What types of pirate ships?
Ships used by pirates, privateers, buccaneers and filibusters. Their ships for boarding. What ships, what characteristics, what were they like, why?
Whether they were Corsairs, Buccaneers, Filibusters, their ships were specially prepared to reach prey at sea. They knew that a ship carrying goods, usually carried few crew and sparsely armed.
Generally light and fast
In order to catch up with other ships
Ships ready for boarding. Therefore they had to take care and maintain their different parts of the ship. These pirate ships were usually very fast and efficient.
Pirates were in the business of stealing
And the more the better.
Although they raided ships of all kinds, their prey was usually heavy merchant ships, loaded with all kinds of riches, gold, silver, etc.
In order to catch up with the merchant ships, they used boats and light boats. Since the pirates did not carry goods, except for stolen booty, they only needed a ship capable of carrying their weapons and provisions.
Nor did they need to be many pirates, about 50 men were more than enough.
They harassed the slow galleons.
Always on the lookout, hidden in discreet docks of the islands through which the route to Spain passed, waiting for the right moment to attack and snatch their riches.
The pirates’ ships: fast ships that chased the slow and heavy galleons.
They were not just any ships
Characteristics of Pirate ships
Some ships soon became famous for being used in Piracy. The mention of their name produced more dread than fear. The possible appearance of one of these ships frightened the crews.
Names of famous Pirate Ships
Some names of Caribbean pirate ships have been popularized
Queen Anne’s Revenge
The Golden Hind
Blackbeard’s pirate ship:
Queen Anne’s Revenge:
Incredible pirate ship built for the Pirates of the Caribbean saga.
Fictitious pirate ship, for the shooting of a film by Roman Polanski
The ship of the famous pirate Blackbeard, terror of the Caribbean, was called Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Queen Anne’s Revenge. In the hands of the feared pirate nicknamed Blackbeard, it was the terror of the Caribbean.
On one of his routes through the Caribbean Sea, Blackbeard encountered a French-flagged merchant ship. He hoisted his pirate flag and fired a single volley from all his cannons. The roar was so loud that his own ship moved.
Faced with this fact, the French ship carrying goods surrendered. Her crew were mostly sailors who were neither prepared nor armed to put up a fight.
History of the Queen Anne’s Revenge
Her country of origin was England, but her flag was French.
Although the ship was of English construction, she had remained in French hands. Large and sturdy in size, it was from that moment on their pirate ship.
The ship, named Concorde, was renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge. He armed her with all the cannons he could lay his hands on and she eventually had 40 cannons.
Ship of the Welsh pirate captain Howell Davis.
This ship of 25 cannons, fell into his power and from that moment was his favorite for piracy. Sufficiently armed and fast, with her he obtained good booty.
He began his adventure as a pirate when his ship fell into the hands of pirates and he joined them. He raced through Brazil, Bahamas and even Cape Verde. He went on to lead other pirate captains under his command.
Jean Lafitte’s ship
Famous French privateer of Basque origin (Biarritz), who also participated in the Anglo-American war. He accumulated enormous wealth and took it with him on his ship to whereabouts unknown.
Knowledge of Pirate Navigation and Boarding
Pirates and maritime navigation
The compass, the telescope, the quadrant …
The navigation of the time was very primitive. As long as the pirate ships were watching the coast, with a sea chart they could orient themselves and reach their destination, just as the navigators of Antiquity did. But when they lost sight of the coast, they needed navigational instruments to guide them.
They were usually very simple instruments, but they fulfilled their mission. Some of them were basic. For this reason, they needed to look directly at the sun, which is why many pirate captains ended up losing the sight of the eye.
Instruments such as the compass, which they sometimes made themselves if they had magnetite. And others such as the sundial, telescope, crossbow, quadrant, rotating diagram, astrolabe, etc.
Once across the Atlantic Ocean, the pirates encountered an enormous unknown continent. One of the most precious booty were the Spanish and Portuguese navigation charts, which reflected the positions of the colonies, the places where to get supplies, the dangers and how to overcome them.
These sea charts were a treasure, as they reflected the experience of more than a century of Spanish and Portuguese navigators in America.
Ships prepared for boarding
What were their characteristics and why were they chosen?
A splendid sailing ship of great size.
Sailing at full speed, a well-armed corsair ship with a well-trained crew was much feared.
Speed was of the essence
Since the speed of their ship was so essential to the pirates, in addition to having fast ships, they had to devote much of their time to their maintenance.
A perfect state of the sails and rigging, together with skillful handling, increased speed considerably.
The conservation of the hull of the ship had to be carried out from time to time. Prolonged stays at sea caused marine vegetation and mollusks of all kinds to adhere to the hull. All this layer, subtracted speed to the ship, as it was an obstacle to the waves and sea waters.
Sheltered on the deck, they fired the heavy cannons at their enemy.
After hoisting the pirate flag, a cannon shot was the last warning, otherwise the boarding would come without mercy.
A ship armed with cannons
Light and handy cannons
Not being ships of large tonnage or too big, and not wanting to carry excessive weight, they also avoided heavy cannons.
Most of their guns were light, and they used them mainly to clear the deck of the assaulted ship. The shrapnel literally swept the deck, forcing the crew to take cover.
The pirates used small cannons such as the culebrina, which launched a veritable hail of shrapnel on the deck of the other ship to attack the crew, and cleared it before the boarding of the ship, which was practically deserted.
Some Buccaneers took advantage of living in key places to become pirates, attacking by surprise ships that were being supplied on the islands.
At first, the galleons did not expect pirate attacks and approached the islands to trade with the buccaneers.
+ Buccaneer Pirates
Ships and sailing boats
Even rowing boats or canoes.
Especially in their beginnings the buccaneers also used boats and launches, dinghies, canoes, canoes, etc. Boats and rowboats with oars or sails. Very light to be able to transport the pirates to the ships to assault.
Either from the coast, if the ship was being provisioned. Or from another ship, they would go to them armed to the teeth from ships strategically placed to cut off their retreat.
With long-distance muskets, they would fire at the helmsman and any crewman who appeared on deck. In this way they paralyzed the activity of the ship, which could not even maneuver, and therefore often prevented them from fleeing.
A calm sea was almost a party because of the absence of risk.
The filibustering pirates began by using sloops, which were fast moving and easy to handle. It is believed that their name comes from the name of the type of boat they used.
+ Filibustering Pirates
Names of the main ships preferred by pirates
BARQUE : Ship very used by pirates and corsairs, for its speed and medium size, about 80 tons.
BALANDRA : Used by the Filibusters, for its speed.
PINGUE : Preferred by the Dutch, small and light.
PINAZA : Very fast, especially for transporting pirates to the ship or area to attack.
MAN OF WAR : English construction, equivalent to the Spanish galleon. Of great size, about 800 tons.
PIRAGUA : Shallow draft, used for shallow waters.
Galleons: Transport with riches.
Large, sturdy, slow and well armed ships.
But the ships that really carried great wealth were special. The need to transport gold and silver from the mines of Mexico and Peru to the Iberian Peninsula led Spain to build galleons, sturdy ships with a large capacity in their holds. They were heavily armed ships with more than 50 cannons and crews of more than 200 men.
The crew was also escorted by arquebusiers to deal with possible pirate attacks.
It was very rare that pirate ships dared to attack a galleon directly because of the amount of armament it carried. When the danger was perceived that some groups of pirate ships would attack them, which were usually privateers in the service of some country, convoys of almost a hundred galleons were created to protect each other, escorted by warships.
These were the galleons, large and heavy.
Being not very aerodynamic, they were slower.
Robust ships with great cargo capacity but with shallow draft (depth) since there were usually no harbors and they had to be loaded near coves with rocks and beaches.
They had a forecastle that defended the bow and a galleon at the stern with several overlapping decks. They usually had at least two masts from which the main sails hung.
Not very maneuverable, they only reached high speed when the wind blew from astern. From a post at the top of the mast (cofa), a crewman watched and warned of the presence of pirate ships.
Robust ships, designed to withstand the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and very useful for carrying a lot of cargo, but slow due to their not very aerodynamic design. But having a high-capacity and comfortable stern quarter was slowing down their progress, especially on windy days.
On the other hand, the ships used by the pirates had a much lower stern quarterdeck, were smaller, lighter and only loaded with the essentials, so they were the fastest.
The Colossus of the Sea
The largest vessel of the Mediterranean Sea, widely used by the Venetians. It was 70 m long and 16 m wide. Three masts helped to give it thrust, although it had 32 banks of oars.
In order to handle the sails more easily, she had a clear upper deck. The rowing benches were installed below her.
Her afterdeck was high and wide. She was fitted with abundant artillery, which was to make her the feared colossus of the seas in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, her era.
Two hundred oarsmen ensured that no matter what the wind was blowing, she would sail well. Another troop of about 100 officers and soldiers completed the crew.
Small and fast
Used by the Barbary pirates to strike their blows by surprise. Stationed in their bases in North Africa, they took advantage of the proximity to the Spanish coast to carry out their raids. Very useful for sailing close to the coast.
It was 30 m long and 5 m wide. It carried about 20 banks of oars on each side.
The smallest vessel
It was the smallest ship. Sometimes it did not even carry poles for the sails.
It had about 10 banks of oars per side.
Countries, ships and cannons
Spain: Big and slow ships. England: Faster ships
The Spanish Crown, in accordance with its interest in bringing goods from America, designed and built large ships such as galleons especially for this mission. Large ships with great cargo capacity, even if they were slower. Ships armed with large and numerous cannons to be able to defend the valuable goods, the gold and silver extracted from the mines of America.
The English Crown, which had forbidden the traffic with America, through the use of privateers was dedicated to assault the Spanish galleons trying to appropriate part of these American riches. To do so, they designed lighter ships that could outperform the large and heavy galleons in terms of speed.
The same happened with the cannons. The galleons carried many large fixed cannons, which were therefore difficult to move and therefore difficult to reload. In contrast, the pirate cannons were mounted on movable gun carriages, which allowed them to fire a greater number of shots.
They also gave more importance to the ability to fire the projectile at a greater distance, in order to be able to attack from a distance without being in range of the enormous firepower of the Spanish galleons.
Spanish war galleon
Impossible for pirates to board
The Spanish war galleons were heavily armed. In addition to the hundred or so crew needed to sail and maneuver, they were accompanied by many soldiers.
The galleons could normally be between 500 and 1000 tons. However, there were some that could reach 2000 tons, as was the case of those that crossed the Pacific Ocean, between America and the Philippine Islands. The so-called Manila galleons used to be huge, in order to transport more merchandise and wealth. They were heavily armed and guarded by hundreds of soldiers.
Usually at least 150 soldiers protected the sturdy vessel. Sometimes, depending on the size of the galleon and the importance of the goods, they could be protected by up to 250 soldiers.
The light pirate ships did not normally have more than 40 men. It was impossible for them to attempt to board a Spanish galleon no matter how much wealth they knew it was carrying.
Only in some incredible surprise attack, in very special cases, did they manage to capture one.
One of these famous attacks was carried out by Francis Drake, who, flying a Dutch flag and pretending to be a ship in distress (at the time when this nation belonged to the Spanish Crown), managed to surprise the Spaniards, who came to his aid and seized the Spanish galleon.