J'Beard the Pirate Welcomes Ye TO Me Vessel Page
In the Golden Age of Piracy any ship could be a pirate ship. All you need to make a pirate ship is pirates and the will to do what no one else would think of! Below are just a few of the going ships of the day...
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries commercial ships were generally called "merchant ships", however mariners reserved such a term for the three masted, square rigged carrier. These ships were large and intended for passengers and cargo. The carrier was a 280 ton ship measuring 80 feet in length. While such a ship could be armed with up to 16 cannons, it is doubtful that a typical crew of about 20 could manage more than three or four such guns. This ship sports finer lines and a little more sail power than the Dutch Flute (below) and could make a trip from England to America in about 4 weeks.
The Dutch Flute was a prize in the early 17th Century. Primarily a prize for the shipping world, the Flute was an impressive 300 ton, 80 foot ship that proved inexpensive to build as well as man. The Flute needed only a dozen seamen. With a flat bottom, broad beams, and a round stern, this ship soon became the favored model of a cargo ship. A large part of the popularity of the Flute for commerce was her incredible cargo capacity; about 150% that of similar ships. In this, they soon became a common prey for savvy pirates.
The Sloop was a favorable ship for pirates and smugglers. This relatively small vessel, 100 tons drawing 8 feet of water, was quick and easy to maneuver. It wasn't undeard of for a Sloop to reach 11 knots top speed with the help of her square topsail. Along with the speed and ease of control, such a ship could carry 75 pirates and 14 cannons. The Sloop was often the ship of choice for hunting brigands in the shallower channels and sounds.
The Brigantine was more a captain's ship for a pirate. This 150 ton, 80 foot vessel could carry 100 pirates mounting 10 cannons. The unique two mast ship could be rigged with many combinations of square or fore and aft sails which made her more versatile than many other ships. This was the clear choice for battle or combat rather than quick, hit and run type piracy.
Perhaps the best known ship, the Schooner is a little of all of the best features in a pirate ship. Unique to the Schooner is a very narrow hull and shallow draft. The pirates of the North American coast and Caribbean were partial to the Schooner because, for a 100 ton ship loaded with 8 cannons, 75 pirates, and 4 swivel guns, it was still small enough to navigate the shoal waters and to hide in remote coves. The Schooner could also reach 11 knots in a good wind. In short, it was a small, quick, and sturdy work-horse for gentlemen of fortune.
In the East pirates ruled the seas as well. With the addition of pirates and guns, the Junk could be converted into an 80 foot terror. In the center of the hull was the magazine, watched closely by the captain. The captain lived with his wife or wives under the poopdeck, while the crew and relatives lived in dormitories in the cargo hold or on the deck itself. The galley was located on the after-deck in the open air.
Much like the naval, square rigged brigantine, the Naval Snow was distinguished by her for and aft trysail. This was a preferred ship for the Royal Navy in that, for a 90 ton, 60 foot ship, it could manage well in a light quartering wind. The crew of up to 80 had at its disposal 8 six pound guns that rested behind the canvas strung amidships over the open bulwarks. This was a common patrol ship when the navy finally set to deter pirates from their self determined duty.
The Naval Sloop was basically a Sloop with more guns and slightly larger. The Naval Sloop was a pirate hunting ship, with a crew of 70 to man this 113 ton, 65 foot fighting ship. The ship is "sharp-ended" to allow for faster attack and is fit with 7 pairs of oars (put through the gunports) to allow for chase without wind. A well trained crew could fire the 12 nine pound cannons about twice every three minutes.
The Frigate was the "Man-O-War" of the time weighing in at 360 tons ant 110 feet. This ship carried 195 men for a crew to man the three masts of sails and the 26 guns. The frigate was placed at the head of most major sea shipments or convoys. The sight of this heavily armed vessel often sent pirates away without a trace of their handywork.
One of the biggest enemies to these ships, and others, weren't pirates or Naval officers, but worms! The teredo worms (mollusks) infest tropical waters and like to make their homes in the wood of a ship's hull. The worms have shells that remain after the critter has moved on and these shells, like barnacles, build up to rob a ship of her speed and seaworthiness. A ship had to be coated with a mixture of tar, tallow and sulfur two or three times a year to prevent these sorts of pests. Also, a ship with such pests would have to be careened to regain her ever-so-important speed and agility. It was during careening that many a pirate met up with an adversary hoping to catch him in such a state of unprepared ness.