A 1/72nd Scale Ship of Dreams

If you visit the Seriousness Aside page, you’ll see a link to the itty-bitty ship-shaped paper model in the bottom of this image. That’s a 1/300th scale model of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the first ship in the United States Navy to bear the name. She was a tiny, 50-or so foot long gunboat that served on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812.

The little model comes from a site called WarArtisan.com, a site devoted to miniature naval war games. The games themselves are not miniature, but involve movements of fleets of tiny sailing ships. It’s rather more involved than I can quite follow, but the people in the pictures seem to be enjoying themselves.

Anyway, I prefer to model in 1/72nd scale – that dusty ship in the picture on the Useful Sailing Terms page is in that scale. If you do the math, 1/72nd scale works out to one of our inches equaling  6 scale feet – a six foot guy is just one inch tall. And there are lots and lots of 1/72nd scale figures commercially available.

So, as I was falling asleep at work, I mean, one night, I had the brainiac idea that if I simply scaled up the WarArtisan model by 400%, I would get a ship that was 1/75th scale, which is remarkably close to 1/72nd. So I did it, and the graphics… well, the graphics didn’t scale up so nicely.

It didn’t take long in Adobe Illustrator to trace over the original art to create the outline of the ship.  There’s a lot of graphic work to make it as nice as the WarArtisan model, but you can see how it would work. The guns are leftovers from Zvezda’s 1/72 Black Swan kit, and the figures are pirates from a company called Mars.

So, what do you think? I think she looks awfully beamy – kinda mondo wide. There is so much to do to get that thing to look even close to the picture at the head of this article, I’m not sure I want to do it.

However, however, how about this: in the instructions for the WarArtisan model, you’re supposed to shave a piece of balsa wood to form the structure of the hull. What if, stay with me here, what if you used the scaled-up templates for the tiny balsa hull and shaved up a big piece of balsa wood to make it the same shape, but, like, bigger? Then you’d have a big piece of balsa that was approximately correct upon which to glue the scaled-up paper graphics.

Except that the graphics don’t scale up so well, and have no dimension. So, instead of scaling those up, why not just make ’em out of wood and stuff? In the end, you’d end up with a wooden model ship!

And yet, and yet, wouldn’t it be cool to make a hybrid wood/paper/plastic model ship in 1/72nd scale? I mean, I have the guns and the pirates… how hard could the rest be?

 

A Letter of Marque

In the Golden Age of Piracy, the last thing you wanted to be called was a pirate. Pirates were dirty scoundrels, the scourge of the seas, and when caught, were most often hanged for their crimes. Blackbeard’s head, after he lost it in his fight against Lieutenant Maynard, hung from the bowsprit of Maynard’s ship, Ranger, as a grim reminder to all other pirates of their certain fate, was they caught.

So, you can see why it was unhealthy to refer to one’s self as a pirate.  A person on the other end of a pointing finger that hurled the word as an accusation could very well find himself hanged.

But, to be called a privateer, well, that was a different story.  A privateer was authorized by his government to attack and capture ships of a specific other government – for example, England sent out hundreds of privateers to attack ships bearing a Spanish flag. The Spanish equally dispatched them to attack English, French, and Dutch ships, among others.

For governments, privateers were an easy way to build an ad-hoc navy. In fact, ships taken by privateers were often brought into a home port and purchased by the government. Everyone associated with the privateering ship, from her owners down to the cabin boys on board, got paid, and the ship went into the navy.

To be a privateer, however, you had to have a commission from the king, or a local governor. To get it, you had to be a person of fair standing (obvious scoundrels need not apply), and you had to have a ship, fitted out at your own expense, and a crew that could fight.

This commission was in the form of a “letter of marque,” and you guarded it with your life.  The letter, signed by the king or a regional governor, stated that your actions were on behalf of the crown.  It gave you legal permission to attack other ships. Most important, should your ship get taken in an action, and you were captured, the letter of marque guaranteed that you would be tried as a prisoner of war, and not as a pirate.

There were many moments when an English schooner was waylaid on the high seas by an English warship. The naval first lieutenant, with half a dozen marines, stands, arms crossed angrily in the schooner’s sally port, swaying over the heavy waves, with a firm look of accusation on his face.

“Oh, no, sir,” says the schooner’s captain, nervously. “We don’t be no pirates, sir. We got ourselves a commission. Here, here comes Saunders with it now, sir.”

The lieutenant takes the proffered document from Saunders’ dirty, trembling hands and reads it carefully, noting the exchequer’s seal on the bottom. He glances about the schooner’s deck, noticing scars in the woodwork from another ship’s guns, the polished cutlasses in the rack around the main mast, the poorly stacked crates and casks waiting to be taken to the hold.  He glances at the letter one more time, then hands it back.

“We have a report that you attacked the Elizabeth, a pink under the English flag out of Dover,” he says frostily.

“Oh, no, sir,” the captain replies sheepishly. “As ye can see, why, we don’t have no commission to be attacking English ships, does we?” He chuckles with a slight wheeze, knowing that the commission is his get-out-of-jail-free card. 

The privateer’s commission was a powerful, but limiting tool. Privateers were forbidden to attack ships of their own country. But it happened nevertheless, and the line between privateer and pirate was often hard to see.

In truth, many of the most famous pirates, including Blackbeard, began their sea roving careers as privateers. Sir Henry Morgan drifted in and out of piracy, but always retained his commission as his defense. Despite his attacking English ships, he was actually knighted by the king himself for his service to the crown.

So, when the day was done, and the pirate caught, he might well save his neck if he could just provide that one document, the letter of marque.

 

Captain Avery, Part III: Living Like Kings

If you read Parts I and II of the Captain Avery saga, you’ll recall that Henry Avery hijacked the good ship Duke in 1695 and took her to go a’pirating. In due course he came upon Captains Tew and Dew, who, with their pirate sloops, agreed to sail with him. The three ships came across and took a ship belonging to the “Grand Mogul of India,” packed with pilgrims on their way to Mecca, and stuffed with incredible riches meant as offerings.

Captain Avery convinced Tew and Dew that the treasure would be safer aboard the Duke, and they readily agreed. One cannot imagine their disappointment when, on the following morning, they found their two ships alone on a wide, wide sea – Avery had sailed away in the darkness with all their treasure. Everyone else’s stories are covered in Parts I and II.

This is the story of Tew and Dew.

With no treasure, and with great disappointment, the two captains and their men agreed that maybe they should put ashore on the north coast of Madagascar for awhile. It was widely known that Madagascar was friendly to sea rovers.

They dropped anchors in a cove that was rarely visited by Europeans. The natives, in fact, were both fascinated and terrified of the white men and their guns. The pirates found soon found that this gave them a huge degree of power.

It didn’t take long for the pirates to subjugate the people of Madagascar, treating them like slaves and lackeys, forcing them to do their bidding. Different tribes within the native population allied themselves with the pirates in order to make war on other tribes – an alliance the pirates were only too happy to make.

The pirates found they could live like kings, declaring huge parts of the jungle as their own domains. They spread out, built palaces, and settled down to be great plantation owners.

One day another pirate ship dropped anchor in the cove. She was the Delicia, skippered by the renowned Captain Woodes Rogers. He tried to barter with these island kings, who had now been on the island for 18 years. But he found them treacherous, trying to sew unrest in his own crew and to take his ship from him. He sailed away, thankful to leave these wayward kings on their own.

Here’s the twist to the story:  the crews of Tew and Dew had trudged ashore with the clothes on their back and little more. By the time they were visited by Woodes Rogers, their clothes were threadbare, in most cases non-existent. Their shoes had long worn away. Their hair and beards hung in great, wild tangles. They peered at him with dirty. emaciated faces.

By European standards, these self-appointed kings of Madagascar had turned savage, and had lost all semblance of civilization. They were kings, but kings of nothing.

So ends our tale of Captain Avery. The Duke‘s crew broke up and enjoyed their tiny part of the Grand Mogul’s treasure. Avery died penniless on a dusty road. And Tew and Dew became the kings of nothing.

And so ends the story as told by Captain Charles Johnson, in his A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, printed in 1724. Is it true? That’s up the good captain. As for you and me, well, do you think there’s a certain poetic justice, in that so very little came out of so horrific a crime? Thanks for sailing along with us!

Captain Avery, Part II: Henry’s Diamonds

If you read Part I, you’ll know that the legendary pirate Captain Henry Avery, in company with the pirate captains Tew and Dew, in the year 1695, attacked and took a royal ship belonging to the Grand Mogul of India – a ship filled with diamonds, gold, and an overwhelming number of other treasures. Captain Avery swindled all of the treasure away from Captains Dew and Tew, and sailed off to North America, where his crew broke up to become wealthy landsmen. What they never knew was that Captain Avery had swindled them, too, as he had secretly filled his pockets with diamonds from the Grand Mogul’s ship.

Captain Avery must have been pretty pleased with himself. He held a huge fortune quite literally in his pockets. Wherever he wanted to go in the world, whatever he wanted to do, he could now choose with abandon. Except.

Except that while many members of his crew had accepted a pardon for their piracy offered by King William III, Henry was afraid to do so: he was aware that his taking of the Grand Mogul’s ship had caused a major international incident, and that, instead of a pardon, a local governor would more likely offer him a noose.

Except that the diamonds in his pocket were beautiful, and exceedingly rare. So rare, that he dare not sell them in the Americas for fear of being discovered as a sea rover and hanged.

So, sadly, Henry took ship to Scotland, and then to Ireland, where he felt certain he could sell them and make his fortune. To his utter dismay, outrage against piracy was just as strong in Ireland as it was in the new world.

He crossed over into England, finding an acquaintance in Bristol who knew some rich fellows that were well versed in managing the kind of financial problems Henry faced. He stayed in the small town of Bideford and changed his name. The acquaintance brought the financiers to Bideford, and the meeting went well.

The financiers gave Henry a tidy sum of money as a deposit, and took the diamonds back to Bristol to sell them. This all seemed well and right with Henry, who finally was on his way to his fortune.

Except that he heard nothing more from the financiers. No money came, no letters, no words. The tidy sum, while tidy, was not enough for him to last very long. As the months went by, he began to worry.

Taking his courage in hand, he traveled to Bristol, and confronted the financiers in their offices. They gave him a much smaller sum of money. When he demanded his diamonds back, they refused.

“Begone, ruffian,” they probably said, “or we shall turn you in for the pirate that you are.”

The tiny sum of money wasn’t enough, and didn’t last very long, and Henry was very probably fearful for his life. He decided to go back to Ireland, where he was quite unknown.

But he had no money, and no skills to get any. The famous Captain Avery took to begging. “Help a sailor down on his luck…”

Except that his pride caught up with him. He resolved to get those diamonds back, let the ashes fall where they will.

He took a job as a common sailor on a ship bound for Plymouth, England. Once there he jumped ship and walked through the countryside, determined to get what was his.

Except, on a bright and sunny afternoon, walking a common dirt road in the English countryside not too far from Bristol, Henry stumbled and fell face first in the dirt. A cloud of dust lifted around him, flickering in the sunshine. The birds in the trees fell silent for a moment, but then went back to their squawking and chattering. Henry Avery was no more.

Captain Henry Avery, murderer, rapist, liar, cheat, swindler, and, above all, a diabolical pirate, died face down in the dirt, trying to get what he deserved.

So ends Part II of the Captain Avery trilogy. Sad, yes, but don’t you find it poetically correct?

There is one more part to this amazing tale: the adventures of Tew and Dew and their crews.

This abbreviated story is from A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, first written in 1724 by Captain Charles Johnson. You can find more information on the Further Reading page.

Captain Avery, Part I: A Tragedy in Three Parts

On the Further Reading page, you’ll find a reference to a book called A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, by Captain Charles Johnson.

Captain Johnson’s book was first published in 1724, right smack in the middle of the Golden Age of Piracy, by a fellow about whom nothing is known. Was he Daniel Defoe, the popular novelist of the age? Maybe. Was he himself a pirate, writing under a false name so as not to get hanged for his crimes? Likely.

Regardless, most of our knowledge of pirates from this era comes from him. There were newspaper accounts, and official records, of course, but nothing that comes even close to the depth of detail provided by the good captain.

And no story in his History is as ironic or poetically pleasing as his story of Captain Henry Avery. What is most fascinating about Avery’s story is this it’s very short, stunningly wicked, and is actually three stories – three forks of a tale, or tail.

Part One: Duke’s Crew.

In 1695, the Spanish have trouble keeping English pirates from taking ships bound for their ports in the Caribbean. As they don’t have enough ships themselves, they hire, in England, two powerful British ships, the Duke and the Duchess, to patrol the Caribbean waters on their behalf.

These are powerful ships, of 30 guns each. Captain Gibson, in command of the Duke, is a well-respected, established sea officer with many years of experience behind him. His first mate is a fellow named Henry Avery, born some years before in Devonshire, near Plymouth, England. Avery is a tough and able sailor.

Avery notices early on in the voyage from Plymouth to Jamaica that Captain Gibson likes to drink and pass out in his bunk early in the evening. Every evening. Avery sees that the crew notices this, too.

It doesn’t take much for Avery to convince the bad apples in Duke’s crew, and there are many of those, that it wouldn’t take much effort to steal control of the ship away from Captain Gibson.

One night, while Captain Gibson sleeps drunkenly in his cot, Avery orders the ship to weigh anchor, and off they sail for India. The captain awakens with a start when he senses the changed motion of the ship.

“Are we run aground?” he stammers.

“No, Captain,” replies Avery, who is in the cabin when the captain awakens. “I have taken your ship from you, and we are at sea. Pray, put your clothes on and come out to the main deck. I will put you and those who don’t wish to go to sea with us ashore in a boat.”

Which is exactly what happens – Captain Gibson and five of his men watch the Duke sail over the horizon with almost a hundred sailors, all of who had turned pirate.

That’s the story according to Captain Johnson. Wikipedia doesn’t describe this part of Avery’s history, and differs from the good Captain in detail for what comes next. We’ll stick with Captain Johnson’s story, because it’s intriguing.

Avery puts into a small bay on the island of Madagascar to find wood and water. There he meets Captains Tew and Dew, each in command of a small sloop. The three agree they should go a’pirating together.

The three ships together attack and overwhelm an Indian royal ship, belonging to, according to Johnson, the Grand Mogul himself. The ship is packed with passengers who are on their Mecca, and have brought enormous piles of gold and diamonds and money as offerings.

Johnson glosses quickly over what happened aboard that ship in his book. But the details you’ll find on Wikipedia make it clear that these men were barbaric at the least. It must simply have been horrifying for the pilgrims on that ship.

So, according to Johnson, before splitting up the wealth, Avery himself lines his pockets with the diamonds that he finds, knowing that his fortune is made. He has quite hit the jackpot.

After they dispatch the Mogul’s ship, Captains Avery, Tew, and Dew hold a council as to how best to secure the treasure. All three captains agree that they don’t need to be pirates anymore, as their futures are secure. All they have to do is get the treasure off of the sea, away from capture by other pirates. Avery suggests, and they all agree, that the Duke is the most powerful of the three ships, and should therefore carry the treasure.

They all make a solemn pact to meet at Madagascar to divvy up the goods. They drink, they shake hands, Tew and Dew row back to their ships, and, in the dark of night, Avery quietly sails away with everything.

Avery and the Duke’s crew divvy up the treasure amongst themselves, and each member of the crew finds himself terribly wealthy.

This is where the first part of the story concludes: the crew is terrified of getting caught as pirates, so they break up, and wander off into the wilds of North America – some to the Carolinas, some to New England – assuming new names and leaving their horrible crime behind them. Some became landed gentlemen – we’ll never know who, because everybody changed names.

So, what became of Captain Avery? That’s part two.

And what of Tew and Dew? Oh, that’s a fascinating story – very much part three.