Monday, September 24, 2007

Yo Ho, a pirate's vacation for me

We just finished a pirate's vacation down the East Coast.

First stop - Williamsburg. Blackbeard's crew was tried and hung here. The trial was in the state house but reenactments are done in the court house. Also, Jamestown Settlements has a wide selection of pirate gear, some of it serious.

From there we drove down the Outer Banks to Beaufort, NC. The Naval Museum there has artifacts fro Blackbeard's ship on display.

Next we went to Myrtle Beach. No pirate associations here but all the souvenir shops have pirate T-shirts and stuff.

We spent three nights in Charleston, SC including Talk Like A Pirate Day (TLaPD). I was wearing a pirate T-shirt and several people stopped to comment on TLaPD. There are lots of pirate associations here. Blackbeard blockaded the city. In retaliation, the city later captured a couple of pirate ships and hung the crews including Stede Bonnet, the gentleman pirate. Anne Bonney lived in Charleston for a while before turning to piracy and local legend has it that, instead of dying in jail, her father bribed the guards to let her free and she lived out her days in Charleston.

We ate at the Queen Anne's Revenge restaurant. They decorated with antique weapons, pieces of eight, and other pirate memorabilia. Also, the food was good.

We went south through Georgetown which has a two-masted ship that does pirate cruses. It also has a nice pirate-shop where I got a cutlass.

We spent the night in Savannah which does not have any direct association with pirates. We did have dinner at the Pirate's House Restaurant which has a pirate theme. They claim to be haunted by several pirates including the fictional Captain Flint from Treasure Island. The restaurant is a rambling building. Parts of it are the oldest buildings in Savannah.

We took two days to get back home. For our half-way point, we stopped at a tiny town called Hillsville. The only passable restaurant turned out to be the Hillsville Family Fish House. This had a nautical theme including some pirate figures and three huge murals.

For good measure, Disney showed the pirate episode of Kim Possible that night.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Monkey Island Parody

Here is a collection of "outtakes" from Monkey Island 2.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day

I'm posting this a bit early - it's 11:30 on TLaPD Eve.

To celebrate, here's a picture of one of Blackbeard's cannons. We were at the museum where they are on display yesterday and I took the picture then.

Monday, September 17, 2007

15 Men on a Dead Man's Chest

I was listening to last year's Talk Like a Pirate Day podcast and I was intrigued by one song near the end. It was the long version of "15 men on a dead man's chest, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum." I decided to look up the words.

It is actually called the Derelict:
Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
The mate was fixed by the bos'n's pike,
The bos'n brained with a marlin spike,
And Cookey's throat was marked belike
It had been gripped
By fingers ten;
And there they lay,
All good dead men
Like break-o'-day in a boozing-ken—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of the whole ship's list—
Dead and be damned and the rest gone whist!—
The skipper lay with his nob in gore
Where the scullion's axe his cheek had shore—
And the scullion he was stabbed times four.
And there they lay,
And the soggy skies
Dripped all day long
In upstaring eyes—
In murk sunset and at foul sunrise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men of 'em stiff and stark—
Ten of the crew had the Murder mark—
'Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawing hole in a battered head—
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red
And there they lay—
Aye, damn my eyes—
All lookouts clapped
On paradise—
All souls bound just contrariwise—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.

Fifteen men of 'em good and true—
Every man jack could ha' sailed with Old Pew—
There was chest on chest full of Spanish gold,
With a ton of plate in the middle hold,
And the cabins riot of stuff untold,
And they lay there,
That had took the plum,
With sightless glare
And their lips struck dumb,
While we shared all by the rule of thumb—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

More was seen through the stern light screen—
Chartings no doubt where a woman had been!—
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a thin dirk slot through the bosom spot
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish blot.
Oh was she wench…
Or some shuddering maid…?
That dared the knife—
And took the blade!
By God! she was stuff for a plucky jade—
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest—
Drink and the devil had done for the rest—
We wrapped 'em all in a mains'l tight
With twice ten turns of a hawser's bight
And we heaved 'em over and out of sight—
With a Yo-Heave-Ho!
And a fare-you-well!
And a sullen plunge
In the sullen swell,
Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!

While I was looking, I found numerous pages on Google that insisted that the song was based on real events. According to this, there is a small island called "Dead Man's Chest" and Blackbeard marooned several mutinous pirates on it. They had nothing but a dagger and a bottle of rum each. He expected them to kill each other but when he returned to check on them, fifteen were still alive.

One motto that I live by is that any story that is too good to be true is probably false. Especially if it involves pirates.

Sure enough. Wikipedia and Everything 2 have the real story.

The first four lines are from the second paragraph in Treasure Island.

I remember him as if it were yesterday, as he came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow--a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man, his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulder of his soiled blue coat, his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails, and the sabre cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white. I remember him looking round the cover and whistling to himself as he did so, and then breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards:

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest-- Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"

Robert Lewis Stevenson was inspired by a book by Charles Kingsley which listed old, romantic island names that are no longer used. "Dead Man's Chest" is one of them. That's as far as it goes. No reference is made to Blackbeard or anyone else marooning anyone.

The rest of the song was written as a poem by Young E. Allison nine years after Treasure Island was published. The poem was popular and in 1901, a Broadway version of Treasure Island included the longer version and set it to music.

Here's the playbill with the words.

Everything2 also points out:

... Yo heave ho is a seaman's chant is that was commonly employed to synchronize oar work or hauling activities of the gang crew with everyone working together on the word heave Stevenson liked the rhythmical phrase so much that he turned it into the now familiar Yo ho ho colloquialism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Did They Wear?

What should a pirate wear? I saw some debate on this over the weekend. Some people insist that they were indistinguishable from regular sailors. I disagree.

First, a side-note. I'm talking about real pirates, not Buccaneers from the GAoP (Golden Age of Piracy). Buccaneers signed on for one raid at a time and were often recruited from poor hunters. Even the name "buccaneer" refers to this group hunting wild cattle and drying it over a slow fire (boucanning). The folks I am talking about were sailors who became full-time pirates.

First of all, pirates would be more exotic than your run-of-the-mill Jack Tar fisherman. Pirates were often widely traveled. A pirate cruise could go from the Caribbean to Canada and back or over to Africa. Sometimes they even went around to Madagascar. Even if they couldn't stop and do some shopping, there would have been opportunities to pick up (steal) some exotic souvenirs.

The codes that pirates sailed under called for sharing all plunder equally. The only exception was clothing. If you needed a new piece of clothing you could take it from someone your size.

Assuming even the slightest amount of success, a pirate would have more money than the average sailor. That was the whole purpose of pirating, after all. While he might not bein port long enough to have a tailor sew him some new duds, the used clothing business was thriving.

I've seen speculation that only a captain would dress fancy. This overlooks the fact that the captain was elected from the crew and a new captain could be elected at any time. The clothes did not come with the title. That would leave a fancy ex-captain.

The captain's share might not be all that large. The most commonly reproduced set of articles calls for the captain to get two shares. That would let him dress a bit better.

One big difference between a pirate and a regular sailor was weaponry. Most sailors only wore a short utility knife with no point (points would snap off). A pirate, on the other hand, usually wore a sash with one or more pistols tucked in it. These were good pistols, also. There are accounts of them bidding a fortune on fancy weapons.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pirate Weapons

I see a lot of mis-information on the Internet about the weapons pirates used. Several sites confidently say that they preferred the blunderbuss and had little use for the musket.

The blunderbuss is a short-barreled shotgun, The bell-like muzzle makes reloading faster. Without that, you would have to get out a funnel or risk losing some of your shot. The bell does not affect the spread of the shot. The short barrel does that and the bell is flared out further than the shot spreads.

A blunderbuss was a short-range weapon only. You can't aim it very well because of the bell and the shot loses momentum due to air resistance much faster than a musket ball would. You used these to fire at an individual or, even better, a group at point blank range. This was most useful when you were about to board a ship or were about to be boarded.

But, not all pirate combat was boarding. Until you were alongside an opponent you needed something with a longer range than a blunderbuss. That's where the musket came in. You could shoot the opposing crew at distances up to 150 yards (although at that range you were trusting to luck to hit anything).

There are accounts of pirates taking on large ships, using nothing but muskets and dug-out canoes. And winning.

During Morgan's time, most of the big raids were land assaults. These would approximate regular military combat where shotguns were never used. There is little justification for anything but muskets here.

I will note that rifles were known and could be useful but most rifles were expensive sporting weapons. Military commanders preferred rate of fire to accuracy of fire (soldiers seldom aim anyway).

On a related note, I was looking at boarding axes over the weekend. I saw two extremes. One was basically a light tomahawk with a delicate handle and a spike on the reverse side. The other was fairly massive - two feet long with a handle that could be used one-handed or two-handed.

I see the first style pictured pretty often on pirate sites. These aren't always as small as the one I saw but they are one-handed weapons. On the other hand, period woodcuts show a much more formidable weapon. Based on that, I went with the two foot one.

I was gratified later in the weekend to see some justification. We went to see Pirates III (again) and I noticed a couple of axes similar to the one I bought. While this is not the most accurate movie possible, they did a lot of research on their weapons. I would not use this as justification but it shows that someone else reached the same conclusion that I did.