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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ships of Black Flag, Black Ship - Part I : The Sloop

I will be writing some short descriptions of the types of ships mentioned in Black Flag, Black ship. Where possible I will try to treat you to not only text and drawings but also video links so the ships will become more readily appreciated. I will also be giving you a crash course in sails and rigging in this and upcoming blogs.  Since this is a pretty arcane subject and I am by now means a master of it, I do hope to provide enough information that you'll have a better appreciation for the maritime tradesmen who sailed and maintained these ships.

There were a bewildering number of sailing ship types during the age of sail.  I plan to discuss the ships used in each of my novels and the actual ships that inspired my imagination.  But first a little terminology to help you understand two basic types of sail configurations.

I think everyone is comfortable with the idea that on sailing vessels sails are affixed to masts so the force of the wind fills the sails and propels a ship in the direction her master desires.  Masts are the large upright poles that support the sails.  The masts are held in place by very ingenious arrangements of ropes and wooden apparatus called rigging.

In this era, masts were made from evergreen trees. For Instance, the first masts of the  USS Constitution were made from eastern white pine trunks.The tremendous stresses places on the masts by the wind-filled sails meant that masts that could flex would better survive the buffeting of storm winds. Because of these stresses, the rigging had to be continually adjusted and repaired. 

The crewman in charge of the sails and rigging was known as the boatswain, bos'un, or bosun. He was also responsible for the anchor and its employment. He supervised work parties and trained apprentice seamen in marlinespike seamanship, which in part is the art of knot-making, making and repairing rope, lashing down objects, and maintaining a ship's rigging.  Because he worked closely with the crew, the bosun and his bosun's mates were responsible for carrying out ship discipline.

Each type of sailing ship has a specific sail plan, based on what the ship's function.  Sail plans are based on the square-rigged sail, or the fore-and-aft sail.  These two configurations are called rigs.  Depending on the vessel you can have both types of rigs present on a ship.  A square-rigged sail hangs on spars called yards, which are  perpendicular to the masts and ran from left to right, that is, from  larboard (port) to starboard. A fore-and-aft rigged sail is suspended from the mast from front to rear, that is bow to stern, or forward to aft. The fore-and-aft rig sail can be either triangular or trapezoidal in shape.

The sloop was one the major workhorse of the Caribbean Sea.  It was a shallow draft vessel, well suited for working close to coral reefs that often blocked entrances to bays and harbors.  Just exactly what a sloop was at this time was not well defined and what the British Royal Navy termed a sloop was even less so. 

Generally, the merchant sloop was a singled masted vessel with fore-and-aft sails.  The keel of these vessels ranged between 50 to 75 feet in length and with a bowsprit, a long spar for supporting sails at the bow of the ship, they could seem be almost 100 feet in length. The sails could be triangular or  gaff-rigged, meaning trapezoidal sails instead of triangular sails. These sails were suspended on a fore-and-aft spar called a gaff.  This type of sail gives a greater sail area for the height of the mast, translating into more speed.

Merchants preferred the sloop because of its exceptional speed and shallow draft. It was just the thing to break away from larger pursuers. It was also well-suited as a naval patrol craft and a pirate vessel.  The Bermuda sloop and the Jamaican sloop were well-suited for the Caribbean. Made from cedar, the Jamaican and Bermuda sloops were lighter, and  the Jamaican sloop could do about 12 knots.They  better resisted shipworms than European-built vessels, extending the life of the vessel from ten years to 30.

As a smaller vessel,  the sloop's speed and agility allowed audacious attackers to close in on large ships and board them.  Privateer sloops generally carried large boarding parties supported by a number of swivel guns, which are small short-range cannons used to sweep the deck of an opposing ship. If you read the "ships taken" columns in the British Gentleman's Magazine for this era, you'll see that a number of privateer  vessels were smaller ships. Take note of the number of cannon and the number of "swivels."

The British Royal Navy purchased a number of Bermuda sloops,  including three-masted sloops, which the Royal Navy called "sloops-of-war."  The Royal Navy defined a sloop as a vessel with a single gun deck, though its actual sail plan may have varied from the traditional sloop.

A sloop  does have a role to play in Black Flag, Black Ship and you'll have to read it to find out what happened.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pirates and the spirit of lawlessness

"And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names."
Revelation 13:1

Pirates to this day are creatures of opportunity.  They thrive in war-torn areas whose sea lanes are inadequately patrolled and sail from ports that either have weak governments beset by lawlessness or ones sympathetic to their goals.

The anarchist philosopher Hakim Bey, better know as Peter Lamborn Wilson, coined the term Temporary Autonomus Zone (TAZ) for an area where governmental control is weak. In his book, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism,  Wilson talks about the anarchist leanings of pirates and their desire to live in pirate utopias, free of governmental control.

He quotes North American pirate Captain Charles Bellamy's speech to one Captain Beers.  Here is the quote published  in 1824 by Thomas Carey in The General History of the Pirates.

The quote reads, "I cannot pass by in silence, Captain Bellamy's speech to Capt. Beer. / am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do any one a mischief, when it is not for my advantage ; the sloop, we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by laws which rich men have made for their own security; for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery ; but ye altogether : them for a pack of crafty rascals, and you,who serve them, for a pared of hen-hearted numskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and me plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make one of us, than sneak after these villains for employment ?

"Capt. Beer told him, that his conscience would not allow him to break through the laws of God and man.

"You are a devilish conscience rascal, replied Bellamy ; I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to •make war on the whole world, as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea, and an army of 100,000 men ;.in the field ; and this my conscience tells me : but there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at leisure."

The notion of a "free prince," someone who is an unfettered law unto himself, is at the heart of lawlessness. This attitude  agrees with the powers of darkness and helps them establish a stronghold of lawlessness over a region and perpetuates strife that weakens governmental authority. The famous passage in Ephesians 6:12 reminds us of this demonic opposition: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. "

These powers were known long before the Christian era. In Hesiod's Theogony, the second generation of gods includes Strife (Eris) who is the mother to 15 awful progeny including Lawlessness (Dysnomia),

If there is a spirit of piracy that serves the house of Eris and her demon brood, who could oppose them and their human allies?

We can look to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way."

I think the best explanation is the restraint comes from active opposition of the Holy Spirit through believers and by heavenly means chosen by God until the day the Antichrist is revealed.

What could such opposition look like?  Read Black Flag, Black Ship to find out!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sailing through the genre minefield

When I wrote Black Flag, Black Ship, I wrote passionately and as realistically as possible. My goal was to write a  Christian historical fantasy novel set in the 1700s during the age of sail, just before Queen Anne's War.

More than anything I wanted a exotic location where miraculous happenings of Cecil B. DeMille proportions could unfold combating the scourges of lawlessness and slavery. I wanted to pit  sinister technologies wielded by mercilessness pirates against resourceful men and women of faith, who by the way do keep their powder dry and their cutlasses sharpened.

By the time I finished Black Flag, Black Ship, I knew I had a great story, but I still had to explain it in ten words or less to prospective agents and publishers.  That meant I had to come up with some kind of genre classification. So how do you classify a story filled with angels and devils, infernal devices, piracy, espionage, sea battles, underwater happenings, and people encountering the indomitable agape love of God?

I would unabashedly call it a whacking good story, but alas, that is not an officially recognized genre. I came up with numerous genres and ad-hock genres: Christian suspense, Christian supernatural sea stories, Christian SF/ fantasy and even a hopeful Christian historical fantasy.  I finally settled on Christian speculative fiction, which embraces the speculative fiction genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, provided the stories are told from a Christian world view.

While Black Flag, Black Ship certainly does fit the Christian speculative fiction genre, it's still a mouthful to say. So, I put the thought on a mental back burner to simmer and today I had an aha moment.

If steampunk novels are novels filled with all sorts of amazing technologies like airships, babbage engines and submarines, then could a novel set in the age of sail filled with all sorts of amazing pre-steam technologies and supernatural happenings be called sailpunk?

The problem is no one is really sure that there is such a thing as sailpunk. Some say that it could be a story with advanced technology set between the Renaissance  and the steam era.  Others say it is a story with advanced nautical technology set in the distant future when there are no more hydrocarbons or on a distant water planet.

The  "punk"  genres such as steampunk and cyberpunk  usually  feature darker stories with  broken societies called  dystopias where the little guys get crushed by the powerful.  The purpose of a dystopian novel is to force folks to look at the negative trends in their own societies by projecting  undesirable transformations of societies. Still, it is not very conducive to thinking happy thoughts.

What I propose to do in writing Christian sailpunk and Christian steampunk novels is to say that life is dark and hopeless without Jesus and that with Him all things are possible, including the greatest miracle of all, personal transformation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gunnery 101

A Psalm of David. 
Blessed be the LORD, my rock, 
Who trains my hands for war, 
And my fingers for battle;
Psalm 144:1 

In the movie Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,  when crew of the HMS Surprise encounters the French privateer Acheron,  the sailing master Mr. Allen asks Captain Jack Aubrey for an attack course. Jack replies, "Lay me alongside a pistol shot."

 In the 1700s and 1800s, a pistol shot's distance was  an optimistic 50 yards. You can find gunnery tables that report respectable distances for cannon fire, yet captains preferred to close within a pistol shot.  This was for two reasons, accuracy and paradoxically self-defense.

Let's look at the matter of accuracy.  Naval warfare expert Sam Willis in his book, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare, says that actually hitting a ship took a lot of effort all all but close range.  There are stories about gunners firing scores of cannonballs without a single hit and the opposing crew hearing the rounds roar overhead.

If you've ever been in a small boat on a large lake or in the ocean, you know that the sea is continually in motion. Even on days when the sea seems as smooth as glass, there are still gentle undulations. Now imagine a battle in moderate seas where the deck is really pitching.  Firing a cannon from the deck of a continually tilting vessel adds a level of complexity that land-bound artillerymen do not experience.

With the cannon's muzzle continually rising and dipping, gunners had to learn when to fire.  If they were aiming to punch a hole at or below the water line, then they fired while the muzzle was dipping.  When they aimed  for the rigging and the sails, which by the way is a much much larger target than the hull, then they would fire while the muzzle was either on the rise or depending on the elevation, just when the muzzle begins to dip at the top of its rise.

In the 1700s, to avoid being crushed by the recoiling cannons, gunners stood off to the side of the piece and fired in using a yard-long wooden handle tipped with burning slow match fuse. This was called the linstock.  Sighting the cannon and then firing from the side was not a big issue for land-bound cannon.

However, once a ship's gunner moved away from a naval cannon, the sight picture changed. Therefore experienced gunners had to  tell at a glance when to fire once the cannon's elevation was set.  After the linstock ignited the powder in the touch hole,  the cannon's main powder charge didn't ignite immediately, so good naval  gunners also had to account for the delay in firing as the muzzle rose and dipped. More on the process of sighting or laying a cannon in a later post.

Now as to the matter of closing with an enemy for defensive purposes, remember that ships of this time were build out of wood.   A  cannonball's  high velocity at close ranges allows it to punch a hole through a wooden hull much in the same was as a paper punch does to paper.  However, from further distances, the cannonball's lower velocity not only penetrated the wood, it also created a spray of large flying splinters that could and did impale people.

Finally, in order to deliver massive firepower, captains maneuvered their vessels so the maximum number of guns could fire and thus increase the chance at hitting something.   Fleets practiced maneuvers allowing ships to queue up so they could pass their enemies in a line, presenting a continuous broadside of hundreds of guns.  The goal was to fire as many cannon as possible as often as possible.

To conserve gunpowder, crews were continually drilled in the process of loading, aiming, and firing their cannons without actually shooting them. Captains who were eager to improve their fighting chances, would  purchase powder with their own pay.  This was a wise investment as skilled gun crews handiwork could help take a vessel as a prize and the captains could recoup their loss. They knew that  crews who could actually fire their cannons in practice gained confidence in their skill and speed as they trained their hands for war.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Careening - 18th century ship care

Ships up until the last 125 years or so were made largely out of wood.  Beginning in the late 1800s, ship builders transitioned from wooden frames with wood planking, to iron frames with wooden planking, to iron construction, and then steel, and finally fiberglass, and even more exotic materials.

The ocean is host for many living creatures, ranging from microscopic plankton to the giant whales and squid. Very young animals, especially invertebrates (animals that don't have an internal skeleton), make up much of the plankton broth.  Invertebrates like barnacles and mollusks need places to call home.  They affix themselves to a hospitable object and grow into adults.

Likewise, seaweed starts out as part of the plankton and needs a suitable object to attach itself and grow to maturity.

Ships make the perfect place to call home.  Barnacles glue themselves to the hull of a vessel and open their armored shell in order to strain seawater for food. The shipworm, or the Teredo worm, is a mollusk that burrows its way into wood and progressively weakens the wood as it grows and has to increase its burrow.  In tropical climates, shipworms grow very quickly.

The growth of the marine life also had a detrimental effect on speed.  Ship hulls that were floating ecosystems simply had too much marine life dragging through the water.  A slowdown of  three to five knots an hour could mean that a ship would cover between 72 to 120 miles less a day on an ocean voyage.

That could mean that food and water could give out over long voyages. A slower ship could also make for easier prey for faster vessels. For merchants, fast ships also meant more profits as quicker round trips could mean more cargo sold.

Consequently, wooden ships have to be regularly hauled out of the water to have their hulls scraped, sanded and sealed.  This process is called careening.  To careen a vessel, the crew would have to find a suitable beach where the tide could allow the vessel to gently setting on one of its sides. Heavy objects were taken from the vessel and sometimes parts of the masts were removed.   The crew would then scrape off all the living organisms, sand the wood, and then seal it with tar.  The the crew would float the vessel and allow it to gently rest on its other side so it too could be careened. It was messy slimy work that had to be done often.

In locations where gently sloping beaches weren't available, careening wharves were built to provide a suitable place to clean ship hulls.  In Port Royal, Jamaica, ships used a beach on the inside of the Palisadoes tombolo. At English Harbor, Antigua, careening wharves for the English Royal Navy were in operation by the early 1730s.

Even with an attentive crew, a wooden ship normally lasted a few decades. Ships that used resistant woods were built where available. The USS Constitution because of its white oak hull is a notable example. "Country built  ships" laid down in Indian shipyards and Jamaican sloops fared well because they used woods that resisted marine life.  However, most navies and merchants needed continual replacement ships each decade.  Ship building was so important to national defense, that countries like England set aside entire forests to serve as raw material for shipyards.

Pirates who couldn't openly use careening wharves or careening beaches near unfriendly ports would often choose secluded coves with shallow approaches so deeper draft vessels could not attack them.  This made numerous uninhabited islands in the Caribbean and Indian Oceans ideal careening stops. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The "Monstar" in the alehouse

In his last years, he was an object of crass curiosity.  Deprived of wealthy patrons, he worked as a brewer in a London alehouse downstream of the the London Bridge.  For the price of a pint, patrons could gawk at the man who made so many marvelous inventions in the court of James I.  Viewed as something of a freak or "Monstar," he was a technological chimera:  part showman, part scientist, and part engineer.

A man of broad vision, Dutch-born Cornelius Drebbel , also known as Cornelius Van Drebbel, did not sink into defeat. Rather as he labored in the alehouse, he began to actively plan an ambitious civil engineering project to drain the great marshes, known as the Fens, which surrounded Cambridge. He died in 1633 before this plans could be employed.

Drebbel's contributions to science were enormous, especially in the areas of mechanical engineering, chemistry, and optics.  Born in about 1572 in Alkmaar, Holland,  by 1590 Drebbel studied at the Alkmaar Latin school under great Dutch scholars and artisans, acquiring the skills he needed later in life.

Late seventeenth century scientist Robert Boyle credited him as one of the fathers of modern chemistry. His work in chemistry included generating oxygen, of which little was known at the time.  He worked with explosive compounds such as fulminates of mercury, gold, and silver.  His chemical work even helped provide for his heirs by developing a brilliant red dye which was fashionable for many years.

Drebbel either independently developed the microscope or improved upon existing models. He is known to have developed barometers, a working thermometer, and even a thermostat for a chicken incubator. He also demonstrated a heating and air condition system.  A skilled artisan, he was an accomplished engraver and glass blower. He even learned to brew beer in his early years in Holland.

In the early 17th century, scientists were regared as part wizards and part artisans.  They were not supported by governments or universities. Instead they had to earn their bread and perhaps perform their researches as a hobby rather than a occupation. The very lucky would land royal patrons who generally had practical demands like turning lead into gold or blowing up their enemies.

Cornelius Drebble hit upon the idea of using scientific demonstrations as door openers for funding his work.  He developed special fireworks for the elaborate masques favored by royalty. In addition, he developed a "perpetual motion" device for King James I of England that may have operated as an open air barometer. Descriptions of this device are not complete and there is serious interest in building a working model.

But he is best known as the developer of the first practical submarines that were so reliable that King James I in 1620 took a turn aboard a Drebbel submarine as it cruised down the Thames river. The submarine could be navigated underwater by compass an apparently used a mercury depth indicator. Demonstrated before hundreds if not thousands of Londoners, the submarine with a crew of sixteen remained submerged for three hours and cruised at depths of 12 to 15 feet.

Powered by six oars and twelve oarsmen, the crew's air supply should have been rapidly diminished. For instance, crew of the ill-fated 19th century Confederate submarine the CSS H. L. Hunley could only stay completely submerged for between  20 to 25 minutes.  Over two hundred years earlier, Drebbel solved that problem with an  oxygen generator that burned  a nitrate, possibly saltpeter, in order to produce oxygen.

Whether just hype or fact, there were reports that Drebbel developed a larger sea-going  submarine with a crew of 24 that could stay submerged for 24 hours at depths up to 300 feet. The compartmentalized sub also featured a moon pool that would have enabled divers to enter and leave the vessel underwater.

Drebbel boasted that he could develop a series of nautical weaponry, which included submarines with rams or even spar torpedoes.  It is known he developed underwater petards that could be fired by cannon that would explode on contact below the target vessel's waterline. No doubt the warheads depended upon a fulminating compound in order to detonate. Drebbel received a contract to develop these weapons for the Royal Navy along with mines and fire ships.  They were supposed to be employed during the British relief  attempt of La Rochelle, where French Huguenots were holding out against Royal French forces.

At this time military men despised weapons which did not fit the conventions of war. They believed their employment  to be unethical and cowardly. They called them  infernal machines and treated their operators as pirates rather than military prisoners.  

Add the reluctance of the Royal Navy to employ them, coupled with the two previous failures by the British to relieve La Rochelle, and you have a recipe for scapegoating.  The third failed attempt was blamed in part  upon Drebbel's weapons systems, which did not perform as expected, and understandable English reluctance to fight in the light of heavy casualties in the previous attempts. With the death of the Duke of  Buckingham, Drebbel's powerful patron, work for the Royal Navy ceased and the Drebbel family's financial plight worsened.

The development of the submarine stopped as Drebbel took up brewing in order to survive. None of his submersibles survived to be adequately documented, but engineers in 2002 developed a working model for the British TV show,  Building the Impossible.

Though Drebbel did publish scientific works and pamphlets, very few of his working notes survived. His family undoubtedly possessed some of these papers, however a greater part seems to be missing. There has even been a theory put forth that like Leonardo da Vinci, Drebbel had coded notebooks. One of these notebooks  on microscopy and alchemy may be  the Voynich manuscript.

What if armed with these coded notebooks someone claiming to be a member of the Drebbel family did continue the work of his illustrious ancestor? You will have to read Black Flag, Black Ship to find out what happened!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The grisly example

Few ships actually started out being designed as a privateer or pirate ship.  Pirates being opportunistic sort of folks usually mutinied and stole a ship from its owners. Readers of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island are well-acquainted with the mutiny orchestrated by the affable cook, one Long John Silver. They may not be familiar with Robert Culliford or Jack Rackham who took their vessels from their own pirate captains.

Some pirates stole their ships from a harbor such as the fictional Jack Sparrow, or the real life pirate Jack Rackham did in Nassau, New Providence. Others like Bartholomew Roberts and Samuel Bellamy commonly captured them at sea.

One captain accused of piracy had his ship handed to him by investors anxious for prize money.

In the late 1690s, English investors sick of the pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean against British East India vessels commissioned the Adventure Galley.  Crewed by 150 men, it weighed in at 284 tons and had 34 cannons. In addition to sails, as a galley she was equipped with long oars called sweeps.  A vessel the size of the Adventure Galley would have a deck  dedicated for rowing and there could have been about 21 sweeps to a side.  Crew not needed for handling the vessel or manning its forward guns were used to row the ship toward its target.

Galleys, or 'gallys' as they were sometimes spelled, being shallow-draft vessels were designed to operate chiefly in coastal waters, though some could be used for crossing oceans. The earliest known large-scale attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by galleys occurred in the 14th Century by the Mali emperor Bata Manding Bory's ill-fated fleet that set out to discover the New World. More about that in a later post.

As warships, galleys could lurk unseen behind an island, a headland, or in a bay, waiting for the moment to intercept an unwary vessel. Long before steam power, they were the weapon of choice to attack a sailing ship that had been becalmed.  

There were trade-offs with this design, the gun decks also had to be well above the waterline and there had to be some way of waterproofing the oar locks. When underway, sailing ships tilt, or heel, away from the wind, submerging  part of the hull.  During storms, all parts of the ship are battered and drenched by waves, wind-driven rain and  salt spray. If  unsealed gun ports or oar locks are under water long enough, a ship could fill with water and sink.

The galley has long been a fighting vessel, especially in the Mediterranean where the Greeks and Persians and later the Romans and Carthaginians  fought decisive battles at sea.   The Middle Ages saw the rise of  Christian and Muslim fleets; galley battles figured in the Crusades and their aftermath.  In the Atlantic, the Norsemen used their galleys for long-range pillaging and slave raids.

In the Mediterranean, independent Muslim city states in North Africa using their xebec-like galleys raided both shipping and the seacoasts of Christian nations first in the Mediterranean and then much later as far away as Iceland. The North Africans captured entire villages and sold the captives into slavery. Ironically, some of the captives were put back aboard the raiders as galley slaves.
The captain of the Adventure Galley was an experienced privateer and sometimes pirate with wealthy aristocratic connections. In fact it was rumored that King William III was a discrete investor. This is not so far-fetched an assertion, as the French King Louis XIV helped finance the  successful 1697 raid on the Spanish New World port of Cartagena de Indias by Bernard Desjean, Baron de Pointis  and Jean Baptiste du Casse with a flotilla of buccaneers and French soldiers.

The captain who started out with such glowing references either became an unlucky victim of diplomatic misfortune or really was the notorious pirate that so many claimed.   The British authorities alleged that far from hunting down pirates, the captain and crew of the Adventure Galley went rogue in the Indian Ocean.

There the Adventure Galley unsuccessfully attacked a Mughal convoy under protection of a British East India Company ship and eventually captured a rich Armenian merchantman, whose English captain was sailing under French passes from the French East India Company. The principal investor of this merchantman was a close friend of the Grand Mughal, Mohiuddin Mohammed Aurangzeb Alamgir.

Off the coast of Madagascar, the Adventure Galley and the prize Armenian merchantman met up with Robert Culliford and his ship Mocha Frigate.  Culliford and the captain of the Adventure Galley had unresolved business, because it was Culliford who had mutinied against him and taken his ship the Blessed William while he was ashore in Antigua.

In spite of his provocation, the captain of the Adventure Galley did not believe he had enough men to take Culliford's ship, so he stalled for time waiting for more of his vessels to arrive. The crew of the Adventure Galley, disgusted by their bad luck and their captain's apparent cowardice, joined Cullingford.

Ships of this time were not protected by from the ravages of the Teredo worm, also known as the shipworm.  Not worms but really mollusks, these invertebrates grow rapidly in warmer seas, thereby accelerating a wooden ship's aging. The captain decided to burn the Adventure Galley, which by this time was thoroughly worm-eaten. He salvaged everything of worth and took the remainder of his loyal crew with his prize ship and struck out to make a deal with his former investors.

To placate the powerful and wealthy Mughal Empire, the British denounced the Adventure Galley's captain and crew as pirates. Some of their number were eventually captured and were persuaded to testify against the captain of the Adventure Galley. The investors who once flocked to him now either distanced themselves, or joined forces with the prosecution in order to protect their larger investments in the East India Company, which would be greatly damaged if  it came under embargo by the Mughal Empire.

Protesting his innocence and unable to prove his assertions because evidence had been "mislaid," the captain of the Adventure Galley was found guilty and hanged at Execution Dock in London in  the late spring of 1701.  His body was then tarred, gibbeted, or placed in an iron cage,  and hung at the mouth of the Thames River as a reminder to all seamen that piracy does not go unpunished. That grisly relic, which in life had once been Captain William Kidd, remained there performing this cautionary purpose for nearly 20 years.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Brethren of the Coast

But they lie in wait for their own blood; 
They ambush their own lives.
So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; 
It takes away the life of its possessors.
Proverbs 1:18-19 

The historical Brethren of the Coast were comprised of Protestant French Huguenot, English and Dutch privateers who  during the 1600s operated in the Caribbean against the holdings of the Catholic countries of France and Spain.  Over time, this loose coalition of privateer captains and crews would begin to fracture along national lines, until all that remained of the Brethren were those who discarded the legal fiction of the letters of marque and  preyed on anyone who had the wealth.

At the end of  the Golden Age of Piracy, Caribbean pirate crews established a "Privateer's Republic"  in 1706 that  lasted until 26 July 1718 on what is now the island Nassau, the Bahamas. This was the last of the Caribbean pirate capitols that in a way formed a governmental devil's triangle, the three capitols having been Port Royal, Jamaica, the Island of Tortuga off Hispaniola, and Nassau.

The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714)  gave privateers the golden opportunity to hone their lethal skills and grow in number.  However, the examples of the mercenary excesses of the various wars of religion that plagued Europe during the 1600s did not go unnoticed.  Governments took note of those skills and hunted down the pirates as enemies of all mankind whenever they grew strong enough to pose a real threat.

The pirates who called Nassau their home port included the likes of Charles Vane, Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard, his teacher Benjamin HornigoldCalico Jack Rackham and others,  Rackham's major claims to fame were having the  female pirates  Anne Bonny and Mary Read. among his crew and to have a cay posthumously named after him off Port Royal, Jamaica where the authorities hung his body as a warning to other pirates.

For a brief time, the pirates held control of Nassau with Blackbeard as the first and last Chief Magistrate of the Privateer's Republic.  Queen Anne appointed Woodes Rogers, a famous sea captain and former privateer,  as the first Royal Governor the Bahamas, the only stipulation being that he would have to first take back the Bahamas.  He proved to be both fearless and incorruptible.

On 26 July 1718, Rogers led a military expedition to take back Nassau.  Driven out by Rogers, Blackbeard began his self-destructive wanderings that ended in his death in North Carolina waters. Rackham welshed on a pardon from Rogers and was pursued until his eventual capture off the coast of Jamaica.

Of the pirates who received a pardon, Benjamin Hornigold turned his back on his old ways and instead became a pirate hunter under Rogers.  He died at sea in 1719 during a hurricane, chasing the last of Nassau's pirates.

The Brethren of the Coast did not fade out completely.  They last came to prominence in the early 1800s when Jean Lafitte established pirate settlements on the Louisiana island of Barataria and later at Galveston, Texas. Pursued by the US Navy, Lafitte abandoned his operations in the United States.  Turning to the newly formed  Republic of Colombia, he is supposed to have died in 1823  fighting the Spanish as a privateer. Like Bartholomew Roberts, his body was never recovered.

As a writer, I asked myself, what if the leaders of the Brethren of the Coast had seen the end coming and began to hide their organization so thoroughly that only its mercenary tip was ever visible to the pirate hunters?  What if they had a purpose that went beyond their own time?  Those are some  of the secrets that you will have to read  Black Flag, Black Ship to find out.