Monday, August 19, 2013

Pirates and their ships


Like anyone, I suppose, I used to think of pirate ships in the context of the movies, where large, stately multi-masted ships sailed magnificently across the sea, their sails full of a growing wind.  Indeed, the latest of the ever popular pirates of the Caribbean offerings show large fleets of this type of vessel.  The truth, however, as I discovered when researching for Pirates Revenge, was something quite different.

To understand the conversation, I feel compelled to illustrate not only the different type of ships, but for your edification, a sampling of nautical terms as well.

Common nautical terms:
Bowsprit: a spar projecting from the bow (front) of a vessel.

Chase Guns:  cannon situated at the bow of the ship used during pursuit.
Careen:  to cause a vessel to keel over on its side in order to clean or repair the hull.

Fireship: a vessel loaded with explosives and used as a bomb by igniting it and directing it to drift among an enemy’s ships.

Larboard: The left side of a vessel.  The term “port” was not used until later years after the “Golden Age” of pirates.

Piragua: a type of native dugout canoe.

Starboard: the right side of the vessel.

The Ships:
Brig or Brigantine was a large, two-masted ship, rigged square on the foremast and fore and aft with square topsails on the main mast.  This was the type of ship usually referred to when speaking of a Man-of-War, or a Galleon.

Schooner is a two or three masted vessel with all lower sails rigged fore and aft.  Some had square topsails on the foremast or on both top masts.
Sloop is a single masted vessel rigged fore and aft with a long bowsprit with a single fore sail.  These were much favored by the pirates due to their shallow draught and good maneuverability..  They usually only carried four to twelve guns (cannons).
Snow was similar to a Brig, having a main and fore mast, but smaller.  It also had a “spanker” of supplementary trysail just behind the main mast.

A “ship of the line” usually referred to a large warship such as a Brig, that carried anywhere from 50 to 100 guns, over multiple decks.

So what were the ships used by the pirates?
In his very informative and well researched book Under the Black Flag, David Cordingly shows us in Appendix II, a list of pirate attacks from 1716-1726 in the Caribbean and east coast of North America.  Of the thirty-seven attacks listed, only five were by a Brigantine. Thirteen were listed only as a “ship”, sadly, not known of which type. The others consisted of eighteen Sloops, one Schooner and one Snow.  This amply demonstrates that Sloops were favored by the pirates due to their speed and maneuverability.   Many were converted merchant ships, with shallow draught, long, lithe, and low in the water.
Pirates often simply took control over captured ships, of whatever size, and modified them for their own purposes.  They would raise the gunwales higher than normal, for chest high gunwales gave more protection for the crew, as well as a hiding place during a chase.  Structural changes below decks included the removal of bulkheads so that everyman had his own quarters for eating and sleeping.  The pirates changed their ships as often as opportunity offered or need dictated. They were always looking to augment their firepower with captured weapons of all sorts, including cannon, swivel guns and hand weapons. Size depended on the pirate’s range.  Thirty to fifty ton Sloops were common, but larger ones were also occasionally used.
In my book Pirates Revenge, The pirate fleet was a well-armed fleet of eleven Brigantines, and thirteen Sloops or Schooners.  Little wonder they were feared across the length and breadth of the Caribbean by all nations.

For more information about Pirates Revenge, including a dazzling array of pictures and videos, as well as ordering information, go to:
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To read other Blogs in the Nautical Blog Hop go here:

J.M Aucoin
Helen Hollick
Born in Walthamstow, North East London I recently moved to North Devon with my husband, daughter & her fiance. I was accepted for publication 20 years ago by William Heinemann who took my Arthurian Trilogy and two novels of Saxon England. With the down-turn of historical fiction a few years ago my back-list was dropped, however and then my agent also dropped me. Out on a limb I decided to self-publish my back list with a small indie company within their even smaller mainstream imprint, and then followed with what turned out to be the first in a pirate-based nautical adventure series Sea Witch.
Meanwhile, my historical fiction novels were picked up by Sourcebooks Inc in the US and my novel Forever Queen hit the USA Today bestseller list.

The indie company unfortunately went bust, so I found a different – and more reliable and professional assisted publishing company based in Bristol SilverWood Books.

I have four books in my Sea Witch Voyages series now: Sea Witch, Pirate Code, Bring It Close and recently receleased Ripples In The Sand. On The Account, the 5th in the series is being written.

I also recently published a Tips for Writers book Discovering the Diamond and I am the UK Indie Review Editor for the Historical Novels Society.

I also have a habit of saying “yes I’ll do it” when people ask me to help out and have a tendency for not realising there are only 24 hours in a day! *laugh*
Helen Hollick 

Douglas Boren: has lived a full and exciting life. A retired Physician Assistant, he has lived from Alaska to Florida, from New York to New Mexico, and many places in between. An avid Master scuba diver, he divides his time between the Caribbean and his home in North Carolina. He has always had a profound fondness for history, believing that rather than just a series of dates and events, it is a living record of real people, much like ourselves, how they live, and their impact on those around them and their role in the unfolding story of life. Pirates Revenge is his third novel.

Linda Collison : writes both contemporary and historical fiction and nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in various and sundry magazines, including Sail, Sailing, Cruising World, Quarterdeck, Caribbean Travel and Life, Hawaii, Chaminade Literary Review, Woman's World, Ladies Home Journal, etc., and she has won awards from Daughters of the American Revolution, National Student Nurses Association, Maui Writers Conference, Southwest Writers Conference, Honolulu Magazine and the New York Public Library. Much of her writing has a nautical influence, such as the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series -- which was hard aground for a time but is now afloat and a third book is in the offing for 2014. Currently, Collison finds herself on shore leave, high, dry, and without a ship in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Her latest novel, "Looking for Redfeather", has just been released by Fiction House, Ltd., her own imprint, is a teenage road trip story. Watch for two new nautical novels to be published in 2014: "Yankee Moon (or, the Female Smuggler); book 3 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series", and, "Good Fortune", a contemporary young adult psychological paramormal adventure with historical elements, set at sea. Stay tuned for release launches at her website
Linda Collison

Margaret Muir - I live in Tasmania in the band of the Roaring Forties. Besides writing historical fiction set in England for a female readership, I recently launched the third book in my Oliver Quintrell nautical fiction series which is set during the Napoleon Wars. I love to sail on Tall Ships and travel and enjoy weaving the places I visit into the stories I write.
Margaret Muir

Julian Stockwin: lives in Devon with his wife and literary partner Kathy. He has written thirteen books to date in his Thomas Kydd historical action adventure fiction series. Although they form a series each title can be read as a stand-alone novel. The titles, in order are KYDD, ARTEMIS, SEAFLOWER, MUTINY, QUARTERDECK, TENACIOUS, COMMAND, THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER, TREACHERY (published in the US as THE PRIVATEER’S REVENGE), TREACHERY, INVASION, VICTORY, CONQUEST AND BETRAYAL. Julian has also written a non-fiction book, STOCKWIN’S MARITIME MISCELLANY. His next book is CARIBBEE, out on October 24. More information can be found on his website
Julian Stockwin

Anna Belfrage : Of Swedish descent, raised in South America where I attended English schools, in the process developing a life long passion for British history that has since expanded to be history in general, mainly from the 11th to the 17th century. Married since ages back to a wonderful man with whom I have four marvellous children (well... most of the time). Addicted to tea, chocolate, cake, more chocolate – but as I know such weaknesses must be combated I am mostly on some sort of restrictive diet, mostly along the lines of more veggies less sweet stuff. Have a challenging day job as a financial director, have an equally challenging – but oh, so rewarding – night job as a writer. As per one of my former colleagues, I have a thing about love. And I do – the love interest in my books is very important to me – but I also want pace and action. If someone were to threaten me with an existence on a deserted island, I would insist on bringing along LOTR and The Heart of Darkness. However, I’d quickly go crazy in such an environment as I am a very social person, and unlike Tom Hanks in Castaway I would have problems bonding with a volleyball.
Anna Belfrage

Andy Millen is a writer of fiction set in the 18th Century and featuring Smugglers, Highwaymen, Thief Takers and other Criminals. His debut collection of short stories is available from Amazon, based on the exploits of the Hawkhurst Gang, and a full length novel will be out before the end of the year.
Andy Millen

Eva V Ulett : Proud to be an Old Salt Press author, V.E. is also a member of the National Books Critics Circle and an active member and reviewer for the Historical Novel Society.
  V. E. Ulett

T.S. Rhodes

Mark Patton : I was born on the island of Jersey, and spent much of my youth in the sea, swimming, diving and sailing. I studied Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge, and completed my PhD at University College London. I have since taught at various universities in the Netherlands, France and the UK, and now teach for the Open University. I began writing fiction in 2006, and have since published two novels, "Undreamed Shores" and "An Accidental King," both published by Crooked Cat Publications, a small, independent publisher, and both of which feature sea voyages.
Mark Patton

Katherine Bone

Alaric Bond was born in Surrey, and now lives in Herstmonceux, East Sussex. He has been writing professionally for over twenty years with work covering broadcast comedy (commissioned to BBC Light Entertainment for 3 years), periodicals, children's stories, television and the stage. His acclaimed Fighting Sail series differs slightly from the standard formula of one central hero, charting instead the course of several characters from both lower deck and commissioned ranks and giving a broader insight into life aboard a man of war during the age of sail.

Turn a Blind Eye, his latest novel, is set in a revenue cutter during the autumn of 1801, and centres on the private war between smugglers and the custom service.
Alaric Bond

Ginger Myrick: Winner of the Rosetta Literary Contest 2012, Ginger Myrick was born and raised in Southern California. She is a self-described wife, mother, animal lover, and avid reader. Along with the promotion for three novels, she is currently crafting novel #4, which takes place during the US Civil War. She is a Christian who writes meticulously researched historical fiction with a 'clean' love story at the core. She hopes to persevere with her newfound talent and show the reading community that a romance
Ginger Myrick

Judith Starkston: writes historical fiction set in the Bronze Age environs of Troy. Her first novel, Hand of Fire, to be published by Fireship Press in 2014, tells Briseis’s story, the captive woman Achilles and Agamemnon fought over in the Iliad. Judith also reviews for Historical Novels Review and her own website.
Judith Starkston

Seymour Hamilton : It took a long time until I could legitimately call myself a fiction writer, although I remember wanting to do so when I was about 12 years old. Now I have two books to my name: The Astreya Trilogy and The Laughing Princess. I was a war baby, born near London during the blitz. Peace took my father out of the Royal Navy and into a job in Mauritius which lasted until 1949, when we came to Canada. I went to school in Ottawa, and then studied English and Philosophy at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, and went on to do a Masters in English at the University of Toronto in 1963. In those days, a MA was sufficient qualification to teach in many universities, so I became an assistant professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where I married, and my first son, Robin, was born. Three years later, I moved to Canada’s west coast to teach at Simon Fraser University. Three more years, and I returned to Queen’s to complete my PhD (on American Science Fiction) just in time for a cyclical slump in hiring by Canadian universities.

I returned to Nova Scotia and worked first as a contract writer and editor, then as a communications officer in the provincial government. I also wrote and voiced radio essays and theatre reviews. It was during this time that I sailed on Mike Whitehouse's schooner Hakada to the south coast of Newfoundland – an experience that was the genesis of Astreya.

Government communications experience led to my next academic job in the graduate school of Communications Studies at the University of Calgary. It was hiking in the Rockies that triggered The Laughing Princess. The harp music of Kim Robertson played as I wrote.

After four years of teaching in Alberta, I returned to Ottawa, the city in which I had gone to school. I married Katherine Fletcher, we moved a few kilometers into Chelsea, Quebec and had a son, Ben. Until retirement, I taught part time at Ottawa University and wrote and edited extensively for both the private sector and government.

Astreya had been on my mind since the 1970’s, increasing in volume by fits and starts. In retirement, it became a full-time activity, growing from a short novella to a trilogy. The Laughing Princess followed The Astreya Trilogy into print in 2012.
Seymour Hamilton's Blog Spot

Rick Spillman

James L. Nelson : was born and raised in Maine and graduated from UCLA with a degree in motion picture/television production. Finding that despite being in Southern California, it was a damp, drizzly November in his soul, Jim took the cure Melville recommended and decided to sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. For six years he worked on board traditional sailing ships before launching a writing career as in 1994. He has since written seventeen works of maritime fiction and history. He is the winner or the American Library Association/William Young Boyd Award and the Naval Order’s Samuel Eliot Morison Award. Nelson has lectured all over the country and appeared on the Discovery Channel, History Channel and BookTV. He currently lives in Harpswell, Maine, with his former shipmate, now wife Lisa and their four children.
James L Nelson

S.J. Turney

Prue Batten: A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, Prue Batten is now a historical romance writer who is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener and all round seaman who is most at home in the sea, on the sea and by the sea.
Prue Batten

Edward James: I live in Cheltenham, England, and am one of the UK review editors for Historical Novels Review. I plan to publish two nauticals later this year or early next year, both set in the Tudor period, one in Mexico and the other in Arctic Russia. I am a retired international consultant in social security and worked on projects for the World Bank and the EU in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia. I was other things before that, but it's on my blog.
Edward James

Antoine Vanner : writes historical naval fiction. He previously spent many years in the international oil industry, followed by an academic career, and he has also travelled extensively on a private basis. His knowledge of human nature, passion for nineteenth-century political and military history and first-hand experience of their locales provide the background to his Dawlish Chronicles series of historical novels based on the life of a Victorian naval officer, Nicholas Dawlish.

“I’m fascinated by the Victorian period,” Vanner says, “for not only was it one of colonial expansion and of Great Power rivalry that often came to the brink of war, but it was also one of unprecedented social, political, technological and scientific change. Britain’s power may have been at an apogee but it was under constant threat and would demand constant adaptation from those who aspired to shape events. Many born in the 1840s would not only play significant roles in the later decades of the century but be key players in the maelstrom that would engulf the world in 1914. The Dawlish Chronicles are set in that world of change, uncertainty and risk and they involve projection of naval power to meet complex social, political and diplomatic challenges.”

Joan Druett is a maritime historian who is an expert on whaling history and women at sea. A founding partner of Old Salt Press, she is also the author of the bestseller Island of the Lost. She lives in New Zealand with her husband, the internationally acclaimed maritime artist, Ron Druett. Her website is
Joan Druett's blog here:


  1. An excellent and informative post, Brian. Were you ever a teacher? The visuals and the glossary are a nice touch. Very interesting that you also publish an e-zine that coincides with your books! I think that's a marvelous idea; an expansion of your created world. I must check it out...

    1. Linda; No, I am not, nor ever have been a teacher, but I approciate the kind words.I am very glad that you have subscribed to the Alexander Chronicle. The next issue will be our in a week and a half, but I'll see if I can send you the previous (last month's) issue.

  2. Super post Doug - we all know that pirates weren't nice people, but we still love reading about them - and your post is a great help to understanding some of the background detail - thanks!

  3. That's always been a tricky thing for me. I want to go with the big ships that got me interested in the genre when I was a kid, but were very rare to see pirates use. :)

  4. Now the 'snow' I'd not heard of before. Cheers, Doug. :-)

  5. Wish I'd had this quick reference while I was writing! Great informative post!

    1. Ginger...
      I strongly recommend David Cordingly's book as noted in my article. I'm sure you can find it on Amazon.

  6. Very informative - I have a sloop playing a major part in one of my books, and while there seem to have been two masted sloops, your post has made me decide to go for single-masted.

    1. "Sloop" was a very ambiguous term. In the Royal Navy, any ship smaller than a frigate that was commanded by a captain rather than a lieutenant was termed a "sloop of war", regardless of the sail plan or size. A captain could never be in command of a brig or ketch, so if he was given such a ship, it would become a sloop of war in the lists, reverting to brig or ketch once a lieutenant took command.

  7. Very Interesting - I deal with smugglers, who's vessels were smaller and faster Cutters - the one aim in mind was getting from France, Holland or Guernsey across the Channel as quickly as possible. They were more manoeuvrable than the Sloops, able to sail shallower channels to isolated beaches.

  8. "A “ship of the line” usually referred to a large warship such as a Brig,"
    A brig? I'm astonished that you left out any mention of frigates, which are much closer to ships of the line than brigs. For one thing, ships of the line had 3 masts compared to the two carried on brigs

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