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.

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