Caribbean pirates used the Jolly Roger to intimidate their prey. Modern pirates often use grenade launchers and high tech weapons instead.

Brutal. It’s one of the first words people utter when they read a true account of pirates, and they’re right. As a group, pirates were among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men a person could encounter on the high seas.

You’ll notice that qualification: “Among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men….” It must be understood a wide range of brutality existed not only on pirate ships, but on merchant and Royal Navy vessels as well. Running into a pirate ship was not exactly like running into the Red Cross, but then neither was running into a ship from the Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy was notorious for its institutionalized cruelty and violence. Some captains were despotic, sadistic leaders encouraged by the top brass to keep discipline at all costs. Like hardened sailors on pirate ships, these captains found a home in the British Navy.  Life on one of their ships was no less than a chamber of horrors.

On a scale of violence from one to ten, most pirates were somewhere around a five. Several pirates, however, like some captains in the Royal Navy, were off the charts. Their cruelty and sadistic tortures knew no bounds. If we are to be accurate about this, we should call them for what they were. Psychopaths. Piracy just happened to be the profession they chose like captains of the Royal Navy who relished the pain and misery they inflicted on their crew with little provocation.

If I had to select the top five cruelest pirates in history, I’d have to include Rock Barziliano, Francois L’Olonnais, Edward Low, Benito de Soto, and Don Pedro Gilbert.  I won’t go into specifics here, but I will tell you their horrific attacks are chronicled in Uncommon Mariners and a number of other riveting books by expert authors such as David Cordingly, Benerson Little, Peter Earle, and Colin Woodard.

The mutilations and murders by these men were so brutal that I have no doubt that it would make Blackbeard and Kidd flinch. In fact, I’ll go even further than that. I believe in my pirate soul that most of the pirates of the Golden Age would be embarrassed to have their names associated with the likes of them.

“That’s not what we were about, mate. Damn ye, scalawag, for even suggesting such a thing!” Blackbeard would no doubt thunder. Continue reading →

Sometimes the Good Guys Win

A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.     -Author Unknown

A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.
-Author Unknown

Pirates made the news again this week, though I’m afraid it wasn’t good news for them. Twelve pirates were convicted in a Mauritian court for an attack on the MSC Jasmine off the coast of Somalia on January 05, 2013. It may seem like an eternity ago that the wheels of justice began turning, but they did turn. Originally, a court returned a not guilty verdict, but the prosecutors challenged the results, and a second trial yielded the new verdict.

For those of you who are geographically challenged, Mauritius is an island off the coast of southern Africa. If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad. I had to look it up myself. Mauritius has a special treaty with the European Union that allows pirates taken off Somalia to be tried there.

And if you think Mauritius is just a small jerkwater, backwoods, impoverished island that will do anything for a buck, you’re mistaken big time. Mauritius has a thriving economy with tourism at its heart. With a solid infrastructure, this island is all about stability, democracy, and a rising middle class.

When the twelve pirates attacked the Jasmine with rocket-propelled grenades, a security team hired to protect the Jasmine repelled the attack. They promptly notified authorities, and plenty of help arrived. The USS Halyburton, the FS Surcouf, and a German patrol aircraft all played a part in apprehending the pirates.

Earlier this year Somalian pirates were found guilty of hijacking the yacht Tribal Kat and murdering its captain. They received six to fifteen years. They pretty much got away with murder.  Had it been the pirate Joseph Bannister, they would have been hanging from a yardarm before the ship got into port. Continue reading →

The Heart of Captain Kidd

From fishing boats to schooners, mariners on the sea always have to face the possibility of pirate attacks.

From fishing boats to schooners, mariners have always had to face the possibility of pirate attacks.


…. Next to Blackbeard, Captain Kidd probably has one of the most notorious reputations as a pirate. He’s been perceived as vicious, bloodthirsty, conniving, dishonest, and treacherous. Hey, wait a minute! That could describe most of those folks posing as politicians in Washington, D.C. But I’ll save that for another time.

….The fact is, Captain William Kidd, when judged by the standards of the day, was hardly any of those things. When conjuring up visions of diabolical pirates, I’m afraid Kidd would likely come in at the bottom of the list.

…. Consider the following. How many pirates received a commission from the king himself to hunt pirates and attack ships from countries at war with England? Commissions like these were generally called letters of marque.

…. Before he set one foot on a ship, Kidd’s venture was more business than swashbuckling adventure. He had entered into a business pact with Lord Bellomont, Robert Livingston, and several other influential men of England who helped bankroll his efforts. The expectation, of course, was that Kidd would bring home lucrative treasure for their troubles.

…. The general rule of thumb for pirates and privateers can best be summed up in four words: “No prey, no pay.” Nobody was getting anything if ships weren’t  caught.

…. With these salient points in mind, grab your passport and your cutlass because we’re about to sail into history:

…. The year was 1697 and the men who crewed ships in those days were a hearty, anxious, hungry lot. Hungry for adventure, hungry for fairness, hungry for freedom, but mostly hungry for money.

…. A share of the spoils was a prime motivator to risk life and limb on the high seas where if a cannonball didn’t get you, a terrible storm likely would. And the crew well understood the difference between pirate ships, those with a letter of marquis, and enemy and neutral vessels. Practically no one gave a damn. Money was money.

…. But a captain like Kidd knew the fine line between attacking vessels of foreign flags on your legal list and those that were off limits. Walking that fine line with your crew was more hazardous than walking the proverbial gangplank.

…. When Kidd’s first months at sea produced no pirates and no ill-gotten goods, his crew grew restless, then angry, then downright hostile. Any ship began to look good.  Still, Kidd went out of his way to stay within the bounds of the law much to the ire of his men. Eventually, neutral ships and those belonging to allies of the king induced cannon fever in the crew. One night his gunner, William Moore, got into it with Kidd because he refused to attack a Dutch ship. Moore goaded him so badly before his men that Kidd flew into a rage and, picking up a lead bucket, slammed it over his head, an action he no doubt immediately regretted. The gunner died the next day.

Continue reading →


Pirates of old used some form of the Jolly Roger to intimidate their victims. Today they use high tech weapons.

Pirates of old used some form of the Jolly Roger to intimidate their victims. Today they use high tech weapons.

Ever wonder why people today become pirates? It’s a dirty and dangerous business just like it’s been for centuries. The only guarantee is that if you do it long enough, you’ll either wind up caught and serve heavy time in a foreign prison or you’ll be dead.

No doubt men end up in the business for more than one reason. There’s the chance of quick cash much like a bank robber hoping to score it big. Then there’s the destitute person with nowhere to turn. Chasing down a ship carrying goods worth more money than you’ll see in ten lifetimes is more than a little appealing. When you grow up in poverty with no way to feed your family, the lure of piracy becomes irresistible.

Probably most casual observers would attribute the motivation of pirates to plain and simple greed. But a closer look would show this to be only partially true. Illegal fishing off the coast of Somalia has actually helped to nurture piracy there. Rob men of their ability to make a living, and even decent men can be driven to the unthinkable.

In a country where there is little government or one that is more corrupt than the people it serves, desperate men will not hesitate to take extreme measures. That’s why coming to solutions about piracy requires an understanding of individuals and their particular circumstances.

Look at the pirates and privateers of the 17th century Caribbean. Many began their career with the blessings of the king of England. When they were no longer needed, they became problematic. What the hell do you do with a sea of pirates you sanctioned for years to attack your enemies’ ships? For the17th century pirates, unemployment was not an option. Continue reading →

Uncommon Mariners Not Just For Pirates



“Welcome to the World of Pirates, Mariners, and the Eternal Sea.” Like billowing sails on a three-masted schooner, these words greet every visitor to my site. I put them front and center because I want everyone who comes to my page to know exactly what they can expect.

Like my upcoming book, Uncommon Mariners, you’ll find lots of information on pirates, ancient and modern, though my site isn’t just about pirates. It belongs just as much to mariners- those lusty, able-bodied men and women who for years have worked and played and sailed on high seas and in harbors all around the world.

Moreover, my site is also about the sea and the creatures that live there. The drama that plays out in the oceans every day as thousands of species struggle for survival is both riveting and shocking.

As I mention elsewhere on my webpage, I don’t propose to be the final word on any of these topics. Other sites do a fine job keeping you abreast of pirates and threats to mariners and the sea.

When you come to Uncommon Mariners, bring a pirate’s heart, playful and rebellious, but bring an inquisitive and probing mind too.  Do this and I promise you an entertaining, inspiring, and informative voyage.

I want to put a smile on your face with curious facts and amazing stories about mariners and the sea, but I also want to incense and anger you by making you aware of events and trends that are impacting mariners, the ocean, and its creatures in terrible ways.

Because the news isn’t all bad, I want to tell you about key players making a positive difference in mariners lives, the ocean environment, and the fight against piracy. And I want to provide you with links so you can learn more about these issues and act in ways big and small to make a difference. Continue reading →

A Pirate’s Four Keys to Success


Caribbean pirates used the Jolly Roger to intimidate their prey. Modern pirates often use grenade launchers and high tech weapons instead.

Caribbean pirates used the Jolly Roger to intimidate their prey. Modern pirates often use grenade launchers and high tech weapons instead.

The success of pirates today hinges very much on four basic elements, much like their Caribbean brothers three hundred years ago. Without these components, modern pirates would be more of a nuisance than a threat.

   …..First, pirates depend heavily on a hideout. This could be a port or country where either no one cares about their presence or is unable to do much about it. Strongholds of the Caribbean pirates were scattered throughout the islands: Port Royal, Tortuga, and Nassau. Far from Spain and England, these pirates wreaked havoc at will then returned to their refuge.

Until recently, Somalian pirates had been quite successful. With no country in close proximity to their home base, they merely had to blatantly sail home with their booty. Times have changed for Somalian pirates; like England and France years ago, the countries affected have brought pressure upon them and the attacks have dropped dramatically; but the price is vigilance.

…..Second, pirates thrive on a hot bed of commercial shipping. You can’t be a bank robber if you aren’t near banks. You can’t be a sailor if you aren’t willing to go to where there’s water. Caribbean pirates thrived on the Spanish Main and any other shipping lane offering the promise of wealth. Ships passing through the islands became easy prey for treasure, ships, human cargo, and other booty.

Modern pirates in the Indian Ocean, off the West Coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia all have their own targets. Some are even brazen enough to attack ships anchored in port. Oil and other precious cargo have become the new booty.

…..Third, pirates take every advantage of the hit and run. It wasn’t baseball players, but pirates who perfected this technique 300 years ago. With craft smaller and faster than their prey, their strength lay in surprise and speed. We often think those pirates loved massive ships loaded with cannons, but the truth is many pirates preferred small craft that were unobtrusive and fast. Take the prey by surprise, get in, get out, disappear. Today’s pirates with their modern boats and sophisticated technology have reinvented this technique.

Continue reading →