Ever wonder if pirates in the Caribbean bothered to take time out from their busy schedule of pillaging, plundering, and wenching to celebrate Christmas?
It was no doubt the perfect time for pirates to return to the Caribbean after a year of plundering from Charleston to Boston. Once cold weather set in, it was the custom of some to head for warmer waters.
Blackbeard is a good example. Except it seems he made two fatal mistakes. One, he partied it up in North Carolina in November instead of heading to the warm waters of the Caribbean where Reggae bands, fancy rum drinks, and hot wenches waited. His second mistake was that he aggravated the living hell out of Governor Spotswood of Virginia so much so that the governor sent Captain Maynard in search of him and put an end to his fiendish ways.
Maynard didn’t have to look too far. Maynard met up with Blackbeard just before Thanksgiving in Oracoke, North Carolina. After a delicate game of cat and mouse, the curtain descended on Blackbeard with a dramatic flourish. Had he sought out a warmer clime, Blackbeard might have lived to see Christmas and another New Year.
One of the benefits of taking a few days to celebrate Christmas was the opportunity to clean your ship. We’re not talking about the excellent job housekeepers at resorts from South Carolina’s Grand Strand to Key West perform. Wooden ships are infamous for being on the menu of the toredo worm. A family of these hungry creatures can turn the hull of any wooden ship into Swiss cheese, rye bread and pastrami not needed.
The only way to combat them is to take the ship out of the water and scrape the barnacles and worms down to the hull. The process is called careening. Considering their size and bulk, putting ships in dry dock wasn’t an option, but the endless array of sandy beaches and shallow water bays in the Caribbean made that unnecessary.
Careening involved leaning the ship on its side, doing the necessary scraping, then leaning it on its other side and repeating the process. And all this while hoping the rum didn’t kick in too much with your crew and that pirate hunters would not discover you.
I admit it may sound like more work than fun, but how much fun is it for Santa to work his buns off making toys, doing recon work spying on boys and girls- and that’s not to mention the naughty wenches he’s got to keep an eye on. Well, okay, that part might bring a smile to his face, but how much fun is it to ride all over the world in one night, and then for a reward be stuck in your long johns the rest of the winter?
Perhaps now you can see why the tropics would call to any pirate if common sense wasn‘t beat out of him with the flat end of a cutlass. Careening your ship and outfitting it for the raiding season ahead surely must have been high on any pirate’s Christmas list.
According to Robert Kurson’s book, Pirate Hunters, Joseph Bannister, after he turned from respectable businessman to Caribbean buccaneer, found himself a nice secluded harbor where he and his men could mix this careening business with pleasure while engaging in a little R & R. A real pirate would read that Rummin’, relaxin’, and wenchin’, activities popular anytime of year.
Of course, it shouldn’t be assumed that all pirates were idly engaged at Christmas. There have been various accounts of pirates acquiring Christmas presents for themselves. When you get on Santa’s naughty list, you learn to fend for yourself. Sam Bellamy gave himself the Sultana which he refitted more to his liking, adding cannons from captured ships. After some rum and fun in the sun, French pirate Oliver La Buse, Paulsgrave Williams, and Sam Bellamy parted ways, off on their next pirate adventure.
Lest we think ill of Sam, I might mention that his flotilla of three ships captured the St. Michael before Christmas but in the spirit of the season returned it to his captain minus cargo and several crew members.
Furthermore, anyone who has to work on Christmas certainly deserves our sympathy, and pirates are no exception. Laurens de Graaf attacked Cartagena on December 25, 1683. Despite tremendous odds, he gained the upper hand, eventually taking the San Francisco for his own. Not to seem ungrateful, he sent Governor Juan de Pando Estrada a thank you note for the Christmas gift which he refitted and renamed Fortune.
Christmas isn’t but a week or two away. If you’re smart, you’ll draw a valuable lesson from this. If you have unfinished business, don’t be like Blackbeard and cut corners. If ye have to work, mix pleasure with it. Or is it mix work with pleasure. As a writer, I sometimes get confused. The edges between my writing and fun sometimes blur, and it all becomes fun.
So this season, if ye can’t make it to the Tropics, bring the Tropics to you. Put on a little Caribbean music, pour yourself a tall, cold one, even if it’s only milk to go with yer cookies. Find a nice sunny spot and sit yer favorite wench on yer lap and let her tickle you under yer beard or wherever else she fancies. And dream of bold Pirate Adventures and what the New Year will bring.