|A: Capital Ship, B: Barque, C: Brig, D: Schooner, E: Sloop|
To be a pirate you must know about ships. Pirates spent their lives on ships. They ate, drank, slept, worked, fought, and often died aboard them. In fact, it's almost impossible to be a pirate without a ship. So in this week's edition of the Pirate's Primer that is exactly what we are going to study. When we're done you'll know the difference between a boat and a ship, some common types of ships seen during the Age of Piracy, and why pirates chose the types of ships that they did. Since you can see how important this lesson is, I know that you'll be paying close attention. If you do nod off, you may wake up kissing the gunner's daughter. Now let's get to it.
The difference between a boat and a ship is a complicated question. A common definition says that a "ship is a square-rigged craft with at least three masts". The problem with this definition is that many ships from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century had only two masts. As for the "square-rigged" part, well that opens another large hole that we'll talk about in just a moment. First, let's get a pair of simple definitions that works for us: A ship can carry a boat. A boat must have a small enough hull to be carried by a ship.
|This is a boat. A ship is in the distance.|
Rigging a ship means attaching its sails to its masts, the tall poles that stick straight up out of the deck, so it can catch the wind and propel itself along the water. There are various ways to do this, but for right now we're only going to discuss two: Square Rigging and Fore & Aft Rigging. Both types are commonly seen on the sailing ships of the time. Both types have their own advantages and disadvantages. They were used together on some ships and separately on others. Knowing both types will help you to identify ships when it's your turn in the crow's nest.
A square rigged ship has square or rectangular sails attached to the yardarms that cross the masts. This way of rigging creates the common image that most people have of sailing ships. The advantage of square rigging a ship is speed. The more large sails that you can hoist, the more wind that you will catch. This is also one of the disadvantages of square rigging, as a strong crosswind could damage the sails or capsize the ship. The second disadvantage to square rigging is the lack of maneuverability. The large square sails are not designed to be moved about to catch the wind from different angles. They are fixed in basically one position. You now see the limitations of square rigging. Head winds (winds coming from the direction you are trying to sail) and bad weather make it necessary to have another method for rigging a ship.
|Fore and Aft Rigged|
There are many different kinds of ships. We are not even going to try to learn about them all. Be warned that the information provided herein is a summary and vast simplification of a very complicated topic. We are only going to examine five different types of ships because those five will be enough for our purposes. Being keen-eyed as you are, I'm sure that you have already seen the ships that we are going to talk about. You've probably also seen some differences among them. We are going to examine, in light detail, the Capital Ship, the Barque, the Brig, the Schooner, and the Sloop.
For our purposes, the Capital Ship is a square-rigged craft with at least three masts.
The Barque or Barquentine is a three masted ship that is square rigged on both the foremast (the forward most mast) and the mainmast (the largest or main mast), but fore and aft rigged on the mizzenmast (the rear most mast). The Barque was more maneuverable than the capital ship and was sometimes seen in a military role, although mostly barques were used as merchant vessels. Barques ranged between 200 - 300 tons in weight and 70 - 80 feet in length. A Dutch fluyte, one of the most common targets of seventeenth century piracy, is a type of barque.
|A Pirate Brig|
The Brig or Brigantine is a two masted ship that is square rigged on the foremast, but rigged both fore and aft as well as square on the mainmast. The top section of the mainmast is rigged with square sails while the lower section is rigged with a fore and aft sail. The brig was highly maneuverable and faster than larger ships while still having room for cargo and a respectable number of cannons. The brig was sometimes used as a marauding vessel for pirates and privateers, but was most often used as a small warship by the English and French navies. Brigs were generally around 200 tons in weight and 70 - 90 feet in length. It is believed that Henry Morgan's flagship, The Satisfaction, was a brig.
|A boat fleeing a burning sloop|
There you have it, swabs. Now you know how to tell the difference between a ship and a boat, you know a little more about the types of ships used in the early age of piracy, and you know what types of ships Pirates chose to use. You also survived your first trip into the rigging. (I promise I won't make you go back up there until much later in the column.) Next time we'll discuss the differences between pirates, privateers, buccaneers, and maroons. Until then, go get some grog, mates. You've earned it.
Copyright 2001, Mark S. Cookman