Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book review: Fiddler's Gun/Fiddler's Green by A. S. Peterson

These books follow the adventures of Fin Button as she goes from being abandoned at an orphanage to becoming a legend.

The first part deals with Fin's life in the orphanage. She is a tom-boy in her late teens who hates the orphanage. She hopes to help build the new church. Instead she is assigned to help the old cook. He teaches her to cook and play the fiddle. When he dies she inherits his fiddle case which also contains a blunderbuss pistol named Betsy.

The Revolutionary War intrudes and Fin has to flee. She becomes a sailor and discovers that she loves the sea. As the war progresses her crew becomes privateers. It turns out that her captain and the old fiddler are connected. This leads to conflicts both with the British and her captain. By the end of the book Fin is voted captain.

In Fiddler's Green, Fin and her crew are offered a deal by Congress. They will be pardoned for past of offenses if they save a countess from the Barbary pirates. It soon becomes obvious that they have bitten off more than they can chew.

These books are readable and fairly well researched. The story drags a bit at the beginning but picks up when Fin goes to sea. Some of the plot twists are predictable - almost painfully so. This is mainly true in the first book. The second book is an improvement. Few of the plot twists in the second book are telegraphed.

These are not happy books. Most of Fin's companions die along the way which Fin blames herself for.

A few notes on the premise:

Women sailors disguised as men existed. There were even more women disguised as soldiers from the Revolution through the Civil War so Fin passing herself off as a young man is quite possible.

The book has several ships of the line taking part in the Revolution. I don't think the author realizes just how big and powerful these ships were or he would have used "sloop" or "frigate" instead of "ship of the line". This and Ben Franklin's use of "kilometers" are the biggest historic goofs that I noticed.

Fiddler's Green is a special heaven for sailors. The song is from the 20th century but the legend goes back at least to the 18th century.

The books are available through the official site and through Amazon. Both books are available in the Kindle format. Only the first one is available as a Nook book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


So, what to make of Syfy's Neverland?

Obviously the movie was a prequel to Peter Pan. Not so obviously, the producers probably did not pay royalties so the production was a little strange.

The main characters were Peter (I don't think that we got his last name) and James Hook (who did not wear a hook and was never referred to as "Captain Hook", even after he took command of the pirates). Instead of being Blackbeard's quartermaster and a look-alike for King James, this Hook was a Victorian fencing master and thief. He did eventually pick up a red coat.

Instead of pixies and fairy dust, we had tree spirits and mineral dust.

Peter did learn to fly. Instead of whistling, he carried a tin whistle. Instead of green, he wore his London clothing. He did lose his shadow at the end but not in a Victorian nursery. In a nod to the book, Peter was cursed to lose his memory and be eternally innocent (that was his description in the book). It wore off.

Peter had a band of orphans with him but they were never called the Lost Boys.

Plus there were pirates, indians, and a giant, eight-legged crocodile (this was a SyFy production, after all). There was also a giant scorpion that could spin webs.

The pirates had a nice ship and looked ok (except for one who looked like a Jonny Depp impersonator). The pirates were led by a woman and was probably inspired by a couple of historic pirates.

The whole thing was a two-night, four hour (including ads) production. The problem is that they only had enough plot and special effects money for two hours so they padded it with a lot of talking followed by more talking.

Bob Hoskins reprized his role as Smee which he played in Hook, another production that ran too long. He was generally wasted as was Kiera Knightly as the telepathic voice of Tinkerbell.

The concept was good but the production was too serious. A lighter touch would have helped a lot.

When I first watched Hook, I ad a hard time rooting for Peter Pan. I knew that I would fit in better with the pirates. The same was true with Neverland.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Damn You Mythbusters!!

I ran across a Cracked list of pirate myths and, sure enough, number 3 is that they wore eye patches so that they could see in dark holds. The justification for this was the Mythbusters pirate episode. The rest of the list wasn't very good either and I'm not going to bother linking to it. In fact, their lists aren't very well researched. In a list on real people who were hard to kill, they implied that Lt. Maynard's two sloops were bigger than Blackbeard's. Actually, Maynard's sloops were so small that they didn't have any cannon and only one of the sloops was involved in the actual fighting.

While it was nice that Mythbusters did a pirate episode, I suspect that they made up some of their pirate myths. Using rum for washing? The one real pirate myth, that splinters were more dangerous than a cannon ball, they got wrong. Their tests showed a cannon ball cleanly penetrating a hull with minimal splinters. This contradicts centuries of actual experience. What happened? They shot their cannon ball at close range with a full charge. If they had backed off a few hundred yards or used less powder then the ball would have made more splinters (the British have actually tested this).

As for eye patches, I never heard of anyone wearing an eye patch to preserve his night vision before a fantasy novel written in 2000 and that did not have any pirates. A soldier would go into a seedy tavern and flash some money while wearing an eye patch. He would go back into the night and remove the eye patch. Then he and his companions would seize and would-be robbers and confiscate their money.

I can imagine this making its way to the Mythbusters as a pirate myth and they did not spend any time checking the historic accuracy of the myths they tested. They just went with them.

Then their fans across the country accepted it as fact.

Damn you Mythbusters!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blackbeard's Cannon Salvaged

A massive cannon was salvaged from what is believed to be the wreck of Queen Anne's Revenge.

This was actually the 13th cannon that has been recovered and it will take five years of conservation work before the cannon is ready for public viewing. One cannon from Queen Anne's Revenge is already on display at the North Caroline Maritime Museum in Beaufort.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Review: Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean: The Adventurous Life of Captain Woodes Rogers

Officially this is a biography of the twice-governor of the Bahamas and the man who ended piracy in the Caribbean. While Woodes Rogers had an eventful life, details of it are sketchy so the book is padded with a lot of general information on piracy. It also contains a mini-biography of Alexander Selkirk who was an inspiration for Robinson Crusoe.

The book was written by David Cordingly who has written other major works on piracy such as Under the Black Flag and his familiarity with piracy shows.

While Rogers was twice governor of the Bahamas, this was not his major achievement. He was one of the first captains to circumnavigate the world and his exploits doing this and attacking the Spanish in the Pacific are more exciting than a Pirates of the Caribbean novel.

In addition to Rogers and Selkirk, the book follows other pirates to their end including Blackbeard and Calico Jack Rackham. Several battles are described in detail showing just how audacious the pirates and privateers were.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Talking Like a Pirate on the Santa Maria

We held our annual Talk Like a Pirate Weekend on the Santa Maria September 17 & 18. The event is held on the closest weekend to Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Gas prices, health problems, and competing festivals kept the number of pirates down but we still had a decent turn-out. Counting ship staff members who put on costumes, we had nearly twenty pirates.

This is an educational event and the pirates worked hard. We had different stations where people were presenting something relating to pirates. This included Mission's pirate surgeon display, a gaming table, and cooking. I brought my new cannon and ran visitors through cannon drills. Michael made a hammock. There was also a table where kids could get certificates making them part of the pirate crew. These were hand-lettered and had wax seals.

We had to scale back the battle. Sometimes we have had enough pirates to fill three boats. This time we only used one boat with no effort to actually board the ship. I don't think that the visitors noticed the difference.

Attendance was not as good as last year but it was still a very good weekend taking in just under $2,000 for the weekend.

Disney contacted us and donated hundreds of posters and certificates for two Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides DVD so every family got a posted and a chance to win a DVD.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Small Boats

I've been reading Pirate Hunter of the Caribbean: The Adventurous Life of Captain Woodes Rogers   and I was struck by the use of small, open boats. In several cases pirates left their ships behind and attacked ships or even cities from boats.

Attacking cities always meant landing which usually meant using boats. It was common for pirates to land some distance from a city and attack it from land. But other times they would land and attack.

Fighting a ship from a boat seems foolish. One good hit from a cannon and the boat is gone. On the pirate's side, they could only carry small arms.

Surprisingly this was enough. In one case three dug-outs carrying sixty some pirates met three warships with over two hundred sailors and soldiers. The pirates won, driving off one ship and forcing the other two to surrender.

Boats offer a few advantages over ships. Boats were faster and could move against the wind. In the case above, the pirates shot the helmsman of one ship and it turned into the wind and stopped - what is known as being "in irons". They continued to shoot anyone who tried to take the tiller. Since cannons are mainly aimed by turning the ship, that rendered the cannon useless.

The pirates were better shots than the Spanish. After the battle ended, the Spanish tallied their dead and wounded. Only a half-dozen were completely unharmed.

I read a different account in in Exquemelin where he describes a small ship taking a much larger one. In this case the Spanish captain saw the pirates but dismissed them as being too inferior a force to threaten his ship. After dark the pirates used a boat to board the Spanish ship, took the captain hostage, and forced the surrender of the ship.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brigand's Grove

Right off the bat, this was a disappointing event. It replaced the Pirates of Paynetown which was a wonderful event. When the site fell through, the organizer substituted an event in what amounts to his front yard (actually a field across a highway and down a hill from the historic building that houses his business).

A lot of participants dropped out and the new site was missing Paynetown's best features: a large lake, an attack from boats, and showers. Also it was no longer a "pirate" event. The new focus was on pirates, brigands, and other law breakers.

So it was a much smaller event and the field was not shaded most of the day which baked us, especially on Saturday.

And it wasn't a pirate event. It was a generic 18th century event with a couple of displays on piracy.

Also, the John Work House turned out to be further away than it appeared on the map. The map didn't show the steep hill with a slippery path that had to be climbed to get to the house (plus another story to get to the tavern). This resulted in a split event. Some people spent most of their time in the house and some in the field. I don't think that there was any point when everyone was in one place.

So, what good can I say about the event?

I got to use my cannon. I ran full cannon crew through the drill a couple of times them we did it with powder. I finally used enough powder for a decent bang - twice the charge as in my swivel gun. I also ran some visitors through the drill.

The "battles" were unusual but fun. We never had more than a dozen people on the field and not all of them were armed but this fit the scenario.

The first "battle" was a skirmish at the tavern. A bunch of us complained about the prices and it escalated to shooting. The redcoats arrived and drove the rowdies off.

For the official field battle, some of us went to the British to register our complaints. Things quickly got out of hand. Someone (Micky) was arrested and beaten to death. Someone else (me) was arrested and shot. Talk about the violence inherent in the system.

We got our own back. On Sunday we raided the tavern and made off with some stuff. Later we returned and found the redcoat officer by himself so we shot him. Finally I proclaimed, "In the name of no one in particular, I claim this land as ours. God save us!"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New England Pirate Museum

We visited the New England Pirate Museum in Salem, Mass. last week. It was our first visit since the early 1990s.

The museum is a small-scale operation housed in a brick building with trompe l'oeil pirates climbing up the outside walls. Tours are given every half hour. They are conducted by a guide in a "pirate" costume consisting of a lace-up shirt, black pants, sash, and bandanna. The tours last 20-25 minutes. There is a small gift shop where tours start and end.

The museum is not bad for what it is. It is mainly a series of sets with manikins dressed to represent historic pirates. Some of the sets are ambitious. The biggest one has part of a ship, a tavern, a gallows, and other building fronts. The manikins run from hokey to horrifying but they are really launching points for the guides. The real tour consists of the guide telling about various New England pirates. Many of them were unsuccessful.

The focus on New England gives the museum a fresh feel. These are pirates with a local tie-in who are seldom discussed. Bellamy and the Whydah, Blackbeard, and Kidd all had New England connections and are also mentioned.

I didn't catch and outright errors, just a few over-simplifications so even hard-core historians should enjoy the tour.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review - PotC: Price of Freedom

The Price of Freedom (Pirates of the Caribbean) by A. C. Crispin is a PotC tie-in telling Jack Sparrow's back-story. It was already known that the Black Pearl was originally known as the Wicked Wench but was sunk and burned. Jack made a deal with Davy Jones to raise it. We also know that Jack's father was the Keeper of the Code and that Jack was branded as a pirate after failing to deliver a load of slaves. This novel was written to fill in the details.

The plot mainly follows Jack as he goes from first mate on an East India Trading Company ship to captain of the Wicked Wench. There are a lot of flashbacks to Jack's earlier life on Shipwreck Island explaining how he came to leave it. Jack is working for Cutler Becket and we get his back-story as well. For good measure, there is a princess from a lost colony of Egypt who is searching for her lost father and brother.

The book has several familiar cameos. There is also a pirate princess and a group of rouge pirates who do not follow the code.

It isn't a bad book but it has one major flaw - the main character just doesn't feel like Jack Sparrow. He's too nice and totally trustworthy. He plans things out ahead of time.

As pirate books go, it isn't bad. The author did a lot of research although there are some anachronisms lie the use of a Blackwall Frigate which was designed in 1830. Several other details are better researched and it provides a nice explanation for some of Jack's appearance in the movies.

I suggest waiting for paperback.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Goodbye Paynetown

The Pirates of Paynetown event has been canceled due to differences between the site and the organizers. I am really sorry to see this event go. This event was what got us into pirate reenacting in the first place and it was always a favorite. It had several things to recommend it including:

  • A large lake
  • A fairly unique battle involving an attack on the camp by boats.
  • A well-shaded camp site that had few anachronisms (as long as you didn't face north).
The event is being replaced by Brigand's Grove which will be a more general event featuring all kinds of rogues instead of just pirates. The new site does have a stream but no lake.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Put-In-Bay Pirate Fest III

While there were a few rough spots, the 2011 Put-in-Bay Pirate Pirate Fest went quite well. The festival is held on the village green in the middle of town. Most of the surrounding merchants participate in some way and lots of visitors wear pirate hats and/or eye patches.

The main attractions are the historic pirate camp that we set up and the cannon firing.

This was our second year as official participants. Two years ago Michael and I checked out the festival and entered the costume contest. There was a historic encampment that year but the group that set it up has not been invited back. They didn't impress me. I had the impression that they were a F&I that said that they were pirates.

Last year was our first year. We were provided with a field to camp in that was a couple of blocks from the display area. This caused a little extra work since we had to tear down the displays Saturday night and set them back up Sunday morning. Still, it kept us separated from the drunks.

This year we were more comfortable with the set-up. In addition, we were provided with a better golf cart for hauling equipment and people so things were smother in general.

Our camp last year was so successful that the organizers asked us to bring back twice as many pirates this year. This lead to the main rough spot this year - cooking. Last year we cooked lunch and they fed us dinner. This year, with a larger group, they offered us groceries instead of meals. This meant cooking for 20+ over braziers. It also meant that we had to stick around the display camp where the braziers were. Some people went to the numerous restaurants and were not around when the time came to pack up the displays.

But enough of the rough spots. Highlights were:

The weather: Last year it was nearly 100 degrees. This year is was much cooler, especially on Friday and Saturday when there was a strong breeze.

Cannons: We arrived earlier this year and went looking for the organizer, Ty. He was piloting a barge full of cannons, attacking the town. He pulled up to the docks and three of us came on board as cannon crew. We had four cannons and five people so I ended up running a four-pounder by myself. I came back on Saturday when we repeated attack.

The tactical: This year we arranged to use the cannon area for a short tactical. This was thrown together fast and only ran for a few minutes but it was still fun. What it consisted of was a group of pirates, led by me, attacking from one side of a gazebo. A cannon fired and we retreated to the other side of the gazebo. A second cannon fired and we went back to the original side to exchange fire with some defenders. After we ran out of charges we did some hand-to-hand combat, killing the defenders. We regrouped and barely had time to declare "Nothing can stop us now!" before a final cannon went off, killing us all.

The last I heard, the organizers wanted us to bring even more pirates next year.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pirate Treasures

Slideshow of artifacts from the Queen Anne's Revenge here.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pirates 5 Director

There are rumors that Rob Marshall who directed PoTC 4 is not interested in directing PoTC 5. Since PoTC 4 is very profitable thanks to overseas sales, there will be a PoTC 5. Currently five directors are rumored to be on the shortlist: Tim Burton, Alfonso Cuaron, Shawn Levy, Sam Raimi and Chris Weitz.

I suspect that Burton is on the list because of his long association with Johnny Depp. He also has worked with Disney. His version of Alice in Wonderland was Disney's top-grossing movie in 2010. His batman movies and Sleepy Hollow show that he can make good adventure movies. Regardless, I doubt that Burton would be interested. He is so well-established that he doesn't have to direct someone else's franchise. He can pick and choose his own projects and he has always excelled at filming his own interpretation. This is four movies too late to bring in Burton.

Raimi can certainly do special-effects adventure movies. He could probably make a good Pirates movie but, like Burton, I don't think that he would be interested.

Of the three left on the list, Cuaron would be my pick based on his Harry Potter movie. He took over an established franchise and put his own mark on it. Disney Family has been showing marathons of the first five movies and Cuaron's is the best-directed. The movies that Chris Columbus made were more like theme park rides with a plot, full of little details that slowed the action but delighted the fans. Cuaron turned down the spectacle and turned up the visuals. A few examples - the Whomping Willow went from a mechanical effect to a digital one and modified to look more like a real willow. Hagrid's cottage went from sitting by itself just outside the gates to being across the covered bridge (a great addition itself), and down a hill and surrounded by a garden. Cuaron is also a good story-teller. The Prisoner of Azkaban has a complicated plot involving time travel and the same event seen from multiple perspectives. Cuaron kept all of this clear.

That would be an asset in a franchise known for complicated plots.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pirates at Fort de Chartres

I was at the annual Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres with the Crew of the Mercury. This event is basically a large rendezvous with some military units at a partly-reconstructed French fort.

When it was built the fort was on the Mississippi but the river has shifted and is now around a mile away. The French built timber forts in the area starting in 1720. The stone fort was largely completed by 1754. In 1765 the British gained control of it as part of the end of the Seven Years War. It was abandoned by 1771. The river undercut the walls and the buildings were stripped of their stone for building materials.

So, what were a bunch of pirates doing so far inland? The idea was to have an event that mid-west members of the Mercury could come to. Our camp wasn't particularly piratical although we did have some nice handouts thanks to William Red Wake.

As far as I was concerned the main reason for going was to hang around with the Mercury members.

I did get to see a live-fire cannon contest. If I go again I will seriously think about entering my new cannon. There was one there that was about the same size.

There was a short battle between the French and the English. We bolstered the English numbers. The brown bess that I was firing needed a new flint and was misfiring every other shot so I went down as a casualty. The Mercury Crew died to a man.

The event was hot, possibly the hottest I have ever been to. We heard that the temperature on Saturday was 102 with 75% humidity. Sunday was a lot more comfortable - 83 when we left.

On to Put-In-Bay.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A New Cannon

I bought a new cannon at the World Steam Expo (a Steampunk convention). It's around 1.5 times longer than my existing swivel gun and cast iron. The bore is just a bit bigger than the swivel. It is more or less a scaled-down three pounder. Let's call it a half-pounderer. It is about as big a gun as I can handle by myself. I was told that it weighs 150 pounds but I can still lift it easily. Any bigger and it would weigh 250 pounds or more and I would have to have help moving it.

I could have gotten it with a naval carriage. I went for a swivel carriage instead. It was a lot cheaper that way and I can make a naval carriage easier than I can make a swivel mount. I have dimensions figured up for the carriage and it shouldn't take too long to make. I made a carriage for my bronze swivel gun a couple of years ago and it only took a few days. The hardest part will be the iron straps that hold the trunnions down. I may have to fire up the forge for that.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Stranger Tides - the novel

The novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers was re-released to go with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The two have very little to do with each other except for the inclusion of Blackbeard and the use of magic. I read the book when it first came out in 1987 but I didn't remember a lot about it. I did remember that it featured a puppeteer who became a pirate, a trip to the Fountain of Youth, and a few other details.

The novel was one of several that Powers wrote dealing with magic in a historic setting. These are not alternate histories where major events are different than in our world. Instead they include historic events. The first of these novels, The Drawing of the Dark, centered on the Siege of Vienna (one of them, there were several). The Anubis Gate was the best of these and is considered an early Steampunk novel. On Stranger Tides is not as epic as The Anubis Gate but it is still a good book.

On Stranger Tides takes place at the tail end of the Golden Age of Piracy. It follows John Chandagnac, the son of a puppeteer who is traveling to the New World on family business. His ship is taken by pirates and he is forced to join the crew. The pirates decide that his name is too long and he is soon rechristened Jack Shandy and made the cook. He learns about ships and works his way up the ranks.

During the voyage over, Jack became friends with fellow passenger Beth Hurwood. Her father and his companion, Leo Friend are both sorcerers who have come to the New World where magic still works.

Magic is in great supply in the Americas and all of the pirates have picked up a few tricks. Some are very powerful, especially Blackbeard. It is possible to become even more powerful by traveling to the Fountain of Youth.

The book is well researched and manages to shoehorn the historic Blackbeard's actions into the novel. His eccentricities, things like drinking rum and gunpowder and wearing smoldering slowmatch, are done for magical reasons.

One constant in Powers's books is that nothing comes easy. Jack Shandy may triumph at the end but he will pay for it with pain and blood.

Interesting side-note - the novel was a major influence on the computer game Monkey Island which in turn influenced the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

It's finally out and it was worth the wait. In many ways this is the movie I was hoping that PotC 2 would be. The feel of it is much closer to the original. While Jack's motivations are always in doubt, everything else it pretty straightforward. It is also a Jack-centric movie. There are very few scenes that do not feature Captain Jack. This is fine with me since he was always the big draw in the previous movies.

Just a handful of regulars from the other movies make it into this one - mainly Barbossa and Gibbs with a couple of cameos by Jack the Monkey. We think we spotted a British officer from the original but he has no lines. The new cast also gives the movie a fresh feel.

The third movie ended with Jack starting on a quest for the Fountain of Youth. This movie picks up there. It seems that Jack has not been successful although he has not given up. In the meantime, the Spanish get a clue to the Fountain and launch an expedition. King George II does not want the Spanish to have sole access to the fountain and sends his own expedition commanded by Barbossa who managed to lose the Black Perl and a leg. Also racing to find the Fountain are Blackbeard who is trying to stave off his prophesied death and his daughter who, like Jack wants a few extra decades of youth.

The movie is much darker than the others, both figuratively and literally. Blackbeard is bloodthirsty and most of the scenes take place at night or on cloudy days.

The movie is a bit scaled back from the third movie which spent a rumored half-billion dollars but it has a very large budget. The main thing missing is over-the-top special effects. This movie does not use two full-sized gimbal-mounted ships or a cast that is half-CGI.

On Stranger Tides does feature early-18th century London and an unnamed island (Hawaii) which gives it a very lush look. Rob Marshall, the new director, improves the cinematography so it is actually a better-looking movie.

I didn't notice any references to the PotC ride in the movie but there are several references to the prior movies - just enough to let people know that this actually is PotC movie.

I only have a couple of complaints. The action is mainly front-loaded. The movie begins with several set-pieces and compared with them the ending is almost anti-climactic. Similarly, there is nothing comparable with the skeletal duel between Jack and Barbossa from the first movie. The closest thing is the fight with the mermaids which comes earlier. This does not mean that the ending was unsatifying, just not as memorable as in previous movies.

Two final notes - fans of Tim Powers' book On Stranger Tides should not expect to see much of the book in the movie. The credits say "inspired by". This consists of giving Blackbeard supernatural powers and having a quest for the Fountain of Youth.

Also, zombie enthusiasts will be disappointed by the movie's zombies. They are ugly and unkillable but nothing like the brain-hungry monsters in pop-culture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will Pirates 4 Be Any Good?

The first review of PotC:On Stranger Tides is out and the reviewer didn't like it. Of course, the reviewer seems mystified that anyone liked the first three. As a side note, she is also unaware that brain-eating zombies are a recent cinematic invention and that the zombies of folklore were corpses reanimated as servants.

Anyway, I distinctly remember a number of bad reviews of the first three movies. Critics felt that the original one was too long and repetitious. I suspect that big-name movie critics feel that reviewing pirate movies is beneath them.

I readily admit that PotC 2 was not as good as PotC 1 and that PotC 3 fell somewhere in-between. Disney was in such a hurry to shoot the movies that they didn't wait for a finished script so dropped plot threads abound. Also, I can understand why they wanted to keep Will and Elizabeth in the movies but their storyline really ended at the end of the first movie. That complication has been dropped and Depp assures us that the script is more like the original.

I have no idea how they will adapt On Stranger Tides. The book is about a puppeteer who accidentally becomes a pirate. Probably the subplots about Blackbeard and magic are used.

One thing I am hoping for is the return of some actual pirates to the franchise. Except for the sack of Port Royal early in the first movie no one engaged in any piracy. In the second and third movies, the pirates were the good guys and the villains were not pirates. Maybe Blackbeard will add some piracy to the Pirates franchise.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Santa Maria Event

It's over and it was a success. We worried for the last few weeks about the weather. The river flooded multiple times this Spring but it was back around normal levels by last week. The forecast was for rain all three days but we got lucky. The rain completely missed us on Friday and we only got a bit of rain on Saturday. That left us with a wet Sunday.

One immediate problem was launching the boats. We had planned on using both of my boats but there was a significant amount of mud on the boat ramp from the flooding. Michael and I removed the crown of this with a shovel and mattock then launched the Black Sheep. I decided that the ramp was too chancy to launch the Firefly. If we had rain then the ramp would become too slick to retrieve the boats. Also, we had some last-minute cancellations so we did not need the extra boat.

We had a nearly full crew by Friday night.

On Saturday the city was hosting a Race for the Cure and people had trouble getting to the ship. Next year we will probably move to the 3rd weekend to avoid this. The race was over by opening time and we had enough time to hold a safety meeting and assign people to the ship and the boats.

Everything went well on Saturday. Attendance was down a little, probably because of threat of rain, but it was still well above normal. The battle went perfectly. Diosa did a great job of organizing the visitors as defenders. This time we had boarders from both boats - six in all and we made the defenders stand back until they were on deck before fighting.

Because a front was moving in, the gunfire was especially loud. We had a brief shower after the battle then it cleared up again.

This time we had people go through the ship on self-guided tours. This meant fewer breaks for the crew but we didn't have unmanageably large tour groups.

After closing, Ed, Margarita, and I spent an hour or so swapping tunes and singing shanties.

The rain moved in in earnest on Sunday. The Hard Tackers were performing but had to move onto the ship. This made things a little crowded.

It was too wet to use the boats so we did an abbreviated battle. I issued boarding pikes to the visitors and alternated having them threaten imaginary pirates and having people fire from the shelter of the awning.

Things broke up earlier than when we have clear weather so everything was cleared off of the ship by closing.

I left the Black Sheep at the ship, tied off to the ship's canoe and the final eight of us had pizza.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Time Travelling Pirates

Two recent books involved a teenager being mysteriously transported to the Golden Age of Pirates and becoming a pirate.

The first one, Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe is the better of the two. In it, a young American named Christopher leaves a monastery in post-Castro Cuba and finds himself in the 17th century. He signs on as a sailor, eventually becoming a pirate and working his way up to captain. The mechanics of time travel are never explained, they just happen. The book is very well researched, even if Christopher manages to attract more pirate women than Calico Jack (who had the only two known). The plot covers all aspects of piracy, even the cow killers. It has a couple of sub-plots that only become obvious over time. It is a good read.

The new one, Steel by Carrie Vaughn, just came out. In it, a 16-year-old girl named Jill goes on vacation to the Caribbean after a major fencing match. Jill finds the broken tip of a magic rapier and is transported back in time to the Golden Age of Pirates. She end up on a ship commanded by a woman pirate who is the arch enemy of the pirate who owns the rapier.

The book is ok and probably aimed at teenagers although Vaughn is best known for a series of books aimed at adults about a werewolf named Kitty. The book is a quick read and feels 50-100 pages too short. It has several missed opportunities leaving me wondering if Vaughn was trying to get it onto the stands before Pirates 4 comes out.

Vaughn went to some effort to research her pirates but I do have some complaints. The first one is central to the story - the use of rapiers. I am sure that she used rapiers because they have the closest modern equivalent, the epee. The modern foil and saber are so much lighter than their historic counterparts that the skills needed are completely different between them. The problem is that rapiers were weapons for private duels and nearly useless on a ship in a crowd.

My other complaint is Vaughn's use of women. Jill's captain is a woman and the book says that other members of the crew were also women but dressed like men. None of them are given names or personalities.

While Vaughn tries to present her pirates as historically accurate, they are not very effective. They spend very little time in actual piracy and they set free the slaves that they capture. Note that I have the same complaint about the Disney movies - the pirates spend very little time engaging in acts of piracy.

While the book could stand a rewrite, it is still worth reading as is.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Could Pirates Swim?

By tradition, most sailors cannot swim. I've checked around and I can find quotes saying this from the 16th century to the 20th century. Some could but most could not. I find this puzzling.

Swimming is a very useful talent if you are working in and around the water. Sometime things have to be retrieved from divable depths. Some emergency repairs at sea can only be done from the outside by divers.

I can understand why sailors who frequent northern Europe and New England would not know much about swimming. Even in the Summer the water in these latitudes is too cold for swimming and in other seasons it would quickly become fatal. But what about the Caribbean and other warm latitudes?

In some centuries swimming in general was thought to be unhealthy. These were periods when washing was thought to remove needed oils from the hair and skin.

There is also the theory that sailors did not want to know how to swim because it would just prolong their suffering if they fell overboard. There might be something to this. Even sailors who could swim never got in the water unless the ship was at anchor or becalmed. A moving ship would leave them behind quickly and they would be hard to spot in high seas. Then there is the problem with the cold that I already mentioned. In most months someone who fell overboard in the northern Atlantic would be dead from the cold before he could be saved.

The problem is finding a period quote to document this. Sometimes when "everyone knows" something, no one thinks to write it down until it is too late.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Captain Blood

I just finished reading Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini for the third time. I have been a fan of Sabatini since several of his novels were reprinted in the 1970s but this is one of his best. It has several of Sabatini's recurring themes - a noble and witty hero who is forced by circumstances to become an adventurer and a romance foiled until the last moment by bad luck and misunderstanding.

In this book, Peter Blood is a former soldier who has taken up the more peaceful practice of medicine. He refuses to participate in the Monmouth Rebellion against James II but is arrested and convicted anyway for treating a wounded rebel. Rather than being executed, he is sent to the Caribbean to be sold as a slave. Eventually he and some of his fellow slaves escape and steal a ship. Even then, Blood's first goal was to simply resume his career as a doctor. Circumstances make piracy his main choice and he proves a natural at it.

Sabatini's hero is not a typical pirate. Instead he is honorable, rescuing women and only raiding Spain.

One section of the book was lifted from Captain Morgan's real exploits. Sabatini explains this away by saying that they were really Blood's exploits and that Morgan later claimed credit for them.

Fortunately for Blood, he is opposed at every turn by opponents whose self-importance exceeds their competence. This makes the villains of the book easy to hate.

This is one of the best pirate novels ever written. Blood is believable as a pirate with principles and, unlike Treasure Island, the book has several sea battles. If it has any faults it is that it makes these battles seem too easy. A broadside or two and the battle is decided and any blood spilled is spilt out of sight.

It should be no surprise that the book is longer and more complex than the movie which, in itself, is one of the better pirate movies.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Searle's Raid

As Spain's northern-most colony, St. Augustine was a natural target for pirates from Francis Drake (in 1585) to Robert Searle (in 1668). Drakes's and Searle's raids are reenacted annually. This year Searle's Raid was held on March 4th and 5th.

There are actually two separate events. A military camp was set up at the Fountain of Youth park on Friday and Saturday with cannon demonstrations and other military drills. At 4:00 trolleys carried the participants to the site of the battle in the oldest part of St. Augustine. The forces were split into English attackers and Spanish defenders with the attackers having slightly higher numbers. Searle's actual force was only around 40 men against a garrison of 35 Spaniards.

The battle itself was a fairly long one for reenactors. It began at five o'clock when the English fired from a couple of locations near the Plaza. The forces met at the Plaza and the Spanish were eventually forced to retreat through the streets of the town. There was more firing at designated locations before the battle was rejoined at a redoubt near the Huguenot Cemetery. Eventually the Spanish were forced to surrender. The battle finally ended around six fifteen.

The combatants included musketeers, pikemen, small cannon, and swordsmen engaging in choreographed duels. Along the way a tavery was looted and three women taken prisoner for ransom.

This is an unusual event, straddling both pirate and 17th century military. On one hand, Searle was a pirate nominally he was a privateer but his commission had been withdrawn) and many of the participants are pirate reenactors. On the other hand, the historic event took place before the Golden Age of Piracy and the differences in the clothing are obvious. It was the only pirate event I have been at that included marching and pikes. Matchlock muskets were common. Pistols and blunderbusses were rare. During the fight, the English were cheering for King Charles.

Either way, I felt right at home.

Historic note - Robert Searles was a privateer and pirate during the time of Henry Morgan. He was arrested but released without punishment for the raid on St. Augustine. Later he was a sub-commander during Morgan's raid on Panama. His raid on St. Augustine was moderately successful. The Spanish silver he had hoped to steal had already been shipped to Spain but the Spanish paid him heads of cattle to leave. In addition, his men sacked the city and took hostages to ransom. This raid finally convinced Spain that the city needed better fortifications than a wooden fort and four years later construction began on the existing stone fort.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Someone in a piracy forum started calling himself "commodore" so I decided to look up the title. I remember it from McHale's Navy and, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean.

The term is used for someone between the rank of captain and rear admiral who commands multiple ships in a squadron. It came into use at the end of the 17th century. The US stopped using the rank by the end of the 18th century although it was revived during World War II. The British and other countries kept the rank.

From the viewpoint of the GAoP, commodore was not an actual rank. It was a posting. You remained on the list of captains and you were a commodore only as long as you commanded a squadron. Once your posting changed, you reverted back to captain. apparently the British did this to reduce the number of admirals on the payroll.

By that measure, Norrington was never a real commodore. He only had two ships and he lost the Interceptor. Granted, the other ship was a ship of the line but it was still a single ship. We never saw him commanding a squadron. The only time multiple ships were assembled under a single command was at the end of the third movie under the command of Beckett who was always referred to as "lord".

As far as I can tell, being a commodore did not entitle you to a big hat.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Doctor and the Pirates

The upcoming season of Doctor Who will include pirates. Here is an article about it complete with pictures of companion Karen Gillian on a ship.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Time and The HMS Victory

A new survey of Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, shows that the ship is in poor shape. The problems are that the dry dock is warping the timbers and it has significant rot from rainwater. See here for more details.

None of this surprises me.

We went through the Victory last May. At the time I was surprised at how spartan the dry dock supports were. Ships are built to float. This puts an even pressure against the entire hull. A ship that spends any significant time in dry dock will not be supported evenly and will warp. In this case, the ends of some of the beams are now 10 centimeters (about the length of a cigarette) from touching the hull. During the last restoration the knees were only attached to the inside layer of the hull. (This ship has planking on both the inside and the outside of its timbers.)

I remember a talk during the preservation of the USS Constellation. The hull was hogging (drooping at the ends) and they were combating that by stacking pallets in the center and running cables to straps around the ends. This put more pressure on the center and held up the ends. Someone asked why they didn't just put it in dry dock. The answer was that if it went into dry dock for any significant length of time it would never float again.

I had this problem in miniature with my Whitehall boat. The trailer I had used rollers to support the boat and these were leaving marks in the hull. I replaced it with a bunker trailer.

The problem with rainwater is universal. The Santa Maria has leaked for 20 years. Re-caulking stops the leaks for a few day or week then the seams open up again. I have asked around and most other ships have the same problem. The Mayflower II had to make serious repairs in the 1990s. The metal fasteners that fastened the outside hull to the timbers had rusted away leaving holes. Rainwater got into the holes and rotted the timbers. They had to remove a lot of the hull in order to get to the timbers to replace them. It was a major project that took a couple of years and disrupted their first-person interpretation program.

It is amazing the the Victory has survived as long as it has. It was begun 1759 and launched in 1765. She spent 13 years in storage and was eventually ordered to be converted to a hospital ship. After the loss of the HMS Impregnable in 1799, it was decided to refit the Victory. There were already many problems and the refit took four years. She was finished in 1803 and served as Nelson's flagship in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. She ended active service in 1812 but was used as a signal ship and barracks until 1904. After that she was mainly a tourist attraction.

By 1922 the Victory was in poor condition and needed a major restoration. This is when she was moved to her current location in Dry Dock no. 2 in Portsmouth - the oldest dry dock in the world. The latest restoration was in 2005 for the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. At that time she was made to look as much as possible like she did in Nelson's time.

(most of this history was condensed from Wikipedia)

Note - while the HMS Victory is the world's oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Who would expect WikiLeaks to come up in a pirate blog?

It turns out that some of the leaked diplomatic cables are about recovered (possibly) Spanish gold. Spain is claiming 15 tons of treasure recovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration. Odyssey says that the treasure came from Merchant Royal, a British ship that sunk in bad weather in 1641. Spain says that it came from the Nuestra SeƱora de las Mercedes, a Spanish navy frigate that was sunk by a British warship in 1804 during the Battle of Cape Saint Mary. the US government filed a brief supporting Spain.

Odyssey is suing the US government based on a leaked cable. This cable gave the impression that the US supported the Spanish claim in exchange for Spain's help in recovering a $20-million Pissarro painting claimed by a U.S. family that says it was unfairly obtained by the Nazis in Germany.