tablet loaded with a couple of e-books (Treasure Island and a Captain Blood sequel), a Pirate podcast from Talk Like A Pirate Day, and the silly Pirate Movie which I've never actually seen. I might load a copy of Treasure Island, too - either the 1950s one or the Muppet one.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

More on Muskets

Here's a thought I just had - the original pirates of the Caribbean were largely recruited from the Cow Killers. These were hunters who shot wild cows left on the islands by early Spanish colonies. The colonies were abandoned as new sources of gold were found and the cattle released into the wild.

By the 2nd quarter of the 17th century a group of non-Spanish had moved into the islands. They were largely English and French. They shot cattle and dried the meat over a slow fire. The process was known as boucaning. It is the root word for barbecue and buccaneer (boucanier - someone who boucans).

Every now and then the Spanish would try to clear the cow killers off of "their" islands. The main place for displaced cow killers to go was Tortuga.

When the English recruited people to raid the Spanish they got a lot of men who had been cow killers, enough that the French word for the cow killers became synonymous with pirates.

So, we have a significant portion of pirates who used to make their living shooting animals with their muskets. They were good shots, too. Are these men going to toss their muskets into the ocean and switch to blunderbusses? I doubt it.

So the people who insist that pirates had no use for long weapons haven't really thought about where the pirates were recruited from.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Eyepatch Myth (again)

Mythbusters showed their original pirate episode this week. This included the myth that pirates with normal vision wore an eyepatch so that they could go into a dark room without having to wait for their vision to adjust. The Mythbusters proved that this works but didn't comment on whether pirates actually did this.

I've written about this before but I had a slightly new insight. First I will cover the reasons why I think that this is a myth:

A pirate would want both eyes in a fight. Covering one gives you a literal blind spot and affects depth perception. This will get you killed in a fight.

There are few places on a ship where you need to go into a dark place quickly. The hold is one such place but this overlooks how pirates actually operated. Pirates normally forced the crew of a ship to surrender then spent hours or days ransacking a ship. Someone hiding in the hold might have a long wait and would be fairly ineffective. Someone hiding in the hold, waiting to attack pirates individually as they entered would be quickly discovered and put to a painful death. This would also be one fewer person trying to save the ship in the first place. Any fighters hiding in the hold would be expected to emerge and join in the fight before the crew surrendered. This is how Maynard captured Blackbeard.

I have been collecting books on pirates since the 1980s but I never ran across this myth until Mythbusters ran it. I've been looking through books on piracy since then and I only find it in the newer ones. That makes me think that this is not only a myth, it is a recent on. I'm guessing that it was invented after 2000.

The one place I had run across the idea of using an eyepatch to preserve night vision was in a novel - Not Quite Scaramouche by Joel Rosenburg. In this book, three soldiers are accumulating funds for their retirement by robbing thieves. One of them flashes some money in a tavern while wearing an eyepatch. As soon as he leaves he moves the patch to the other eye and leads the inevitable cutthroats following him into a trap. This book was published in 2001 which is exactly right for my theory.

So my guess is that a fan of Rosenburg speculated that lots of people wore eyepatches to preserve night vision historically. From there it is an easy jump to assume that the group of people associated with eyepatches must have worn them for some reason besides the obvious.


As for eyepatches in general, I have yet to see a contemporary description of a pirate wearing one for any reason. A pirate who lost an eye would be given a lump sum payment and would probably either retire or take a non-combat job. Treasure Island was on the money with Long John Silver becoming a cook after losing a leg.

I might as well mention my theory that image of the pirate with a pegleg is a combination of Long John Silver (on crutches) and Captain Ahab (pegleg but not a pirate).