Novelists and filmmakers across the globe have been exploring the fascinating world of the pirates since a long time. A pirate captain is always pictured as a long-haired, black-bearded, and a fearsome young man, who enjoys plundering and harassing seafarers and capturing huge booty from them. A classic example is Johnny Depp's character of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Hollywood blockbuster 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. The truth is that such people have existed in the past and they posed a serious threat to the sailors involved in maritime trade and related activities.
Piracy has existed in this world ever since people began to navigate the oceans for the purpose of commerce and trade. The earliest recorded evidences of such kind of piracy come from 14th century B.C., where the so-called Sea Peoples caused havoc in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.
One of the interesting references to piracy from the 1st century B.C. tells us that Julius Caesar was abducted and held captive by Cilician pirates on a small island of ancient Greece. The tradition of piracy continued throughout the middle ages, and is ongoing even today.
The most important possession of a pirate without which he cannot function at all is unquestionably his ship. The question is, what kind of ship does a pirate need in order to carry out his operations unhindered? The answer is simple. Since pirates are robbers, they will not legitimately buy or make their own ships. So most of the time, the ship itself was a robbed property.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, a pirate ship was conceptually anything that could float on water and was big enough to carry people. However, the most desirable design of a pirate ship was the one assuring that the vessel was able to move on at a fast pace, well-armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, and agile enough to be able to outwit a counterattack from the enemy. Keeping this kind of design in mind, stolen vessels were customized to fit to the needs of the job they were meant to do, so that they became perfect pirate ships containing all the desired attributes.
Styles of Pirate Ships
There are several styles and designs of pirate ships. Some of these include:
- The Sloop Style: Small ships of about 100 tons with a capacity to carry around 75 pirates
- The Brigantine Style: Ships of about 150 tons, which could carry around 100 pirates
- The Schooner Style: Weighed 100 tons and could contain about 75 pirates at a time
- The Frigate or the Man-O-War Style: Ships of about 360 tons, which could carry around 190 pirates
- The Square-Rigger Style: Weighed 90 tons and carried about 70 pirates
Renowned Pirate Ships
There were some pirate captains who became very famous with the passage of time, and so did their respective ships. Some of the pirate ships which acquired name and fame include:
Queen Anne's Revenge
This pirate ship was originally a French slave ship named La Concorde, which was seized in 1717 by a British pirate Edward Teach a.k.a Blackbeard, from the coast of West Indies. Blackbeard renamed the vessel and called it Queen Anne's Revenge, and made it his flagship. Because it was a slave ship, it was a high-speed vessel. It had 14 guns aboard, and Blackbeard added 26 more to them, thus making it one of the most coercive pirate ships that navigated the American waters in those times. In 1718, the vessel did suffer a shipwreck when it swept into a sunken sandbar near Beaufort inlet. Some opine that this was a deliberate attempt made by Blackbeard in order to get rid of a portion of his crew, so that he could get a larger share of the captured booty. The supposed remains of the wreck were found on the coast near the region of North Carolina in 1997, since when the marine archaeologists have been working to unfold the history and functioning of the ship.
For Captain Bartholomew Roberts a.k.a Black Bart, the name Royal Fortune seemed to be a favorite. This may have been a reason why he named and renamed most of his vessels Royal Fortune. He seized a French Brigantine vessel off the Newfoundland coast in 1720, and after customizing it to fit to his needs, he renamed it as Royal Fortune. Later on, he is also said to have conquered a French warship that was loaded with state-of-the-art arms. He again renamed it as Royal Fortune and made it his flagship. He also gave the same name to some vessels in his possession. The last of the Royal Fortune series sank in 1722, when it was attacked by a British warship named HMS Swallow, and it was in this mishap that Roberts breathed his last.
he Adventure Galley was a vessel weighing 287 tons and had three masts. The captain of this ship was a Scottish sailor named William Kidd, who was in the initial days of his career as a respected and honest ship-captain. He was a very successful privateer in New York and West Indies, from where he was called back by the king's officials to serve England in the task of catching pirates. This was when he was offered the Adventure Galley, which was well-equipped with 34 cannons and 150 men. Unfortunately, a large number of crew members left their captain soon after setting sail, and so Kidd had to appoint a new crew in haste. This new crew consisted of criminals including some former pirates. An incident when Kidd accidentally killed a ship-gunner, turned him into a hardcore pirate, and he used the Adventure Galley to loot several ships carrying wealthy merchandise all along the Indian Malabar coast. He was arrested in New York in 1699, and in 1701 he was executed after being found guilty of murder and piracy. The Adventure Galley was later burnt down at San Maria, and her remains are still present there.
The Whydah was a ship with three masts and having a square-rigged model, which set sail from London, and was meant to be used in the Atlantic slave trade. It got its name from Ouidah, the slave trading kingdom from West Africa. The Whydah could travel at a speed of about 13 nautical miles per hour, and was well-equipped with 18 cannons. In 1717, it was captured by a group of pirates captained by 'Black Sam' Bellamy, who further went on to make it his flagship. It was caught up in a violent storm and sunk near Cape Cod, taking along with it Bellamy and many other crew members.
The Fancy was originally a Spanish privateer with 46 guns, and was commanded by Captain Gibson. In 1694, Henry Avery, along with some others, conspired and attacked the vessel and renamed it from Charles II to Fancy. With this acquisition, Avery also began his short-lived career as a pirate. He made several amendments to the original structure of the ship and transformed it into a full-fledged pirate ship. He carried out his operations in the Fancy, actively in the waters of the Indian Ocean. Fancy faced considerable damage after a battle between the Mughal sailors and Avery's crew, but it still managed to emerge victorious. However, the battle and the damage ended Avery's career as a pirate, and he returned to England. What happened to the Fancy after that still remains a mystery.
Some people think that the act of piracy could only amount to a criminal offense, but such is not the case. Elizabethan privateers were those pirates who were rested with a lawful authority by the state to attack and plunder enemy ships that either traded in or infiltrated their national territory. The government of England issued them officially documented licenses known as 'Letters of Marque', which allowed them to burgle the enemy ships without being charged for piracy. Some of the famous Elizabethan privateer ships included the Pelican, the Falcon, the Dainty, the Gabriel, the Victory, the Revenge, and so on.