Of Ships and Shapes

In previous posts, we’ve been looking at possible designs for Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge (QAR), at how Disney’s fanciful design probably didn’t work, and had a discussion how ships were measured in the Golden Age of Pirates.

Something else came out of looking at Disney’s QAR – a question about freeboard.

Here’s a cool test: throw a baseball bat into your bathtub. Oh, uh, fill the tub with water first. See how, even though the bat is made out of wood, she sits low in the water like a submarine. You could blow wind at that thing all day long and have no effect on how it moves in the water. Go ahead and try it. We’ll wait… Now, splash some waves around her. They wash right over – there is no dry place to stand.

Now take an empty shoebox and drop it into the tub so that it floats like a boat. Give her a blow, and off she goes, skittering across the water like a dry leaf. The slightest breeze tells the shoebox where to go. Give her some waves – even big ones, and she stays dry as a pirate’s bones.

Was you a sea cap’n in Blackbeard’s day, the ship you’d be looking for would have properties of both the shoebox and the bat. You’d want her to sit low in the water, where wind and wave would have no effect. But you’d want to sit high above the water, too, so that you could fit cargo, crew, and guns up where it’s dry.

The shapes of ships in the sailing days, then, were just that mix: cut the baseball bat in half width-wise, and you get a nice, semi-circular cylinder. Cut the shoebox in half height-wise, and you get a nice, dry box that sits upon the seas. Now, scale them so that they are the same width and length, and connect one to the other, and there, you have a nice, dry hull that has good seakeeping capabilities.

 

The challenge lay in the mix between the above-water box and the below-water bat: too low and she wallowed like a pig in mud, but too high and the wind pushed her sideways. It’s a problem of too much freeboard – the sides of the ship actually act like a sail, making it extremely difficult to steer on a windy day. Worse, too much freeboard can be deadly, as the Swedish found out with the Vasa in 1628 – the richest, most powerful warship in the world in her day. The Vasa took a sudden random breeze against her high, high sides, and over she went, upside down and sinking in just ten minutes with all hands.

That brings us back to Disney’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, and that enormous, enormous stern castle. It makes for great film making inside, with that cool window and all that headroom. But it would make for dreadful and dangerous sailing. Her stern would sit low in the water, pushing her bow up like a motor boat. And any wind other than dead over the stern would push sideways against that beautiful stern castle, making her sail sideways. Worst of all, she has a very shallow draft, the baseball bat part of the hull, which means she’d roll like a beach ball.

In our search for the true Queen Anne’s Revenge, we have to remember that Concord, the original ship, must have been a well-designed merchant ship, drafted with a steady and wise hand.

The search continues!

 

Of Tons and Guns

Sometimes you goof things up. You give the dog the cat’s food – he loves that! You unthinkingly dip your cracker into the jar of pasta sauce, assuming it’s the Nutella.

I goofed up. In my novel Marigold’s End, a Phineas Caswell Adventure, I refer to the Kathryn B, really the star of the book, as about a hundred feet long.

By today’s standards, that’s how we think. It’s because ships and boats are so specialized, and so standardized, that their length is the most logical way to categorize them. I have a friend that owns a 35 foot sailboat. A modern destroyer is about 550 long.

In the Golden Age of Pirates, between about 1680 and 1730, the luxury of such standardized descriptions just wasn’t available.  In those days, the times of the pirates of the Caribbean, a ship had to be a jack of all trades.

A good example is Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge (I’m dying to get actual dimensions on her and have therefore been researching her quite a bit). She began life in 1710 as English merchant ship, was captured by the French and converted into a slave ship, and then was taken by Blackbeard and made into a pirate ship.

First and foremost, ships of this time were built as merchant ships.  If you had a hundred tons of molasses to ship to Jamaica, you wouldn’t care how long a ship was, you’d care about how many tons she could hold.

Here’s a funny thing: when you think of a ton, you think about 2000 pounds. In ships, a ton is a measurement of cubic footage, not weight. You look at the available space into which you can cram cargo, run some math on it, and boom, there’s your tonnage.

Queen Anne’s Revenge, therefore, was considered a ship of about 200 tons. Not her weight, of course, but the amount of cargo she could carry. The Kathryn B, being a little 100-foot long brig, could probably manage 150.

In the Golden Age of Pirates, most countries could not afford the expense of building and maintaining fleets of warships. Instead, they relied on merchant ships, commandeering them and mounting extra guns in time of war.

Later, in the Golden Age of Sail (all these Golden Ages makes you think there should be some Little Golden Books about them), in the second half of the 18th Century, warships became specialized, and were identified by their guns. For example, Lord Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar, the Victory, was a first-rate, 100 gun ship of the line. Captain Jack Aubrey’s first frigate, the Surprise, was a fifth-rate, 28 gun ship. Captain Isaac Hull’s Old Ironsides, the American ship U.S.S. Constitution, is rated as a 44 gun frigate.

Although the specific length of each type of ship wasn’t an identifying feature, it made sense that a 100-gun ship would be longer than a 28-gun ship. It wasn’t until the middle of the 20th Century that a ship’s external dimensions gained importance.

So, you go swap out the dog’s food and put away the pasta sauce, and I’ll seriously figure out the gross tonnage of the little Kathryn B and the actual size of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Hey, how’d you get the easy job?

Davy Jones is Mad About his Locker

You’ve seen Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Pirates abound, of course, and sea monsters, and that poor devil with a squiddy face. I wonder if he likes sushi…

And there’s the Queen Anne’s Revenge, as pictured above. Ah, the QAR, with that enormous cathedral-style window in the transom, and those soaring balconies. Let’s not even talk about the skeleton figurehead, and all those carvings. Someone must have taken years to carve all that awesome stuff.

Remember, Queen Anne’s Revenge is the name Blackbeard gave to the French slaver La Concorde, after he captured her. National Geographic argues that he took her specifically because she was a slaver, and her crew was depleted by disease, and only half her gunports had cannons behind them. How he could have known all this in advance of meeting her…

While she looks menacing and theatrical and creepy, I often wonder who did all that work on her? This would have been around 1718, so the only power tools available were those that you powered yourself. Perhaps those are all real skeletons, wired together and mounted out on the forepeak. That’s really creepy, and would take an immense amount of medical work and craftsmanship to get them to stay together, but it might be easier to accomplish then carving them out of wood.  As our Mr. Beard had the QAR for less than a year, he must have had quite a contingent of artists and craftsmen in his crew.

Of course, ships in the Golden Age of Pirates, around 1680-1730, were only powered by the wind. Shipwrights of the day focused on designing long, straight lines, from a ship’s stem to her stern. She was as carefully balanced above and below the waterline as she was from her cutwater to her rudder. The goal was to make it easy for the sails to move the ship, and, through thoughtful symmetry, to make it easy for the crew to sail her.

A great example is the Sovereign of the Seas, the very largest, gaudiest ship of her day – launched in 1637. She was built to intimidate every other ship on the sea (if you’ve ever built a model of her, you were probably intimated by all that gold work: she’s the most tedious thing in the world, all guns and gold leaf. Oh, and some rigging). If you put your finger where it seems like her center of gravity would be, you find yourself at the main mast, near the center of the ship.

Compare her  with the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and you’ll see how much more balanced, fore and aft and above and below, she is.  Queen Anne’s high, high stern would be heavy, and would push her bow up out of the water. Put your finger on the place you think her center of gravity will be – not quite the center of the ship!

While her shallow draught below the waterline would allow her to sail into places most other ships could not go, she has very little compensation against the weight of her masts and sails, and the pressure of the winds. Sadly, she would be very difficult to sail on a nice day, and would find herself extremely challenged to stay upright on anything more than a slight breeze.

But, she accomplishes her mission in the Disney films: she is menacing and awe-inspiring.  As the Queen of Creepy Ships, she ranks right up there!

In our search for a correct interpretation of Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, however, I’m afraid we’re going to have to take a pass on the squiddy-faced fellow’s ride.

 

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!

Blackbeard’s Trio of Mysteries

If you Google the name Blackbeard, everything you read will start with something like “Blackbeard was the most famous pirate…” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Here are just some of the cool things about Blackbeard:

Mystery #1

Captain Charles Johnson, who wrote about pirates in 1724, referred to Blackbeard as the bloodthirstiest of pirates. He once sat at a table with his “friends” Israel Hands and another fellow. As they chatted, Israel noticed that Blackbeard slowly lowered two pistols under the table, and he heard the click as Blackbeard cocked them. Fearing the worst, Israel leapt to his feet – but too late. A pistol ball smashed his knee. The second shot completely missed the other fellow.

“Why on Earth did ye do that?” Israel bellowed.

“If your crew don’t fear ye, they won’t respect ye,” came the laconic reply.

And yet, and yet, many historians write that Blackbeard was way more fearsome than bloodthirsty. An educated man, he doesn’t seem to have done half the nasty things history says he did.

This requires research!

Mystery #2

Although little pieces of a book were found inside one of the cannons recovered from the wreck of Blackbeard’s prized ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, they appear to have been torn out of a popular book of the day about an ocean voyage to Peru.

And yet, and yet, at the end of Captain Johnson’s book, he says that Blackbeard kept a journal, and that, when asked where on his South Carolina plantation Blackbeard buried all his treasure, the pirate’s response was “that’s between me and the devil.”

So? Is there a journal? Does the journal tell us where the treasure is buried?

This, too, requires research!

Mystery #3

This isn’t so much of a mystery for you, but it certainly is for me. As a modeler of fine and beautiful sailing craft, I would love to put my hands on plans of Queen Anne’s Revenge.

And yet, and yet, such plans don’t seem to exist. What? Marine archaeologists have found her, in the shallows off of Beaufort, North Carolina, and have brought thousands of her pieces ashore. But no plans have been drawn – not even a deck plan!

She began life as a 26-gun British ship, was taken by the French during the War of Spanish Succession, and then was taken by Blackbeard. Blackbeard, typically, up-gunned her to 40. It’s no surprise she ran aground.

Oh, here’s a bonus mystery for you: by the time he ran her aground, Blackbeard had about 300 pirates in his company – that’s a lot of guys!

Stede Bonnet, a co-captain, felt that Blackbeard ran Queen Anne’s Revenge aground on purpose, so as to break up that huge number of pirates. According to Captain Johnson, he actually stranded 17 men on a desert island, with no food, no water, no nothin’. If Stede Bonnet hadn’t rescued them, himself having been ditched by Blackbeard, they’d have been goners for sure.

So? Why no plans of Queen Anne’s Revenge? And, did Blackbeard run her aground on purpose?

 

It’s all mysteries, my friend. All crying out for research. Are you up to the challenge?

A Man, A Plan, A Canal, a…

No, this post has nothing to do with the Panama Canal – I just couldn’t resist using the anagram… it’s supposed to read both directions the same, but doesn’t work. Rats.

So, a Deck Plan of the Kathryn B, from Marigold’s End. Was you a shipwright, back in the day, this might be where you start your design. You might sit thee down with your client, he what wants the ship to be built, and draft, with pencil and ruler, a plan similar to that which you’ll find on the A Map page. Similar, but no color, of course, and a wee bit more sophisticated.

The Kathryn B was built as a merchant ship, so she’s a little beamy, being roughly four times longer than her width. What does beamy mean? Ships were (and still are) measured in two dimensions: length and width, which was (and still is) called her beam. So, if she’s stubby, like the Kathryn B, she has a little more width, or beam, compared to her length, than other ships. For example, warships of her day were approximately five times their width. She’s beamy, which means she’s not the fastest sailer, and she probably tends to roll in rough seas. But, that beaminess means she’s got tons of room below the main deck for cargo, and that’s what she was built to carry.

Caribbean pirates might be wary of the ten guns – six pounders, I believe them to be. That means each gun would fire a six-pound ball. It doesn’t seem like much, but when it hits the side of your ship at four hundred miles an hour, it can do a lot of damage! Each of these guns is about eight feet long, and weighs about as much as Toyota Camry. By the end of the 1700’s, big warships commonly carried guns that fired a 32-pound ball. That, my friend, is a lot of iron!

This map shows you most of the whereabouts of stuff aboard the ship. In thinking about it now, you’ll need to find the ‘tween decks yourself, along with the stairs that lead to the hold, and Phineas’ cot.  Hey, what’s the value of an adventure except to discover new stuff!

Enjoy the plan, and let me know if there be changes you’d like to see!

Phineas@phineascaswell.com

Controversy: Pirates and Eye-patches

Question: Why did pirates wear eye-patches?

Answer: Duh. Because they had lost an eye. They wore the patch to keep dirt out of the socket, a place that was difficult to take care of.

But, now there’s a shadow of controversy about this seemingly straightforward answer. If you Google the same question, you’ll find that someone is floating a different theory.

According to this new theory, pirates wore eye-patches to help them see in the dark. It sounds outlandish, but makes a degree of sense.

If you run out of the bright sunshine into a darkened room, you’re going to find it hard to see for a few seconds until your eyes adjust to the change in light. If you cover one eye, however, when you’re in the bright sunshine, that covered eye will be ready for the darker room.

Here’s the scene:

The pirate Williwaw has run alongside the merchant ship Brother Jonathon. Cannons aren’t roaring now, because Williwaw‘s men are swarming over the railings to fight Brother Jonathon’s crew. Crazy Ned Ganders, fake eye-patch in place, dashes across Jonathon‘s main deck and ducks towards the aft cabin, cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other.

“Wait,” he mutters, “it be a trifle darker here in the t’ween decks.” He carefully stuffs his pistol into his belt, and then raises his eye-patch. “There,” he sighs, “that’d be better, wood’n it? Now I can see much more efficiently. Arrgh.” He pulls out his pistol and proceeds towards the aft cabin.

Somehow, I’m just not seeing it.  A battle between ship’s crews was pitched, hot, and incredibly fast. Until the merchant crew was subdued, a pirate was under attack from every side at every second.  Managing an eye-patch seems like it would be more of a nuisance than a miracle secret weapon.

Plus, the human animal is meant to see with stereoscopic vision. A pirate with one eye covered is at a distinct disadvantage to the merchant sailor who has both.

Finally, most pirates just weren’t that clever. They were regular sailors, just folks, like you and me. Well, a little unwashed, and a whole lot more vicious.

So, the next time anyone asks you why pirates wore eye-patches, you can say this with confidence: duh, because they had lost an eye!

Now’s the Time to Read Marigold’s End

 

Today. Right now. This minute. Don’t delay!

Go here: Smashwords.com and download your free copy while you can still get it for free. This, my friend, is a limited time offer!

Here’s the synopsis:

Struggling to deal with the loss first of his father and then of best friend, priggish, arrogant twelve-year-old Phineas Caswell finds himself aboard a ship on the very sea that took them both away.

Phineas’ one goal in life is to become a “landed” gentleman, and to marry the exquisite Susannah Kilburn – lofty goals for a penniless twelve year old Bostonian in the year 1706. To his horror, he is taken to sea by his well-intentioned but rather daffy Uncle Neville. Phineas finds he must learn to make his way among the frightening, gruff sailors aboard the ship, must hold his own against desperate pirates, and look beyond the past to find the meanings of courage, friendship, and home.

Patrick Caswell, Phineas’ sea-captain father, has disappeared into the Caribbean, rumored to have turned pirate. The Spanish treasure ship Tres Hermanas has been taken by buccaneers. In her hold she carried a cargo that will change the map of Europe. Queen Anne of England has dispatched secret agents to recover the treasure. But what has become of the treasure? What happened to Patrick Caswell? Who are these agents? Only Red Suarez holds the key. But he’s the vicious, self-appointed pirate king of Port Royal. Leave it to Phineas to bumble his way into a stunning adventure filled with naval battles, chases, and an amazing, all encompassing hurricane.

The sailor’s life has much to teach Phineas. Although he is a reluctant student, Phineas, Taylor the cabin boy, and the French princess Louise find themselves face-to-face with cruel buccaneers, and must learn the most difficult lesson of all in adventure as vast as the sea itself.

So, don’t delay. Download your copy today! Marigold’s End, by John D Reinhart.