Friday, April 30, 2010

The Pirate Candidates of London

Two "pirates" are running for Parliament in the Cities of London and Westminster district. One represents the Pirate Party which advocates an end to copyright. The other dresses up and promises duty-free rum, free duct tape for every household, and requiring schoolchildren to be trained in swordsmanship an' gunnery.

Oars for the Black Sheep

The Bateau Black Sheep came without oars. I guess that the original ones are no longer usable. I was advised that I should go for ten foot oars. This seems reasonable. My Whitehall's oars are nine feet and the Black Sheep needs longer handles on its oars so that one person can hold an oar with both hands.

I checked out Lowes. I was hoping to find some cedar but what they had was not usable. All of it was either knotted, splintery, or warped. Instead I found some 1"x3"x10' poplar that was nice an straight and clear. Gluing two pieces together gives me square pieces. I bought an extra plank for the blades. I got eight 16" blade sides from this with the last two inches cut on the diagonal.

Titebond now has a waterproof formula. Most people advise epoxy for boats and oars but Lowes only had small tubes and it would have been a lot more trouble. We will see how strong the glue is. I got everything cut out and glued in one evening. I will use a draw knife and a spokeshave to shape the oars then paint them the same color I will use for the inside of the boat. I should be able to finish the oars over the weekend.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bateau Black Sheep - Second Impressions

I spent some time cleaning the Black Sheep. The flooring is badly in need of paint. The hull underneath is in fairly good shape. The topcoat of paint is chipping in a few places. In the center water as soaked through the paint and caused the very top layer of the plywood to delaminate. So far this is only a minor problem but it could easily get worse if not painted soon.

It's just as well that I bought it. Another year sitting without attention and it would need serious attention instead of a paint job.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bateau Black Sheep - First Impressions

I picked up the Black Sheep yesterday. It is a reproduction 18th century bateau made from fiberglassed marine plywood with oak frames.

It is 23 feet long - noticeably longer than my Whitehall. It is only around six inches wider.

The Black Sheep is lighter than the Whitehall. I can lift one end - it's heavy but I can lift it. The Whitehall is too heavy to lift.

It needs a paint job and there is a bit of rot at the base of the sternpost. Otherwise it is in good condition. I may change the color when I repaint it. Right now the outside is dark brown and the interior is tan. The flooring is white and really needs paint.

The oars and mast rotted out so I have to make new ones. It did come with a yard and sail.

It has a loggerhead for mounting a swivel gun. I will need to drill out the hole to make it big enough for my swivel gun's yoke.

It seemed easier to tow - probably because it is lighter. Also, I paid a lot less than I paid for the Whitehall and I got a great deal on the Whitehall - a comparable boat would cost quite a bit more than I paid.

The Black Sheep came with a rudder and two tillers - the normal one and a shorter one to use with a large crew. It also has a steering oar which it pretty heavy.

It did not come with a cover and we drove through a lot of rain on the way back. I now know that it is water-tight. I had to pump out several gallons of rainwater.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A New Boat

I'm planning on driving to New Hampshire in a couple of weekends and picking up a new (to me) boat. This one is the Batteau Black Sheep. It can be seen here and here.

It is a little late for the GAoP but otherwise is a good fit. I will be able to mount my larger swivel gun in the loggerhead. The small one I've been using in the Firefly is more of a cannon-shaped pistol than a real swivel gun. My larger swivel gun is the real thing.

Being able to accommodate a crew of 4 (including a gunner) to 8 is a plus. It has higher sides - we got some water over the sides if Firefly at Paynetown last year when the wind was causing waves and we were launching from the beach. We have a couple of events planned for the Great Lakes this year and I was a little concerned about waves there in Firefly if we get very far from land.

The flat bottom should be friendlier to being pulled up and should make a more stable boat (my wife is looking forward to that).

Downsides - right now it needs a new mast and I have been told that it "sails like a pig". I don't know if this is because it is a Batteau or because of the sail. It only had a square sail. I've checked and the Mackinaw Boat was similar to the Batteau but was usually sailed. A quick search of Google Images shows that these were gaff-rigged with a sprit sail so I might be able to work something out.

It is also a larger boat and needs at least three people to move - one at the tiller and two rowing. Right now I can handle Firefly by myself or with one other person. Also, I doubt that the Black Sheep is as fast as Firefly.

If I can get someone else to haul one of them, I probably will take both to Paynetown. I liked sailing Firefly in the lake there - it is much larger than the lake I usually sail and offered new scenery.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weapons Handling

A thread on the Pyracy Pub got me to thinking about the differences between the 17th century colonial and English Civil War reenactors I have been doing things with for decades and pirate reenactors. Specifically, I've been thinking about why so many pirates seem unsafe with weapons.

Part of it is experience. I doubt that most of the 17th century people I fall in with could count how many events they have been at. They have fired their weapons hundreds or thousands of times. Many of them have also drilled at historic sites where safe gun handling is stressed.

That does not mean that everyone doing the earlier periods is safe. I have had someone fire his gun right in my face at close range. He was worrying too much about getting his piece to fire and not enough about where the muzzle was pointed. I have seen other people do unsafe things but this is rare.

I do not get the same level of confidence at pirate events (Paynetown is an exception but most people there have crossed over from other periods). At the 2008 PiP I had someone load her pistol then turn to talk to me which pointed her pistol at my face - twice.

Some of this comes from the weapons used. Most people doing the earlier periods are using matchlocks. There is a whole drill for learning to use these and a lot of safety is built into the drill. If you load and handle your piece then the muzzle is always pointed up and away from anyone else. I have seen matchlocks go off unexpectedly. If the piece is being held correctly then it is an example. ("Look at where his muzzle was pointed. That's right where it should be.')

On the other hand, pirates are using newer, simpler locks. Some of them use caplocks. Too many of these pirates think that figuring out which end of the piece they should pour the powder down makes them an expert. Without the drill they are more likely to forget muzzle control.

Another factor is the different in the type of pieces used. Musketeers always carried muskets or calivers - both are long weapons. Pirates often use pistols or blunderbusses. It is much easier to forget muzzle control with a shorter piece.

We probably need to work some gun safety classes into big pirate events. PiP had a chance for people to practice their weapons. This could be expanded into a general mass-fire with people assigned to watch for unsafe behavior. Anyone who looked unsafe could be taken aside for some private instruction.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is the proper way to fire a Blunderbuss?

SPIKE TV reran their Pirate vs Armored Knight episode of Deadliest Warrior. I've written about this before and I agree with the outcome (the pirate won). This time I'm going to take examine how the blunderbuss is used.

In the episode, they went to test the blunderbuss against a ballistic gel target but it misfired. Later someone explained that this was caused by the way the expert tried to fire it. He was shooting with it braced against the hip and he tilted it a bit to the right so that the curve of the butt would fit better against his hip. The explanation was that tipping the pan let the prime to spill out, causing the misfire.

Since I got a blunderbuss, I've been trying to figure out the best way of holding it. I have heard that it is fired from the hip since the blast will spread out, anyway. When you hold it against your hip then you you either have to tilt it a bit or have the top edge of the butt jammed into your hip.

I will have to check this out when I'm somewhere that I can actually fire but I don't think that it is tilted enough to spill the prime. In addition, the frizzen holds the powder in the pan. There is less than a second between the pan being opened and the spark falling on the prime. Given the shallow angle, I don't see how this could cause a misfire. The exception would be if the flint was too long and the pan was not closed tightly while at half-cock.

But this still leaves the question - should it be shot from the hip? I don't think so for several reasons:

First, the stock is the same as on a musket or rifle - pieces that are fired from the shoulder. If it was meant to be fired from the hip then the butt would be flat enough to sit comfortably against the hip. A flat butt works fine against the shoulder so there is no reason to have a convex stock unless it was meant exclusively for the shoulder.

Second, these guns were used by sailors, coachmen, and dragoons. Sailors are likely to have a rail in the way. Coachmen are sitting and could not easily rest it against his hip. Dragoons fought either mounted or on foot. When mounted, the horse would be in the way. I can't imagine the blunderbuss being used from the hip by any of these people.

Third, even shotguns need to be aimed. When firing from the hip you can fire in the general direction of our opponent; from the shoulder you can aim it right at him. Granted, the shot will spread out, but probably not as much as you think. Friends who fire shotguns say that you have to be aiming pretty close to your target. A blunderbuss has a shorter barrel and a wider bore so it will spread faster but you still have to aim within a foot or two or your target. To be fair, I will admit that Gunny hit his targets while shooting a blunderbuss from the hip on Lock and Load. I will point out that he hit them at hip level which might not be as effective as higher up.

So where did the firing from the hip idea come from? I suspect that it is a movie myth by way of the shotgun. There are lots of things that cowboys do that do not work in real life. They fan their gun. This is rapid-firing by holding down the trigger while pulling the hammer back multiple times with the flat of the hand. You can empty your gun quickly but you can't aim at all. For years, gangsters have been holding their guns sideways with the barrel to the left of the hand. This looks mean but you cannot aim this way and it can cause the gun to jam. A few months ago someone opened fire on some police with a machine pistol. He only got off three shots before it jammed because he was holding it sideways.

I can see why someone would prefer holding a blunderbuss or shotgun against the hip. These weapons have a good kick and will bruise the shoulder more than the hip. Also, it looks cooler to fire from the hip. It gives the impression that you are so good that you don't have to aim. In a real battle, I would always shoot from the shoulder.

One last point - during the footage of pirates taking a ship I noticed people firing their blunderbusses one-handed like an overgrown pistol. This is possible when firing blanks but I would never try this with it actually loaded. The recoil is likely to pull the gun out of your hand and hurt you. (I have fired my carbine this way from my boat but even loaded, it would have a fraction of the kick of a blunderbuss.)