Famous Pirate Ships

Pirate Ships

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An old pirate ship.
An old pirate ship.
An old pirate ship. | Source

For most pirates, their ships could be any floating vessel. However, the best ships were fast and quick for easy attack and easier evasion of capture. Therefore, they were not too large and bulky but big enough for a fair sized crew and lots of fire power. Although some pirates who started off as privateers were given a swift ship and crew by their sponsoring government, most pirates obtained an able vessel the old fashioned way - by stealing it. They then customized it for their nefarious purposes by:

  • removing extraneous structures such as forecastles, upper structures, and cabins for extra speed.
  • removing interior bulk heads for more crew space and guns.
  • changing the mast and sail arrangement
  • adding more gun ports greater fire power in battle.

The work did not stop there as ships require regular maintenance. And in every job field there are those who are great organizing the mundane maintenance required for every job and well.... those who are less capable. To keep a vessel in top condition required regular repairs, hence the need for a carpenter on board and also the need for regular careening which involved running aground in a shallow inlet so that the exposed hull could be scraped of barnacles and other debris. It was a dangerous time as enemy ships could choose this vulnerability as a time to attack. A number of vessel types were favourites among pirates for various reasons.

Favourite Pirate Ships

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Sloop: a one-masted cutter-rigged vessel. John Rogers Maxwell's schooner Emerald (Henry C. Wintringham design.Sail plan of a Brigantine.Dutch ships ramming Spanish galleys off the English coast, 3 October 1602A Chinese junk ship with his rigging deployed.
Sloop: a one-masted cutter-rigged vessel.
Sloop: a one-masted cutter-rigged vessel. | Source
John Rogers Maxwell's schooner Emerald (Henry C. Wintringham design.
John Rogers Maxwell's schooner Emerald (Henry C. Wintringham design. | Source
Sail plan of a Brigantine.
Sail plan of a Brigantine. | Source
Dutch ships ramming Spanish galleys off the English coast, 3 October 1602
Dutch ships ramming Spanish galleys off the English coast, 3 October 1602 | Source
A Chinese junk ship with his rigging deployed.
A Chinese junk ship with his rigging deployed. | Source

Favourite Ships Used by Pirates

1. Sloops:

  • It was one of the favourite boats of Caribbean and Atlantic Pirates of the late 1600's.
  • With a large bowsprit, it could be altered easily for various sail combinations.
  • It was 30 to 60 feet long and could reach a top speed of 10 knots.
  • It could accommodate 20 to 70 men and up to 15 cannons.
  • It was easily maneuverable for lightning swift attacks, avoiding broadside hits and out running pursuit.
  • Its draft was only 8 feet which meant it could find safety in shallow inlets where larger warships could not venture.

2. Schooners:

  • This two-masted ship was also a favourite of Caribbean and Atlantic Pirates.
  • It too had terrific speed, awesome maneuverability and good gun capacity.
  • It could accommodate up to 75 crew.
  • It had an even shallower draft of only 5 feet which meant it could venture even farther inland to divide the spoils although the smaller hold meant smaller treasure could be stored.
  • It could accommodate more than 100 men and 12 guns.

3. Brigantines:

  • This ship was a favourite in the Mediterranean and earlier versions allowed for the use of oars in low wind conditions.
  • This ship was also a shallow draft, two-mast vessel.
  • It had a number of square and fore/aft-rigged sail combination possibilities which gave it excellent maneuverability and speed.
  • Because it was heavier, longer and had more room, it was a favourite choice for long battles.
  • It ranged from about. 90 to 115 ft. long, from 24 to 30 ft. broad, and its hold was 12 to 18 ft. in depth.

4. Galleys:

  • A variation of this ancient vessel was used by the Barbary Corsairs in the Mediterranean in the 1500's.
  • The main sailing power came from up to 30 oars manned by several men each below deck.
  • Sails provided only secondary propulsion power.
  • Several cannons were available in the bow for assaults in addition to over 100 pirates.

5. Junks:

  • Used by pirates in the far east for many centuries.
  • It had a very high stern and flat bow.
  • It was also a wide ship with adjustable rudder height.
  • It ranged in size from 45 to 100 feet and could hold several heavy guns.
  • "As an engine for carrying man and his commerce upon the high and stormy seas as well as on the vast inland waterways, it is doubtful if any class of vessel is more suited or better adapted to its purpose than the Chinese junk, and it is certain that for flatness of sail and handiness, the Chinese rig is unsurpassed." (H. Warington Smith)

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Blackbeard the Pirate: this was published in The History...of Pirates, 1725.
Blackbeard the Pirate: this was published in The History...of Pirates, 1725.
Blackbeard the Pirate: this was published in The History...of Pirates, 1725. | Source

Blackbeard and Queen Anne's Revenge

  • Edward Teach or Blackbeard as his mates knew him, captured a French slave ship in 1717 called the Concorde.
  • This ship was a frigate, a type of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries and was a speedy ship.
  • Adding 26 guns to the vessel, Blackbeard boasted 40 guns in total on his vessel.
  • It became one of the most powerful vessels in American waters.
  • Blackbeard attacked the Port of Charleston in May of 1718 and looted 5 merchant vessels.
  • He ran the vessel ashore on Topsail Inlet, be it by accident or on purpose to kill off some of his crew and retain a greater share of the loot.
  • Regardless, the ship suffered extensive damage to its hull and had to be abandoned.
  • In 1997, off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina, marine archaeologists discovered the wreck and treasure has been recovered ever since.
  • The ship is lying in 20 feet of water and is heavily guarded by Coast Guard and law enforcement security.
  • The salvagers have donated the entire find to the state of North Carolina.
  • It promises to be one of the richest maritime archaeological find of this century.

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Kidd on the Deck of the Adventure Galley.The Adventure Galley would have looked very much like this ship.
Kidd on the Deck of the Adventure Galley.
Kidd on the Deck of the Adventure Galley. | Source
The Adventure Galley would have looked very much like this ship.
The Adventure Galley would have looked very much like this ship. | Source

Captain Kidd and the Adventure Galley

  • Captain William Kidd, a Scottish sailor was given the Adventure Galley as part of a plan by New York Colonel Robert Livingston to reduce pirate attacks against British Ships sailing the East Indies.
  • Kidd`s mandate was to hunt pirates and enemy French ships and steal their treasure and goods.
  • The three-mast, 287 ton Galley was provided with 34 guns and 23 oars to aid the mission even in calm winds.
  • Kidd found pirate hunting harder than imagined and as he had agreed to payback the investment made if he brought back no treasure he resorted to attacking allied vessels.
  • When the Adventure Galley`s hull rotted due to poor maintenance, Kidd abandoned the ship in Madagascar in 1698.
  • He had hoped to receive a pardon from Livingston but when he was returned to London he was tried and found guilty of piracy and executed in 1701.

Captain Bartho. Roberts with two Ships, Viz the Royal Fortune and Ranger, takes in Sail in Whydah Road on the Coast of Guiney, January 11th. 1721
Captain Bartho. Roberts with two Ships, Viz the Royal Fortune and Ranger, takes in Sail in Whydah Road on the Coast of Guiney, January 11th. 1721 | Source

Bartholomew Roberts and the Royal Fortune

  • A number of ships captained by Black Bart were named the Royal Fortune.
  • The first Royal Fortune resulted from the capture of a French brigantine near Newfoundland in July 1720.
  • He added 26 cannons to the ship and took her to the Caribbean.
  • A short while later, he captured a French warship for the Martinique governor and renamed it the Royal Fortune making it his new flagship.
  • In West Africa, he captured the Onslow and renamed her the Royal Fortune.
  • On February 10, 1722, the last Royal Fortune sank after an attack by the British warship HMS Swallow.
  • Black Bart was a fancy dresser and was probably the most successful pirate of the Golden Age of Piracy.
  • Over 400 ships off the West Africa coast, Canada and the Caribbean were captured by him between 1719 and 1722.

Sources Cited

Allen, Scott. 6 Famous Pirate Ships. Mental Floss. April 27, 2009.

Bartholomew Roberts. Charleston Pirates. 2003

Recovery of Blackbeard Ship "Queen Anne's Revenge in Beaufort, NC. Historic Beaufort, North Carolina. 1999- 2009.

The Pirate's Realm: Pirate Ships, Pirate Ship Pictures, 2003-2010.



Pirates and their Ships: Test your Knowledge

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Comments 14 comments

melbel profile image

melbel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

This is an awesome hub! I didn't know about the different types of ships used by pirates. In a pirate video game I used to play, I always chose the sloop because of its maneuverability. Now I know why it was one of the better ones in the game!

Thank you for the fun dose of pirate history!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks mel, your comment means a a lot. I am loving researching pirate history. My boys would love pirate video games, especially if its linked to some real history. Although right now they are into Madden football and COD and FallOut - New Vegas is the new one. A pirates game would be cool. Which one are you playing so I can recommend a good one to them?


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

I enjoyed this immensely. There are wonderful photos with it, as well.


melbel profile image

melbel 4 years ago from New Buffalo, Michigan

It's a slightly older game (for Xbox), but it's seriously the best game ever. It's called Sid Meier's Pirates. If they have an Xbox 360, I think it's compatible with it, but there is a computer version, too.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Mel, I'll let them know!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Glad you enjoyed the hub. Good to hear from you again aviannovice.


ChaplinSpeaks profile image

ChaplinSpeaks 4 years ago from Charleston, South Carolina

Very interesting topic! I learned a lot and did not even know that the Queen Anne's Revenge had been discovered. Thanks for digging deep on a cool subject.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks CS. Need to do some more research on the last vessel but it is pretty interesting stuff.


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 4 years ago from Northern, California

Teresa, my Da' would adore this hub! He lived on an antiquated sailboat for several years when I was in my early teens. It was like having a cool dad that was a nice pirate! I will have to make sure he gets to read your work, very fun and interesting hub. Up and so much more!

HubHugs~


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

K9, great to hear from you again! What an amazing experience to live on a boat and to be a kid and get to experience that as well! So glad this hub brought back some great memories for you!!!!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Awesome hub! I'm linking it to my Blackbeard hub - I talked about Queen Anne's Revenge, too! Hehehe. Great breadth of thought and in-depth analysis of these ships. Fabulous job!! :)


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks CC . Glad you enjoyed it. Pirates are so very interesting to read and write about. Can't wait to stop by and read your Blackbeard hub!


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 4 years ago from The High Seas

Good topic, good information and interesting writing. Bravo.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it!

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