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Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean
Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

You are reading an article prepared during the development of the pirate life simulation game Corsairs Legacy by Ukrainian Mauris studio with the aim of popularizing the marine theme in general and pirate games in particular. You can follow the project news on our website, YouTube channel, and Telegram.

In this article, Doctor of Historical Sciences Kirill Nazarenko tells the history of Jack Sparrow's famous ship, the Black Pearl, and analyzes its historical prototype. As part of the article, the historian examines the characteristics of the ship from the game "Pirates of the Caribbean" and talks about the Flying Dutchman.

Hello! Today the story will be about the Black Pearl. Of course, everyone has watched Pirates of the Caribbean and everyone knows that Jack Sparrow, the main character of this film, sailed on the Black Pearl ship. The ship had an extraordinary fate. At first, it was called the "Slutty Wench", then it was sunk, Jack Sparrow agreed with the sea devil Devi Jones, who raised the ship from the bottom of the sea and made it very cool.

Of course, the ship of the protagonist of a popular movie should look unusual, so the Black Pearl is all black, with the same sails. And, even though they are all tattered, this does not prevent her from being fast.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

Jack Sparrow's ship "The Black Pearl"

If we look at the sailing rig, we will see that it is quite a traditional ship with a three-masted sailing rig, with straight sails, quite typical for the beginning of the 18th century.

Because the blind (a straight sail fixed under a bowsprit, a tree protruding forward from the bow of a sailing ship) and a topmast (part of the spars - a continuation of the upper end of the mast) we don’t see, but in general this is quite a normal frigate. The fact that he has oars that can be extended from the lower deck — they do such things, but not on ocean ships. There was even a class of sailing and rowing frigates that were used either on large rivers or in skerries, in the specific conditions of the Baltic Sea.

It is known that in the 70-90s of the 18th century there were several rowing frigates in the Swedish fleet, it was the largest type of sailing and rowing vessel. But, compared with the sea, these were not large frigates. In addition, Austria had a river flotilla on the Danube, which included at least one sailing and rowing frigate in the 18th century. So, in principle, they were in use, but they made sense if they were small, with a relatively small draft, which allowed them to be accelerated by oars to a more or less decent speed.

If we talk about sea frigates, then oars were rarely installed on them. Although there were oars on ships of a lower rank.

For example, on the brig "Mercury", which became famous for its battle against two stronger Turkish ships during the Russian-Turkish war in 1828-1829 on the Black Sea, there were oars. And, when Mercury tried to get away from the Turkish ships at some point when the wind subsided, these oars were set in motion. Technically, the oars were pushed through special small holes in the side, located between the cannon ports, and thus it was more or less convenient to row.

As for artillery weapons, it must be understood that during the entire 18th century, frigates had a maximum of twelve-pound guns on the lower deck, and six-pound guns stood on the upper open deck, and this was considered more than enough.

But in the 17th century, smaller caliber guns could also be mounted on early frigates. Already in the 19th century, when carronades were invented, shortened guns, the barrel of which was three times shorter than usual, frigates already have twenty-four-pound carronades on the upper deck and twenty-four-pound long guns on the lower deck.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean


Carronades did not shoot far, and the initial speed was low because the powder charge had to be reduced. The carronade was light, and it was mounted not on a wheeled carriage, but on a swivel (a movable connection that excludes the transfer of rotation from one connection element to another) and if a large powder charge was used, the swivel could simply be torn off.

It would seem that who needs such short and meaningless guns that fired a cannonball with a low initial speed? But it was precisely in this shortcoming that they had their great advantage because a slow-flying cannonball at a short distance produced more destruction. In addition, carronades fired grapeshot very well.

If we talk about some game assumptions, then in my opinion in the game “Pirates of the Caribbean” the power of artillery is exaggerated, but this was done to make it more interesting to fight and destroy the enemy ship faster.

But in real life, the artillery battle of sailing ships was a rather slow and burdensome business, and it was quite difficult to sink an enemy ship with the help of artillery, it was easier to set it on fire or demast it. Therefore, I would vote for the fact that the caliber of the guns on the game ships would be smaller, and their rate of fire would be the same. And the rate of fire, in turn, would depend on the time of the battle, because the sailors also get tired. For the same reason, the longer the battle is fought, the lower the accuracy should be. In addition, it must be borne in mind that the sailors were only enough for the artillery of one side in the state.

The states were quite rarely filled to 100%, and in reality, there were fewer sailors than were supposed to be. Therefore, the ship could more or less successfully conduct an artillery battle with one side, and, when firing from two sides, the rate of fire dropped sharply. Well, on pirate ships there is no reason to believe that there were too many free people who could serve the guns.

The version of Sea Dogs: New Horizons shows that the crew of the ship is 428 people, but this is a lot because on the frigate of the XVIII century the crew was about 150 people. If you look at the Black Pearl, then here the crew is 324 people, which is also a lot.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

The Black Pearl is a ship in the version "Corsairs: New Horizons"

By the way, the drawn Black Pearl is not bad here. Just a strong deflection of the upper deck was characteristic of the ships of the 17th century, but then in the 18th century it gradually decreased, and the deck became flatter. This is due to the improvement in the ways of fastening the ship's hull kit when metal and diagonal fastening appears. But in the 17th century, this was not the case. In addition to the deflection of the deck, to make the hull as strong as possible, the sides were quite heavily heaped into the inside of the ship.

The stern gallery is also clearly visible. These protrusions from the sides and the stern gallery are called shtults, on which there were latrines for officers (an overhang on the bow for installing the ship's bow decoration) and there was nothing romantic there. The latrine for the crew was in the bow of the ship under the bowsprit.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

The Black Pearl is a ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie version

If you look at the version of the Black Pearl of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" with fog and skeletons, you can see leaky sails, but in principle, the hull pattern is the same, but the carrying capacity is somehow prohibitive. Well, 26 twenty-four-pound long guns are too powerful weapons for any ship of this type. But you can turn to historical prototypes.

There is a version that supposedly the pirate Henry Morgan had the Black Pearl ship, but I must say that having looked at the available literature, I have not found any more or less worthy evidence of this fact anywhere. In itself, the name of the ship does not really correspond to the real names of the ships that were in the 17th century. Pirates, of course, could give some tricky names to their ships, for example, "Queen Annie's Revenge". By the way, "Slutty Wench", the first name of Jack Sparrow’s ship, is more in line with such humor of the sailors of the 17th century.

There were two real Morgan ships: Merchant Jamaica and Oxford. But the second one was the royal frigate. There is a version that not so long ago, a group of underwater treasure hunters found "Merchant Jamaica" near Haiti, but they funnily argue this. They write that the ship sank sometime between 1650 and 1680 and that the ship had only 6 small cannons and no large-caliber ones.

So why can't it be an ordinary ship that just didn't have enough guns? Nevertheless, the head of this team said that he was 98% sure that this was Henry Morgan's ship, and he complained that he had not yet been able to get some detail with the name of the ship, for example, a rynda (ship's bell).

But this is actually ridiculous because, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the name of the ships was very rarely written in letters. And only by the middle of the 18th century, they begin to write the name of the ship on the stern, but definitely not on bells or some kind of metal plates. Before that, the name was not written on the ships since then most of the sailors were illiterate, they were more guided by the bowed figure of the ship, which displayed its name.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

Bow figure of the ship

For example, on English warships, the figurehead depicted a lion as an element of the royal coat of arms. Or, on the very ship of Jack Sparrow, "The Slutty Wench", the corresponding young lady should have been depicted. Sometimes, if the name was abstract, for example: “Courageous” or “Brave”, then a female figure was depicted, which personified one or another quality. And in general, in the 17th and 18th centuries, all sorts of symbols and emblems were very fond of.

Also, a very interesting topic of ghost ships. In general, the sailors were very superstitious people. And this can be explained psychologically very well — in all specialties where the risk of accidental dangers is high, despite the professionalism of a person, there is a place for various beliefs.

But at the same time, they did not attach importance to believing "a woman on a ship is in trouble" and as a rule, there were women on large warships. For example, about a hundred skeletons of sailors were found in the sunken Swedish warship "Vaza", and during the research, it was determined that 5 of them were female. There were also suggestions that two of them, older in age, could be the wives of senior non-commissioned officers.

The boatswain semi-officially could carry his family on the ship, because when the ship was unloaded and laid up, the boatswain remained on it with his family to guard. The other girls were young and, unlike the first two, the non-commissioned officers' wives, who were dressed in dresses, were dressed in men's suits. Most likely they were women with reduced social responsibility who entertained the sailors during the voyage.

In addition to beliefs about women, there were beliefs that you can call the wind with a whistle. And also, if there is wind, then it is forbidden to whistle, as the wind will increase and can lead to a storm. And the most radical way to cause the wind was to prick the mast with a knife, which was resorted to in the most extreme cases.

There was also a belief that one should not spit on the deck, since the ship was considered, a living being, and it could be offended. Hence the complex attitude to the name of the ship. The name of the ship could be considered unlucky and changed, but at the same time, changing the name of the ship was a bad omen. Even when the ship was captured as a trophy and included in the enemy fleet, it could not be renamed. The only thing they could do was translate the name of the ship into their language.

But Turkish ships had to be renamed and rebaptized, as it was accepted that a ship receives a name at baptism just like a person. It was necessary to hold a religious ceremony, if it was a Muslim ship, and call it some Christian name.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

Jack Sparrow's ship "Black Pearl" and the devil Davy Jones

Returning to "Pirates", I want to say that the sailors believed in the sea devil Devi Jones and that he hunted for the souls of sailors and kept them in his chest at the bottom of the sea. And the sailors believed that it was possible to negotiate with him, and some especially lucky captains signed some kind of contract with the sea devil and who are therefore not afraid of anything.

But most everyone believed that the soul could be sold to the sea devil, and then during his lifetime he helps the sailor, and after it ends, the devil takes his soul for himself, and it is doomed to torment. And the most common legend about the Flying Dutchman is that the captain of this ship decided to sell his soul to the sea devil so that he would help him round Cape Born. The devil helped him to do this, and the captain forgot about his oath, and therefore the devil took the captain, the sailors, and the ship for himself. And since then, the Flying Dutchman has been rushing across the seas and oceans, and his sailors cannot find peace.

Well, here the Black Pearl plays up the image of the Flying Dutchman. Jack Sparrow made a contract with Devi Jones, and the devil helped him. Jack Sparrow also can communicate with skeletons and all evil spirits. In general, everything is logical and understandable, because it plays on a complex of ideas that was characteristic of all Western European sailors.

If we talk about the spiritual side, then on the ships they tried to have a priest and a place for prayer. Spanish and Portuguese ships always carried Catholic crosses on their masts. They also had portable altars and iconostases that unfolded for the service. For the Protestants, everything was much simpler and, according to the English admiralty instructions, if there was no priest on the ship, then the captain had the right to conduct worship, especially at the funeral of sailors.

Is the Black Pearl a bad ship? Kirill Nazarenko talks about Pirates of the Caribbean

"Black Pearl" Jack Sparrow's ship

And in conclusion, I want to say a little about the symbolism. Flying over Jack Sparrow's Black Pearl is the classic black pirate flag with a skull and crossbones. But I remind you that the image was not a pirate emblem.

The skull and bones in the Christian tradition are a symbol of eternal life. They are depicted at the foot of the Crucifixion, which symbolizes the bones and skull of Adam, on which the blood of Christ was shed and washed away original sin and gave hope to every Christian for eternal life. And the pirates used the skull and bones precisely as a symbol of eternal life.

This symbol was also used by the hussars. In Prussia, there were the 5th Hussars, which wore black uniforms with silver trim, skulls, and crossbones. With the Germans, this emblem survived until 1918, and then under Hitler, it became the emblem of the tank and SS troops. But still, with this symbol, the pirates wanted to show that they are immortal and that it is pointless to fight them.

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