Monday, December 27, 2010

Pirates 4 - Rumors and Speculation

The first real trailer is out for Pirates of the Caribbean 4. I am going to make some guesses about the movie based on this and rumors. This may contain spoilers (depending on good my guesses are).

The only members of the original cast are Jack, Barbossa, and Gibbs.

Barbosa has a peg leg.

There is a video on how the Black Pearl was rebuilt to be the Queen Anne's Revenge. The first production stills leaked are of Jack, Barbosa, and others surveying a wrecked ship. I'm going to guess that this was the Black Pearl. This may also be how Barbossa ended up with a peg leg.

The trailer shows Jack in London. Some of this looks like Greenwich. In fact, some of the buildings also show up in Jack Black's Gulliver. Johnny Depp showed up at a school class in Greenwich near the end of filming. The school is only a few blocks from these buildings.

You can also see the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall. This was built by James I and the site of Charles I's execution.

Blackbeard was supposed to be an Englishman but in the trailer he seems to have a Spanish accent. That might be to match his daughter, played by Penelope Cruz who is from Spain.

Penelope Cruz was pregnant during filming. Rumor is that her sister acted as her body double.

I read On Stranger Tides when it came out. It follows a puppeteer whose ship is taken and ends up falling in with a group of pirates on the Florida coast. I don't see much room for Jack Sparow so I'm assuming that they threw pretty much the plot from the book out the window. I expect the main thing they kept was Blackbeard finding the Fountain of Youth and using it to gain immortality and power. The fountain was a fountain of energy instead of water. The Blackbeard in the book did not have a daughter nor did the historic Blackbeard.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pirate Latitudes

I finally got around to reading Pirate Latitudes, the unpublished book found on Michael Crichton's computer.

This was probably an early draft so it is difficult to be too hard on it. On the other hand, it has been published as a finished novel.

I'm betting that Crichton was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and decided to write his own pirate novel, one that could be turned into a movie.

It's ok as a novel but it is not up to Crichton's standards. When I read a Crichton novel I expect it to grab my attention. This one does not. The first chapter appears to be an attempt to show off all of his research. It covers everything that the royal governor goes through on rising and preparing for the day. It takes a few chapters before we meet the main characters. First Crichton introduces the background.

Technically this is not a pirate novel, it is a privateer novel. It takes place in 1665 during the Golden Age of Privateering when Charles II was on the throne and it is a poor fit. This was the period when Morgan could raise hundreds of men - enough to attack and sack cities but this only has one small ship and crew.

The main character is Captain Hunter and only a half dozen of his crew is named. The plot can best be described as "one damned thing after another" as Hunter and crew meet and overcome every conceivable obstacle. Most of these are quickly dispatched which is why they have to meet so many different challenges. Possibly Crichton would have fleshed out some of these and eliminated others in later drafts.

John Drake's Flint and Silver books are much better but Crichton's will do if you want to read a light pirate novel and it is much easier to find.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More Pirates for Richards

Rolling Stones rocker Keith Richards is returning to the big screen by reprising his role opposite Johnny Depp in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Depp has long credited the guitarist with inspiring his popular character Captain Jack Sparrow in the swashbuckling franchise, and Richards joined the cast to play the actor's on-screen father in the third installment of the movie series, At World's End, in 2007.

The musician will now return as Captain Teague in the forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which is currently filming in London, according to Reuters.

The movie is set for release next year.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Edge or Flat?

While giving a talk on pirate weapons, someone volunteered that parries were always done with the flat of the sword instead of with the edge. This probably came from Mythbusters. They had a segment on trying to cut through one sword with another and they stated that parries were always done with the flat. You can see the segment here. Around 4:30 in they say, "In real life you never block an edge with an edge."

They in turn, probably got it from ARMA (the Association of Renaissance Martial Arts). You can read their essay on the subject here.

The thing is, they are specifically talking about 15th century and earlier techniques. The essay makes this clear in the first two paragraphs.

Many historical fencing enthusiasts do not grasp the concepts of parrying against cuts with cutting swords as described in numerous Medieval and Renaissance fighting manuals.  These texts teach the concept of defending by counter-striking or by receiving blows on the flat portion of the blade. As will become clear, edge-on-edge parrying was not taught as doctrine.  In fact, defense, or warding of cutting blows, is described in many ways in 15th century fencing texts by many masters and never as a direct resistant block of deliberate opposition of sharp edge on sharp edge (so common in stage-combat and sport fencing and derived from 18th and 19th century methods of swordplay). 
There is a tremendous, if not outright complete, lack of any support for doing so that can be found within any of the source literature (at least prior to the 17th century).
Since the GAoP starts in the last quarter of the 17th century, it is clearly outside of ARMA's essay. Fencing manuals from the early 17th century clearly show edge on edge parries. Here are some (rather explicit) examples.

Not only is the edge shown facing the opposing blade but the wrist is straight.

So, combat styles changed between the 15th and the 17th  centuries. This should not come as a surprise. Everything else changed. The 15th century swords were big heavy bars of iron. They were used two-handed, often against an armored enemy. By the 17th century, guns made armor too heavy to wear. Swords got lighter and the steel they were made from got better.

What about marks on surviving swords? A few points here. I have done edge on edge combat with real swords as well as schlager blades which are close to real weight. A tempered steel blade does not show much damage. Blades that have not been tempered do show significant notching. Those are the ones that would not have survived. Remember that only a fraction of swords have survived, mainly dress swords that never got near actual combat.

Even when an edge is notched, it isn't that hard to fix. I have had to take notches out of my pruning shears. You can get rid of most of the damage quickly with a hammer and anvil.

A final note - the Mythbusters declared it a myth that you can cut one sword with another. They did it several times but they disqualified these because the sword broke instead of being cut. I'm not sure I agree with their assessment. If I hit someone's sword and it separates into two pieces, I don't really care if I cut it or broke it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Short Entry on Slops

I have held for some time that pirates and sailors in general did not wear breeches under their slops. While some people insist that slops were worn as an over garment, I have yet to see an example. On the other hand, here is yet one more period picture showing a sailor in his slops with no trace of breeches underneath.

This one is "The Sea Cook" by Thomas Rowlandson, done in 1780. Note the wooden leg. When a sailor lost a limb he was often retained as a ship's cook. In Treasure Island, Long John Silver is signed on as the cook for the voyage.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Pirate's Arsenal

When I am giving a talk on pirate weapons I usually begin with the question, "You just sighted a merchant ship. What item in the pirate's arsenal is most likely to make them surrender without a fight?"

Most people answer "cannons" followed by "guns" and "swords". The correct answer is the pirate's black flag. The most common pirate flags were either black or red and most had some representation of a death's head. This carried a message - "surrender or die" for the black flag and "surrender or we will spill your blood" for the red flag.

The skull and crossbones was a common symbol for death for centuries. You see it on New England headstones and on poison (not so much anymore but it was still there when I was growing up). Flying it from your mast was a promise of death.

For most sailors, that was enough. They were hired hands. It was not their vessel or cargo. At most they might lose some or all of their wages - not enough to die for. If they surrendered they would likely survive. They had a good chance at keeping their ship or at least being put in a longboat with provisions. They might be roughed up a bit or they might be given friendly treatment. They woudl not be fighting for their lives against a larger, better-armed crew.

The cannons, guns, and swords were needed but mainly to make good on that threat.

Talk Like a Pirate Day on the Santa Maria

Actually, it was Talk Like a Pirate Weekend on the Santa Maria.

Some aspects of it were grueling. This was the ship's busiest weekend and several of us were doing presentation for the tours. That was a lot of presentations. Also, so many people were going through that the groups were larger than normal which made it hard to get everyone around. The price of success.

We had fewer pirates than during the May event but not by too many. The pirates who were there were enthusiastic. I've been to a lot of different events and this was the only one I can remember where most people waited until the 5:00 closing to start packing to leave. Usually people start packing around 3:00. This meant that we finally left the ship after 6:30.

Both days had a battle between the boats and the ship. On Saturday we used the Black Sheep and the canoe. On Sunday we had a few more people and added one person in a small boat.

There was an arts festival going on on the other side of the river so several of us spent some time checking it out and publicizing the event.

One woman spent much of the weekend playing "the governor's daughter" being help for ransom (she's the smiling red-head holding the flag). She went through the arts festival with her wrists shackled and, both days after the battle she was captured and hustled into the hold where she was "locked up". A couple of kids took this very seriously. One girl refused to leave the ship until she saw the prisoner rescued. She even stole the keys to her shackles. A boy at the arts festival on Saturday made his parents bring him to the ship Sunday so that he could pay the ransom (I think he offered a penny).

Friday, September 17, 2010

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD) is 15 years old this year (technically that makes this one the 16th). For something that started as kind of a joke between a couple of guys playing racquetball, this has really taken off. It helps that three of the decade's most successful movies featured pirates but I think that they tapped into a societal need to play at being a pirate. Even before the movies several Renaissance festivals included pirates and some had become full-blown pirate festivals.

Of course, what really got the ball rolling was the Dave Barry column. At the time, Barry was the country's leading comedy columnist. There was even a sit-com based on his books. Barry's column got the word out to the world. I remember reading it in 2003. In 2004 I wore a pirate T-shirt on ITLAPD. I also wore a pirate T-shirt in 2007 and people stopped me on the street (of Charleston, SC) to tell me that it was Talk Like a Pirate Day (Why do you think I'm wearing the T-shirt?).

We are having a pirate weekend on the Santa Maria. The event got mentioned in the local papers because of ITLAPD. Lots of kids show up in pirate hats or wearing an eye patch (usually pushed up to the forehead).

The weather forecast for the weekend is perfect so it should be a good event.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pirates of Paynetown

This has been one of my favorite pirate events but I have to admit that this year was a bit off for several reasons:

  • The main organizer, Nate, has been overwhelmed by his first child and by modifying a historic building so a lot less preparation went into this year's event. It is running on "auto-pirate".
  • The weather was not kind to us. Friday was very hot - in the mid-90s. Saturday was a bit cooler. Sunday started cooler but got hot again in the afternoon.
  • The event seems less like a pirate event and more like a generic one. In previous years there were a lot more displays and jolly roger flags visible.
  • Attendance was down. One entire unit came down with the flu.

That said, it was still an enjoyable event.

Not a lot happened Friday. It was too hot. Also, there was not much breeze for sailing. Last year we had a dusk cannon firing and an improvised ship battle on Friday. This year we had cannon firing both Friday and Saturday but no ship battle.

On a personal note, my wife injured her knee Friday and could not walk without crutches.

I didn't get much sleep Friday night. Some musicians camped next to us played past 3 am. They ran out of period music around 1:30 and degenerated into "do you know this?" followed by a snatch of music. At five, my wife needed help going to the bathroom. At six the wind picked up, threatening rain so I had to quickly get things under cover.

The wind did cool things down. There was a slight drizzle a while later which blew over quickly.

The Saturday battle was cut short by an actual rainstorm. We go off a couple of shots before the guns became too wet to fire. The rain didn't last long.

Sunday's battle was far better. The Priddy Princess joined in as a British ship so we had a battle between it and the other boats. This was the second time I got to use the full-sized swivel gun on the Black Sheep. It was quite loud, matching the bigger pieces in the camp and outclassing the Princess's smaller swivel.

As always, the event had a variety of historic boats with people often going out sailing or rowing. The breeze was light so no one sailed very far from camp but it was common to see one or two boats on the lake.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Flint and Silver

I wrote about John Drake's Treasure Island prequels after reading the second novel in the series, Pieces of Eight. That one was on the bookshelves when I was in England in May so that's what I read first. It was good enough for me to get the first book in the series, Flint and Silver.

First, I want to stress that these are not children's books. They are aimed at adults who enjoyed Treasure Island as a child. The object of the series is to tell the back story of who Captain Flint was and how his treasure came to be buried on a desert island. It also tells how Silver lost his leg and gained his wife and parrot.

Flint and Silver is the story of how the two men became pirates, joined forces, then split apart. It is well-written in period-sounding, nautical language that any pirate will enjoy.

Of the two novels, Pieces of Eight is the better. There are a few oddities about how Flint and Silver is constructed. Drake is anxious to get his characters together so the chapters are not in chronological order. When the heroine, Selene, is introduced, Flint and Silver have already been sailing together for some time but the chapter where they actually meet come later. Be sure to pay attention to the dates at the top of the chapters and it all makes sense.

Another quibble - the book glosses over the time that the two spent working together.

Regardless, it is still a fun read.

Flint and Silver

I wrote about John Drake's Treasure Island prequels after reading the second novel in the series, Pieces of Eight. That one was on the bookshelves when I was in England in May so that's what I read first. It was good enough for me to get the first book in the series, Flint and Silver.

First, I want to stress that these are not children's books. They are aimed at adults who enjoyed Treasure Island as a child. The object of the series is to tell the back story of who Captain Flint was and how his treasure came to be buried on a desert island. It also tells how Silver lost his leg and gained his wife and parrot.

Flint and Silver is the story of how the two men became pirates, joined forces, then split apart. It is well-written in period-sounding, nautical language that any pirate will enjoy.

Of the two novels, Pieces of Eight is the better. There are a few oddities about how Flint and Silver is constructed. Drake is anxious to get his characters together so the chapters are not in chronological order. When the heroine, Selene, is introduced, Flint and Silver have already been sailing together for some time but the chapter where they actually meet come later. Be sure to pay attention to the dates at the top of the chapters and it all makes sense.

Another quibble - the book glosses over the time that the two spent working together.

Regardless, it is still a fun read.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Yesterday the Santa Maria celebrated the 518th anniversary of Columbus leaving port (the actual date is tomorrow but special events work better on weekends). Since the event is called "Navigation Day" I brought some of my personal collection of navigational tools and gave some talks on period navigation. At the same time, I've been reading Flint and Silver. A major plot point of this (and of Treasure Island) is that Long John Silver and his crew of pirates do not know how to navigate. This was also a plot point in Captain Blood. This got me thinking about period navigation. What was it that made navigation so difficult?

Any time a ship was out of sight of land it used "dead reckoning." This boils down to keeping careful track of what direction you are going and how fast you are traveling and figuring your position from that. The basic tools were the compass, the sandglass, the traverse board, and the log line (with its own sand glass).

Every half hour the helmsman would turn the glass and put a pin in the traverse board. The traverse board looked like the face of a compass and had eight concentric rings of holes. Each ring corresponded to a turn of the glass and each hole corresponded to a point on the compass. There were 32 points.

At the same time, the ship's speed would be taken with a log line. This was a spool of cord with a piece of wood on one end. The piece of wood would be thrown overboard and it would pull the cord out after it. The cord had knots at regular intervals. A sand glass would be turned. When the sand ran out you would see how many knots had unspooled and mark that on a scale at the bottom of the traverse board.

At the end of a shift, the results would be written on a slate and given to the navigator. He would use this to plot how far the ship had come and which direction and mark it on his charts.

This is where things get complicated. Each chart might have its own scale. Trying to match positions from one chart to another could be difficult.

Any changes in course would affect the accuracy. If the course was changed five minutes into a shift it would still show the same as if it had been changed 25 minutes into the shift.

The effects of currents had to guessed. The only way of measuring a current was to drop a sounding lead into the water and see if the line bowed out some.

The majority of people at that time could add and subtract but not multiply or divide. Some multiplication and division was needed.

There were other tricks that came from instruction or practice. If the bottom was close enough for a sounding, you would put some fresh tallow into a depression in bottom of the sounding lead. This would bring up a little of the bottom. Really detained charts of known waters might include information about the bottom - sandy, gravel, silt, etc. Even if you were out of sight of land, silt meant that a river mouth was near.

You could check your latitude with various instruments that measured the angle of the sun or North Star. There was no way of figuring longitude at sea.

Sailors left all of this to the navigator. Without charts and the logs, there was no way for them to tell anything but the rough direction, anyway. All that mattered to them was not getting lost.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Black Tot

Yes, that's Black Tot, not Black Spot.

Back in the good old days, British sailors got a daily rum ration called the tot. In fact, from the mid-17th century through the early 18th century, they got two rations of a half pint each per day (for a total of a pint a day). To be sure that the rum was not watered down, they would mix it with gunpowder and try lighting it. It it still lit then it proved that it was still strong. This point was just over 50% alcohol which is why today's 100 proof is 50% alcohol.

In 1740 Admiral Edward Vernon started issuing rum diluted with a quart of water per pint to reduce drunkenness. This mixture, known as grog, may have been named form him. His nickname was "Old Grogram" because of the grogram cloak that he wore.

The tot was gradually reduced to 1/8 pint, once a day by the 20th century.

In 1970, the British Navy decided that even that was too much and abolished the tot. The last tot was issued July 31, 1970, known as Black Tot Day.

Don't feel too bad for the Brits. Their beer ration was increased by one can a day at the same time.

In contrast the American Navy had ended the rum ration September 1, 1862. Instead of beer, the US Sailors got free coffee.

BBC News has more here.

The tot ended before the rum stores were emptied. What was left was saved. If you have some spare cash and a desire for history, you can buy a bottle of official navy rum for 600 pounds. See here for more details.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Early Slops

It's been over a year since I did any research on slops. That time I relied mainly on second-hand sources. A friend at Jamestown asked for justification for slops on the sailors there so I did some original research of my own.

I started with this guy from Gentlemen of Fortune.

They list him as being from 1720. He looks earlier so I looked up the artist. This led to the British Museum. I did an image search on their site and hit gold. This one is Dutch from 1600 and is perfect for my purposes. He is wearing slops, a cassock, and a thrum cap. This is fairly close to what I have worn when doing an early 17th century impression.

 Next are some harbor views from Flanders, from 1647.

All of these have one or more people with some sort of slops. There is also this one. Notice the sailor sitting on the left.

Finally, this site has a woodcut from 1577.

A few points. First, this shows that slops were fairly common from the 16th century and were worn at least into the early 18th century.

I have seen some sites say that they were used as overalls. These etchings do not show any sign that the slops were being worn over breeches. 17th century breeches were very full and would show if they were worn under these slops.

Finally, there are arguments about the bottom of the legs - were they hemmed or not? You can make a strong case either way from these etchings. Some, especially the earliest, looks like they are. The later ones might not be or could have been at one time but the hems are worn.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Grand Encampment 5

Officially we were batteau-men, providing transportation to the British soldiers at an F&I reenactment. This was a major event with hundreds of reenactors and a couple of dozen sutlers.

We were afraid that we would be encamped with the British army. They were a long way from the lake where the boats were so we were not looking forward to that. Fortunately, they created a British Boat Camp beside the lake. This had eight or nine tents and at least fifteen people so we had a mini-event separate from the main event. Not only were we closer to the boats but our camp was a lot cooler than the main British camp. The French and Indian camps were cooler yet since they camped in the trees.

Funny thing - the only groups that bring boats are pirate groups. In addition to our Scioto Pirate group, the Great Lakes River Pirates were there. We know them from Paynetown and they are always fun to be around. At some point people started calling the camp "the pirate camp".

For boats, the River Pirates brought two small boats and two medium boats. I had the Black Sheep which was the largest of the five. The park provided two impressive 30' war canoes and rangers to command them.

All of that was good. Not everything was perfect. The nearest port-o-let was a long way away at the far end of the Sutler's Row. Water had to be fetched from the French camp (although we had plenty of cool drinking water from melting ice).

Months ago, a call went out for boats but the organizers never really planned how to use them. We "flotillas" on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday we loaded soldiers into the boats and the canoes, rowed them half-way across the lake then back again. They landed and took a nap under some shade.

On Sunday we decided that the canoes had been under-manned so we had them load the soldiers into one canoe and we acted as escort. Again, we rowed half-way across the lake and back. We were supposed to be met by the rest of the British army but all that showed up was a narrator.

Saturday seemed hotter than is should have - possibly because of the lack of a breeze. There was more wind on Sunday and it felt cooler. The two boats with sails took advantage of the wind.

We took the Black Sheep out rowing both days. On Saturday when we were transporting troops, we managed to load ten people onto it. I wasn't happy with the trim - too much weight forward - but otherwise it worked fine. With two people rowing we were at least as fast as the smaller boats although I think that Firefly would have been faster yet.

In all, we had a good time but I'm not sure that we would do the event again. The heat got to everyone and it was a lot of work just to ferry some soldiers back and forth.

Here are the River Pirates, lurking in the shade.

Here is the Pirate British Boat Camp

And here is the Black Sheep with a full crew and passengers (with me at the tiller).


And here's one of the flotilla from the Black Sheep.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Boat Maintenance

I did a little more work on the Black Sheep over the long weekend.

I made a mast, mainly for show, for Put-in-Bay. This worked but the block that the base went into came loose. I glued this back into place and strengthened the join with some wooden pegs.

The thwarts were wrapped with twine to limit wear on the oars. The twine was in poor shape. I re-wrapped some of it and replaced other parts.

I got some pine tar-based finish and applied this to the seats, the rudder, and the thwarts. Nothing makes a boat smell more nautical than some pine tar.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Put-in-Bay Pirate Fest II

For the last few years, some of the bars at Put-in-Bay had a pirate weekend. Last year this was expanded to an official island-wide festival. Mickey and I checked it out and thought it might be nice to come back with a display. He contacted the organizers. things stalled out a few times and we ended up pulling a group of historic pirates together at the last minute. The idea was to add some historic depth to the festivities. A lot of other pirate festivals do the same thing.

Since Put-in-Bay is an island, the first problem is getting there. We brought two boats so the organizers got us passes for the boats and the cars hauling them plus passes for the participants. Everyone put their gear in the boats.

There were a few rough spots. The mayor did not want us camping in the park where we would be setting up so we were camped about two blocks away. That meant more set-up time and more tentage was needed. The organizers planned on providing dinner for us Friday but we were later than expected and the kitchen closed. They still managed to accommodate us with some nice chicken dinners.

On the other hand, the organizers provided many amenities that we were not used to. They gave us a couple of dinners and breakfasts and a local historic hotel let people use their showers. They also provided a golf cart (the most common means of transportation on the island) and they gave everyone T-shirts.

It was a pretty laid-back event. There were no battles so all we had to do was provide the display. The festival also had a costume contest and many of the pirates entered (M.A.d'Dogge won first prize - a trip to the Cayman Islands).

We used the Black Sheep as part of our display. Since is it flat-bottomed, it represented our long-boat. In late afternoon, we launched Firefly and rowed around the harbor. We even threatened the Brig Niagara (we had a musket and most of their guns weren't mounted).

Saturday was pretty warm although a breeze helped during the day. Sunday was outright hot with no breeze until a chain of storms came in. We got caught in a downpour while we were striking camp. That meant bringing home wet canvass but it also cooled everyone off.

The lake was rough because of the storms. The rain had stopped but a lot of spray came over the rail, drenching people - a lot like standing too close to a water ride at a theme park.

In all, the organizers were happy and want us back next year with even more pirates. The participants all enjoyed the experience, also. With luck, we should see this event grow.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Working on the Black Sheep

I have the Black Sheep home for a few days until the Put-In-Bay event. I took the opportunity to do some minor work on her.

The rear-most bench was made in two parts. I suspect that it was cut wrong and a wedge-shaped piece added to keep it in place. I had some extra wood sitting around so I cut a new seat. As a bonus, I found that the old one fits in-between the forward rowing bench and the loggerhead where the swivel gun is mounted. When I was firing it during the Santa Maria event I was sitting on a pile of life jackets so this is a big improvement.

There was no place to tie the stern. When it was at the Santa Maria, they tied a line to the rear bench (the two part one). I added a ring. It is on the inside of the stern post instead of the outside so it does not interfere with the rudder but it should work.

I noticed a landscaping timber that has been sitting around in the garage. This is a good piece to start with for a mast. It was not long enough so I raised it up with some glued-up 2x4 that was also sitting around. I should be able to fit it and hoist the yard by the weekend. With that rig it will only sail downwind but it will look better.

The bench where the mast goes has a big hole in it for the mast. I was sitting on it when we rowed the boat to the boat ramp and the hole is a pain. I made a cover for it with some more spare lumber. I set some dowels in the front to keep it in place.

Most of the thwarts were loose so I glued them back in. The cord on them needs some pine tar so I ordered some. I will do some other touching up with it when it comes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pieces of Eight

Treasure Island is full of characters whose past is only hinted at. Chief among these is Captain Flint who buried the treasure and died in Savannah before the novel starts. British Author John Drake is writing a series of novels filling the back-story of these characters and answering such questions as how Long John Silver became a pirate and lost his leg, where Flint's treasure came from and why it was buried and how Pew lost his eyesight.

The first of these books I found was the second - Pieces of Eight. It and the first novel, Flint and Silver, are available through Amazon (currently Pieces of Eight is a Kindle-only edition). The next novel, Skull and Bones is coming.

So far I've only read Pieces of Eight but it was good enough that I have Flint and Silver ready to read next. While they are written as a series, it is fairly easy to read as a stand-alone novel.

Apparently, in Flint and Silver, Flint mutinied on an English navy ship full of treasure. It ended up on the island (known as Flint's Island) in the novel. Only Flint and Billy Bones know how to find the island.

There was a fight between ships commanded by Flint and Silver with Silver's ruined ship beached on the island and Flint limping off to gather a force and take the island and the treasure from Silver.

The novel follows the preparations the two make. Silver has a limited number of men and has to fortify the island against a likely overwhelming force. Flint is short on cash and has to convince others to sign on with him.

The narrative is different from Treasure Island. That was told in first person from the perspective of the boy, Jim. Drake's novels follow multiple characters so it is written in the third person with a number of nautical references that give it a period feel.

Anyone who has read Treasure Island has some idea of how things will turn out. Several characters will survive and escape but the treasure stays on the island. That still leaves a multitude of characters who are fair game to kill off including an entire tribe of Indians.

All of the characters are fully fleshed out and flawed somehow. Flint is not only a ruthless bastard but he has a little problem with women. Then there is Captain Danny - six foot four, a fierce fighter, and womanizer who is actually a woman. Silver is the most admirable character.

I may have to buy a Kindle just to follow the series.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


In one of their pirate specials, the Mythbusters investigated the question - do splinters cause more deaths than cannon balls? They pronounced this a myth. Since this conflicts with period accounts, they must have gotten something wrong, but what?

I found the answer in a display on the HMS Victory - Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. They combined period accounts and modern experiments and came up with a different answer.

It turns out that splinters don't just happen. There is an art form to making them and the Mythbusters did exactly the wrong thing. They used as much force as they could to penetrate their mock-up hull but, the more force you put into your cannonball, the fewer splinters you get. What you want is to just barely pierce the hull. That makes the biggest splinters.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Pirates on the Santa Maria - Spring 2010

We had our pirate event on the Santa Maria. It was a major success. The weather was nearly perfect. Everyone seemed to have fun. The ship sold a lot of tickets - this may be the biggest weekend of the year.

There are several things I like about this weekend. It gives pirates a chance to do something on a real ship. The pirates themselves are all fun to be around.

For the battle, we had enough people to man three boats on Saturday and two on Sunday.

I finally got the Black Sheep in the water. It performed perfectly. I think that at one point we had seven people on board. It worked fairly well with four - two rowing/shooting, one at the swivel gun, and one at the tiller. There was room for a fifth. We had no trouble standing up. In the future, I will need a small bench for the person at the swivel gun. I was manning it and there was no place for me to sit. The next bench back was taken by someone rowing.

Firefly had a few problems on Friday. With the Black Sheep blocking my driveway, I had not been able to soak Firefly properly so the seams were still open when we launched it. They closed up by Saturday but it meant a lot of pumping in the meantime.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Painting the Batteau

With Micky's help, I got the Black Sheep painted. I like how it turned out. It freshened the boat up a lot and it looks a lot more 18th century to my eye.
Armed and ready

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fixing the rot

The weather finally cleared up long enough for the rotted wood to dry. I put a few coats of Minwax Wood Hardener on it to stabilize the remaining rot. According to reviews, this isn't the best wood hardener on the market but I've dug out most of the rot so it doesn't have to sink in very deep.

Once the hardener set I used epoxy putty and a piece of 2x4 to fill in the gap. The original piece had been glassed over. For my replacement I used a tube of epoxy gel to seal the wood. That should get it ready for painting later this weekend.

Here's what the repair looks like. The black part is the epoxy putty. The replacement wood is below that.

I've said before that it is a good thing I fixed it when I did. It the rot continued another inch further up then I would have had to fix one of the mounts for the rudder. That would have complicated a simple repair.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Oars and Rot

The oars are coming along. I Need to do some sanding on the handles but otherwise they are about ready for painting.

I used a couple of chisels on the rot in the stern stem. The good news is that the stem is made from two pieces glued together and the rot was limited to only one piece. The bad news is that there was a lot more rot than I was hoping. At one point the wood I was scooping out was the texture of wood putty. I ended up taking around six or seven inches off the end of the stem.

I'm going to let the wood dry then apply some wood hardener in case I missed any rot then fill in with putty and wood.

Here's a picture showing the rot.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Pirate Candidates of London

Two "pirates" are running for Parliament in the Cities of London and Westminster district. One represents the Pirate Party which advocates an end to copyright. The other dresses up and promises duty-free rum, free duct tape for every household, and requiring schoolchildren to be trained in swordsmanship an' gunnery.

Oars for the Black Sheep

The Bateau Black Sheep came without oars. I guess that the original ones are no longer usable. I was advised that I should go for ten foot oars. This seems reasonable. My Whitehall's oars are nine feet and the Black Sheep needs longer handles on its oars so that one person can hold an oar with both hands.

I checked out Lowes. I was hoping to find some cedar but what they had was not usable. All of it was either knotted, splintery, or warped. Instead I found some 1"x3"x10' poplar that was nice an straight and clear. Gluing two pieces together gives me square pieces. I bought an extra plank for the blades. I got eight 16" blade sides from this with the last two inches cut on the diagonal.

Titebond now has a waterproof formula. Most people advise epoxy for boats and oars but Lowes only had small tubes and it would have been a lot more trouble. We will see how strong the glue is. I got everything cut out and glued in one evening. I will use a draw knife and a spokeshave to shape the oars then paint them the same color I will use for the inside of the boat. I should be able to finish the oars over the weekend.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bateau Black Sheep - Second Impressions

I spent some time cleaning the Black Sheep. The flooring is badly in need of paint. The hull underneath is in fairly good shape. The topcoat of paint is chipping in a few places. In the center water as soaked through the paint and caused the very top layer of the plywood to delaminate. So far this is only a minor problem but it could easily get worse if not painted soon.

It's just as well that I bought it. Another year sitting without attention and it would need serious attention instead of a paint job.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bateau Black Sheep - First Impressions

I picked up the Black Sheep yesterday. It is a reproduction 18th century bateau made from fiberglassed marine plywood with oak frames.

It is 23 feet long - noticeably longer than my Whitehall. It is only around six inches wider.

The Black Sheep is lighter than the Whitehall. I can lift one end - it's heavy but I can lift it. The Whitehall is too heavy to lift.

It needs a paint job and there is a bit of rot at the base of the sternpost. Otherwise it is in good condition. I may change the color when I repaint it. Right now the outside is dark brown and the interior is tan. The flooring is white and really needs paint.

The oars and mast rotted out so I have to make new ones. It did come with a yard and sail.

It has a loggerhead for mounting a swivel gun. I will need to drill out the hole to make it big enough for my swivel gun's yoke.

It seemed easier to tow - probably because it is lighter. Also, I paid a lot less than I paid for the Whitehall and I got a great deal on the Whitehall - a comparable boat would cost quite a bit more than I paid.

The Black Sheep came with a rudder and two tillers - the normal one and a shorter one to use with a large crew. It also has a steering oar which it pretty heavy.

It did not come with a cover and we drove through a lot of rain on the way back. I now know that it is water-tight. I had to pump out several gallons of rainwater.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A New Boat

I'm planning on driving to New Hampshire in a couple of weekends and picking up a new (to me) boat. This one is the Batteau Black Sheep. It can be seen here and here.

It is a little late for the GAoP but otherwise is a good fit. I will be able to mount my larger swivel gun in the loggerhead. The small one I've been using in the Firefly is more of a cannon-shaped pistol than a real swivel gun. My larger swivel gun is the real thing.

Being able to accommodate a crew of 4 (including a gunner) to 8 is a plus. It has higher sides - we got some water over the sides if Firefly at Paynetown last year when the wind was causing waves and we were launching from the beach. We have a couple of events planned for the Great Lakes this year and I was a little concerned about waves there in Firefly if we get very far from land.

The flat bottom should be friendlier to being pulled up and should make a more stable boat (my wife is looking forward to that).

Downsides - right now it needs a new mast and I have been told that it "sails like a pig". I don't know if this is because it is a Batteau or because of the sail. It only had a square sail. I've checked and the Mackinaw Boat was similar to the Batteau but was usually sailed. A quick search of Google Images shows that these were gaff-rigged with a sprit sail so I might be able to work something out.

It is also a larger boat and needs at least three people to move - one at the tiller and two rowing. Right now I can handle Firefly by myself or with one other person. Also, I doubt that the Black Sheep is as fast as Firefly.

If I can get someone else to haul one of them, I probably will take both to Paynetown. I liked sailing Firefly in the lake there - it is much larger than the lake I usually sail and offered new scenery.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weapons Handling

A thread on the Pyracy Pub got me to thinking about the differences between the 17th century colonial and English Civil War reenactors I have been doing things with for decades and pirate reenactors. Specifically, I've been thinking about why so many pirates seem unsafe with weapons.

Part of it is experience. I doubt that most of the 17th century people I fall in with could count how many events they have been at. They have fired their weapons hundreds or thousands of times. Many of them have also drilled at historic sites where safe gun handling is stressed.

That does not mean that everyone doing the earlier periods is safe. I have had someone fire his gun right in my face at close range. He was worrying too much about getting his piece to fire and not enough about where the muzzle was pointed. I have seen other people do unsafe things but this is rare.

I do not get the same level of confidence at pirate events (Paynetown is an exception but most people there have crossed over from other periods). At the 2008 PiP I had someone load her pistol then turn to talk to me which pointed her pistol at my face - twice.

Some of this comes from the weapons used. Most people doing the earlier periods are using matchlocks. There is a whole drill for learning to use these and a lot of safety is built into the drill. If you load and handle your piece then the muzzle is always pointed up and away from anyone else. I have seen matchlocks go off unexpectedly. If the piece is being held correctly then it is an example. ("Look at where his muzzle was pointed. That's right where it should be.')

On the other hand, pirates are using newer, simpler locks. Some of them use caplocks. Too many of these pirates think that figuring out which end of the piece they should pour the powder down makes them an expert. Without the drill they are more likely to forget muzzle control.

Another factor is the different in the type of pieces used. Musketeers always carried muskets or calivers - both are long weapons. Pirates often use pistols or blunderbusses. It is much easier to forget muzzle control with a shorter piece.

We probably need to work some gun safety classes into big pirate events. PiP had a chance for people to practice their weapons. This could be expanded into a general mass-fire with people assigned to watch for unsafe behavior. Anyone who looked unsafe could be taken aside for some private instruction.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is the proper way to fire a Blunderbuss?

SPIKE TV reran their Pirate vs Armored Knight episode of Deadliest Warrior. I've written about this before and I agree with the outcome (the pirate won). This time I'm going to take examine how the blunderbuss is used.

In the episode, they went to test the blunderbuss against a ballistic gel target but it misfired. Later someone explained that this was caused by the way the expert tried to fire it. He was shooting with it braced against the hip and he tilted it a bit to the right so that the curve of the butt would fit better against his hip. The explanation was that tipping the pan let the prime to spill out, causing the misfire.

Since I got a blunderbuss, I've been trying to figure out the best way of holding it. I have heard that it is fired from the hip since the blast will spread out, anyway. When you hold it against your hip then you you either have to tilt it a bit or have the top edge of the butt jammed into your hip.

I will have to check this out when I'm somewhere that I can actually fire but I don't think that it is tilted enough to spill the prime. In addition, the frizzen holds the powder in the pan. There is less than a second between the pan being opened and the spark falling on the prime. Given the shallow angle, I don't see how this could cause a misfire. The exception would be if the flint was too long and the pan was not closed tightly while at half-cock.

But this still leaves the question - should it be shot from the hip? I don't think so for several reasons:

First, the stock is the same as on a musket or rifle - pieces that are fired from the shoulder. If it was meant to be fired from the hip then the butt would be flat enough to sit comfortably against the hip. A flat butt works fine against the shoulder so there is no reason to have a convex stock unless it was meant exclusively for the shoulder.

Second, these guns were used by sailors, coachmen, and dragoons. Sailors are likely to have a rail in the way. Coachmen are sitting and could not easily rest it against his hip. Dragoons fought either mounted or on foot. When mounted, the horse would be in the way. I can't imagine the blunderbuss being used from the hip by any of these people.

Third, even shotguns need to be aimed. When firing from the hip you can fire in the general direction of our opponent; from the shoulder you can aim it right at him. Granted, the shot will spread out, but probably not as much as you think. Friends who fire shotguns say that you have to be aiming pretty close to your target. A blunderbuss has a shorter barrel and a wider bore so it will spread faster but you still have to aim within a foot or two or your target. To be fair, I will admit that Gunny hit his targets while shooting a blunderbuss from the hip on Lock and Load. I will point out that he hit them at hip level which might not be as effective as higher up.

So where did the firing from the hip idea come from? I suspect that it is a movie myth by way of the shotgun. There are lots of things that cowboys do that do not work in real life. They fan their gun. This is rapid-firing by holding down the trigger while pulling the hammer back multiple times with the flat of the hand. You can empty your gun quickly but you can't aim at all. For years, gangsters have been holding their guns sideways with the barrel to the left of the hand. This looks mean but you cannot aim this way and it can cause the gun to jam. A few months ago someone opened fire on some police with a machine pistol. He only got off three shots before it jammed because he was holding it sideways.

I can see why someone would prefer holding a blunderbuss or shotgun against the hip. These weapons have a good kick and will bruise the shoulder more than the hip. Also, it looks cooler to fire from the hip. It gives the impression that you are so good that you don't have to aim. In a real battle, I would always shoot from the shoulder.

One last point - during the footage of pirates taking a ship I noticed people firing their blunderbusses one-handed like an overgrown pistol. This is possible when firing blanks but I would never try this with it actually loaded. The recoil is likely to pull the gun out of your hand and hurt you. (I have fired my carbine this way from my boat but even loaded, it would have a fraction of the kick of a blunderbuss.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Military Through the Ages

Groups representing pirates/privateers were well represented at Jamestown's annual Military Through the Ages. The SEA Rats Atlantic, the Crew of the Archangel, and the York Privateers were all present and each won a ribbon in some category.

I have to admit, I wasn't among any of the groups. I was volunteering with the James Fort Militia. That did mean that I got to crew the largest piece of artillery on the field - Jamestown's saker which was fired this weekend for the first time in 11 years. It is a monster with a ten foot barrel. It was also the loudest piece, even after the Civil War group doubled the charge in their piece to try to match us.

Even though I was not there as a pirate, I could have been one of the Elizabethan Sea Dogs. They were at their peak in the 1580s and 1590s. When Elizabeth died in 1602, James established peace with Spain and forbid further attacks on Spanish shipping. The investors who had been financing the Sea Dogs looked for someplace else to put their money. Some of them invested in colonization in the hope that English colonies could provide the sort of profits that Spain was getting. Unfortunately for them, Virginia failed to make any profit until John Rolf bred a variety of tobacco that would grow in Virginia but tasted like the Spanish variety. By that point, the Virginia Company had failed and the King had seized the charter.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My New Blunderbuss

I bought a blunderbuss over the weekend. I wasn't really looking for one but it was a good price and it is not one of the India-made ones that most places are selling.

It has a steel rammer so it is probably meant as a circa 1800 coach gun rather than a circa 1700 ship's weapon. Outside of that, the details aren't far off. The barrel has been japaned or blued which was done to protect steel barrels at sea (the other option was to use a brass barrel). The barrel has a nice shape. It has been fired but not often. I can see a tiny bit of powder cake at the breech but outside of that, it's spotless. The fittings match the pistol kit I'm working on. The lock is unremarkable. It is small - more like a pistol lock - but it has a great spark.

This may end up being a loaner piece for crew on my boat. I still have my carbine and my new pistol. Still, a big-barreled gun gets people's attention. I will also probably use it at the Grand Encampement.

An episode of Lock and Load with R. Lee Ermey looked at shotguns. You can see the first part here. He gets to the blunderbuss at three minutes. The slow-motion footage of him firing a musket and the blunderbuss is great. It also shows the relative superiority of the blunderbuss at 20-feet which would be typical for fighting on board a ship.

UPDATE: The third time I tried the lock the frizzen broke. Fortunately I was able to buy a rifle frizzen over the Internet that was the same size and shape. That means that the original lock is probably a rifle lock.

Friday, March 5, 2010

What Happened to Pyratecon?

Pyratcon is just over a month away and the web site is still mostly blank. Is this event even going to happen this year?

I have to admit that I'm only wondering out of curiosity. I wasn't planning to go this year. Last year was too badly run and turning it over to a new team of people didn't inspire confidence - especially since last year was the first time some of them had been to the event.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Rum is making a comeback.

Personally I think it is related to the popularity of pirates.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pirates Four to be Filmed in Hawaii

The fourth installment of Disney's popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" series will be filmed in Hawaii, according an announcement Monday by Gov. Linda Lingle.

Johnny Depp will return to his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which will begin shooting this summer on Oahu and Kauai and be released in 2011. The film is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Rob Marshall.

"We've always sought out the most extraordinary and exotic locations ... Hawaii provides an amazing range of both land and seascapes, and we're delighted to return for 'On Stranger Tides,'" Bruckheimer said in a statement.

Small portions of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," were shot on Maui and Molokai.

I doubt that they will rename the franchise "Pirates of the Pacific".

Of course, portions of Pirates Three took place in and around Asia. I was never clear how much of that movie took place where. They returned from the Locker at an unnamed location that happened to be near where both Sao Feng and Becket were waiting. Shipwreck Island was not far away. Becket commanded the East India Company which controlled trade with China.

It is surprising that any of the original movies were shot in the Caribbean. Hollywood has a long history of substituting locations. For example, Cutthroat Island took place in the Caribbean but was shot in Malta and Thailand.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A New Pistol

I got a new pistol kit yesterday - a nice early-18th century one. It is similar to the Sun King pistol found on the Whydah. The shape is generally the same as are the brass butt-piece and the trigger guard. The biggest difference is the side plate. Instead of the fancy one on the Sun King pistol, mine has a large, plain one. Plus there is the engraving. Mine came with a lion head instead of a Sun King insignia.

Today I fitted the barrel, butt cap, and side plate. More as I progress.