Often seen in popular culture films, like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and famous books, like ‘Treasure Island,’ pirates have been a part of our imagination for many years. As depicted in these creative works, they had several ways to ensure they remained on course while at sea. Let us discuss some common pirate tools and equipment used.
In this modern era, pirates are more popular than ever as they make several appearances in books, movies, and many other creative works. Pirates lasted during their golden age, which was between 1700-1725. During this period, many women and men turned to piracy as a means of sustenance. This period is referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ because the present conditions were perfect for pirates.
Pirate legends, like BlackBeard, ‘Black Bart’ Roberts, and ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham existed during this time. They carried with them a large number of assorted weapons as it was vital in gaining their plunder and defending themselves. It was essential for them to be well-armed to have an opposing crew surrender to them or conquer a prize ship. Being that pirates are basically robbers at sea as they stole their weapons and equipment from their victims. So, what are some of the popular pirate tools and equipment used?
Pirates found prize ships and hidden treasures without the aid of GPS. Other than the basic maps telescopes, pirates had special navigational tools and technology that made their voyages incredibly easy and efficient. The compass is one of the most lasting navigational tools pirates used during their Golden Age. Basically, it consisted of a more advanced version of Lodestone navigation. Pirates mounted it on gimbals, some pivotal rings, to allow the free movement of the compass needle.
Another crucial navigational tool was the astrolabe, which was invented in the late 15th century and used for the next 200 years. It enabled seamen to use the North Star and the sun to measure the altitude above the horizon’s line. Many pirates used it together with the compass to navigate effectively.
Before the invention of the compass, pirates used the lodestone to navigate the seas due to its natural magnetic properties. By pressing a needle to this stone, the needle became magnetized immediately and could point out the magnetic north. The telescope, also known as ‘bring ‘em near,’ is another common navigational tool during the Golden Age of Piracy. Many pirates used it to spot islands, landmarks, and enemy ships from a distance, allowing them to make an adequate plot.
The diptych dial is another vital nautical tool used by pirates during the 17th century and onwards. Made in Germany, it was a type of compendium tool used to calculate direction and time. It had two upper leaves to show planetary hours, relative planetary positions, and various times of the day. Similarly, it also had a lower leaf that represented the latitudinal measurements for Europe. A piece of string, the gnomon, was also attached to the tool for purposes of taking measurements.
Another essential nautical tool used during the Golden Age of Piracy was the octant. Invented by John Hadley in 1730, this tool made it easier to view the moon, stars, and the sun. With the help of the two small mirrors on the device, seamen and pirates could see the horizon and the sun at the same time.
Pirate ships had numerous weapons for various purposes. Generally, large pirate ships featured dozens of cannons, but many pirates preferred quick and small-sized ships as the big guns in the large ships slowed them down. The large cannons and their heavy ammunition were quite heavy. It would require several crew members to operate a single gun due to their huge size efficiently. Some of the arms used by pirates include:
Also known as a boarding hook, this weapon consists of a composite hook attached to a rope. When projected or thrown for a specific distance, the hooks capture with the targetFor example, once they throw the hook at crippled ships, it engages them, allowing the pirate vessel to draw in the weak ship for boarding.
The most popular grappling hook design had a central shaft, with a hole at the bottom of the shaft. Often referred to as the ‘eye,’ the hole attached three equally spaced hooks and a rope top the end of the shaft; thus, increasing the chances of one of the hooks catching a part of the target.
A cutlass is a thick and short slashing sword, with a slightly curved or straight blade and sharp cutting edge. It consists of a distinct separation between the two-edged blade and its handle. This sword also features a hilt with a basket-shaped or solid cupped guard.
Modified from the long knives used by early buccaneers to butcher meat, this sword was also known as the sailor’s weapon of choice, the naval sidearm. It was versatile, durable, and strong enough to cut through sturdy ropes, wood, and canvas. This weapon was short enough to use in close range combat like when pirates boarded ships or below decks, and it was quite simple to use.
As the name suggests, stinkpots were bottles or pots filled with certain stinking chemicals. When they were set on fire and thrown onto the decks of enemy ships, it created a cloud of a foul smell that would incapacitate the enemies, causing them to retch and vomit. It also caused confusion and panic among the enemy crew, making room for an easy take-over.
Muskets were one of the earliest small arms developed for snipping purposes. It could pick off targets from a distant range before boarding an enemy ship. Eventually, it influenced the shape of the riffle. There are various variations of the muskets with the earlier ones using the old matchlock firing technique. Later on, the flintlock musket, which was slightly lighter and shorter, replaced them.
Cannons were useful combat tools that mostly featured in large ships. There were various types and sizes of ship cannons. Smaller cannons were more popular for use in ship-to-ship combat while the more massive cannons were more effective for shore fortifications. A gun crew of about three to four people had to work together to fire and effectively reload a cannon.
Once loaded with gravel, musket balls, or nails, these guns damaged sails and rigging as opposed to sinking enemy ships. However, cannons soon adopted the flintlock firing technique to replace the touch hole and the old burning match technique. Most cannons consisted of bronze material, but cast-iron replaced it towards the end of the 17th century. As a result, cannons became less expensive and much easier to produce in large numbers.
Famous on ships for purposes of boarding parties and fighting fires, pirate crews used boarding axes as often as they did the cutlass. It assisted pirates to scale up an enemy’s ship’s side and cut through the rigging lines to bring down the enemy ship sails. The boarding axe also hacked through hatches and open doors. It was also useful as a hand-to-hand fighting tool.
The Blunderbuss was a variation of the musketon as it was a wide and short bore shotgun flared at the muzzle and often used at close range for more impact. It contained several piston balls, glass, or nails to incapacitate or kill several people with a single blast. The Blunderbuss is the precursor of the modern shotgun.
Also known as the powder flasks, the grenado is an early form of a hand grenade that was commonly used by 1700. They were hollow and small ceramic balls with a fuse sticking out and made from glass, wood, or iron. Pirates would light the fuse before throwing it at the enemy ship, inflicting severe bodily harm or demoralize the enemy ship upon contact. However, the grenade was also potentially hazardous to the use and unreliable.
The knipple shot, also known as the chain, is a pair of small iron balls connected with a small bar or chain that rotates through the air, damaging any rigging and sails it tangles with. However, this medium-range weapon does minimal damage to hulls and decks.
The AK-47 is one of the most popular guns used by modern-day pirates. It is a gas-operated assault rifle developed in the former Soviet Union. It is cheap to buy and has various counterfeit versions, as well as several versatile variants.
Most pirate tools and equipment were often lightweight and offensive-oriented. If they were not stolen from raids of enemy ships, sailors with a military training background made them. Pirates were very high-risk professionals that required immense courage and good sailing experience. No wonder they were so cruel and successful in their ventures.