Pirating and a life on the sea is easily one of the most manly chapters in the world’s history books. Men become sailing entrepreneurs,  seizing opportunities in a resource rich and beautiful tropical setting. Sounds terrible.

The Caribbean - 17th Century

The Caribbean – 17th Century

The year was 1660, and it was the golden age of pirates and Privateers. At this point in history, the Dutch, French, English and Spanish had all established flourishing colonies and towns dotted along the Caribbean. As the populations grew, so did the industry and soon sugar, tobacco, and minerals were moving threw the waters and back to Europe like clock work.

Perfect targets for a rogue adventurer and his crew.

Ships and vessels were the only way move through the Caribbean, while carrying goods and loot. By the 1700’s, there were thousands of ships from different nationalities moving goods through and from the Caribbean.

These ships were amazing technology achievements for their time. Many captains heavily modified their vessels for specific missions. Let’s take a look at beautiful ships of the pirate golden age.


A fast and maneuverable Sloop

A fast and maneuverable Sloop

Guns: 12

Cargo: 40 Tons

Crew: 75

These ships were the performance cars of the pirate age. They were specifically designed, by the Dutch, to be fast and compact warships. Because of their short length and design of the hull, they were very maneuverable vessels, capable of turning circles around other larger ships in combat. In addition, Sloops excelled in operating in shallow water. This allowed them to access shoal areas and “hide” where other large ships could not find them.

These hot rods were favorites of pirates. Even though they could not carry massive amounts of loot, they could outrun and out maneuver larger warships trying to hunt them down.


A detailed model of a Brigantine

Model of a British Brigantine

Guns: 20

Cargo: 60 Tons

Crew: 125

If the Sloop was the sports car of the naval world, the Brigantine was easily the SUV. This ship was incredible sought after because it was a wonderful balance of size, speed, and fire power. Usually, these ships were two masted, with both a fore and aft mainsail. It was  originally designed be a mid-size merchant ship, but it quickly became a warship once the European powers established colonies and task forces in the Caribbean.

As the Brigantine became a more military style vessel, it was commonly used for transporting troops or escorting valuable cargo ships across the waters. Near the end of the 17th century, as pirates became more and more prominent, the Brigantine was often stripped down, loaded with guns and crew to hunt down enemies of the motherland.


Example of a very small Pinnace, with cannons

Example of a very small Pinnace, with cannons

Guns: 10

Cargo: 25 tons

Crew: 60

This vessel was meant to serve as the “boat on a ship”. It was a tiny merchant class, very fast and maneuverable like the Sloop. However, it’s small construction meant it was not as durable or as capable as a combat vessel. Still, a fast boat like this could be used as a mail carrier or personal ship for officers and crew.

Pirates would often use a few of these smaller vessels to raid a much larger ship, giving the raiders speed and surprise in shallow waters.


A Dutch Fluyt

A Dutch Fluyt

Guns: 8

Cargo: 80 Tons

Crew: 50 

Fluyts were very slow and heavy Dutch cargo vessels. They were able to carry great amounts of cargo and loot, but their fat design made them enticing targets for a faster pirate ship. For its size, a Fluyt could be operate by a smaller crew, making it economical for the Dutch shipping companies.

Until the Dutch started uses  military escorts in the 1700’s, an unprotected Fluyt was pretty much a write-off if it was spotted by a hungry Pirate captain.

East Indiaman

east indianiam

A “merchantman” of the East India Company

Guns: 20

Cargo:  140 Tons

Crew: 150

The term “East Indiaman” was attached to any cargo ship that was operating for the East India Company. The company traded in many sought after goods under a Royal Charter from the British empire. This basically granted them a monopoly on trading in the East Indies.

Most of these merchant ships were large square rigged vessels very effective at crossing large, open oceans. However, they were very slow and had a large turning radius. Easy targets for pirates, but often kept in a pirate’s fleet for storing loot and goods.


Ship of the Line frigate

Ship of the Line frigate

Guns: 32

Cargo: 80 Tons

Crew: 200

The ultimate combat vessel of the 17th century. This was a massive warship with unmatched firepower and an incredibly thick hull to withstand canon fire. You could take this ship, and march it straight into the fight while taking hits. When fully crewed, this large ship was also much faster than other ships of equal size.

When the French and British empires had a pesky pirate to hunt down, a well armed Frigate would become the best mercenary.

Capturing such a grand vessel would the higher moment in a pirate’s career, but unless the pirate captain had a well armed ship and a hardened crew, frigate about it.


Spanish Galleon

Spanish Galleon

Guns: 40

Cargo: 100 Tons

Crew: 250

The Galleon was the most powerful and feared vessel in the Spanish navy. It featured a healthy supply of guns and a well trained crew who was obedient and fearless in combat. When the Spanish began frequently moving their gold and silver, the Galleon could serve not only as an escort, but also as an effective cargo ship.

Large scale flag ships became a floating symbol of power in the Caribbean, and pirates would often chase after them, if brave enough. To capture a ship this impressive would be a notorious feat known throughout the waters.

If you would enjoy reading more on Pirates of the 17th and 18th century, check out this book on Amazon.com. It offers a great looking into the life of Pirates through detailed research and historic accounts.

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