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Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko
Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

You are reading material 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, Kirill Nazarenko talks about how naval battles actually took place, and using the example of a specific battle from Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships, he evaluates the historical accuracy of the game gameplay.

I really like the Sea Dogs game itself. I played it, it is very good-looking, it has well-developed, in my opinion, trading mechanics, the colorful world of the Caribbean is presented. Moreover, the ships are well drawn, and in some places, you can watch the most beautiful sunsets in combat mode or other natural phenomena.

Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

Ships in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships

The game is dynamic, the battle lasts for several minutes, which completely satisfies the player. However, from a historical point of view, you can make a variety of claims and then easily criticize the game.

The game "Sea Dogs", in my opinion, adjoins such an old game "AGE of SAIL", in which the mechanism of battles of the sailing era was also well developed.

But, if we talk about some comments and observations, then I would start with the fact that the increased speed itself, which is needed for the dynamics of the game, contradicts the real picture of the battles of sailing ships of the classical sail era in the late 17th — first half of the 19th century.

These battles were slow and viscous, we must not forget that the speed of a sailing vessel was considered good if it reached ten knots, which is about 18 km/h, it was generally an excellent speed. The norm was 2-3-4 knots, that is, from 3 to 7 km/h, but you must understand that the speed of 7 km/h if maintained for a whole day, will allow you to cover more than 150 kilometers in a day.

And, say, on land, the maximum speed of movement of a convoy loaded with some kind of cargo was 20–25 km/h. So even the slowest sailing ship moved much faster than a land convoy, carried much more cargo, and required immeasurably fewer people for its maintenance — tens or even hundreds less than a horse-drawn convoy. It is with this that the great role of maritime trade is connected.

Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

Ships in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships

The battles were long, and single battles of sailing ships, let's say known during the Napoleonic Wars or the Second War of Independence of the United States of America, could last for hours, the chase could even last for days, so you need to understand that in general, speed in the game could be made slightly slower.

The maneuverability of the ships is much higher than it was in reality in Sea Dogs.

Sometimes you can turn your ship on the heel in the game "Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships", but in reality, the turn required quite a lot of space.

Besides, it should be understood that the wind very rarely blew evenly and strongly, the wind changed quite often, especially in tropical latitudes, there could be calm streaks, and squalls could fly in — the sailor had to clearly understand all this. The wind shadow worked if you were near the coast, and the wind was blowing from the coast, so let's say if you did not go under the cover of the island, the wind was strong, and when you got into the wind shadow, the wind could sharply weaken and when chasing you had to take account of it. If the ship was sailing at full sail, a squall could fly in, break the sails, break the masts, and in the end even turn the ship over. Then, it is clear that the maps were very bad, it was elementary to run into unmarked rocks, so it was possible in rare cases to fly under full sail without thinking about anything.

Attention is drawn to the distribution of damage to the sails, crew, and hull, which is somewhat different from what it was in reality, since the hull of a wooden ship was very strong, and in a collision, the hull almost did not suffer. In cases where one ship rammed another, made a hole in the case — it’s almost impossible.

Even if the ship landed on a rock, it took quite a long time for the waves to hit it against this rock for the leak to turn out to be serious enough. The hole itself was quite rare.

Let me remind you that the thickness of the hull of wooden sailing ships reached 60–70 cm of multi-layered wood, durable wood, so it was difficult to break through it.

On the other hand, the rigging and spars suffered very much, if one ship hit the side of the other with its nose, then it would definitely lose the bowsprit because the bowsprit would fall between the tackles of the enemy ship and most likely break. At the same time, if the ships began to turn one to the other, then the remnants of the bowsprit could completely demolish the mizzen mast, which was not very thick and cause even more damage to the opponent.

Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships. The bowsprit

At the same time, the two ships were entangled with rigging, and to disperse, they needed great efforts. It was impossible to disperse without ending the battle with the victory of one of the teams, moreover, if one of the ships sank, it could turn over its opponent, entangled in the rigging. Therefore, boarding was an extremely risky operation, because it was possible to board an enemy ship, however, how to separate from it later was a difficult question.

If we talk about the onboard team, then the teams in Sea Dogs seem to be somewhat exaggerated, and the losses are also exaggerated because until the ship sank, there were no more than 10–15% killed and wounded on it, both in the steam era and in the sailing era, in exceptional cases – 20%.

There were also some exceptions: the destroyer "Steregushchiy", which lost the entire crew and remained afloat, but these were rare exceptions, typical for unarmored ships in the steam era. It was not typical for the sailing era and armored ships in the steam era. However, when the ship sank, then the entire crew or a significant part could already die.

Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships. The destroyer "Steregushchiy"

At the same time, if we talk about boarding, then one should not think that the entire crew was running onto the deck with boarding sabers and fiercely rushing into battle. A small part of the crew took part in the boarding. A significant part of the team remained below, near the guns. A victory in boarding could be achieved over a rather heavily outnumbered crew.

As for the crew members number on sailing ships in Sea Dogs, the number was not very large, however, on warships, it was larger than on merchant ships because on warships a crew was provided to maintain one side of the gun, plus more sailors to control the sails, plus a boarding crew, which, as a rule, consisted of the marines themselves, although there were boarders from among the sailors.

At the same time, very often there was no full set of crew, and, let's say approximately, in the battle that was shown, two corvettes participate (it should be noted that the corvette is not a ship of the 17th, but the 19th century), on real corvettes, the staffing of the team rarely exceeded 150 men, and here we see 200 people, I would rather believe in a corvette with a crew of 100 people.

Further, attention is drawn to the rather large damage caused by artillery in the game "Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships" — I'm not talking about the fact that bombs were rarely used in naval battles.

Naval guns — these were cannons that fired along a flat trajectory, martyrs were used only for firing at coastal structures because it was almost impossible to get from a martyr into a maneuvering enemy ship. The cannons fired in a flat trajectory, and it was common to fire cannonballs that ricocheted off the water.

If we started firing bombs like that, we could extinguish the bomb's remote tube. In addition, until the beginning of the 18th century, bombs were fired with two fires, that is, first they set fire to the remote tube of the bomb, then put it into the gun and ignited the fuse. The slightest defect of the ammunition itself could lead to a bomb explosion in the gun store and the gun's failure. Therefore, bombs were practically not used in the fleet.

Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

Ships in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships

In this case, knippels were used to defeat the spars and rigging. But you need to understand that the effectiveness of the fire was not great, and it was possible to guarantee a hit on an enemy ship at a distance of more than 50 meters (this was called "approaching a pistol shot"). When shooting from a distance of 300–400 meters, the results were already very doubtful, but at a distance of a kilometer, no one would even try to shoot because it was pointless.

It must be understood that it was extremely difficult to hit when firing from a swinging deck at a maneuvering enemy ship. It was rarely used to aim the guns along the horizon, and they tried to aim the hull of the ship so that the guns remained motionless relative to their ship, turning neither to the right nor the left but fired when the ship itself turned into the desired position.

At the same time, if it became necessary to fire from both sides, then the speed dropped sharply because the team was equipped with a gun on one side.

The caliber of the naval guns themselves was small, in the 17th century, these were 8–12 pound guns, rarely on the largest ships, there were 24-pound guns. At the beginning of the 19th century, the calibers grew, and the effectiveness of naval artillery increased slightly, although it cannot be compared in terms of the ability to defeat the enemy with rifled artillery, especially when high explosives appear, such as pyroxylin, TNT, melinite — in the sailing era, the damage caused by one hit was quite small and definitely much smaller than it was later during the First or Second World War.

By the way, if we talk about the wounded, a very large number of the wounded were hit by splinters that were chipped from the ship's hull by an enemy cannonball, and not by the metal parts of the cannonball, since a cannonball hitting a person, as a rule, led to very fatal consequences.

Again, it must be borne in mind that in order to maneuver, there are certain conventions, because, for example, when turning the tack, when the ship crosses the wind line, it was possible to start the maneuver with insufficient speed, then the ship would be frozen to the wind in a helpless position. It was very difficult to get out of it, and such a mistake made in a naval battle, as a rule, led to defeat.

However, in the game "Sea Dogs", turns are not a problem at all for the player, and he turns around as he wants. Again, damage to the sailing rig, first of all, led to a decrease in agility, and this is not at all reflected in the game mechanics.

If we talk about the characteristics, it is clear that they should be expressed in numbers and should be simple and understandable.

In this sense, everything is very cool in the Sea Dogs game, everything is fast, simple, and understandable, but you need to understand that such characteristic as speed was not absolute in those days. Much more important was not an abstract speed under some ideal conditions, but the ability to develop a certain speed with a particular wind direction.

Sailing fleet in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships through the eyes of historian Kirill Nazarenko

Ships in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships

Let's say some ships sailed well in full courses, that is when the wind blew from the stern. Some ships sailed well close-hauled when the wind blew from the side. Some ships could sail steeply into the wind (meaning it was considered good for a classic sailing ship to come at an angle of 35–40 degrees towards the wind). This ship could easily get away from another ship that could not sail more than 60 degrees.

And, if two such ships were chasing one after another, then the ship going steeper to the wind simply pressed as much as possible, which is called “to the wind”, and the enemy in the process of chasing was all the time moved away from the pursued. Moreover, this was very important — when trying to maneuver, he would lose sharply in that the path that he had to go through increased, and he could not catch up with his opponent in this way.

Post-war ships tended to sail steeper upwards than merchant ships, allowing them to successfully pursue merchant ships. But merchant ships also maneuvered much more slowly, because they did not have so many sailors who could be sent to clean the sails and not so many people who could turn them.

This part in the Sea Dogs game, unfortunately, is not worked out very well here, but in general, the game is beautiful and just a pleasure to play. Still, it is clear that people get pleasure from different things.

I would be curious, of course, to play a game in which the moments of maneuvering would be worked out much more carefully, but in this case, we would get a sailing simulator, which might not be of interest to everyone.

We hope you found this article useful!

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