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History of the Ship; Pirate Ships and Cruise Ships

Updated on August 12, 2013

Ship Travel History

Ships are fascinating and intriguing. Pirate ships have been depicted in drawings as far back as the 1600s, but because these ships were built entirely of wood, we can only imagine how beautiful they must have appeared. Even the ones that were wrecked, and discovered for their treasures have completely deteriorated under the sea.

Pirates prized power and speed- so much the better if both were combined in one hull. They particularly favored predatory vessels that they could bear down on their prey, such as the Brigantine.

The birth of the transatlantic ocean liner was in the early 1800s, and a far cry from a pirate ship, but it was not until the late 1800s that trips across the Atlantic were being made for pleasure, as conditions before 1900 were unbearable at best.

In the mid 1800s Cunard launched its first steamers and the birth of ocean travel on a fixed departure schedule was launched. This pioneering company outlasted its rivals and established an unmatched safety record for decades. The North Atlantic is one of the roughest oceans in the world and in the winter is at its most inhospitable. The stormy voyage to the new world was a melancholy endurance marathon. Many passengers were sick throughout the entire trip. As if feeling sick on a long ocean trip was not bad enough, the nauseous passengers discomfort was compounded by the lack of ventilation.

The nineteenth century ships had no heating system, no running water, or toilets and no way of keeping food fresh once the ice had melted. A cow was often kept on deck to provide a limited supply of fresh milk.

As the voyage stretched into its third week the quality of food was severely deteriorated.


17th Century

The Brigantine was the fast and sturdy workhorse of the day. The Brigantine was also the chosen combat craft of many pirate captains. She was basically a two-masted vessel that carried on her main mast either square or fore-and-aft sails, or a combination thereof, which made her immensely versatile; the square sails drover her best in quartering winds while the fore-and-aft sails were effective when sailing to windward. The vessel here was 80 feet long and at 150 tons was big enough to mount 10 cannon and carry a crew of 100.

The "Ideal" Pirate Ship

This design was greatly favored by smugglers because it was a near-ideal vessel for pirates. A rapier-like bowspirit almost as long as her hull enabled her to mount a parade of canvas that made her even more nimble than the Schooner or Brigantine; in favorable winds, a square topsail gave her an extra measure of speed, sometimes exceeding 11 knots. Though not shallow in draft this large 100-tonner drew eight feet of water carrying 75 pirates and 14 cannon-the sloop could maneuver in the channels and sounds were the brigands hid.

The Great Eastern

The Great Eastern

Civilized travel was underway and in 1860 The Great Eastern was the largest and longest ship ever built, and would remain so long after she was scrapped. In terms of construction and passenger accommodation she belonged to a later era. She was the first steamship to make a regular passage between England and Australia.

Turmoil from the start- there were technical problems that slowed construction and caused the builders to go way over budget. When launch day arrived, over 10,000 guest came to watch the big event. They were disappointed when the great ship slid broadside down the ways, then stopped dead and refused to budge. It ultimately took more than one month and an additional $300,000 to get her into the water. By the time she was afloat, the original owners were practically bankrupt.

The designing engineer was obsessed with the great ship and directed her completion under her new owners. A ruptured heater caused an explosion that resulted in severely injuring many of the crew and killing four. Then the first captain drowned in a malfuction, and the designing engineer died of a stroke. Despite her size, she was reportedly bouncy and sloppy in the water.

The Great Eastern left Liverpool on her maiden voyage in 1860, and the one positive thing that was to go down in history for this glorious ship was that she laid the first transatlntic cable. In 1888, she was finally put out of her misery.


Lusitania Dining Room

The Cunard Line

By 1901 The Cunard Line was king of the Atlantic and rapidly growing in their reputation as fast, safe, and reliable transportation. They were also now becoming known for their opulent luxury in reponse to German ships that boasted nothing but glamour. The Cunard Line produced the Lusitania and the Mauretania.

These two great ships grew together side by side and Lusitania was completed first and Mauretania was launched in 1907. They were close in size but Mauretania performed slightly better, having four prop blades as opposed to Lusitania's three. Both were beautiful and luxurious and powered by steam turbines.

The interior of the Mauretania was designed in dark wood, with a tradional appeal, while the Lusitania had a light and airy feeling being mostly white plaster.

The two ships were friendly rivals for many years with record speed voyages being printed in the newspapers on a regular basis. They were both remarkable ships. Mauretania was in coninuous service without a major reconditioning from 1909-1912.

Luisitaia's career was cut short by a German torpedo in one of the most famous ship wreck catastrophies of all time. Lusitania's sinking would also be considered the beginning of WWI.

Mauretania Dining Room

Ship History on Amazon

Olymic & Titanic

Olymic's Grand Staircase

The White Star Line

The Olympic and the Titanic were The White Star Line's answer to Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania.

The keel of the Olympic was laid down in 1908 and three months later work began on the sister ship, Titanic. The two ships sat side by side under construction. When the Olympic was completed it was considered to be the biggest and most luxurious ship yet built. It was indeed a very decorative and opulent ship especially in the main dining room. Edwardian in style with Turkish baths and elevators just as Lusitania and Mauretania.

Olympic proved to be a very calm and smooth riding ship, and her sister ship, Titanic was a larger version of Olympic, this gave The white Star Line confidence that Titanic would be safe, and in good working order as the Olympic had proven to be. When Titanic was launched, Olymipc would be the slightly smaller version of the largest ship on the sea.

Olympic was said to perform flawlessly until her 5th voyage in which she tried to overtake another ship, the Hawke. When the Hawke's bow came alongside the Olympic's starboard side, the Hawke was helplessly drawn towards the huge ship. The tremendous suction was too much for the smaller ship and it crashed into the Olympic's starboard quarter, nearly capsizing before she spun away. Both ships sustained serious damage. The Olympic had a gaping hole in her shell plating above the waterline and a serious puncture under water, damaged starboard propeller. The patch job on Olympic delayed Titanic's completion by several months. Captain Smith had commanded Olympic on all of her voyages before taking over Olympic's younger sister's Titanic for his final voyage before retiring.

Titanic departed in 1912 with a who's who passenger list. Some of the wealthiest couples in the world at the time were on board the ill fated ship. Titanic has a brilliant design that led many journalists to begin calling it the unsinkable ship. As fate would have it, the ship struck an iceberg in such a way that was perhaps the only way that could have sunk this ship, and 2,223 people on board the Titanic perished in the frigid Atlantic, including Captain Smith. It has become one of the greatest tragedies of all time.

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  • Skarlet HubPages
    I write many Hebpages on various subjects including classic Hollywood and vintage everything. I also hubs on business, investing and various ways of generating income. I have also published books, and numerous articles online. Links to many of my pages can be found at the above address. Sincerely, Skarlet


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    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 5 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Great research and an excellent Hub.

      The Frog

    • Skarlet profile image

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      @Poolman-I know, I was actually thinking the same thing. Sounds like you're experiences have given you a real appreciation for the nasty Atlantic during the winter. I am amazed that people had the nerve to make that journey 150 years ago. I think that if I had made the journey during the 1840s, as Charles Dickens did, I would never have had the nerve to make the return trip. I am one of those who is always pursuing hobbies, and ships were a hobby of mine when I was in my late teens. Thank you very much for your comment Mike.

      @Carol7777- Thank you. I am glad you stopped by.

      @Davesworld-Thank you for your insightful comment. I began with pirate ships because I will be linking some pirate information this hub, and other ships stores.

      @itouchtheworld-Thank you. I have glad you enjoyed the hub.

    • profile image

      itouchtheworld 5 years ago

      Nice one. Got to know new things:-)

    • Davesworld profile image

      Davesworld 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, MN 55016

      Pirates are not the place where you should start with a look at ocean going transport. As a general rule, pirates did a lousy job of caring for their ships.

      There are many dirty crummy back-breaking jobs to be done on a wooden sailing ship. Lets take a look at one: coiling down and maintaining the anchor cable once the ship was under way. Pirates, not being under discipline, didn't feel like working that hard - understand, this is a heavy rope six inches or more thick - so if there were no captives on the ship the job simply didn't get done. Consequently the anchor cables tended to rot out very quickly on a pirate vessel.

      It was the same story with all the other routine but difficult maintenance jobs that need to be done in order to keep a wooden sailing ship afloat. Pirate ships tended to turn into floating wrecks in short order.

      The Pirate's solution was a simple one, go out and steal another ship. A lot less work and a lot more fun. As a result, Pirates tended to sail anything they could get their fingers on and needed to change ships quite often.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      What an interesting hub. I love the photos you used. And I learned some new facts which I always enjoy. Thanks for writing this hub..something really different.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 5 years ago

      Wow Skarlet, what a great story. It is hard to believe that piracy is still a problem even today. The smaller sailing vessels usually meet in a planned location and make some of the crossings as a group to make it safer.

      Having crossed the Atlantic twice on troop ships in the winter, I have never desired to get aboard a cruise ship. I can only imagine how horrible life on those old sailing vessels must have been.

      This was really great and I am curious how you know so much about sailing ships?