Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: New

New seemed to me a very appropriate word, given the day, and though there are only a few references to it in that favorite of my Saturday reads, The Sailor’s Word Book of Admiral Smyth, there is certainly enough to expand on here.

“The new act”, which sounds like something our bumbling politicians are doing to us even as we speak, is in fact an old Royal Navy reference to a sailor deserting his ship. Less severely in the way of possible punishment, it later referred to a seaman slipping away to shore for a while with the thought that his mates would cover for him. As Admiral Smyth notes, “… though termed new, [this] is an old trick.”

A newcome was an officer joining a ship in his new position for the first time. Thus we hear of newcome captains, lieutenants and so on who had to earn the respect of the seasoned salts aboard us. Newgate birds were men released from jail – by the 18th century it was any prison or gaol, not just old Newgate – on the understanding that they would serve their sentences and usually beyond as deck hands. This term was used not just in England but anywhere English was spoken.

Newell is a piece of timber that works with rigging to hold the gangway for loading and unloading of men, animals and provisions.

The new moon is familiar to all as the “dark of the moon” when she lies between the sun and our Earth. The first new moon in 2012, coincidently or not, falls on my birthday.

“Do you hear the news?” This is a question asked of the new watch as they come to their stations inquiring whether or not they are aware of course, bearing, weather and so on.

New is, in a broader sense, the word that has stuck most tenaciously to half of the world as well. The New World was named so in the Age of European Exploration and many a place name still testifies to that. From New Holland (now Australia) to Nova Scotia and from Newfoundland (which was not “new found” at all when so named; the Vikings knew it well and called it Vinland) to La Nouvelle Orleans, what is very old was made new by the application of European languages.

How like divinity we can behave at times when we’ve no right to such claims at all. The whole thing brings to mind the characters Miguel and Tulio from one of my favorite kid’s movies The Road to El Dorado.

But now I’ve run off on a tangent and there’s only one thing for it: drunken revels and a wish of Happy New Year to all the Brethren. I’m so grateful for each and every one of you. Keep coming back in 2012; there is so much more to discover and discuss.

Header: Tulio and Miguel as sailors cum gods in The Road to El Dorado

Friday, December 30, 2011

Booty: Good Luck Charm

We've considered the superstitions of the sea before, on more than one occasion in fact. As we sail for the end of the year, a time on which many a superstition is based, let us examine just a few more sea-going beliefs. This time, because it’s something we’d all like to have in the coming year, we’ll look at the items that late 18th and early 19th century sailors assured themselves would bring good of fortune to them and to their ships.

One of the best good luck charms was not a thing but a person. Children aboard ship were thought to bring good weather and rich prizes. Perhaps this is one of the reasons young men – and occasionally women dressed as young men – were so welcome at sea. Even better than a kid you knew in passing, though, was a mess mate with a gold earring.

If no man with his ears decked out pirate style was available, and children were scarce, a piece of someone the sailor loved was thought to draw him back safely to that person. A lock of hair from mother, wife, lover or child was the best charm of all but sometimes nail clippings and even teeth were carried for good luck.

Animal relics were also popular. Rabbit’s feet had been considered lucky for centuries when sailors adopted them as a charm against the dreaded dead calm. A necklace of shark’s teeth was a powerful personal amulet, particularly if the sailor wearing it had killed the shark himself. The luckiest animal part of all was the horn of a unicorn; this was, in all cases, the front tooth of a male narwhal which grows through the whale’s head and has the appearance of a horn. This treasure had to be kept in tact but on display for it to have any efficacy for the ship and crew. The vignette in O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels wherein Stephen brings aboard a narwhal horn with all circumstance, only to have it broken by Jack’s steward Killick is still one of the most amusing – and quietly heartbreaking – pieces in the books.

Religious articles were popular as well. A Christian cross was highly esteemed as a lucky fetish and was one of the things that first hand accounts of pirates often note them wearing. Equal armed crosses, on the other hand, were shunned as bringers of ill weather. One exception on this note seems to be the privateers of Jean Laffite’s Galveston and South America. Equal armed crosses were popular symbols in Spanish Mexico and so silver crosses of this nature were often “found” and worn by men like Louis Aury and Dominique Youx. A St. Christopher medal, regardless of the sailor’s religious background, was considered lucky. Doubtless the image of the saint carrying the Christ child over troubled waters had a lot to do with that. An anchor medallion would also bring luck and any medal or statuary showing a saint holding an anchor was even better; St. Philomena, whose statue I treasure in my home, was particularly popular in the West Indies for instance.

Pocket pieces that still carry a certain power today include a lodestone and a found coin. The lodestone, with its magnetic properties, has always been considered magical and is seen as kin to those mysterious magnets that work the compass. Found coins are one of those things that delight from a very early age, and that lucky feeling a person has when they come across one is doubtless at least part of their popularity at sea. I personally carry three in my pocket whenever I go out on the water.

General good luck for ship and men could be had by nailing a used horseshoe to the mainmast or bowsprit. It is at sea that the belief in making sure that the horseshoe was nailed “upright”, in the form of a U, so that the luck could be “caught” within it, originated.

From ancient times, painting a set of eyes on the bow was considered mandatory for the safety of the ship. This belief morphed into the dragons on Viking ships and then the animal and human shapes of later figureheads. Either as an extension or from some separate belief, sailors sometimes had human eyes tattooed on their person. Some historians have speculated that this practice in turn led to the popular miniature paintings of the late 18th century known as “lover’s eyes”, which were tiny portraits of one of the person’s paramour’s eyes. If this is the case it would be a rare example of a “fashion”, so to say, working up the class ladder rather than down.

Pick your poison, mates; one charm is as good as another but a sailor has to find what works for him or her. Happy Friday, Brethren (a day, by the way, when you should never leave port – just a friendly warning).

Header: A WWII U.S. officer ready to hunt for his own shark tooth necklace via

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lady Pirates: A Lower Class Female

Among the female adventurers and candidates for military or naval glory, none in their time stood more forward than Ann Mills. By what chance, or in what capacity she first commenced her career on shipboard, is not known; but, about the year 1740, she was serving as a common sailor on-board the Maidstone frigate; and, in an action between that ship and a French enemy, she so greatly distinguished herself, by personal prowess, as to be particularly noticed by the whole crew. It is, by the circumstances of her portrait being taken with a Frenchman’s head in her hand, that we are naturally led to imagine the service she performed must have been of a most desperate nature, or of being boarded by the enemy; and probably, after the conquest cut off the head of her opponent, as a trophy of victory.

The above paragraph, with its period appropriate long sentences, is from James Caulfield’s Remarkable Persons. This fascinating, if questionable in authenticity, group of character sketches was published in serial form over the course of 1819 and 1820. The picture at the header, of sailor Ann Mills holding the head of her vanquished foe, caused somewhat of a sensation at the time and then the question arose; why haven’t we heard more about this woman? That inquiry has yet to be properly satisfied.

Who Mills was and where she came from remains a relative mystery. Caulfield simply assumes that “… some love affair induced this woman to assume the male character, in order to follow the fortune of a favourite lover who had gone to sea.” This was, of course, not unheard of and may actually have been more common than the lens of Victorian-written history would like us as their posterity to imagine. It was also not at all unusual for a poor girl to simply slip into the gender that was likely to make the most money. Regardless of Victoria’s imaginary world, men have always had a leg up in that area.

Caulfield lumps Mills in with other “notorious viragos” of her era including Anne Bonny and Mary Read, which may be the reason that she is often counted in modern lists of “lady pirates”. In fact, the very marginal information we have about her seems to point to her never turning to piracy proper. Although given her place aboard a Royal Navy ship in the 18th century, to call her a privateer would not be unreasonable in the least.

In his remarkably well researched book Villains of All Nations, Marcus Rediker skips the speculation about who Ann Mills might have been to dig deeper into why she and others became sailors and warriors. What drove a woman in a time of corsets and panniers to pull on pants and fight not just with men but like men? Rediker posits that it was the very nature of impoverished and often displaced women of Mills’ era and beyond to be strong, aggressive and daring in pursuit of perhaps not a better life but at the very least three squares a day. He writes that the “lower class female experience” was:

a matter of course-bred physical strength, toughness, independence, fearlessness, and a capability of surviving by one’s wits. The prevailing material reality of working women’s lives made it possible for some women to disguise themselves and enter worlds dominated by men

This paragraph appears in Villains on the same page as the above picture of Mills, although the general conversation focuses on Bonny and Read. The overall message is that women who chose to stand up and fight were not as unusual as modern popular history would have the average person believe. That in fact heroic acts of physical strength and personal courage – lifting bales of goods or pails of milk, giving birth at great personal risk, working long hours, fighting off assailants and so on – were practically everyday occurrences for the “lower class female” in the 17th, 18th and early 19th century. The main reasons Rediker lists for women taking the next step and dressing like men are economic necessity, adventure and, as Caulfield speculates in the case of Mills, love. Curiously the latter, which was probably not as typical as the simple need to put food in her belly, is often considered the most powerful motivator for behavior such as Ann’s.

Whatever the case, it appears that “about the year 1740” a woman possibly named Ann Mills and dressed as a man aboard “the Maidstone frigate” cut off the head of an enemy in combat. How she got to that point, and why, remains open to speculation as does what became of her from there.

Header: Ann Mills from Remarkable Persons via Corbis images

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

People: The Leg, the Saw and the Ax

Today's pirate is a shadowy figure about whom we know very little. What we do know comes second hand from Philip Gosse via Johnson/Defoe and most of it has to do with a serious injury suffered, endured and recovered from. To this end, the brief story of William Taylor tells us a lot – perhaps more than we want to know – about medical treatment aboard the average freebooter in the Golden Age.

According to Gosse in his The Pirate’s Who’s Who, Taylor was “one of Captain Phillips’s crew.” Which Captain Phillips, for there were several, he does not say but we can reasonably rule out John Phillips, of whom we have previously spoken, based on the date of Taylor’s trial for piracy. Gosse does not give us a ship’s name or location, but indicates that Taylor was “wounded in the leg while attempting to desert.”

The true misery for unfortunate William Taylor begins here. There being no surgeon on board ship, Taylor’s mates took a very piratical approach to the would-be desert’s recovery: they elected the ship’s carpenter to amputate his shattered leg. It probably goes without saying that surgical instruments were not to hand either, so the carpenter took up a tool that he was familiar with and proceeded. At this point Gosse quotes, probably from Johnson’s History of Pirates:

Upon which [the carpenter] fetch’d up the biggest saw, and taking the limb under his Arm, fell to Work, and separated it from the Body of the Patient in as little Time as he could have cut a Deal Board in two.

Here we moderns imagine the pain that poor Taylor must have suffered under such work but other factors jump to mind shortly thereafter. Not the least of these is the bacteria swarming on that saw. By this era a well trained naval surgeon would, at the very least, have poured vinegar over the “instrument” to take off the worst of any visible muck.

Our carpenter, however, is not to be outdone by any quack doctor either in the way of pain or sterilization. The story continues:

he had heated his Ax as he perform’d the other Part for he so burnt the Flesh distant from the Place of Amputation that it had like to have mortify’d.

This grisly process resulted in a surprising recovery for the hearty if ill-fated William Taylor. Recovery enough, at any rate, for trial and sentence to hang; Gosse tells us that Taylor was found guilty of piracy in Boston on May 12, 1714. The end of the brief entry says, however, that “… for some reason not explained [he] was reprieved.”

Who exactly William Taylor was, and on what ship he went a-pirating remains a mystery. His fate after trial and reprieve is also unknown, as is just how long he lived with his sawed-off leg.

Header: The Amputation by Thomas Rowlandson

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

History: Hygiene Aboard Us

In the early 19th century, concerns for the good health of any general population came to the fore in more than one Western government. Curiously, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution when children pulled coal carts on hands and knees and women stood at machines for fifteen hours a day, medical professionals and leaders of nations began advising fresh air and vegetables for their burgeoning populations.

Of course, the same focus on health and hygiene applied to the many navies on both sides of the Atlantic. Even merchant vessels – notorious for their ill treatment of their marginal crews – got in on the act, giving at least lip service to good physical health. The privateers of the Gulf incorporated these thoughts to their daily shipboard business as well, and the health of many a mariner probably did improve. Though bacterial infections did not subside, certain persistent illnesses like scurvy virtually became a thing of the past.

Here are a few of the common sense admonitions that were put to good use aboard ships of the time via Peter H. Spectre’s The Mariner’s Book of Days:

Every vessel should be pumped out morning and evening.

A clean, sweet, and dry hold is essential to the health of the crew.

Nothing can be more injurious than for men to sleep over bilge-water which must be the case if any water is left in the hold.

The hold ought to be cleaned often, and when it is, it should be white-washed; and also the between-decks often whitewashed.

In tropical climates, avoid painting as much as possible, particularly in-board.

In port in tropical climates, give the men a little coffee before they go to work.

The inconsiderate indulgence in new rum has been one great means of increasing the numbers attacked by yellow fever.

Do not allow the men to lay about in night dews, and particularly not to wait about at the wharfs.

Allow the men use of fresh water whenever it can be spared for washing clothes, and also themselves.

Generally speaking – perhaps aside from that interesting connection between rum and yellow fever – good advice all around.

Header: The Sailor’s Farewell, anonymous lithograph circa 1820

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Cheers!

This beverage is called a "Frostbite";  enjoy!

1 ounce tequila
1 ounce heavy cream
1 ounce white creme de cacao
1/2 ounce white creme de menthe
Ice cubes
Cocoa powder to garnish

Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Sprinkle with cocoa powder to garnish.


(All courtesy of Anne Tainter and I'm So Happy It's Happy Hour ~ a tremendous book)

Header: by Miki Suizan circa 1920 via Old Paint

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor-'wester, blowing squally off the se;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the stuff a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard.
So's we saw the cliff and houses and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every longshore home;
The windos sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

The lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate, Jackson, cried.
"It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood;
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

~ Robert Lewis Stevenson

Header: Moonlight on Lake Michigan by William Henry Marchen via American Gallery

Friday, December 23, 2011

Booty: A Tentacled Yuletide

This beautiful picture taken by Pasquale Vassallo and posted over at NatGeo depicts a handsome Italian octopus with snow covered Mt. Vesuvius in the background.  Looks like the Holidays to me!  Click to enlarge for beautiful detail or click over to the original post.  Either way, pretty amazing.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Books: Captain Scarfield

In the late 1800s Howard Pyle published his Book of Pirates. The book is full of interesting anecdotes and life stories about pirates both familiar and arcane. It is also full of Pyle’s lyrical prose which is descriptive, insightful and generous to its characters’ thoughts. This is the kind of prose that would never be published today, and our literature is diminished greatly for that fact. To put it more succinctly, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Though Pyle purports that all of his tales are true, one in particular jumps off the page as a story – though plausible – well told but impossible. This is “Captain Scarfield” and it would, in all honesty, make a gripping pirate movie to this very day.

The story is set in 1820 in the American city of Philadelphia and the West Indies. It focuses on young naval Lieutenant James Mainwaring who Pyle tells us is a “broad-shouldered, red-cheeked, stalwart fellow of twenty-six or twenty-eight.” Mainwaring has had the good fortune to serve aboard USS Constitution during the War of 1812 and is still in the U.S. Navy as our story unfolds.

He is a close friend of a much older Quaker businessman, Eleazer Cooper who, as captain of his own merchant vessel the Eliza Cooper, has become quite literally filthy rich trading flour and other goods to blockaded ports during the war. The story is rounded out with the addition of Cooper’s niece Lucinda Fairbanks. The eighteen year old girl, who now lives with her childless aunt and uncle, is in love with Mainwaring. The two cannot hope to marry as our story opens, however, due to her status as a Quaker and her uncle’s disposition against war and those who engage in it.

Mainwaring is called away to command the brig of war Yankee, assigned to hunt pirates around the Bahamas coast. In particular, Mainwaring is charged with the capture of the most heinous pirate of all, the notorious Captain John Scarfield. While making his last call to the Cooper farm before he sets out to sea, Mainwaring informs his old friend of his assignment. Eleazer, quite uncharacteristically, begins to vehemently defend the pirates in general and Scarfield in particular.

Mainwaring is taken aback by the old Quaker’s defense of a man who had maimed, killed and encouraged rape aboard his ship. Out of respect for his host, however, he refrains from protesting too vehemently. After a brief and clandestine interlude with the charming Lucinda, the Lieutenant is off to take up his new command.

Pyle puts in the perfect vignette for any motion picture just here. Mainwaring is alone in a coach bound for New York and he contemplates the miniature of Lucinda that he wears next to his heart:

in the damp and leathery solitude he drew out the little oval picture from beneath his shirt frill and looked long and fixedly with a fond and foolish joy at the innocent face, the blue eyes, the red, smiling lips depicted upon the satinlike, ivory surface.

Yankee spends five months in the West Indies hunting freebooters with a deal of success. To Mainwaring’s frustration, however, the one pirate he wants to meet most is always two steps ahead of him. Scarfield even leaves taunting messages for the Lieutenant with battered and marooned merchant seamen.

Finally, Mainwaring heads for the most notorious pirate port of all, San Jose in the southern Bahamas. He boldly maneuvers Yankee into port and, to his utter shock, is met by the “… large, well rigged schooner” Eliza Cooper riding at anchor. He puts his gig in the water and finds Eleazer Cooper waiting for him at the gunnels of his ship. Cooper has a ready explanation – he is only selling foodstuffs to the locals – and the guns Mainwaring saw on deck were used only in self-defense. “I am a man of peace,” Cooper says. “But there are men of blood in these waters and an appearance of great strength is of use to protect the innocent from the wicked.”

Upon further questioning, Cooper reveals that he had only just finished a transaction with Captain Scarfield and Mainwaring drops his usually calm fa├žade. In response Cooper, in an unaccustomed menacing tone, promises that the Lieutenant shall have “… news more or less directly of [Scarfield] within the space of a day.”

Unsatisfied and uneasy, Mainwaring returns to his ship. He hangs lanterns as night falls and posts double watches before retiring to his cabin to tend to his log. Once he is settled in, he hears calls along side his ship and in short order Captain Cooper appears at his cabin door. But this is not the gentleman Quaker Mainwaring has known from his youth. As they converse, Cooper becomes more agitated, sweating and shaking as if he is either frightened or intensely angry.

Mainwaring finds the case is the latter when, enraged by the Lieutenant’s insistence on knowing Scarfield’s whereabouts, Cooper pulls out a pistol and cocks it in Mainwaring’s face. “I am John Scarfield,” Cooper shouts at last. “Look at me, then, if you want to see a pirate!”

Stunned at first, Mainwaring regains his senses when he realizes that Scarfield/Cooper means to take Yankee as prize. He manages to get the pirate to discharge his pistol harmlessly and then hand-to-hand combat commences on the floor of Mainwaring’s cabin. The Lieutenant is stabbed more than once but he at last reaches the spent pistol and pummels the pirate into unconsciousness.

The pirates have overrun his ship in the meantime but his crew, ready as they were, beat the villains off. Most of Scarfield’s crew swims off in the dark waters of San Jose’s harbor.

Scarfield/Cooper is not dead, and he lingers aboard Yankee for three or four days tended by his “left hand wife”, a local mulatto woman. The old Quaker’s delirious rantings lead Mainwaring to muse about the nature of good and evil and whether or not a man can turn one off and the other on virtually at will:

Could it be madness – madness in which the separate entities of good and bad each had, in its turn, a perfect and distinct existence?

In this, quite interestingly, Pyle seems to echo Robert Louis Stevenson’s thoughts in his 1886 novella revolving around Jekyll and Hyde.

The pirate cum merchant captain finally succumbs to his wounds but he has left one last surprise for Lieutenant Mainwaring. In each of the innumerable casks of flour stowed aboard Eliza Cooper – known as the Bloodhound while sailing under a black flag – the young officer finds a cache of silver coins. “In all,” Pyle writes, “upward of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars…” An enormous sum in prize money for the Lieutenant and his crew.

The end of the story amounts to a quick seven paragraphs. Lucinda Fairbanks marries James Mainwaring and, when her aunt dies, inherits the Cooper fortune. Though Mainwaring has “qualms and misdoubts” about the origins of this inheritance, he tosses them aside rather quickly. He establishes the “… great shipping house of Mainwaring & Bigot” and doubtless lives to a fruitful, happy and ripe-old age.

The story is rich and capably told, if fairly obvious in its “surprise” villain from almost the first page. It is well worth the read, though, and it stands out as perhaps the best of the bunch in Pirates. As noted, too, it would make a stunningly good movie if handled well. Might I suggest Russell Crowe as the stodgy old Cooper turned nefarious pirate in the person of John Scarfield…

Header: The Buccaneer by Howard Pyle

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Women at Sea: Barefoot Diva

On Saturday the 17th of December, the world lost a great but unfortunately little known treasure. The chanteuse known to the French as La Diva aux pieds nus died at her natal home in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands. The fact that the lady named Cesaria Evora was a great singer of traditional West African music is not our only focus in remembering her, however. The Barefoot Diva came from dockside roots and got her start quite literally at sea.

Born in Mindelo on August 27, 1941, Evora was one of the eldest of seven children whose parents worked hard to make ends meet. Mindelo is a port town which, since the days of Portuguese colonization, had been a temporary home to sailors from all over the world. This was still the case when Cesaria – known as Cize (see-ZEE) to her friends – was little. Many of the people in town worked in industries that supported the mariners in one way or another, from restaurants and hotels to the numerous dockside bars.

When Cesaria was seven, her father died unexpectedly. Her mother struggled on, trying to continue to keep her large family together. When the fight became impossible to win, the older Evora children were sent to an orphanage. Cesaria was one of them. When asked about her time there in an Associated Press interview in 2000, Evora was frank about the experience: “I didn’t like it. I value my freedom.”

To gain that freedom, Cesaria began doing piecework at a local clothing manufacturer. She was sixteen years old and the hours were long and grueling. She had a number of friends, both in and out of the orphanage, who knew her true talent: singing. Her beautiful, caramel-smooth voice was already notable among those who knew her and her way with the local music of Cape Verde, known as morna, was unsurpassed. Friends goaded her to sing in public, but at first she refused.

Finally, fed up with her mind-numbing work as a seamstress, Cesaria presented herself at one of the dockside bars offering her services as a singer. The owner accepted, paying her not in cash but in alcohol. Cesaria quickly got a taste for cognac, her appetite for which would become legendary. Buzz about her singing also spread quickly; by the time she was seventeen she had gigs in many of the bars frequented by the sailors that were in and out of Mindelo. Not much later, friends were rowing Cesaria out to ships at anchor to sing for the sailors not allowed shore leave. On these occasions, she was paid in cash and the benefits of a new more enjoyable career became apparent.

Cesaria’s big break, so to say, came when cruise ships began dropping anchor in Mindelo harbor. Cesaria was booked aboard some of them as an entertainer. This exposure brought international attention and she moved first to Lisbon and then to Paris where she once again returned to singing in bars. These nightclubs were more upscale than the sailor dives she had known in her early years, and the pay came in checks instead of a glass. The press took note; Le Monde reviewed her more than once saying at one point that Cesaria belonged “… to the aristocracy of bar singers” and likening her to Billie Holiday. She began recording in Paris.

True international fame came with the release of her 1988 album “La Diva Aux Pieds Nus”. Cesaria had never given up her youthful habit of performing in bare feet and the name “Barefoot Diva” stuck. She was nominated for a Grammy in 1995 and she began to tour internationally, bringing her gorgeous voice and the rhythm-based morna style to audiences around the world. Her album “Voz d’Amor” won a World Music Grammy in 2003.

All the attention left Cesaria Evora unimpressed. She continued to call Mindelo home, buying and renovating her childhood home into a ten bedroom retreat where friends and family were in and out (see a picture of it here). Her health deteriorated; she suffered two strokes and had open heart surgery over the course of a decade but very little slowed her down. Cesaria was out on the road in 2010 with a series of large concerts; she suffered a heart attack after the last one in May.

Cesaria recovered and returned to Mindelo but her health was never to fully return. She announced her official retirement in September and passed on to join that amazing ensemble in the sky last Saturday.

Of the morna music she brought to the world, Cesaria told the Associated Press “Our music is a lot of things. Some say it’s like the blues, or jazz. Others say it’s like Brazilian or African music, but no one really knows. Not even the old ones.”

If anyone knew what morna was, it was the Barefoot Diva who started out singing for sailors in bars and on the waves. Sample a bit of Cesaria Evora’s genius here with one of my favorites “Besame Mucho”.

Header: Cesaria Evora via

Monday, December 19, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Coming In To Shore

When approaching land or harbor, the navigator must know himself familiar with every detail of the charts he will use, and must form a mental picture of the land and aids to navigation that he will sight. Allowance must be made for the effect of the position of the sun or moon on the appearance of objects sighted.

He must be familiar with the characteristics of all lights, buoys, fog signals, and other aids to navigation that he will use, and with the state of the tide and currents in channels he will navigate. He should select beforehand the objects that he will use for bearings. He should carefully check all buoys to prevent confusion. Ranges should be selected and lines drawn to indicate safe courses and danger bearings where possible. The track of a vessel entering port should be laid down on a chart before entering, and this should be carefully inspected to see that it leads clear of all possible danger. The vessel’s position must be frequently plotted on the chart and should never be in doubt for an instant. Soundings should always be taken when on soundings, whether the weather is clear or cloudy. ~ F.W. Sterling in his Small Boat Navigation published in 1917

Header: Dutch Fishing Vessel Caught on a Lee Shore via

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: The Vast Bering Sea

December 19, 1741: Vitus Jonassen Bering dies; this Dutch explorer was the man after whom the Bering Sea was named.  RIP

Header: Portrait of Vitus Bering in middle age, artist unknown, via Wikipedia

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Heaving/Heavy

It probably goes without saying that things can get heavy at sea and that heaving is not just something that poor green guy at the bow does. So let’s get right into it, mates.

Since I’ve already mentioned seasickness, I’ll bring up heaving and setting. This is that ubiquitous and violent roll of a ship in a very heavy sea, which by the way refers to basic “dirty weather”: high wind and waves.

Heaving a strain is pushing on the capstan bars with inordinate force. A “strain” until the late 19th century was a common name for a hernia, thus the inference. In such cases one might be participating in heaving ahead; advancing a ship in water by heaving on a cable fastened to a fixed object before her. On the other hand, the action might be heaving astern; doing the same thing but in the opposite direction. This procedure is often necessary when a ship has run aground on rock or shoal.

Heaving taut is turning the capstan until the cable is straight and, as The Sailor’s Word Book so poetically puts it, “ready for action.” The capstan and the men working her are said to be heaving through all when the cable does not hold and slips within the mechanism.

Heaving in stays is another way of referring to tacking, this because the wind blowing from the fore puts a great deal of pressure on the stays. Heaving out refers to unfurling a sail or sails. With topsails this is sometimes spoken of as footing the sail out of the top.

Heaving down is putting a ship at sea into a similar position to the one she would have on land while being careened. This is done using boats and a series of ropes on her masts to expose part of her hull that would normally be below the water line and is usually resorted to only when repairs are urgently needed. Another phrase for the ship’s position while being careened – with her keel completely out of the water – is heaving out.

We already noted the phrase heavy sea, which may be caused by a heavy gale: a very strong wind in which emergency measures must be taken by reducing sail. Heavy drift-ice is similar to a large iceberg. This is ice which may look small above the water but is in fact massive, and dangerous, beneath the surface. When heavy metal is spoken of aboard us, it is the same as heavy ordnance; balls or other projectiles of a very large caliber.

Thus we have done with heave, heaving and heavy. Happy Saturday, Brethren. So far my Federal Jury Duty does not require me to be away from the ship, but sixty days is a long time. I’ll keep you posted on how my civic duty might impact Triple P.

Header: Ship in Storm, artist unknown, via

Friday, December 16, 2011

Booty: Stuffing a Pirate's Stocking

We're getting down to the wire now and pretty much regardless of the gift-giving holiday you celebrate it is right over your shoulder. So here’s my final thought for this year on some pirate approved gifts that will delight a freebooter’s heart (and won’t lighten your purse by but a few pieces of eight).

Archie McPhee is a Seattle institution that has been in the neighborhood known now as Old Ballard (it was just “Ballard” when I lived there as a child; perhaps that speaks badly of my advancing age as well as its) since 1983.  The store is not so much a gift shop as an emporium with a wide range of offerings to delight the kid in all of us. And that includes the nautical kid.

McPhee offers merchandise with nautical flair, such as this charming narwhal and these “finger tentacles.” They even crawl into the Eldrich cave with offerings from and for the Great Cthulhu. But my favorite bunch of items all focuses on the popular image of good old fashioned pirates. You’ll find everything from cups to notepads (a favorite around chez Pauline) and just about all that falls in between.  You’d be hard pressed to leave this site wanting for pirate booty.

Now’s the time if you’re at all in doubt. Get ye to the Archie McPhee website and spend some of those ill-gotten gains on the ones you love.

Happy Friday, Brethren; tomorrow it’s SMS and an update on potential changes – at least temporarily – round about Triple P.

Header: Archie McPhee’s Pirate Lunchbox

Thursday, December 15, 2011

History: For Beluche's Birthday

Today marks the 231st birthday of one of my favorite ancestors, Renato Beluche. All the Brethren are well aware of his many claims to fame as smuggler, privateer, patriot and national hero in the United State, Venezuela, Columbia and Panama. It is unfortunate that so many people in his natal country are not aware of his contributions to their freedom and way of life. Although folks in Louisiana and particularly New Orleans continue to keep his memory alive.

With so many note-worthy actions packed into one 80 year life (and they say corsairs died young!) it is not surprising that Uncle Renato is occasionally claimed by other families in the Western Hemisphere as their own. Who wouldn’t want a golden apple among the branches of their family tree?

Perhaps the most debated, if not necessarily famous, argument for Renato Beluche quite literally being someone else comes from the family of Puerto Rican freedom fighter Mathias Brugman. As an example, some Brugman historians offer the comparison signatures of Pierre Brugman (top) and Renato Beluche (bottom) above. They note that the bold, looping Bs of both signatures seem too similar to have been written by different hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mathias Brugman was born in New Orleans in 1811 where his parents, in the baptismal records of St. Louis Cathedral, are listed as Pierre (or Pedro) Brugman, born in Curacao and Isabel (or Ysabel) Duliebre, birthplace unknown. Mathias had a brother and a sister whose births are also noted in the same records. In 1816, the family permanently relocated to Puerto Rico.

The name Brugman (sometimes noted as Bruckman or Brukman) is the source of the speculation that Mathias may in fact have been the son not of Pierre Brugman, Dutch merchant, but of Renato Beluche, American privateer.

Some specific discussion on the issue appears at the Brugman Family Commentaries on the Familia website where it seems the argument is that the two men may have been one and the same. The evidence for this is slim; particularly when one looks at the commentaries themselves, but the argument seems to continue, bouncing around the web like a curious if little-known meme. Feel free to read the entire commentaries for yourself, but allow me to point out a few specific items.

The text notes that Beluche’s date of birth was December 7, 1780 and that his father’s place of birth is listed as Tours, in France. As Jane Lucas De Grummond notes in her definitive biography Renato Beluche: Smuggler, Privateer and Patriot, 1780-1860, the corsair was born on December 15 and baptized on the following 7th of January. The records list his father as Rene Beluche of New Orleans. According to the genealogical data I have been able to uncover, Rene was the son of Charles Beluche who was born in France in 1697, possibly in the village of Pigot on the Bay of Biscay. It should be noted that, in typical fashion, the baptismal record at the Cathedral is somewhat incorrect; the baby’s given name is listed as Raynado, not Renato.

The real confusion begins with a French letter of marque issued in March of 1810 for the brig L’Intrepide. The owner of the ship is listed as Joseph Sauvinet, a prominent New Orleans merchant and Laffite associate from the earliest days of Barataria. Her captain, according to Dr. De Grummond who is taking her information from legal documentation of the U.S. Navy, is named as Pierre Brugman. A description of Brugman, also in the ship’s papers, shows him to be a virtual twin of Beluche: He is thirty years old, five feet three inches tall and has brown hair. Probably the most arguable point in favor of this Captain Brugman being the revolutionary Mathais’ father is the birthplace he gives: Curacao.

From here, however, the argument begins to unravel. L’Intrepide was, in fact, captured as a pirate by Commodore David Porter in March when she came into the mouth of the Mississippi “in distress” and her captain’s name was then given as Brugman. The captain was never found aboard her, however, and Beluche – not Brugman – appeared at the French consulate a few days later seeking redress for the unlawful seizure of his ship by the U.S. Navy. The ship in question’s name is listed as L’Intrepide.

By May of 1810, L’Intrepide was back in the Gulf where a documented prize, La Ynvicta Espana, was taken by her. As De Grummond notes, this prize is listed in the Historic New Orleans Collection Catalogue No.44-2; the captain of L’Intrepide in this document is named Beluche.

The name Pedro Brugman is again connected with privateering activity in 1815. He is listed as captain of the privateer La Popa in connection with a cross complaint filed against the U.S. Navy. La Popa was owned by Renato Beluche and the complaint referred to a prize taken by her almost immediately after the Battle of New Orleans under a Cartagenan letter of marque. Given that the U.S. had not yet officially recognized Cartagena as a separate state and Beluche was awaiting official pardon from the President after serving on the line with Andrew Jackson, one can easily see why he would want to use an alias in such a case.

Perhaps the most head-scratching evidence provided by the Brugman Family Commentaries is the line “…Beluche, alias Brugman, disappeared during late March 1810 eluding charges for smuggling and did not resurface until February 1817.” Though smuggling charges were certainly brought up on more than one occasion against more than one Beluche, those would have been the least of Renato’s worries. In fact, much of his time between 1810 and 1817 was spent in well documented and above-board pursuits. His name appears on a U.S. letter of marque issued in 1812 as captain of the schooner Spy which would go on to capture the British warship Jane in December. Beluche’s name appears in court records in connection with the libel of Jane the following January. Within a few months of this filing, Beluche would be listed among the mariners holding some of the first letters of marque issued from Cartagena and his service as gun captain of a 24 pound cannon on Rodriguez Canal during the Battle of New Orleans is more than well documented.

I personally have no doubt that Beluche and Brugman were two separate men and that Mathias Brugman, the Puerto Rican revolutionary, is not the son of my ancestor. The curious point though, at least for me, is not those distinctive signatures. It is the letter of marque with Brugman’s name listed as captain of L’Intrepide and the accuracy in the documentation of his birthplace. Did Brugman in fact command the brig until her capture by Porter at the Balize? When she was released, did he turn over her command to Beluche or did Sauvinet, her rightful owner, select someone else – namely Beluche – in his stead? Or did Beluche know Brugman personally and simply choose the guise of an acquaintance when the need for discretion arose?

Finally, are the signatures shown above so very similar that they can unequivocally be said to have been consistently penned by the same hand? For that, I have an answer; no, they’re not. Beyond that, well, this is what makes history – and genealogy – so much fun.

Header: Comparison of Pierre Brugman and Renato Beluche signatures via Familia

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

People: The Real Master and Commander

Thomas Cochrane, the tenth Earl of Dundonald, was a man of outstanding courage and determination.  He had a brilliant record as a frigate captain but he was also a fearless fighter for radical causes, a friend of the opressed and a champion of liberty.  When Lord Byron learnt of his arrival in the capital of Peru following the liberation of that country from the colonial rule of Spain he wrote, "there is no man I envy so much as Lord Cochrane.  His entry into Lima, which I see in today's paper, is one of the great events of the day." ~ from the prologue of Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander by David Cordingly

Cochrane, often spoken of as one of Patrick O'Brian's main inspirations for his heroic character Jack Aubrey, was born on this day in 1775.

Header: Miniature by an unknown artist thought to be of a young Lieutenant Thomas Cochrane

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Books: Ship of Dreams

This post was actually supposed to appear yesterday, on O’Brian’s birthday proper, but due to extreme weather here in the sub-Arctic it is showing up a day late.

The provenance of December 12th was discussed in brief yesterday, with one of my favorite little scenes from the 20 plus series of books by Patrick O’Brian sometimes referred to as “The Aubreyad”. I find that title is a bit pretentious but, in all honesty, I don’t think O’Brian ne Russ would. He strikes me as the kind of guy that sort of thing would appeal to.

I racked my brain for a post that would fit the occasion and then the best idea of all fell into my lap as I was just about to give up and write about jib sails. Why not review, in brief, my very favorite book from the series which I have just recently finished rereading? Thus, I offer my take on Patrick O’Brian’s HMS Surprise; there will be spoilers.

HMS Surprise is the third book in the series and when it opens the key involvement in all of the books – the close personal friendship between Captain John “Jack” Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin – is well established. One of the most attractive things about the Aubrey/Maturin series is these two gentlemen’s fraternal love for one another. Even when they are about to come to blows, we know without doubt that they still have each the other’s back. O’Brian makes you wish that you had a friend like Aubrey or Maturin, particularly in times in your life when you don’t.

Jack’s command, the sloop of war Lively, has been involved in the capture of a Spanish treasure fleet and the debate at the Admiralty is what to do about this. Spain is not yet a British enemy, and therefore the ships in question cannot properly be libelled as prizes. This means that the Admiralty and the government, not the crews involved in the action, stand to gain the most financially. We are privy to this discussion and to the unfortunate name dropping of the First Lord who indicates Stephen Maturin is a British spy during the course of the debate.

Given that the Napoleonic Wars are in full swing, this is a dangerous misstep on the part of the Admiralty lord, particularly since quite literally even as he speaks Maturin is on a covert mission in Southern France. When Jack and the crew of Lively put in to pick Stephen up, they are informed that he has been captured by the French and – to the seamen’s horror – is being tortured for information. There is not a moment to lose as Jack, Barret Bonden, Preserved Killick, Tom Pullings, William Babbington and a handful of others attack and kill the French in their dungeon, freeing Stephen from an intricate device whose application permanently – if only partially – impairs the use of his left hand.

Lively returns to London, where Stephen spends his recovery time teaching Jack’s coxswain Barret Bonden how to read. Jack, meanwhile, is in dire financial straights. To such a degree, in fact, that he is arrested and carted off to debtor’s prison. This is a catastrophic turn of events for his love life. The young woman he hopes to marry, Sophia “Sophie” Williams, has a shrew of a mother that will not allow her to wed unless her groom is “comfortable”. An indebted sailor is not at all to Mrs. Williams’ taste and Sophie is forced to start shopping about elsewhere. Very Austen-esque indeed.

Stephen, returned to good health, jumps to Jack’s aid with both feet. Through his association with the powerful Sir Joseph Banks, Stephen sees to it that some of the Spanish treasure finds its way into Jack’s pockets. This allows Aubrey to pay off at least a few debts, putting him back in the hunt for Sophie’s hand. Stephen’s behind the scenes maneuvering also wins Jack command of the titular frigate that will be his favorite ship throughout the series. Surprise is given a mission to transport a new ambassador via India. Before they leave, however, Stephen manages to arrange a secret meeting between Jack and Sophie at which they promise not to marry anyone but each other.

The voyage to the East Indies is arduous, with a long stint in the Equatorial doldrums in the Atlantic that finds many of the Surprises sick with scurvy. A quick stop in Brazil to replenish fresh food and water solves the problem, but more trouble is on the way. The ambassador, Arthur Stanhope, becomes debilitated due to seasickness. Upon arriving in India, things look up, but the unfortunate Mr. Stanhope will eventually die despite Stephen’s best efforts.

Surprise is in need of a refit and port becomes home for some weeks. While Jack and the crew are busy with their ship, Stephen wanders the local streets and markets, befriending a lower caste girl named Dil. He also, very unexpectedly, runs into his true heart’s desire, Sophie Williams’ cousin Diana Villieres. Unlike Sophie, Diana is a widow and is unfortunately free with her virtue – if she had any to begin with. She has been stringing Stephen along since Post Captain, even going so far as to have a brief sexual liaison with Jack. Not surprisingly she is in compromising circumstances in India, being “kept” by a wealthy merchant named Richard Canning. It should be noted that Sophie and Diana are the archetypes of the two kinds of women to be found in the series – and in O’Brian’s novels in general. Sophie represents the noble, but very frigid, wife who has every potential to become a shrew, while Diana is the manipulative sexual predator who happily eats men for breakfast.

When Maturin and Canning meet the two become enraged with one another over Diana, whom Stephen has asked to marry. After young Dil is killed in the streets over a set of silver bangles given to her by Stephen, the doctor falls into despair. He takes his rage out on, not Diana who will not commit to him, but Canning. A pistol duel is arranged and, though Stephen is shot in the ribs, he kills Canning outright. This only increases his guilt as he realizes that Diana now has no one to take care of her, Stephen being in dodgy financial circumstances himself.

Surprise, which has in the meantime driven off a squadron of French ships bent on capturing a flotilla of British East Indiamen loaded with specie, is now ready to sail and Stephen, his situation deteriorating, offers Diana conduct to England aboard her. Jack, who is leery of Diana with good cause and desperately worried for his good friend, will not allow it. Diana will have to book passage aboard an East Indiaman.

Stephen is violently ill with fever caused by the ball lodged in his chest and – as in the scene from the movie Master and Commander – operates on himself with great success once Surprise arrives at a little island in the Indian Ocean. It is here, while recovering, that Stephen finds and collects the tortoise he will christen testudo Aubriae in recognition of his friend. The poor old turtle is seasick the entire way back to England.

When Surprise reaches Madeira, where Jack and Stephen were to rendezvous with their ladies, there is nothing for our heroes but disappointment. Sophie has returned to England, although she leaves word for Jack that her promise of marriage is still firm. Stephen, on a much less cheerful note, finds that Diana has again chosen the life of mistress over wife. She has left Madeira for the United States with the shady if decidedly rich Henry Johnson.

The book, which has so many favorable things occur for Jack – particularly at sea – has a decidedly down ending. Though both Jack and Stephen are on the rise as far as their careers, their personal lives are in shambles. Once again O’Brian, in a not very subtle way, reminds us that women are bad news and the only happiness for any true sailor is at sea. All that said, the rich tapestry of people and places offered by HMS Surprise makes all the disappointment well worth the while. And then too there’s always the next book The Mauritius Command; what ever might be in store for us there?

Header: Current paperback cover of HMS Surprise with painting by Geoff Hunt

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Birth of a Legend

"Must I put on silk stockings?"

"Certainly you must put on silk stockings. And do show a leg, my dear chap: we shall be late, without you spread a little more canvas."

"You are always in such a hurry," said Stephen peevishly, groping among his possessions. A Montpellier snake glided out with a dry rustling sound and traversed the room in a series of extraordinarily elegant curves, its head held up some eighteen inches above the ground.

"Oh, oh, oh," cried Jack, leaping on to a chair. "A snake!"

"Will these do?" asked Stephen. "They have a hole in them."

"Is it poisonous?"

"Extremely so. I dare say it will attack you, directly. I have very little doubt of it. Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted stockings, sure the hole would not show: but then, I should stifle with heat. Do you not find it uncommonly hot?"

"Oh, it must be two fathoms long. Tell me, is it really poisonous? On your oath now?"

"If you thrust your hand down its throat as far as its back teeth you may meet a little venom; but not otherwise."

~ from Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian

December 12, 1914:  Richard Patrick Russ, the author later to be known as Patrick O'Brian was born in Buckinghamshire, England

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Heave

Today's word shoulders a heavy burden at sea. It indicates things ships and parts of ships do on a regular basis, but it also serves to command and exhort sailors to their work. A lot of store is set by the words heave, heaving and heavy aboard ship even today. So much so, in fact, that it will take two SMS posts to cover them all.

To heave generally indicates one of two things. First, heave means to throw or cast something overboard. In this sense heave should not be confused with start. Heave is something done routinely and out of necessity, as in heaving the lead. Start is something done out of desperation, as in starting water and guns over the side to lighten ship when being pursued by an enemy. Second, heave can mean to drag or pry something out or up, as in heaving the anchor.

To heave should not be confused with to heave to, which, I will point out as an aside, I have seen done disastrously in nautical fiction. A ship is said to heave to when, as noted by Admiral Smyth in The Sailor’s Word Book, she:

[puts herself] in the position of lying-to, adjusting her sails so as to counteract each other, and thereby check her way, or keep her perfectly still.

This is done for various reasons including dirty weather, to meet or bespeak a friend or in response to the command of a dominating enemy. “Heave to and prepare to be boarded,” is a familiar, if universally feared, call of buccaneers, pirates and privateers to their prey.

This in turn is similar to heaving about. A ship is said to heave about when she turns suddenly as in tacking.

Many of the previously mentioned orders using the word have to do with hauling up and dropping anchor as well as pulling on rope or pushing on the capstan bars, which are known as pauls. These exhortations are used for the most part as encouragement; they transmit to the hands doing the work that their efforts are showing results. For instance, heave and awash is called out when the anchor being pulled up finally crests the water and shows its ring. Heave and in sight is a similar call. Heave and aweigh, by contrast, is called out when the anchor has lifted from the cathead and is heading for the water.

Heave and paul is the order to turn the capstan while heave and rally is the order to push with gusto on the capstan bars. This is virtually interchangeable with heave hearty, while heave handsomely is an order to go more slowly thus applying a gentler tension.

Heave and set describes the up and down motion of the ship at anchor. The heave of the sea is the power of waves or swells to drive a ship at sail forward that much faster, either on or off course.

Men are called to get up from their hammocks with “Heave out there!”

One might be ordered to heave the lead (pronounced led); to take soundings of depth with the hand held lead line. This is the same as casting the lead. Similarly, one would determine the ship’s speed by heaving the log; comparing the knots on a log line to the running of the quarter-hour glass.

We will leave it there for now, Brethren, and return with heaving and heavy next time.

Header: Cover art for the paperback publication of Patrick O’Brian’s Desolation Island by the incomparable Geoff Hunt

Friday, December 9, 2011

Booty: Dressing Down Pirate Style

I know my tastes run to the esoteric. When it comes to gifts, I would rather receive a signed copy of any O’Brian book ever than another sweater but sweaters are easier to get. And no amount of awesome literature is going to keep you warm when it’s below freezing. I’m not impractical, just quirky. I imagine many of the Brethren are too.

That said, a t-shirt or hoody is something everyone needs, but there’s no reason to go for the one with the generic design when you can add a nautical flavor to that simple gift. And that is where today’s highly recommended website comes in.

PirateMod has an incredible inventory of piratical and seafaring gear to wear from head to toe. Their designs range from traditional to modern and everything in between. And they are not just about freebooting; many of their designs are so purely nautical they'd look quite fitting on David Porter.  There's even seafaring gift wrap.

Their website is easy to navigate, they carry a wide range of sizes, their shipping is reasonable and prompt and if you sign up for emails you can get in on t-shirt deals at just $4.00 with new designs each week. If you’re a sailor on a budget, that is something to smile about.

Hop over to PirateMod and peruse the offerings at your leisure. Sometimes the simplest gift is the most elegant, and the best appreciated.

Happy Friday, Brethren; I’ll spy ye on the morrow for SMS.

Header: One of my all time favorite PirateMod designs, which needs no explanation from me

Thursday, December 8, 2011

People: The Villain Quelch

The story of John Quelch, mariner turned privateer turned pirate, is a controversial one. On the one hand, we have a man whose piracy is fairly well documented due to a sensationalized trial in Boston during the summer of 1704. Quelch did indeed sign aboard the Massachusetts privateer Charles, probably as First Lieutenant, where he preceded to lead his fellow crewman in mutiny, toss their captain overboard and make for the coast of Brazil to plunder Portuguese merchants. On the other, certain modern historians argue that Quelch, and the dozen or so men hanged with him, was the victim of railroading by prominent Boston businessmen who did not want their names attached to piracy. Either way, Quelch is one of the first men to be tried for piracy in the British Colonies of North America proper.

John Quelch’s early life is a mystery, which should surprise no one who studies pirates and piracy. Philip Gosse, who is one of Quelch’s main biographers, will say only that he was a native of Massachusetts Colony. He was certainly familiar with the sea when he signed aboard the brig Charles of 80 tons in 1703. Charles was captained by Daniel Plowman and was sponsored by a group of Boston businessmen who had obtained for her a letter of marque to raid French ships off the coast of Newfoundland. This was a potentially lucrative endeavor at the time with the fisheries off the coast of modern Canada booming. The problem for those at sea was the weather, cold and generally dirty even during the summer months, and the puny prizes available. A privateer in those waters would have to work almost as hard as the fishermen he preyed upon.

Whether or not this consideration was what drove Quelch to stir up a mutiny is unknown. What we do know is that, shortly after Charles departed from Marblehead, the crew took her over. They locked Captain Plowman away, either in his cabin or below decks, elected John Quelch as their leader and set a course for the coast of Brazil. Along the way, Plowman would be committed to the deep, either killed first or thrown overboard alive.

Upon entering Brazilian waters, Charles went straight to work. According to Clifford Beal in his 2007 publication Quelch’s Gold, Quelch and his men took nine Portuguese ships from late 1703 to early 1704. These were wealthy merchants full of not only saleable goods like cloth, hides, wine and guns but specie as well in the form of gold dust, jewels and coins. The value of Quelch’s haul has been estimated at over 1 million in modern U.S. dollars.

Apparently satisfied with this impressive booty, Quelch turned for home. According to local rumors, Charles landed at Star Island, New Hampshire where someone – possibly Quelch himself – buried some of the loot. This very unlikely happenstance grew into legend when gold coins were found beneath a stone wall on the island in the mid-1800s. Whatever the case, Charles returned to Marblehead and the crew quickly dispersed to spend their ill-gotten gains. Quelch seems to have had no qualms about what he had accomplished for he was very soon arrested and sitting in jail in Boston. Authorities sent navy ships to apprehend Quelch’s crew and a dozen or so were rounded up to join their former captain in gaol.

On June 17, 1704, a trial was held at the Star Tavern in Boston. The sailors, now beaten down after too much time chained in filthy cells, were by and large defiant nonetheless. Though extreme physical torture does not seem to have been used on the prisoners – that sort of thing being tacitly illegal in British courts – they do seem to have been badgered relentlessly for confessions and repentance by local ministers. Gosse, who’s The Pirates Who’s Who has an entry, however brief, on 40 of the pirates, notes that most were “wretched” and “beaten down” by the time they came to the gallows at Scarlil’s Wharf, Boston. Gosse quotes from “a pamphlet published at the time”:

The Ministers of the Town used more than ordinary Endeavours to Instruct the Prisoners and Bring them to Repentance.

What this means in practice we cannot say, but Massachusetts as a whole and Boston specifically was still a stronghold of Puritan religion in the New World. That these pirates were treated little better than the “witches” of Salem Village is probably a very safe bet.

Quelch and his men were marched through Boston barefoot to the wharf with a heavy guard and the silver Admiralty oar carried before them. This made their execution an official maritime punishment and they were hanged as if on the dock at Wapping, within sight of the ocean. Legend has it that they were buried on the shore at low tide. Only one of their number was pardoned; a thirteen year old boy named John Templeton was determined to have been “only a servant on board” and therefore no part of the mutiny that killed Captain Plowman.

The previously mentioned pamphlet has John Quelch saying to the crowd as the noose was placed around his neck, “They should take care how they brought Money into New England to be Hanged for it.”

Many historians believe that Quelch felt he was within the parameters of his letter of marque in taking those Portuguese merchants. Some have gone so far as to call the hanging of Quelch and his mates the “first case of judicial murder in America.” To me this statement goes too far and points to the misunderstandings still in circulation about privateering and letters of marque. If the facts as they have come down to us are true, then Quelch did turn pirate. His letter of marque was against French shipping only, making the taking of a ship of any other nationality piracy. Then too there is the little matter of murdering Captain Plowman if we want to do more than split hairs.

Whether Quelch was a bloodthirsty villain who got what he deserved or a pawn of greater men in the same manner as William Kidd, I’ll let you judge, Brethren. History is always one part detective work, two parts educated guess and a little crazy supposition thrown in to taste.

Header: Quelch’s alleged flag known as “Old Roger”: it is probably that the flag never flew from the masthead of Charles

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Pirate's Own Book: In the Eastern Sea

Charles Ellms rarely had first hand knowledge of the pirates he wrote about in his seminal work on freebooters. Since the book was published in the 1830s, well after the threat of piracy along the coasts of North and South America had been all but eradicated, he necessarily had to count on second, third or even fourth hand accounts when writing about Christopher Condent or Edward England. The one exception to that rule in The Pirate’s Own Book is Chapter 13: “Authentic History of the Malay Pirates.” In it, Ellms states that he has witnessed these East India pirates with his own eyes, if not in action certainly upon the ocean they called home.

It is curious that this should be the area of piracy with which Ellms is most familiar. His work on pirates, though often more fantasy than reality, is considered standard reading for those who study freebooters. It seems that should also hold true for those who hunt modern pirates; aside from the Gulf of Aden, the Malaysian Archipelago is still one of the main hotbeds of piracy.

Ellms is not kind to the people of whom he writes and the taint of “western superiority” jumps off the page almost immediately. While he is careful to note that most of the tribal people along the coasts of East India Islands are law abiding citizens, he digs at certain of the groups, calling them “…barbarous and poor, therefore rapacious, faithless and sanguinary.” His recognition that the people are impoverished perhaps saves Ellms, if only just a little, from the harsh judgment of modern sympathies. In all places and times, want has driven men to actions they might not take if their families were well provided for.

The hierarchy of the pirates is simple and familiar, smacking of the Barbary corsairs of 200 years before. A wealthy chief funds the forays of the pirates, including provisioning and arming their ships, in return for a cut of the loot taken including captives, arms and any saleable goods. The pirate vessels, known as proas, according to Ellms who again has witnessed them first hand are:

from six to eight tons burden, and run from six to eight fathoms in length. They carry from one to two small guns, with commonly four swivels or rantakas to each side, and a crew of from twenty to thirty men.

These particular pirates are not interested in chasing ships in open water but will approach a merchant vessel at anchor in groups, surround it and then get to the bloody business of boarding. Ellms tells us that they are “… upon the whole extremely impartial in the selection of their prey, making little choice between natives and strangers…” He is clear, however, that a “resolute crew of Europeans or Americans stand but little danger” from these freebooters.

Ellms does seem to sympathize with the pirates once again when he tells the story of the freebooting “prince of pirates” Raga. Rajah Raga, as he is referred to, was originally a sea captain who watched his crew drown at the hands of a European naval vessel. The westerners offered no help to the dying men and Raga “… swore anew destruction to every European he should henceforth take.” While he does not actually come out and say it, Ellms seems to understand the source of Raga’s rage, even if he does not condone it.

The last seven pages of the chapter tell the story of the Salem, Massachusetts merchant vessel Friendship, captured by Malay pirates in February, 1831. Ellms does not specifically say whether or not he was present at this event, but he happily details the bloody slaughter of Captain Endicott and a good many of his men. In the end, of course, the pirates are overcome by an unnamed U.S. Commodore who bombards the pirate port, encouraging them to surrender and give up to “punishment” those who committed aggression against the Friendship.

Ellms assessment of these pirates, who were his contemporaries, is both forward thinking and rooted in the prejudices of his era. On the one hand he notes their mistreatment by western governments and extreme poverty as reasons for their depredations of both local and foreign vessels. On the other, he writes them off as inferior and easily handled by a “resolute crew of Europeans or Americans.” It is a curious mixture of thoughts that does not come to the page anywhere else in the book.

Reading Ellms makes me wonder what our descendants, who will have so much in the form of media to judge us by, will think of our mores and attitudes some two hundred years in the future. The thought slips away pretty quickly though; I’m fairly certain I already know the answer.

Header: A Piratical Proa in Full Chase from The Pirate’s Own Book

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ships: The Pirate's Choice

In 1713 the shipyard of Andrew Robinson at Gloucester, Massachusetts launched a completely new type of ship. She was light, no more than 100 tons in her true form, shallow of draft at a sleek five feet, could be run by as few as 75 men and sailed briskly regardless of the direction of the wind. Robinson called her the schooner and she ushered in a new age of fast, effective sailing not dreamed of prior to her introduction.

The word schooner is a conundrum as there are similar words in most Latinate languages and German as well. John Batchelor and Christopher Chant offer that the word actually comes from the Scottish dialect of Gaelic in their The Complete Encyclopedia of Sailing Ships. According to them, schooner derives from scoon:

a verb describing the skipping progress of a stone skimmed over the water.

No more poetic description could be used to help one imagine the quick, bouncing form of a schooner in full sail. The sails, routinely fore-and-aft, were rigged on two masts and at first included one or two square topsails on the fore. These were replaced in the late 18th century by so called jackyard topsails that were shaped very much like a jib sail (as illustrated on both fore and main mast in the painting at the header). This configuration of sail made the schooner a viable option for all types of conditions as she did not have to run before the wind to attain high speeds, as was the case with square-rigged vessels. She could sail with the wind on any quarter, turn and tack more readily and quickly, and keep to coastal waters where larger, deeper draft ships would founder.

This speed, ease of handling and ability to be run by a smaller crew, as fore-and-aft sails were more easily handled than square rigging, made the schooner the ship of choice for just about every use. By the dawn of the 19th century, she was being built in Europe as well as the U.S. and could be found in virtually any port around the world. She was used as a mail packet, a tender for ships of the line, a troop and supply transport. Most notably, she was a favorite vessel of both pirates of the Golden Age and the new breed of privateers that came after them. A stop in the Laffite brothers’ Barataria Bay circa 1810 would have revealed half a dozen schooners of various rigging at anchor at any given time. Along with the hermaphrodite brig – which itself was a variation of the schooner type – nothing was more trusted or handy in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean at the time.

Because of its popularity with the men of a piratical bent, the schooner was also the ship of choice for the best of pirate hunters. David Porter, the brilliantly successful Commodore of the Mosquito Fleet that virtually wiped out the tail end of the pirate class in the West Indies, counted on schooners to enter lagoons and bays around islands like Cuba. This allowed him and his men to ferret out the worst offenders and relieve U.S. merchants of the predations that were costing the entire country an arm and a leg.

In the 1840s, with the dawn of the California gold rush and the need for even more speed, the schooner type was modified again. Square rigging was added to her light frame, along with a third mast, and the legendary clipper ship was born. Schooners are still a favorite vessel with sailors of all types, myself included. Their ease of handling and beautiful lines are hard to resist. And what could be better than to be aboard a fast runner on a clear day? Not much at all.

Header: Early 19th century clipper ship by an unknown artist

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Seafaring Sunday: Three Knots

December 3, 1787: A steamboat piloted by James Rumsey and loaded with two tons of ballast achieved three knots against the current on the Potomac River in West Virginia.  Eight lucky passengers were along for the auspicious ride.

Header: Modern steamboat via Industrial Revolution in America (dotcom)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Hail

While fair weather and a hale crew is always to be wished for aboard us, there’s more to be said about hail than hale, at least at sea.

Of course a man can hail from a city, state or country, whether it be his place of birth or where he currently resides, but so can a ship. She is said to hail from her port of origin, generally the place where she is registered. As an example, Renato Beluche’s schooner Spy, a privateer for the U.S. during the War of 1812, hailed from New Orleans as her letter of mark was endorsed by the Commodore there, Daniel Tod Patterson. Thus any prizes she obtained should rightfully be brought in to NOLA, weather and the soundness of the ship permitting. I will note, purely as a family aside, that the two men hated each other; war makes strange bedfellows indeed.

A ship can itself be hailed, and it is not only in naval service that certain rules apply for doing same. In general parlance, the ship doing the hailing will call “From whence do you come, and where bound?” The answer to these questions should be immediate, or suspicion is aroused. Ships may pass within hail when an urgent need for exchange of information precludes putting boats over the side or time does not permit same. In this case the senior vessel – determined by who is in command – heaves to while the junior passes her stern to receive orders or intelligence.

Hailing a ship at sea was done by voice, flag or gun depending on both distance and the situation. Hail shot was very small balls used specifically for hails and salutes. In the 15th and 16th centuries, a small cannon known as a hailshot piece was supplied to ships for this purpose. Its trajectories were small cubes of iron known as dice.

A man’s good friends within his mess, which may be all of them if he is fortunate, would be known to him as hail fellows. In essence, good company and brothers.

Hailing aloft is done to call the attention of those men who are up in the rigging. As Admiral Smyth snidely remarks in The Sailor’s Word Book:

call men in the tops and at the mast-head to “look out,” too often an inconsistent bluster on deck.

And that is enough bluster for one day, I shall say. Fair winds and a following sea to all the Brethren. I’ll see you here tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.

Header: Clipper Ship by Captain Arthur Small

Friday, December 2, 2011

Booty: A Table Fit for a Commodore

As is tradition here at Triple P, Fridays this December will feature gift suggestions for the seafaring man or woman in your life. This year we’ll be all across the board with stocking stuffers, modern wearables and today, historical tableware.

Setting a table at sea was always tricky at best. The movement of the ocean made keeping china and silver in its place more troublesome than one might imagine. Fine dining sometimes went completely by the board due to weather or war but, whenever possible, most captains did and still do like to set a nice table. This included those of the piratical variety, where only the basest of louts wouldn’t take the opportunity to show off their plunder in the form of gilt chargers and silver flatware.

Established navies were almost duty bound to provide a decent table not only in the captain’s cabin but also in the wardroom, where the officers messed. This included linen, china, crystal and sterling – particularly when company called. Wooden trenchers were considered barbaric by the dawn of the Age of Exploration, no matter how much better they functioned in choppy conditions. Anxious stewards polished silver, kept china from cracking and bleached linen white in all conditions out of pure pride. The best literary example of this is probably O’Brian’s character Preserved Killick, steward to Jack Aubrey throughout the Aubrey/Maturin series.

If you or someone you love might have an interest in dressing their table in pure nautical style, you need look no further than The Pirate’s Lair. This enchanting website offers historical china, silver and linen from some of the world’s foremost navies, past and present. Not only are the navies of the U.S., Canada, France, Britain and Spain well represented, but pieces from many other navies are available too. To point out just a few you’ll find china from the Brazilian Navy, the Greek Navy and the Nigerian Navy.

The prices are not bargain basement by any means, but just one china or silver serving piece would make a nice addition to any table and certainly start a conversation or two. I’ve got my eye on the U.S. wardroom officer blue fouled anchor insignia large, deep pre-WWI serving bowl. Nothing says Christmas like a navy serving bowl.  Anchors aweigh!

Header: Formal table setting featuring U.S. Navy china, silver and linen via The Pirate’s Lair

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Knowledge of Sail

Over at Blue Lou Logan’s seafaring blog, Lou is currently reviewing Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels. This labor of love is a well done refresher and memory jogger for anyone who has read the series. For those who have only read a book or two, or none at all, there is no doubt that Lou’s posts will make you want to jump in with both feet. For me, the posts bring to mind my “first time”, if you will, and all the conundrums of “sailor speak” that came with tackling O’Brian. Something, I will say as an aside, you wouldn’t want to do physically; he was a fragile little man and things could easily get ugly.

One of the many hurdles to jump mentally was understanding the language of the sail. While I personally had been around sailing boats most of my life, the sails of a frigate or – even more daunting – a ship of the line could turn my head pretty quickly. Jib I understood, but topgallant royal or any kind of studdingsail were hard to place.

The best resource that I have found in this regard, and many others, is Dean King’s A Sea of Words. Written as a companion to O’Brian’s novels it also handles many of the historical details that may fly past the reader as they focus on the story, including the nuts and bolts of Napoleonic era sailing. The handy chart of sail above (a 19th century engraving similar to those found in King’s book) is just one example. While the above chart does not cover every possible sail from stem to stern, it does show those most frequently let out on a ship of frigate size. Here are the period correct names (approximately 1650 to 1875) for each sail pictured per the numbers noted:

1) flying jib, 2) jib, 3) fore topmast staysail, 4) fore staysail, 5) fore course (or foresail), 6) fore topsail, 7) fore topgallant, 8) main staysail, 9) main topmast staysail, 10) middle staysail, 11) main topgallant staysail.

Note that the cables known as stays, which hold the fore and aft sails, also serve the purpose of keeping the masts upright through tension which is then counteracted by back stays. Back stays, it should be noted, do not have corresponding sails.

12) main course (or mainsail), 13) main topsail, 14) main topgallant, 15) mizzen staysail, 16) mizzen topmast staysail, 17) mizzen topgallant staysail, 18) mizzensail, 19) driver spanker, 20) mizzen topsail, 21) mizzen topgallant.

With the knowledge of these sails firmly in the reader’s mind, just about any seafaring novel can be more readily understood, at least when one encounters issues of sail.

As a final note, if you’re wondering what those sails – often referred to as canvas – were made of it is probable that you already know the answer. After the medieval period, when linen was the favored fabric, sails rightly went by their moniker; they were almost exclusively made of cotton canvas until the modern era.

So topgallants and flying jib as well, if you please; fair sailing and good reading to you all.

Header: Mid-19th century engraving of a Royal Navy frigate with sails numbered via