Thursday, November 20, 2008

Live Piracy Map

This blob isn't about modern piracy but this is still pretty cool - a Google map showing all international pirate activity for the past several months.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spider Catcher

I'm not the only pirate to buy a Whitehall. Here is one on the West Coast who decided to use a Whitehall as a Spider Catcher. Basically this was a small, lightly armed boat used to catch and board larger ships. They were mainly used during the Revolutionary War.

His Whitehall is a bit small for this. Mine is a couple of feet longer and right about at the lower end of these boats. I don't have a small cannon but I do have swivel guns in two sizes which is probably more appropriate (and a lot more practical).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Crusoe and Compasses

This is nitpicking but something bothers me about the last episode of Crusoe (besides the issue of slavery which I already blogged about).

Early in the episode Crusoe and Friday discover a damaged boat. It has an occupant who has a compass in his pocket. In the process of repairing the boat, the compass drops into a small fire. They pull it out. The wooden box is just a bit singed but Crusoe says that the needle has melted.

Really? The elements of this compass are a round wooden box, a piece of glass, a cardboard card, a brass spike to hold the needle, and the needle itself. The needle is iron and iron has the highest melting point of any of these ingredients. In fact, you could leave it in the fire until it burned out and fish the needle from the ashes unharmed (although heating can affect magnetism).

Crusoe and Friday borrow (meaning stealing) a compass from some mutineers. This one is similar except it is larger and housed in a brass case. At the end of the episode Crusoe pulls the compass from his boot and opens it showing that it is broken. Discouraged, he throws it into the sea.

Huh? The glass keeps the needle from slipping off but otherwise is unimportant. The needle should have been fine. He should have been able to have picked the broken glass out of the compass and still navigated with it.

Of course, if that happened the show would have ended on its 4th episode which isn't what the scriptwriters planned. On the other hand, given the ratings, the show might be in for a short stay, anyway.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Slavery in the GAoP

A recent episode of Crusoe involved Caruso and Friday finding a damaged boat and a compass. They repaired the boat but Friday seemed reluctant to leave the island. Eventually he admitted that he was worried about slavery, "Slaves in your country don't look like me, they look like you."

The practice of using African slaves in America has given a false impression of slavery in the 17th and 18th century. It was far more universal than just Europeans enslaving Africans. It also has some links with piracy (at least literary piracy).

First, at the same time that Europeans were obtaining slaves from Africa (most often buying Africans who had already been enslaved by fellow Africans), the corsairs of northern Africa were raiding European countries including England for people they could sell as slaves in the Mediterranean. In fact, slavery was not legal in England although it was being introduced to the English colonies about that time. Earlier in the 17th century Africans sold in America were treated as indentured servants but the growing number of free blacks alarmed the colonists and they decided to keep the Africans in permanent bondage.

Now for the literary angle - the last couple of episodes of Crusoe have included flashbacks to a judge during the Monouth Rebellion. This ties in with Rafael Sabatin's Captain Blood. The book starts with Peter Blood, a retired soldier who became a doctor helping a wounded friend. It seems that the friend was part of the Monmouth rebellion and judged a traitor. For helping him, Blood was also convicted of treason. Rather than being executed, they were shipped to the Caribbean and sold as slaves. They eventually escaped and took to piracy until James II was replaced by William and Mary and they were pardoned.

While European enslaving of Africans was not the only slavery going on, it was the most systematic with special ships built to transport slaves. These made excellent pirate ships since they were large, fast, and well-armed. The Whydah was a former slave ship. In another fictional tie-in, Jack Sparrow's Black Pearl was also built to be a slaver.

It is commonly assumed that after pirates captured a slave ship they would free the slaves. This is incorrect. While many pirates were former slaves, pirates seldom had any compunction about treating slaves as plunder and selling them at the closest market.

To really complicate the issue, in the novel, Crusoe was both a slave himself and a slave owner at different points in his life prior to eing shipwrecked.

More on the Boat

Now that we have the Whitehall home I've been able to go over it carefully. The trailer shows its age. I've already replaced the hitch receiver and the winch. I had to cut the bolts in order to to get the old ones off. I'm probably going to have to cut the lug nuts off at some point, hopefully before I get a flat.

On the other hand, the boat itself is in really good condition. It needs a new coat of paint - the paint is coming off of the seams - but that is about it. I've been sanding it and, except for the seams and the keel, the old paint is in good condition. In fact it's a good thing that I didn't want to take it down to the bare wood. It would be tough trying to get the old paint off.

Instead I'm going to use a coat or two of primer and plain white paint. I'm going to use oil-based paint. Going through threads on Wooden Boat convinced me that I don't need expensive anti-fouling paint for a boat that will spend most of its time on a trailer. Likewise, it appears that even the high-end latex paint is questionable and I'm not sure about putting latex over oil.

I would have loved to put the mast ad sail up today but it was sprinkling all day and I'm not sure that I could get everything dried properly.

I've always been a sucker for classic varnished wood boat interiors and wine glass stem transoms. This boat has both and has the feel of a museum reproduction. Too bad it has to sit for the Winter but I probably got a big price break because it is the off-season.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pirates of Tripoli

This movie was on TCM this afternoon. It is a pirate movie about a different group than normally shown - the corsairs of the Mediterranean. The real pirates of Tripoli were some of the most powerful pirates in history. They raided Europe for slaves, even England. By the early 19th century they had arrangements with most countries who paid tribute to the corsairs to keep their shipping safe. The fledgling US decided that the tribute was too expensive and sent in the Marines to clear out the pirates (twice). This is where the "Shores of Tripoli" line in the Marine hymn comes from.

You don't get any of that in the movie. It's pretty formulaic. A deposed princess goes to the pirates, looking for help in recovering her kingdom. She and the chief pirate are attracted to each other very quickly, and after some setbacks, the triumph.

Despite the corsairs being Muslems, the cast looks like any other pirate movie (the star, Paul Henreid was in other pirate movies). The ships are obviously models.

Still, it is entertaining. It isn't worth renting but it is worth changing the channel for when it is on.

Pirate Central

Wired has a report from "Pirate Central" in Somalia. This except show how little things have changes since the Golden Age of Piracy.
The conditions have to be right before pirates will head out "shopping" for a cargo ship to rob: a moonless night, a lull in patrols, and enough money to buy weapons and fuel for the motorized canoes.
Once they identify a suitable victim, seven to nine men don ski masks and black shirts, motor out into international waters, sidle up to the ship, and climb on board using a long bamboo pole with a hook on one end.
They threaten the captain and crew with long machetes, then steal all the money in the ship's safe… If they succeed in getting the cash, each pirate can clear between $600 and $2,000.
Agus and his partners have a hard time saving what they steal.... That's because pirates here are notorious for spending their booty on "happy-happy" — that is, a night of boozing and girls-for-hire. Agus' weakness is a woman named Yuna who works in a dance troupe that travels from island to island and charges men to dance with them.

The Buccaneers who accompanied Morgan's raid on Panama had the same problem. Most of them had spent their share of the loot in a few days.