Nothing screams pirate more than a billowing black sail, a Jolly Roger hoisted high, with scurvy pirates hooting and hollering on deck. A pirate without a ship was unheard of (until the invention of the internet, at least). At sea, a Captain’s best friend is his ship, which must be seaworthy but also notable in appearance. Of all the types of pirate ships, a pirate’s choice often defined him.
Throughout history, ships and their Captains have changed dramatically. From wooden bows and dozens of cannons to slim and nimble, pirate ships evolved alongside the pirates that named them. But what, exactly, is a pirate ship? From the formidable Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Wydah Galley, The Golden Age of Piracy birthed the legendary pirate ships that sail in our imaginations.
What makes a pirate ship?
Imagine a shipyard full of vessels. Think a pirate ship would be built here? Though every ship has an origin, few have been built specifically for pirating. Pirate ships often begin life as a reputable vessel (sometimes used for less than reputable actions) for legitimate business.
Famed pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach’s ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, had a less recognizable name as the Concord in a previous life.
The Concord is thought to have been built in Bristol, England as a merchant vessel in 1710. Not long after, French “privateers” (AKA legal pirates) captured the Concord and renamed it the La Concorde. When Blackbeard captured the vessel in 1717, he gave it’s final name: The Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Pirates were not picky with the vessel they chose to use to commit crimes. Records indicate that a pirate would use a dinghy, canoe or other small vessels if necessary. However, to cement the image of fierceness into the collective psyche, a pirate needed a vessel worthy of respect. In other words, if a pirate wanted a respectable ship, they would have to capture one.
Galleon vs. Sloop: Not Just Funny Words
Though there were dozens of types of boats, ships and otherwise to choose from, the most popular pirate ships were either a galleon or sloop.
Designed foremost for naval battles, the galleon is threat realized. The shape and size often struck fear into enemies as it appeared over the horizon, giving them enough time to craft an impressive letter of surrender. It’s no wonder then that the galleon is the style of ship pictured in the mind when thinking of pirate ships.
Three to four masts, upon which billowing sails were raised, propelled the ship forward. The ships featured multiple decks and could host a crew of hundreds. These ships were often used by the Spanish as cargo transports as they could be outfitted with multiple offensive and defensive weapons, such as canons. These were the type of ships sent to explore the New World and sailed via trade routes between European countries.
They were also popular targets for pirates looking to score big. Famous galleon pirate ships include Captain William Kidd’s Adventure Galley, a 34-gun ship built in 1689. The Wydah Galley, captained by “Black Sam” Bellamy, was outfitted with 28 cannons. To this day, it remains the only fully certified discovery of a pirate ship wreckage, discovered in 1984 near Cape Cod off the northeastern coast of the USA.
A sloop is also a warship, though considerably smaller. The ship was designed to be fast rather than oppressive, thus it’s slim design gave it an advantage when outrunning larger vessels. Featuring a single mast, the sloop was the most popular style of pirate ship. After all, a pirate’s best trick is a quick escape and sloops were up to the task.
A typical sloop could be operated by as few as several men and up to one hundred. Of all types of pirate ships, a sloop would have been the most often seen in operation. A sloop pirate ship by the name of Revenge used its speed to its advantage under the flag of Major Stede Bonnet. A rare outlier in the world of pirate vessel acquisition, Bonnet actually purchased his sloop legally, though as is tradition, it was eventually captured by none other than Blackbeard and put to use in his armada.
Infamous pirate Anne Bonnie captained her own sloop known as William. Aboard the William, Bonnie commanded a small crew of no more than a dozen, utilizing only a few guns. However, she struck terror in the hearts of sailors in the Caribbean.
Unusual Pirate Ships
Of course, a pirate’s ship could be anything they could get their hands on. Some vessels were a little unusual and stood out even to other sailors.
Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts sailed aboard a French brigantine known as the Good Fortune. A brigantine is a vessel slightly larger than a sloop, donned with two square sails, which can also become a row-boat. These ships were popular in the 16th century. The Good Fortune lived up to its name until it’s fortune ran out in 1722 when it was sunk by the British navy.
George Booth’s ship, the Speaker, was a massive 450-ton Indian ship used to transport slaves. Featuring 50 guns, the ship stood out among other pirate ships for being ornate and quite the spectacle at port. Booth cherished the ship and used it for many years before he was killed in battle.
A Modern Working Pirate Ship
We would be remiss not to mention the Royal Conquest, the most adventurous pirate cruise in Madeira Beach. The 46-foot long vessel designed in the style of a historical galleon can hold up to 46 passengers. Docked at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach, the Royal Conquest departs on a family-friendly adventure daily. You, too, can experience the life of a pirate on board and learn more about these ships by calling us today.