Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cannons and Gorns

This isn't strictly pirate-related but pirates are always interested in cannons. Mythbusters just showed an segment based on the "Gorn" episode of Star Trek. In this the Enterprise pursues a ship manned by the alien race the Gorn into an unknown system. Powerful aliens in that system transport Kirk and the Gorn captain to a planet to finish their fight one on one. They promised that a weapon would be available. Kirk eventually realizes that the weapon is the raw materials for a gun - sulfur, charcoal, saltpeter, hollow piece of a bamboo-like tree, and diamonds. He gathers the ingredients, mixes the gunpowder by hand, stuffs it all down a piece of bamboo with diamonds as projectiles, and sets it off. The result is enough to knock the Gorn off his feet long enough for Kirk to hold a knife to his throat and win the contest.

So, could this work? The Mythbusters found that bamboo makes a poor cannon and would injure Kirk more than the Gorn. Assuming that the alien bamboo is sturdier than the earthly variety, what about the gunpowder? The Mythbusters used the best of 30 trials. When they tried this in a modern cannon it barely pushed the ball out of the barrel so they gave up and switched to commercial powder.

Obviously, they did something wrong. In the GAoP, gunpowder came two ways, serpentine and corned. Serpentine powder was used for cannons. It is exactly what the Mythbusters used - the three ingredients mixed together by hand. Over time these would settle out so gunners had wooden paddles or scoops that they would use to remix the powder before use.

Corned powder was used in small arms and is what is sold today. This is serpentine powder that has been wetted and baked into cakes then ground up into grains (corns). In period, urine was often used for wetting the powder.

So what happened on Mythbusters? Serpentine powder burns slower so they would have needed wadding in their cannon to assure a good seal. They did not use this which is probably their problem. A longer barrel would have helped, also. Period cannons were quite long. That gives the powder longer to burn. It is also possible that they got the proportions of the powder wrong or didn't mix it properly. The best powder is 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulfur. That comes out to 15 parts, 3 parts and 2 parts. If they measured like Kirk did, then they just estimated by eye.

How does this relate to the Star Trek episode? Kirk measured his powder by eye while the Gorn was approaching. We didn't see Kirk use wadding in his cannon. Chances are pretty good that, in real life, his results would have been worse than the Mythbusters. On the other hand, if he remembered the right proportions and used a measure and wadding (and his bamboo barrel didn't explode in his face) then it would have worked.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pirates in Paradise 2009

PiP 2009 is over. Here's the wrap-up.

First the weather
Wednesday and Thursday were hot and humid. It rained Thursday night/Friday morning and got even more humid. A front moved in Saturday which cooled things off. We had heavy rain for something under an hour followed by high winds. It was a little too cool. Sunday was really nice.

The battles
We were supposed to have daily battles on Friday, Saturday,and Sunday. The Saturday battle was canceled because of weather so we only had two battles. Last year the attackers were on the field between the fort and the ocean with the Wolf joining in. All of the artillery was on the fort. When the pirates won on Saturday, we rushed around the fort to the open back, climbed the walls, and took the Viceroy. It was a little clumsy.

This year everyone was on the field. The artillery was divided up with the Royalists having two 6-pounders and 1-2 big mortars and the attackers having a half dozen or more small pieces. The cannon crews sucked up a lot of manpower and we ended up with more people manning the cannons than attacking with small arms.

They were short on experienced gunners so I volunteered for a gun crew.

On Friday we had the two cannons and one mortar on the far end of the field. The Viceroy shouted orders from the fort walls. We fired our four shots then abandoned our guns. After that, they reworked the battle plan and things worked much better.

On Sunday we were on the close end of the field with the pirates on the far end. We also had a second mortar. Our soldiers (both of them) were on our side and the Viceroy was behind the cannons. After we fired our four rounds, we took up cannon tools and made a stand against the pirates' advance. As soon as we realized that we had brought hand tools to a gun fight, we retreated. Several royalists threw off their coats. People on both sides stripped the dead of their shoes and hats. The Sunday format worked very well and was a lot of fun.

Other items
Most people skipped the parade in favor of the auction. Last year the auction was slow and boring. It was interrupted part way through by a slide show. This year it was very entertaining. I could say more but I am sworn to secrecy.

The Sunday dinner was a disaster. It was announced that people should come up to the fort around 6 for a Piracy Pub photo and dinner. Around 7:30 it was announced that dinner would be served within fifteen minutes. A few minutes before eight, and well after it was pitch black, the had us line up for the picture. Dinner was brought in while the picture was being taken. Dinner consisted of chips, one of several types of salad (bean salad, pasta salad, etc.) buns, and a small portion of pork.

Authenticity was up this year although there were two or three Jack Sparrow-types. There was some question about what to do with some people who had a large purple booth-like tent with an aluminum frame. They started setting up in the historic camp but were stopped and sent to the modern camp. They were not happy there and sneaked back under cover of darkness. Last year there were several camps decorated with Ren Fair gear but this year there was no sign of that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Attacking Forts and Camps

One thing that bothers me about pirate reenactors, even the good ones, is that they tend to use close-in weapons for battles. You see a lot of pistols and blunderbusses being used beyond their effective range. I've said before that there should be more long guns.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pirate Radio

My wife and I saw Pirate Radio (aka The Boat the Rocked) over the weekend. There are no actual pirates involved although there is a ship and a couple of guys climb a (transmitter) mast. Also, two actors from the PotC series are in it (Bill Nighy/Davy Jones and jack Davenport/Norrington).

The movie is a period piece about 1966 when half of England listened to Rock and Roll transmitted from ships anchored just beyond the three mile limit. This was the height of British Rock but the BBC only played it for around an hour a day.

Pirate Radio is great fun. Most of it takes place on the ship operated by Radio Rock. The DJs and crew lived on the ship, pumping out Rock, amusing themselves between shifts, and looking forward to alternate Saturdays when women were allowed to visit.

The movie is an ensemble piece. There isn't much plot except for the British government's efforts to shut down the pirate radio stations. There are plot threads, mainly around the rivalry between DJ Gavin and the Count and Young Carl's efforts to lose his virginity.

I do have one quibble. 1960s Rock was a young man's game but several of the DJs are in their late 30s or early 40s.

Regardless, it's all good fun with a killer soundtrack.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Swords and Candles

This is really about Hollywood swordsmen but movie pirates are always champion fencers so it sort of applies.

How often has this scene been shot - two swordsmen are about to fight. The villain turns and cuts through a candlestick. The hero makes a swish and appears to miss. He stomps his foot and the candle falls.

So, can this be done? I experimented with this years ago. I discovered two things. First, you cannot cut through a regular candle. The sword is stopped by the wick. There just isn't any way around this. It is difficult to cut a string with a sword. If it is under a load and you have the right stroke then you can do it but it takes a slicing stroke. You can't do this with a candle because of the wax. You have to cut the wax with a straight cut. If you try slicing it, the wax will stick and the candle will go flying.

So, you have to have a special candle with no wick. If you make one of these then it is possible to cut through the candle with one stroke. Thinner blades work better. A machete worked better than a sword.

So that's the first part. The second part is - can you slice through a candle so well that it will not show the cut? This part is impossible.

Think about the physics involved. No matter how sharp your edge is, the rest of the blade takes up space - up to a quarter of an inch. Two solids cannot occupy the same space at once so the candle has to move enough to let the blade pass through. If you could do this very slowly then gravity might pull the top half of the candle back in place but then the sword would not have enough energy to slice the candle in the first place. Instead you have to make a very fast strike. That is going to send the top half flying. There just isn't any other possibility.

This is also true when cutting people (although I have not tried this). The movies Equilibrium and Underworld both have sword fights where someone's head is cut but he doesn't realize it until his face slides off. It can't happen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sea Shanties

If you are reenacting pirates then some sea music seems appropriate. Sea Shanties seems like a good place to start. These were working songs. When many men had to work together hauling lines or working the capstan, they had to synchronize their efforts. The shanties had a strong beat timed for specific jobs.

Unfortunately, finding period shanties is not as easy as it seems. There are lots of sea shanties but most of them are from the 19th century. You don't even have to research them. The subject matter is a either about whaling or shipping. Sometimes historic events or people that post-date the GAoP are mentioned.

For example, any song that mentions Australia is too late. It wasn't settled until 1788. South Australia was founded in 1836. This eliminates the song South Australia, also known as the Rolling Kings.

Haul Away Joe starts with a verse about King Louis XVI who was executed in 1793.

Donkey Riding refers to a steam winch used to load timber onto ships.

The Bonnie Ship the Diamond is a whaler.

It goes on like this.

I've heard but can't confirm that the sea shanty as we know it wasn't really common until the 19th century. Prior to that musicians, especially fiddlers, kept time.

We've eliminated sea shanties as period music. What's left for pirates? There are some songs with sea themes. Also, there are two that I know of the specifically mention pirates. The first one was written by a young Ben Franklin about Blackbeard's death. It is called the Downfall of Piracy. Unfortunately only the words survive.

The other one is My Name is Captain Kidd. This one includes music and you can find versions of it on YouTube.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Talk Like a Pirate Day 2009

How to really live up Talk Like a Pirate Day...

First, we had a pirate weekend on the Santa Maria. We had around 30 pirates including kids. Saturday (the official TLaPD) had perfect weather. We had two attacks on the ship from boats. This time we had a ladder hung so that the attackers could actually climb aboard. I also provided a couple of foam swords so that the first pirate on deck could fight with one of the attackers. We decided that we would base the success or failure of the attack on this. We had two boats to use - my Whitehall, Firefly, and a smaller canoe that belongs to the ship. Since the canoe could maneuver around the ship better we had the attackers on it.

The first time the defender won. The boarders surrendered and Firefly called off our attack. The second time the boarders won.

There was a pirate-themed wedding that evening. The "real" pirates left the ship so that the wedding pirates could have it. The bride had a white gown with a small white tricorn pinned at an angle. The bridesmaids were in red corsets and black skirts. The men had piratish outfits and cutlasses.

A few of us were included in the ceremony. The minister asked if anyone objected. One pirate did and a second shot him. No one else objected. I fire my swivel gun when the ceremony ended and a howitzer on land also fired.

After that we went to the "R Bar" which became the "Arrh Bar" for the night where we had a fundraiser for the Santa Maria. The bar was quite happy with the pirate turn-out and added $500 to the money raised.

In all, it was a great day for the ship's finances. Attendance was the second higest of the year, right after the Spring pirate event plus the fundraiser. We will follow up with an auction on Ebay.

Most of us spent the night on the ship. A few of us had slept there on Friday night as well.

Sunday started cloudy and started raining in early afternoon. We skipped the battle and just let people fire small weapons, instead.

There was an arts festival going on across the river. A few people went over in the canoe and some others walked across. I got together a crew for Firefly with the idea of stealing it and towing it back but they got back to it too soon. We had to console ourselves with racing past it. We had two people rowing and the canoe only had Micky.

In all it was a good weekend for pirating.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

PotC 4

Pirates of the Caribbean 4, On Stranger Tides has been announced with a summer of 2011 release date.

The title may come from Tim Power's novel by the same name. I don't see much of the plot being usable for a new Disney movie. The novel follows a puppeteer named Jack Chandagnac as his ship is taken and he falls in with pirates. Jack rises in the ranks to become Captain Jack Shandy and win the girl. Along the way he witnesses Blackbeard immersing himself in a mystic fountain and gaining supernatural powers.

I've read several of Tim Powers' novels. His cosmology is consistent between this book and the Anubis Gate which is set in the England of Dickens. The Anubis Gate is a sprawling novel and possibly Powers' best although On Stranger Tides has its own following. Many people consider it to be the pirate novel.

According to Ron Gilbert, On Stranger Tides was one of his inspirations for the Monkey Island games along with the Disney ride. This could bring the creative cycle full circle.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Lost Coconut

This is a neat ship. It has a foam base covered with lumber salvaged from a back porch. It is 30 feet long and looks like a real ship.

More pictures here and a video here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Last Sail

I went sailing Saturday for probably the last time of the season. It went well. I finally found the secret to tacking a Whitehall - cheat. If I give a few strokes with a paddle then it tacks nicely. I've noted before that Whitehalls are meant to go straight so making a quick turn before it loses momentum doesn't work very well.

I didn't drop the centerboard. It didn't seem to need it. We were racing back and forth across the lake pretty well without it.

It had been out of the water for three weeks so the seams had opened up. I recently bought a battery-powered pump and this took care of the water nicely. It isn't as fast as the hand pump I've been using but it's a lot easier to use. I just push the start button and keep an eye on it.

We started in late afternoon then had a family picnic. I was worried about getting the boat back to the boat ramp before dark so I took down the mast and rowed back. I had two family members rowing, two others riding, and I took the tiller. It works nicely with five people (especially when the front bench isn't blocked by a swivel gun).

Probably the Santa Maria Pirate Event will be its last time in the water this year. After that I expect the water to be too cold to launch.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pirates of Paynetown 2009

The 2009 Pirates of Paynetown was a major success. Around 150 pirates gathered making a decent-sized town for the pirates to attack. There were around ten boats, some of them stored in camp. I think that five or six participated in the pirate attack and these held more people than last year. New events included an improvised naval battle and night cannon firing, both on Friday. There was dancing after dark on Saturday and a pirate funeral on Sunday when the skeleton pirate hanging as a warning was finally laid to rest.

This was the 4th PoP and the third that I have attended. Attendance has jumped each year and may be nearing the limits of what the site can support. There are good and bad points about this. The good points are that more people means more going on and it is growing in a good way - accuracy is not being sacrificed and the new people are adding new displays. The Saturday night Pirate Pitch-in dinner has improved a great deal with nearly everything being cooked on-site and not a single bucket of KFC to be seen.

There are a few drawbacks to the increase. With 25-50 people, most people congregate at the tavern after dark. With over 100 people, a smaller precentage went to the tavern. Groups were big enough to support their own gatherings. Also, fewer groups include pirate or nautical items in their camps. It is really a canvas village that happens to have some pirates in it.

The beach has become a problem. In 2007, the water level in the lake was down and there was plenty of beach available. That Winter the lake flooded and the beach eroded making it smaller. This year the water level was much higher and rising while we were there, covering a lot of the beach. That doesn't leave much room for the boats. There are plans to add a floating dock for next year.

The wind was a problem on Saturday. The boats had a lot of trouble being in the right position and the waves were pretty high for a lake. I didn't measure the wind until it had died down a bit. Even then it was in the 9-10 MPH range. On Sunday it was in the 6-8 MPH range and things were much easier. In fact, the Sunday battle went about perfectly. The pirates attacked, the shore batteries opened up, the pirates landed and were opposed by British regulars and militia but a band of "land pirates" appeared at their flank and routed them (which gave the "boat pirates" a chance to land safely), and the camp was taken.

This event is becoming one of the best events of the year for pirates who are serious about history.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hook - What Went Wrong?

Hook just showed up on cable. This seemed like a great idea when it was first announced. Speilburg was still highly acclaimed and he said that Robin Williams was the only actor who could pull off the role. The result was poor. What happened?

One basic problem was that it mixed two worlds. A corporate lawyer with no time for his kids had to travel to a place where people can fly and someone can lose his shadow. The two were too dissimilar.

A big problem is that the movie was just too long. Every part of it goes on and on, especially the beginning and end. The movie could easily have had a half hour or more cut from it and it would have been better.

Robin Williams' child-like act has been over-rated. The same thing happened with Popeye, another Williams movie with high expectations that flopped at the box office.

The script assumes that the viewer is totally familiar with the original book.

The end has several problems. Hook kills Rufio, one of the Lost Boys. So what does Peter do? Gathers his kids and prepares to leave. It is only after Hook threatens his children that he fights. Even then, he humiliates Hook then leaves. Hook is finally killed by the crocodile from the book. Despite being dead and stuffed, the crocodile still falls on Hook in slow motion and devours him. Hook has een stopped but Rufio is unavenged.

A more interesting version would have been to show Neverland from the pirate's viewpoint. Why are they hanging around Neverland? Why don't they leave? Have they become as ageless as the Lost Boys?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This just in - Cannonballs can sink a ship!

A cannonball was found wedged into the keel of a ship that was sunk during the Napoleonic wars. The big question was if the cannonball could actually pierce the ship's extra thick oak hull? The University of Haifa in Israel answered that question using scale models. The answer is yes, even at low velocities a cannonball can pierce a thick oak hull.

This part is interesting:
The lower the velocity, the more energy was absorbed in causing damage to the hull, and the more the wood splintered, which would have caused more harm to the ship's personnel. The results of this experiment, Kahanov said, are of much significance to the study of the vessel and to the study of naval battles in this period.
Remember the Mythbusters Pirate Special (they just reran it last weekend)? One myth they investigated was the danger of splinters. They decided that splinters were not all that dangerous. This experiment shows the flaw in the Mythbusters' experiment. They used a real cannon but they had it at close range. The ball cleanly pierced the hull, doing even less damage than their air cannon. If they had moved the cannon back a few hundred yards they would have gotten a different result.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sailing the Whitehall

We took the boat (now named "Firefly") out sailing today. This was our second time sailing (plus a third time at Saint Mary's City with the boat overloaded). The wind was from the West and the lake runs North and South so we sailed up and down it a few times. Combining this with our experiences the first time we took it out on that lake I can say a few things about sailing the Whitehall.

First - when the wind is right it goes like a bat out of hell. We were overtaking the modern sailboats. At one point I was hoping to literally sail rings around one (or at least pass it, tack and pass it again) but the wind died and out boats separated.

It tacks poorly. Whitehalls are designed to go in a straight line. It overcomes this while under sail but during a tack you are sort of coasting, using forward momentum to carry you through the turn (for landlubbers, tacking is making a turn while sailing into the wind so that the wind is on the other side of the boat).

The alternative is to jibe. This is the same as tacking except the wind is coming from behind. This works fairly well although the boom swings rather sharply and I have to be ready with the tiller for when the wind catches it. We did this several times and it worked fine. I was just reading up on jibing and I see that it is recommended that the centerboard be raised for this maneuver. The boat tips as the wind catches it from the other side and that would help since the boat could be pushed sideways instead of tipping.

Firefly had been out of the water for three weeks in dry weather and it showed. A lot of water leaked through the seams. Pumping it out let me more tired than rowing would have.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


After arguing with someone last Saturday about pirates wearing eyepatches to see in dark holds, I did some more research. I cannot find any period references to pirates wearing eyepatches. The earliest picture I could find with a pirate with an eyepatch and/or pegleg is this one from Howard Pyle from 1892.

Pyle is not the best source. He is known to have made up details such as walking the plank. A few years later this detail was included in Peter Pan and forever associated with pirates.

This is the biggest flaw in the eyepatch myth - first you have to prove that eyepatches were associated with pirates before the late-19th century and it has to come from a reputable source.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Put-In-Bay Pirate Festival

Micky and I checked out the Put-in-Bay Pirate Festival on Saturday. Put-in-Bay is an island in Lake Erie. It is near the site of a major naval engagement during the War of 1812 when Admiral Perry, aboard the Brig Niagara, defeated a British fleet. Today the island is a party town.

We got conflicting information about the pirate festival. I think that this is the 4th year that something piratish has happened but that this was the first year that it was an island-wide festival.

The festival consisted of a small living history encampment of "pirates" who normally do French and Indian War period, a short parade, and a costume contest. Also the modern reconstruction of the Niagara visited.

Micky took second place in the men's class. A Jack Sparrow won. You can't beat Captain Jack.

A large percentage of the island's population was dressed for the festival. Several businesses had pirate flags out.

One complaint about the reenactors who were there - one of them insisted on bringing up the "pirates wore eye patches to see in the dark" myth.

The festival could use more (and better) pirates. We may try to set up an encampment next year.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Maryland's 375th

On June 20th, Maryland celebrated the 375 anniversary of its founding. As part of the celebration, they invited in the 17th century reenactors who normally come to the Grande Muster in October (which has been canceled this year). While not actually a pirate event, there were pirates there. The Sea Rats and the Pirate Brethren were present. We were there as colonists. That weekend usually has a nautical festival and a number of people brought their boats. My Whitehall fit right in with these. There were some full-sized ships and a couple of larger boats - the John Smith Shallop and the Explorer.

I had been worrying about the heat. They held the Grande Muster that weekend a few times in the 1980s and it was extremely hot. This year wasn't too bad, mainly bacause of a couple of thunderstorms which cooled things down.

Military manuvers for the event were minor. We lined up, turned and fired a single shot, retired behind the pikes while charged by a single horseman, then returned to our original position.

I did get to go sailing a couple of times. The first time Michael and I took the Whitehall out but the wind died and we had to row back. The second time there were three of us. There was a good wind but we didn't make very good time and it didn't want to answer the rudder. I think that having a third person in the bow changed the weight around too much. Also, the wind was not with us.

At one point the wind changed direction and the boom swung around unexpectedly, knocking Michael's hat into the bay. Undetered, the Sea Rats went out and found it. They claimed that a sea monster spit it back up.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Monkey Island is back!


LucasArts and Telltale Reveal Series of New Monkey Island Adventures Coming Soon!

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif – June 1, 2009 – LucasArts today announced that the original hilarious pirate adventure is back, with two new projects underway based on the classic Monkey Island franchise. First, Telltale will premiere the Tales of Monkey Island™ game series, delivering a completely new epic storyline and swashbuckling flair that will unfold across five monthly episodes on PC and WiiWare™ beginning with the season premiere episode on July 7. The Monkey Island celebration continues later in the summer when LucasArts publishes The Secret of Monkey Island™: Special Edition, a completely re-imagined version of the first game in the series that adds updated high definition graphics, a re-mastered musical score, and full voiceover to the classic adventure game originally launched in 1990. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition will be made available on Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, and PC.

Today's announcement represents a new partnership between LucasArts and digital entertainment pioneers Telltale who are crafting new experiences for today's audiences with engaging stories delivered through regular monthly episodes. Tales of Monkey Island is developed by Telltale, whose team includes designers and artists who worked on all of the previous Monkey Island games. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is being developed internally by LucasArts, the company that started it all with the original Monkey Island games.

"We couldn't be any more excited about bringing Monkey Island to today's gamers -- both in our special edition of the original classic, and through our collaboration with Telltale on the episodic series," said LucasArts' President Darrell Rodriguez. "We can't wait for Guybrush Threepwood and LeChuck to return to gamers' screens."

About Tales of Monkey Island

Telltale's Tales of Monkey Island brings the adventures of pirate Guybrush Threepwood into a new era with an explosive storyline that becomes deeper and more entangled during the course of the five-episode saga. While battling his nemesis, the evil pirate LeChuck, Guybrush accidentally unleashes an insidious voodoo pox that threatens to transform the buccaneers of the Caribbean into unruly pirate monsters. Players will experience the humor, romance, and swashbuckling action the Monkey Island games are famous for and unravel an insidious plot which is revealed across the course of the series. Tales of Monkey Island is set to premiere on PC and WiiWare in the coming weeks.

"The Monkey Island series set the standard for storytelling and character development in games," said Telltale CEO Dan Connors. "The next several months should be filled with all kinds of surprises as we continue the dramatic stories of Guybrush, Elaine and LeChuck. We are happy to be working with LucasArts to make this happen."

Telltale has posted a video preview and screenshots today at http://www.telltalegames.com/monkeyisland, and has opened up pre-orders at this site.

About The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

This summer, LucasArts will release The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition via Xbox LIVE Arcade for Xbox 360 and for PCs.

Back by popular demand, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition faithfully re-imagines the internationally-acclaimed classic game (originally released in 1990) for original and new audiences alike. The development team at LucasArts is bringing the game into the modern era with all-new HD graphics, a re-mastered musical score, full voiceover, and an in-depth hint system has been added to help players through the game's side-splitting puzzles. Purists will also delight in the ability to seamlessly switch between the updated HD graphics and the original's classic look.

The game's twisty plot leads hero, Guybrush Threepwood, on a hilarious quest throughout the fabled Monkey Island. Tales of pirate wealth attract Guybrush, who lands at the port of Mêlée with high hopes, no money and an insatiable desire to become a pirate. If the player is clever enough, Guybrush will win the confidence of Mêlée's established pirates and soon find himself blown by the winds of fate toward Monkey Island -- a storied isle whose name alone chills the bones of even the most bloodthirsty buccaneers.

More information about The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition can be found at the official website, www.MonkeyIslandSpecialEdition.com.

These efforts are just the start of LucasArts' new mission to revitalize its deep portfolio of beloved gaming franchises. In addition to these new Monkey Island projects, LucasArts recently revealed that the classic adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (originally released in 1992) is included as an unlockable bonus in the Wii™ version of Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings, set to be released on June 9. Additional announcements are forthcoming.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Pirate Weapons vs. Conventional

In general, pirates did not create any new weapons. They simply used weapons that were in common use at the time. Still, there are differences between what pirates used and how they used them and how weapons were used in general in the GAoP (Golden age of Piracy).

A pirate's favorite weapon was the pistol. This is the biggest difference between them and the rest of the population. Pistols were normally used by civilians and officers. Regular soldiers were not issued pistols.

A pistol is generally a short-range weapon. Black powder expands slowly and a long barrel is needed in order to give the powder enough time to accelerate a ball to maximum speed. The shorter barrel means that the ball will be traveling substantially slower. In addition, pistols usually shot smaller balls than a musket. This means that a pistol ball will fall short before a musket ball does and that a pistol ball does not have the penetrating power of a musket ball.

There are other problems with pistols. Firing one-handed is not as accurate as firing a gun resting on the shoulder and steadied with both hands. A musket is carried muzzle-up while a pistol is usually carried muzzle-down. This means that a musket ball does not need to be tight-fitting which, in turn, speeds up loading. If a pistol is loaded with a loose-fitting ball and stuffed in a sash, the ball will fall out. A tight-fitting ball takes longer to load since it has to be forced down the barrel.

So why would pirates prefer a pistol? It has to do with the types of fights they had.

Ships are small. Even the largest ship of the time measured from stem to stern was barely as long as standard battlefield distances. If you are fighting on a ship you are going to be close enough that the problems with range and penetrating power do not matter. The same is true with aiming. You shoot at someone who is directly in front of you. The chance that you will actually hit him is higher than the odds of hitting someone at standard musket distances.

Pirates had a simple solution for the slow reloading time. They carried multiple pistols.

Muskets on the other hand, are difficult to use in close-quarter combat; you cannot carry more than one at a time; and loading them in a melee or on a small boat is difficult. Which doesn't mean that muskets were not used, just that they were confined to ship-to-ship fighting or land-invasion.

The infamous blunderbuss is another weapon that was mainly used by civilians and pirates. It is basically a sawed-off shotgun and is most effective against a group at close range.

The carbine is probably under-represented among pirate reenactors. This is a shortened musket. It was mainly used by cavalry and could be carried on a shoulder sling. There was also a naval version. The carbine had a greater range and penetrating power than a pistol and could be loaded faster than a pistol or musket but the short barrel made it easier to use in a crowd or on a small boat. If it was carried on a sling then it would need a tight-fitting ball.

Cannons are another example of a weapon being used differently. Unlike most naval battles, pirates seldom wanted to sink the ship that they were attacking nor did they want to cause too much damage if it was a ship that they might want to take as a prize. That limited their choices in ammunition. The best choices for pirates would be canister shot or grape shot. This was a load of musket balls which turned a cannon into a huge, powerful shotgun capable of decimating a crew but sparing the ship. Bar shot and chain shot might also be used. These were effective anti-personnel loads but they could also be used to disable a ship's sails, rigging, and masts.

Swords are a special case. Through the middle of the 17th century, some troops were issued swords and some were not. Officers and cavalry always had them. Pikemen (pikes are 16-20 foot-long spears) often had them. Musketeers usually did not carry swords. It is difficult to use a sword while carrying a musket so musketeers depended on the pikemen for protection from hand-to-hand combat or used their muskets as clubs.

At sea, hand to hand combat is the norm rather than the exception so most people had a sword or alternate cutting implement such as a boarding ax.

Finally, grenades were known but seldom used on the battlefield for the simple reason that it was hard to pitch one into the right place at the right time. Again, given the closer quarters of a fight on a ship, a grenade could be more easily used.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hampton Blackbeard Festival

We were at the Hampton Blackbeard Festival over the weekend. This is an impressive festival. Unlike most pirate festivals, the Blackbeard Festival actually has some ties to pirates and Blackbeard. He raided the eastern coast until the Governor of Virginia decided to put a stop to it. Two sloops were sent out to capture or kill Blackbeard and his crew. They were successful and returned with Blackbeard's head and several members of his crew who were tried in near-by Williamsburg. Blackbeard's head was placed on a pike int he James River as a warning to other pirates. According to legend, this was at or near Hampton.

The modern-day festival is in its 8th year. There were no attendance figures but thousands attended and estimates based on food sales put the crowd at an all-time high.

At the heart of the festival is Pirate's Cove, an encampment of accurate pirate reenactors along with some sutlers and performers. Further out were the non-period vendors and performers. Four ships and three boats participated. Three of the ships played the parts of the sloops, reenacting Blackbeard's last stand. After that, the three smaller boats did a tactical.

Unfortunately the number of reenactors has outgrown the Pirate's Cove so a small, grassy area along the waterfront was also used for reenactors. This was assigned to the Crew of the archangle which we fell in with. This kept us somewhat away from the main event.

I provided one of the small boats - the smallest one. My Whitehall fit in nicely with the two larger boats. All had similar lines. They just differed in size. The tactical involved pirates stealing the largest boat, the Explorer, then fighting the middle-sized boat over who could take our boat. This meant that both boats were chasing us much of the time.

The Whitehall was up to the challenge. With two people rowing, one streering, and one at the swivel gun, we easily outmanuvered and outsped the larger boats. On Sunday the three small craft exchanged fire with one of the sloops before going to the boat ramp. Again, with five people aboard and two rowing, we easily passed the middle boat which had four or five people and three rowing.

Many of the local boats were decorated. Most simply had pirate flags but some had elaborate decorations including treasure chests and pirate figures. Many of the locals had pirate costumes.

The most bizzare thing was how many of the women on boats were calling out invitations to us as we rowed past - things like, "I want to be plundered!" One woman was dressed as a parrot and wanted a pirate to adopt her. I wonder what these women's husbands and boyfriends thought?

The weather could have been better and it could have been worse. It poured rain on Friday afternoon and evening and the camp sites were a soggy mess for the rest of the weekend. The rain gave way to simply being overcaston Saturday and sunny on Sunday. The temperatures were lower than normal for Virginia in June which was a blessing when rowing a boat.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ebay Pirate Ship

I've liked to ebay auctions before. This is a nice little boat. The owner calls it a ship but it is really a 12 foot rowable sailboat with a sprit for the jib (that's the pole sticking out the front for the leading sail for landlubbers). I'd be interested myself if I didn't already have a bigger boat.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sailing the Whitehall

We've taken the Whitehall out the last couple of Saturdays. Last week there was no wind at all so I tried the rowing seat. It worked quite well with my legs doing most of the work. I rowed a mile and a half to two miles and I never had to breath hard.

This week there was some wind so I finally got to try the sails.

Technically it was what is know as light wind. I think the wind was in the 5-10 mph range. This is a good windspeed for trying sailing since there is enough wind to get you moving but not enough to cause problems.

The Whitehall sails really well. I was pretty much able to go anywhere I wanted. There were a couple of times that the wind died and we did one tack as the wind was dying. I was able to use the job to get us out of that.

When the wind was blowing from the side or slightly ahead of us the boat really sped along. A few times I was overtaking modern sailboats going the same direction.

I was cautious. I could have gotten more speed out of her but I didn't want to get the side too close to the water so I slacked off sail a bit. We still had to lean into the wind.

I was especially proud that I was able to pull right up to the dock and grab a cleat with my boathook.

I tried it with the centerboard up and down. I couldn't tell the difference. The Whitehall is designed to move in a straight line so the centerboard may be superfluous.

I ordered a couple of new cleats for the rail. I had been using a pair of cleats meant for controlling the job when single-handing. These are rather small and are forward of where I wanted them. I found some reasonably-priced bronze cleats on-line and got them in time to install them Friday. They helped a lot in controlling the boat at a dock. I really wonder why no one ever installed a pair before?

A couple of improvements I need to make before we go to the Hampton Blackbeard Festival next week - I improvised a brail line for taking in the sail in a hurry. I'm going to replace it with one that is longer and a different type of rope. I want to be able to identify it easily since this is what we will use if we need to take in the sail in an emergency. Along the same lines, I am going to use a small carabiner to attach the boom to traveler. I want to be able to detach this quickly in an emergency. Taking the traveler line free takes too long. Yesterday I had to use a marlinspike to get the stopper knot out. With the carabiner I can leave the line permanently attached.

I need some way to be able to tie off the tiller. I used the long one and it kept swinging wide. At dock it kept getting caught on the dock. When sailing it would swing out of reach if I took my hand off of it to pump out the boat. Maybe I can rig up something with the new cleats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pirates on the Santa Maria - 2009

We had our pirate event on the Santa Maria. Turnout was good - we had around 30 pirates. Visitor attendance was also good. This was the best weekend to date (unfortunately it has been a bad year).

The attack on the ship wasn't as well planned as I would have liked but it worked. We had scratch crews manning guns on the Santa Maria. A new unit brought a small mortar so some experienced gunners fired that while the new people fired a howitzer from the shore. I quickly trained someone on using my swivel gun and she did a great job with some assist from someone who had helped me last year.

I was on my boat attacking the ship with a small swivel gun and hand-arms. We also had a couple of people on the jetty and defenders firing from the quarter deck.

After the ship closed on Saturday there was a lot of posing for pictures. Most pirates reenactors don't get to take over a ship long enough to do extended photo ops.

Around 15 people spent the night on the ship. There were some complaints about how hard the deck is to sleep on and how cold it was (the low was in the upper 40s). One thing I like about pirate events is that people sleep late. Usually I'm one of the last up at reenactments but I am usually one of the first at pirate events.

Sunday's battle was slightly scaled down. Several people could only be there for Saturday and we were out of powder for my swivel gun. We still managed a credible battle.

People started packing in earnest after the battle and were pretty much gone by 4:00. This was a shame since the ship still had visitors but it is a fact of life for reenactments where people come from out of town.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting the Whitehall in the Water

In the last few weeks I managed to finish sanding and painting the Whitehall and get it ready to put in the water. I spent the last two weeks before launching it pouring water into it to swell the planks. I saw this recommended as a way of avoiding the "Oh my God, my boat's sinking!" feeling when a wood planked boat is put in the water after a long haul-out. I'm glad I did this. When I first started soaking the hull, water poured out. Later it still dribbled out.

We got it in the water down a nasty boat ramp. The car got stuck in some wet mud (silt) and we had to get some help to get it loose. While we waited for a tow chain, I rowed the Whitehall around a bit. It handled fine.

The occasion was a pirate event at the Santa Maria which is 1/2 mile from the boat launch. After we got the car free, I set off with a volunteer crew. I didn't have the rudder on yet so we steered with the oars and a paddle that I used from the bow. The boat took a on a bit of water but not too much.

I checked it regularly. By nightfall it had stopped taking in water. It still leaks when people are in it. The extra weight forces the boat lower in the water and water seeps in past planks that have not swollen shut yet. If I could just have three or four people sit in the boat for 6-8 hours then this leak would swell shut, also.

We used it for the battle both days. We had three people the first day and four the second. Michael and I also went out with the wives. The boat is fine with four people - not crowded at all. We could fit in a fifth person. Any more than that would be crowded.

It rows well. It has three rowing stations but only two sets of oars. I decided that this is so that one person can row from the middle station (the sliding rowing seat and the foot pedals for the tiller are both set up for here. If you have two people rowing then it is better to have them in the first and third rowing stations. That way the oars don't have to be in perfect unison.

The swivel gun mount I rigged up on the bow worked perfectly. The small gun I have is quite loud, especially with a double charge.

We had three people on the way back to the boat ramp - two rowing and one at the tiller. I could tell the difference when I was rowing by myself but it wasn't a lot harder. A half-hour row upstream wasn't enough to make me breath hard. My hands where the main thing that got tired although I could feel it later.

We did have some trouble with the oars and the oarlocks, especially with the "sweeps" - the traditionally shaped oars. I used those on the row to the boat ramp and the collars that are supposed to keep the oar from going too far up the oarlock are too small. I need to do something to make these bigger.

Other that that, everything worked fine. Now I want to try sailing it but that will have to wait a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pet Peeves

There are a lot of things that show up at historic festivals that shouldn't. Many of these have jumped from celtic and Renaissance festivals.

Bodhrons - Those flat drums that are played on-handed. I don't object to them as instruments. I know several talented bodhron players. Unfortunately, none of them come to historic events. The people who pull these out at historic events seldom have any idea how to play them properly. You are supposed to press your left hand against the skin from the back, changing the tone as you play. You hold the beater like a pencil and only use one end with a sort of brushing motion. When played properly, it is a rather soft instrument and one of the few drums that isn't a monotone.

Even if played correctly, these instruments are inappropriate. Some people trace them back hundreds of years. Others say that they were an agricultural tool that was occasionally used for rhythm in very poor, agricultural areas of Ireland and not a part of mainstream Irish music until the 1970s. Either way, they were obscure before the late 20th century.

Utilikilts - A proper kilt is a long piece of wool, folded into pleats and belted into a garment. Later (we're talking Victorian period) the pleats were sewn into the kilt to make it easier to put on. In the 1990s, some Americans started making kilts out of heavy cotton with wide pleats sewn in and snap closures. These are fine for celtic fesitvals but out of place at historic events. I have one but I am selective where I wear it.

Irish Music - It used to be that you heard lots of old folk music at historic events. These days it is pretty much limited to 19th and 20th century Irish music. Don't get me wrong - I love Irish music and play in Irish sessions a few times a month, but most of it is out of period for anything earlier than the Civil War.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deadliest Warrior - Pirate vs Knight

Some thoughts on Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior series Pirate vs Knight episode.

Before it started my opinion was that if the pirate didn't win then there was either something wrong with the show's format or with history. The knight wore armor and was armed with a crossbow and hand weapons. The pirate didn't wear armor but had three gunpowder-based weapons (blunderbuss, pistol, and grenado).

The results were what I expected. The pirate's pistol could not penetrate the knight's armor but his blunderbuss and grenado could. Armor at the time was tested by shooting it with a pistol. If it couldn't stop a pistol ball then it was sent back to be strengthened. I was impressed that the blunderbuss and grenado penetrated the armor.

The knight's hand weapons were equal to or better than the pirate's. The knight was fighting other people in armor so he needed extra cutting power. The pirate didn't have to deal with armored enemies so his hand weapons could not pierce armor.

The introduction of the heavy musket in the early 17th century made armor obsolete. For a while, armies tried making the armor thicker and eliminating lower leg pieces in order to lighten it but this was impractical. By the mid-17th century armies had pretty much given up on armor.

So, by the late 17th century, pirates did not wear armor but they carried the weapons that had made armor obsolete.

But what about ninjas? Last week they had a ninja face off against a Greek warrior. The warrior's armor and shield gave him the advantage against the ninja. Based on the weapons that the pirate and ninja used, the pirate would still win. His blunderbuss, grenado, and pistol were all either deadlier or had longer range than the ninja weapons. The ninja might have a small advantage in close-in fighting but it would be small.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Whitehall Progress

I'm making progress on getting the boat ready for sailing. While the boat is in good condition, there were still a lot of steps:

  • I had to put a tongue hinge on the trailer so that I could get it further into the garage, under the stronger joists.
  • Once there, I hung two chain hoists from the ceiling.
  • With those, I could properly sand the bottom.
  • I started with the centerboard. The part that I could see when it was on the trailer looked pretty corroded. It turned out that this was the worst part. Since the leading edge is always in the water when the centerboard is pulled back, that is the part that looked the worst. It was mainly paint bubbling off with some minor surface rust. I sanded this down to bare metal as much as I could. I primed it with a Rustolium for rusty surfaces. This is supposed to be stickier and should take care of any place I missed when sanding. I used two coats then put two coats of finish paint on.
I have the hull sanded down, ready for priming but I need warmer weather. In the meantime, I used some new line that I bought to redo the rigging.

The boat came with 1/4" line for rigging. This was too big for many of the gromets and the cleats. I repalced it with 3/16". This seems to be the right size.

I think that I have all of the thumb cleats figured out. I'm still wondering about a pair of blocks and cleats. They seem to be placed for the jib but there are also a pair of thimbles on the side that are more typical for the jib.

I have one piece of line with an attached bronze block left over. Possibly it is for dowsing the sail by raising the boom up to the mast. I will have to experiment with that.

I still have to get the boat turned around so that I can hoist it off of the trailer so that I can get the trailer weighed. Then I have to get the trailer licensed so that I can take the boat to the DNR to get a hull number so that I can get it licensed. I'd like to have it painted before going to the DNR but that depends on the weather.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pirates vs Ninjas

I was watching an episode on Ultimate Warrior on Spike TV and got inspired.

Ultimate Warrior is one of several shows that tries to use computer simulations to answer questions about who would win unlikely fights. Other variations have matched animals (lion vs tiger) and dinosaurs. This one takes different warriors, evaluates them, and predicts most likely winners. The episode that I watched matched a Roman gladiator against an Apache warrior. The Apache won.

So, pirate vs ninja - who would win?

This really depends on how you define the match up. Each has very different strengths and weaknesses.

In straight, hand-to-hand fighting between individuals, the ninja would win. Pirates were self-taught fighters. Ninjas were trained assassins. Also, the main time the two fought would probably be at a time and place of the ninja's choosing (probably at night when the pirate was drunk) giving him an advantage.

On the other hand, put them 100 yards apart in broad daylight with a sober pirate and things change. Many pirates started out as buccaneers, hunting wild cattle. They were very good shots. A pirate could get off a couple of well-aimed shots at a ninja before the ninja could get within reach. There are things that the ninja could do to avoid being shot but they would slow him down, giving the pirate time for more shots. A ninja with a bow would have a chance but arrows are not as disabling as gunshot wounds.

What about a ship full of pirates vs a ship full of ninjas. Again, the pirates have the advantage. European ships and cannons were the best in the world. Pirates boarding a ship full of ninjas would still have an advantage. Ninjas had a variety of weapons but few of them worked against a large organized force. Those that did were as likely to hinder the ninjas as pirates. The weapons favored by pirates worked well against a massed enemy in cramped spaces. The two-handed sword that ninjas used needed space to swing or you would hit a comrade. Cutlasses were short and heavy to overcome that problem. The ninjas would still be better trained but a pistol or blunderbuss goes a log way in nullifying that advantage. That's after a swivel gun or two decimated the ninjas before the pirates boarded.

Just to be fair, there is also the possibility of a group of ninjas boarding a ship at night. The ninjas would have the advantage here since the pirates would be disorganized and probably drunk.

In general, though, cultures with guns tended to triumph over cultures with hand weapons.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


While attending PyrateCon, I had a conversation with the guys from Flying Canoe Traders about period-correct pirate clothing. I think that he and I were the only ones at the event wearing slops and he commented that I wasn't wearing them correctly - i.e. over breeches (neither was he). Here is their position on wearing slops:
The slops were made to be worn over your regular pants and protect them.
This is why it is made longer and much baggier then the French Fly or the Drop Front. Most slop did not have pockets, they were just opening so you could access to your real pocket: just like a women shirt giving access to her pocket. On the original pair, the waistband had only one pewter button. When we initially copied that, I found out that wearing it was uncomfortable because the waist was folding itself in two at the button and caused some pressure and it was uncomfortable at the waist.

Doing this hobby, we often cheat and I am the first one to admit that I do sometimes. The slops were design to be worn over a pair of pants that gives you a waist support and comfort so even if the original slops would have folded in two, it would not have pinched my belly, because my breaches would have protected me…our ancestors were so clever.
But when I wear my slops, I wear them alone, I've decided to put a button at the waist level and provided them whit a functional pockets. Beside that, only there was still one difference between my pair and the museum one: the museum one had 4 hand made round buttons holes on the back for adjustment, mine is machine made and plate.
I have a lot of respect for Flying Canoe and wear one on their sleeved waistcoats as part of my pirate clothing but I am going to respectfully disagree with their interpretation of slops.

Note - Sometime in the mid-17th century, navy ships began carrying sets of clothing that sailors could buy as they needed new clothes. These were also called slops. I am only referring to the wide, open breeches.

Before I start, I will agree that some land-based trades did wear overbreeches to keep their good clothing clean. I part company with them when they carry this practice on to the water. Sailors and fishermen get wet and I no one has suggested that slops were waterproof. This eliminates the advantage of wearing something over your clothes.

Flying Canoe gives the next argument against wearing slops over breeches - it isn't comfortable. It also is not practical. I discovered the reason for slops years ago when involved in filming a National Geographic special on John Smith mapping the Chesapeake. I waded ashore in my regular 17th century breeches and ended up with a gallon or two caught in each leg. Canvas breeches that are open at the bottom will not hold water and will dry faster than wool. The tighter breeches of the late-17th and 18th centuries would not capture as much water but neither would they be as practical as slops. Also, breeches worn under slops would take hours to dry. On a ship, they probably would never dry.

All of this is is just speculation. Fashion sometimes has people wearing strange things (I saw a lot of women in stiletto-heeled sandals in the French Quarter). What does the historic record say?

Cindy Vallar examines pirate clothing from Chaucer into the 18th century. She refers to slops protecting the sailor's underclothes.

This detail is new to me:
Canvas clothes were made from old sails and were usually greased and tarred prior to wearing them to make them waterproof.
She also quotes
Edward Barlow, a mariner of the 1600s, wrote, "…half awake and half asleep, with one shoe on and the other off, not having time to put it on: always sleeping in our clothes for readiness."
This is in conflict with the idea of sailors having overclothes that they would take off when off-duty.

Gentlemen of Fortune has a 1720s woodcut of a Dutch sailor who is wearing slops with no indication that there is anything underneath.

On the way home from PyrateCon, I happened to find an article in X Marks the Spot, the Archaeology of Pirates. It mentioned a 1740s fan in the possession of Colonial Williamsburg which shows sailors and soldiers. It mentions that sailors were very conservative and slow to change clothing styles. They were still wearing short coats and loose breeches at a time that the soldiers were wearing the more stylish long coats and tight breeches. It also has a woodcut of a 1780s ship's cook who is wearing slops with nothing else showing beneath.

The web site for the HMS Richmond also says that slops were worn over clothing but does not cite a source.

The US Navy's history of naval uniforms says this about what sailors wore during the Revolutionary War.
The American Revolutionary sailor fared little better. He participated in a Navy that was built from scratch. Meager funds and the scarcity of a manufacturing complex concentrated attention on procuring ships and ammunition. There was no money for uniforms. The peak strength of the Continental Navy during these times consisted of about 30 ships and 3,000 men. (Most sailors, on the other hand, preferred the life of the privateer. It was lucrative and appealing enough to attract over 2,000 ships.) Thus, naval uniforms under these parsimonious conditions were non-descript, consisting of pantaloons often tied at the knee or knee breeches, a jumper or shirt, neckerchief, short waisted jacket and low crowned hats. The short trousers were practical so as not to interfere with a man's work in the rigging of his ship. Most sailors went barefoot. A kerchief or bandana was worn either as a sweat band or as a simple closure for the collar.

Monday, April 6, 2009

PyrateCon 2009

PyrateCon 2009 has come and gone. Here's my wrap up:

First, any excuse to run around the French Quarter of New Orleans in costume is a good one. The weather was very good which was fortunate since most of the convention was moved outside.

We rode the shuttle from the airport with some people from the TCN (Theatrical Combat Network). They were a lot of fun.

As for the convention itself... we left the event wondering exactly what we got for our admission. The vendors were either set up on Bourbon Street or in a courtyard. No one was checking wristbands for the ones in the courtyard. The lectures were also in the courtyard. As far as we could tell, there were no events that required a wristband. The main thing that your admission got you was a discount on drinks at the local bars. Admission also allowed you to book a room in the hotel but even with the discount this was an expensive hotel. We got a better rate elsewhere.

We only saw two lectures, both by the TCN. The first was on historic pirates. The time of the lecture was changed at the last minute and the person who was supposed to speak didn't get the message. The TCN members who tried to give the lecture in her place didn't really know much about the subject (but they were good-natured about it). Even at that, they were late in starting and were taking up someone else's slot. I have no idea what happened to this speaker.

There may have been other lectures but we went through the courtyard area several times and we didn't see any signs of them.

TCN's specialty is on stage combat and their lecture on this was really good.

The schedule said that there would be lectures on all three days. We later heard that the Sunday lectures were cancelled.

The schedule also indicated that performances would be going on continuously on the stage. We saw a few performances but most of the time the stage was empty and the PA system was playing.

No celebrities. Last year they had people from Pirates of the Caribbean and the TV show, Pirate Master.

One of the big events was the wench auction but there was very little space around the stage to see what was going on.

On the other hand, the other big event was the parade and this was run much better than last year.

If we go again we will be looking very closely at the schedule to see if it is worth paying admission. I realize that the event was probably costly and that someone has to pay for it but I also object to paying for what amounts to a free street fair.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Apple Pirates

This story is about pirated iPhone applications but the graphic is so good I had to link to it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Knights of the Black Flag

A new exhibition just opened at the North Carolina Museum of History - Knights of the Black Flag covers piracy through the ages, from Egypt to Somalia with an emphasis on Queen Anne's Revenge.

Marauders. Plunderers. Bloodthirsty sea-thieves. Whatever their name, pirates have wreaked havoc on the high seas since waterway travel began. These seafaring scoundrels command attention in a major exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. Knights of the Black Flag explores the legacy of pirates, from ancient times to the present, through intriguing artifacts, legends and history that bring their ruthless adventures to life. The interactive exhibit is an exciting experience for all ages.

BlackbeardShowcasing many objects related to pirates, Knights of the Black Flag includes the largest collection of artifacts ever exhibited from the shipwreck believed to be Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Legends surround another compelling artifact on loan from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts: the alleged skull of Blackbeard. The exhibit will be on view through January 3, 2010.

Knights of the Black Flag traces the history of piracy from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome through today’s pirates in Somalia. Artifacts, some dating to the early centuries A.D., represent tangible links to a violent past. For example, a Roman amphora (storage jar) from southern Jordan may have been seized by ancient pirates on a ship in the Red Sea. Other artifacts speak to the Golden Age of Piracy, from 1689 to the 1720s. These include Queen Anne-style pistols and items discovered in the ruins of Blackbeard’s purported house in Bath. Objects related to modern-day piracy in Somalia include an AK-47, gas masks and knapsacks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Six ways to Stop Piracy

Wired has a quick list of ways to stop piracy. This shows how much piracy has changed in the last 300 years. One of the ways is to move evasively (zig-zag) in the hopes of creating enough wake to swamp a pursuer. Just try that in a galleon. In fact, the only suggestion that would have worked in the Golden Age of Piracy is to hire some extra guards. They suggest Gurkhas who would make great guards in any century.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Captain Ron

Captain Ron surfaced recently on cable. This isn't exactly a pirate movie although it has some modern pirates in it. It is also light fun.

A family inherits a yacht and decides to go sailing the Caribbean. They hire a one-eyed sailor called Captain Ron to teach them how to handle the yacht. Ron (played by Kurt Russel) is crude and accident prone. He gets lost often, ending up on the wrong island. The head of the family (Martin Short) hates Ron from the beginning but the rest of the family takes to him.

At one point Ron produces some automatic weapons that he got from some guerrillas in exchange for transporting them to a different island. He explains that they needed the weapons in case they were attacked by pirates, "You know, Pirates of the Caribbean." Martin suggests that Ron has spent to much time at Disney World and throws the guns overboard.

Ron wears an eyepatch because his glass eye freaks out some people. At one point he looses the eye and goes crawling after it as in PotC.

Eventually of course, they do meet up with pirates and have to use the skills that Ron taught them to save their lives.

Not a very deep movie but a bit of light fun.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

River Pirates

I've been reading up on river pirates. They occupy a big place in media peaking with a segment in How the West Was Won. Like most stories about the wild west, river piracy was never as common as popular fiction would have it. On the other hand, it did exist and its extent is hard to judge because of the dangers of river traffic.

River piracy flourished in the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the mid-18th century. During this period there was a lot of one-way traffic going down the rivers, mainly on flatboats. These were large rectangular rafts with sides and, often, some sort of cabin or shelter. They were used to float cargo down river. When they reached their destination they would break up the flatboat and sell it as lumber.

Most flatboats traveled in convoys. It was the loners that attracted pirates.

Unlike an open-sea pirate who needed a ship, river pirates only needed a boat or two. They didn't try to live on their boats. They either lived on islands or along the river banks. From there they could watch for targets.

People who became river pirates were either ruthless whites or escaped slaves (or both). They usually had some sort of arrangement with a local merchant or two who would accept merchandise without questioning the source.

River piracy was only possible during the early years of colonization. As cities and towns grew up along the rivers there was no place for the pirates to hide and the rivers became relatively safe.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


MSNBC.com has a slideshow of ten Shipwrecks that capture our imaginations. Blackbeard's and Captain Kidd's are among them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More on the Victory

Here's a different story on the wreck of the Victory.

If you want to see all the details of the discovery of the ship, watch the Discovery Channel's new show Treasure Quest. Starting last week they are devoting four hours to this ship.

Sunken Battleship Found

In the early 18th century, the biggest, most powerful ship afloat was HMS Victory. Nelson named his ship after this one but it sank in 1744. Treasure hunters recently discovered its wreck.

It wasn't a pirate ship - just the opposite, it was a King's ship that would have protected shipping lanes from pirates (and French) but it still carried a lot of gold 400,000 pounds sterling.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009


AMC is showing Hook which, of course, features pirates.

Too bad it wasn't a better movie. It's way too long and slow and a lot of it assumes that the viewer is really familiar with the novelized version of Peter Pan. It is an example of Spielberg's worst traits. You could cut an hour out out it and have a better movie.

The first time I saw it I realized that, in a lost boys vs pirates world, which side I'd be with.

Nice ship set and Bob Hoskins is really good as Smee.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Rigging the Whitehall

Last weekend was the warmest since I bought the Whitehall so I decided to try the rigging again. The problem is that this boat is more complex than most Whitehalls or similar boats. Between a lot of research on other boats and some trial and error, I think I have the basics right.

I did have one revelation while putting up the sail - all of the lines are new replacements. They either have not been used or have been used very seldom. There is no wear on the lines. While it is nice to have new equipment, this does make things harder in a couple of ways. First, I don't know for certain that all of the lines are the correct length or that I even have all of the lines I need. Similarly, the lines themselves have no memory. When you use a rope for the same purpose for a while, especially if it is under strain or if it gets wet then it is reformed. It remembers the shape it was in. This is handy later since it gives you a good indication that everything is where it should be.

A couple of related issues - the rope that was used has whipped ends that seem to have been hardened in something. They don't want to go through the grommets. I may have to replace some of the line with thinner rope to make it easier to lash the sail to the mast and boom. Also, there are two thumb cleats. Normally you could just jam the line into the cleat and it would hold but this new line is too hard and does not hold. The solution is to tie a quick-release knot where you want the line to hold but this is less than ideal.

One thing that bothered me when I got the boat was the floorboards. While everything else is perfectly finished, the floorboards were a faded gray. I realized that they are teak and require a different finish. While it was warm I applied some teak oil to the floor. It worked perfectly. After soaking in for a few days the floor now looks like fresh teak and compliments the cherry in the center. Apparently, like the outer paint, this is a maintenance item that had been neglected for a couple of years.