It’s a Pirates Life – Part 3

Here is the last in the series of It’s a Pirates Life article – at least for a while.

Boarding Tactics

So you are a pirate captain, you have found a ship to prey on, you have drawn the other ship in close, you have fired your opening volley, scattering the men on deck but they have decided not to capitulate and surrender – they want a fight.  What do you do now?

The best option is to board the other ship!  But where do you start?

First, you are going to draw along side, hopefully quickly enough that they can’t bring their cannon to bear at close range.  You will have the pirates throw lines with grappling hooks onto the other ship and you will began to inch the ships closer and closer together.  Before the battle began, you had the men each grab a cutlass and a flintlock pistol or rifle.  Some of the pirates, the ones that are good with pistols will have a brace of flintlocks around their necks (brace = two).  As the ships get closer and closer, the pirates will began to swarm over the side of your ship onto the deck of the enemy vessel and swing from the rigging unto the deck of the other ship – though i have always doubted the swinging part. Toio much rigging and too many chances to fall from really dangerous heights.

When a pirate lands on the other ship the first thing they are going to do is discharge their flintlocks. If they were given a rifle this left them with more time to draw a cutlass due to the fact that they have more range.  With a pistol, they would have to get in close.  After the rifle is discharged, it becomes a bludgeoning weapon, after the pistol is discharged, it is dropped to the deck to be retrieved later – hopefully.  The cutlass is then drawn and the action gets much closer, with the pirates hoping to overwhelm the ship quickly and lose as few men as they can.

The pirate captain is going to be slightly better outfitted then the typical pirate or first mate.  For instance, Blackbeard was known to stride onto the deck of the other ship with 6 flintlock pistols hung on bandoleers around his immense chest.  All 6 pistols would be discharged before drawing his huge cutlass and laying into the enemy.  The sight of the enormous Blackbeard with gun smoke around him and canon fuse burning around his head was a visceral image that struck fear into the hearts of merchant vessels around the New World.

These tactics of overwhelming force and firepower gave the pirates a distinct advantage over the untrained sailors they fought on merchant vessels and even an advantage over the navy ships that they fought who were used to some structure to their ship-to-ship battles.

Hopefully this primer has given you an idea of how pirates worked and how they fought while at sea.