Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Great Pirates Were Amateurs Once, Too.

In my last entry, I mentioned Captain Edward Lowe.  Ned Low, as he is sometimes referred to, was one of the most bloodthirsty pirates in history.  His cruelty was written about by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and even in the New York Times.  However, just because someone can bully and frighten others, it does not make them an experienced pirate.

One of Captain Lowe's first successes was to capture and plunder a fleet of 13 fishing vessels near Nova Scotia.  Wow, north sea fishermen?  Really?  If you have ever seen Deadliest Catch, then you know those guys have it hard enough already.  Just imagine their job in the early 1700's.  Lowe sailed into the middle of the fleet, hoisted his Jolly Roger and declared that all would be killed, if any resisted.  He took the largest ship to be his new flagship and sank the rest of the fishing vessels.  He filled out his crew by forcing many of the fishermen to sign his articles and become pirates.

Captain Lowe had a few more successes before making himself one huge 'lubbers mistake, that I am surprised didn't cost him his life.  Before I detail that mistake, I must define two words: careen and scuttle.  Those of you with your sea legs may already see where this is going.

Careening is a process of cleaning the hull of a ship so that the build up of barnacles, molluscs and seaweed, etc. could be removed.  This could be done at port, but most pirates weren't welcome in ports.  Pirates usually had to careen  their ships on a deserted beach.  The ships had to be taken to a very shallow area where they could be tipped over so that the crew could get to the mess from the waterline all the way down to the keel on one side and then rolled over onto the now clean side so that the other side could be scraped.  Ships had to be careened as often as every 2 or 3 months.  A ship in need of careening doesn't go fast and doesn't steer sharply; it is a tub.  Pirates want ships that sail fast and maneuver well, so you can see why careening is so important.

Scuttles are commonly called "portholes" by landlubbers.  The real word is French, escoutilles.  It refers to small holes cut into the hatch cover or the side of the ship to allow light and air to reach the lower decks.  You are probably more familiar with scuttle as a way to sink a ship, i.e. to open the stop cocks or blow holes in the hull below the waterline.

Captain Lowe needed to careen his ship, the Rose Pink.  Due to his inexperience, Ned Lowe ordered the careening without securing the scuttles first.  The result was that the ship tipped to far over and water rushed in the escoutilles.  Rose Pink sank so fast she took 2 men and most of the provisions for Lowe's fleet straight to Davy Jones.  His crews were reduced to a fresh water ration of 1 half pint per day, per man.  Wow!  I bet he slept really lightly, because it was July in the Caribbean Sea and he managed to live through that huge blunder.

So, when you think you have really screwed up big, just remember Captain Edward Lowe.  He went on to retire in Brazil, according to the Maritime Museum in London.  Some believe though that the French caught him and gave him what he truly deserved; a short drop and a hard stop.

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