Until very recently, I was a pirate. Being a pirate sucks, if you have any basic standards of hygiene or morality. You’re just a criminal in a boat. The flag is cool, and I enjoy sailing – but not so much I want to make a career out of it, especially since it involves killing and stealing and growing diseases inside your body. There are so many horrible things pirates are expected to do. Consider X Atencio’s classic pirate song from the ride at Disneyland, Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me. It starts out, “We pillage -” and stop right there – first damn line – we pillage. “To rob using violence.” And this is the Disney version. No bueno.
Anyway, I’m done being a pirate. Amongst other personal effects I’m trying to unload, I’m selling off my collection of pirate books. They’re listed below. $10 each, obo. I just wanna get rid of them.
Your basic history:
This is the one that started it all, the one that has led so many astray since its first publication in 1724: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson. Captain my scurvied tush. No such captain existed; it’s just some sort of nom de plume, maybe of ol’ Danny Defoe or the publisher Nate Mist – both with the kinda knowledge of seafaring ways as would make such a detailed, eye-level account possible. This parade of ne’er do wells includes detailed entries on everyone from Anne Bonny to Blackbeard, and perhaps errs a bit on the side of embellishment. A pirate book with lies: go figure. I’m selling this, but I should prob be burning it instead, likely as it is to lead your already wayward heart further afoul of what is good and true.
A little more history here: The Republic of Pirates tells the story of how that bastard-face Woodes Rogers destroyed our relatively democratic pirate “nation” in the Bahamas. It wasn’t perfect, but we weren’t all that worse than the slave-trading, “respectable” colonies around us. That one’s by Colin Woodard. Also, Under the Black Flag, from David Cordingly, dispels a lot of myths, for better or for worse. You’ll look cool reading this one in public.
And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails from the rascal Wayne Curtis is a thing to be read not attempted. At least not in one night. Speaking from multiple experiences. This will give you background on what will be a regular part of your new “career”. These drinks are mostly pirate refreshments, like “Flip” or modern equivalents known for ensnaring modern pirates, like ol’ Hemingway. This is just the rum, though. There’s ale, gin, beer, cider, wine – you don’t need a book for each one – you’re just gonna drink a lot, and having at least one book about it will add a thin veneer of respectability, as if it’s anything other than raging debauchery. Plus you’ll learn history. Which is mostly debauched anyway. Oh, and this: Boozehound by, uh… hang on – this one is good if you’re already gonna be traveling around in a ship, tucking into odd corners of the world – you actually have a chance of finding some of the odd liquids expounded upon in thi- JASON WILSON – that’s the guy. Met him once. Got this book off him, and maybe all his cash, if I remember. Cool dude. Shoulda got it signed, but he was unconscious by then.
That’s the drink.
This one is hard to give up, but I think it’s better in the long run: burning my ships on the beach and all that. Weber’s Guide to Pipes and Pipe Smoking will tell you everything you need to know to not embarrass yourself when you’re sitting around on deck, whiling away the hours with the gang. How to pick a pipe, pick tobacco, pack, light and keep lit the damn thing, etc.. You might be the FNG (frickin’ new guy), but you don’t have to act like the FNG.
You have to know how to tie knots. The Arts of the Sailor: Knotting, Splicing and Ropework from Hervey Garrett Smith – who is NOT a pirate – pretty much covers it, despite the repeated and annoying references to “yachts”. I don’t mean to encourage you to be a pirate. On the other hand, I think you will be in more trouble when you come face to face with The Almighty if you have at any point in your life referred to yourself or been referred to as a yachtsman. Better to be marooned on a treeless island with a pack of syphilitic nymphomaniacs. Learn your knots, but eschew douchery.
Oh, I also have Hervey Smith’s The Marlinspike Sailor which includes not only the important seafaring knots but all manner of ropework: ladders, bags, etc.. It’s pirate macramé, and if you’re working it with the rest of the crew, it’s buccaneer stitch-n-bitch.
How not to die:
I went thru David Burch’s Celestial Navigation: A Complete Home Study Course several times in my first couple years as a pirate. It’s now second nature to me, this finding of the directions stuff. You will want to learn these more traditional skills and techniques rather than just rely on your modern, fancy-pantaloons technology or – worse – rely on whoever on your ship has convinced your captain that they know how to navigate. You won’t always cast off with the same crew, pirates come and go – so make sure that whatever boat you’re on has at least one bona fide navigator: you. This book has been the standard for decades.
This one is tough. It is true that I repudiate my life as a pirate and all the wrongdoing and ne’er-do-welling. But you do not face death by steel, shot, storm and gallows and an ever-threatening dearth of toilet paper without forming deep bonds with your fellow sufferers. And my shipmates… I miss them. For me, Stuart M Frank’s The New Book of Pirate Songs is just a big ol’ stack o’ nostalgic weepies. O the nightwatches we would spend in small groups of 4 or 5 harmonizing, sending “High Barbary” or “The Female Smuggler” out over the dark swells. Those were the moments when I thought, “Is thievery really so bad? Is it so horrible to just kill some people?” Morning would evaporate those wicked temptations, but the songs, the songs! Ahh. Yo ho.
How not to die, part 2:
It is plain as Polly that you cannot learn fighting from a book. Yet, I have this Cold Steel: The Art of Fencing With the Sabre by an Alfred Hutton. I can say that it is accurate, in terms of technique – though a bit toffy in tone. I have referred to it on occasion and fine-tuned my footwork or found a few insights on tactics. Skip the ceremonial shinola. You’re a pirate.
Also, you really should be using a cutlass; a shorter blade makes it easier to hack at limbs and other parts. Axes work, too. Anything heavy and pointy – just aim for the face. It’s unnerving.
Prevention is your only hope:
Disease happens. You cram a bunch of filthy, hardworking, underfed, horny men into a floating wooden box for weeks at a time, and then dump them into a seaside town… things get infected. Disease from Mary Dobson has chapters on scurvy, syphilis and malaria. Read them. Bring nets, condoms and lots of citrus on your voyage. More important than your weapons or even your tobacco. Prevention is the key, because the ship doctor’s only tool – no matter what part of you is swollen, broken, pocked, bleeding, scabious, oddly colored or mildly sprained – is the hacksaw.
Introducing the Other Ship to Davy Jones:
There is no way I am going to teach you how to actually fire an actual cannon. My conscience is already heavy with the gore of my many victims (I am real good with a cannon – I once blew an enemy captain’s tricorn hat right off, leaving the better part of his head intact). But I am not above making a few bucks off these trifles. If you really want to, I’m sure you can upscale; but that’s on your conscience, not mine. Backyard Ballistics from William Gurstelle will teach you how to make small, non-lethal cannons, mortars, catapults, petards – that kinda fun. Teach your kid science, or whatever – don’t upscale and sack your neighbor’s house. Caveat: if your neighbor has William Gurstelle’s Defending Your Castle, you’re in trouble, because he’s ready for you. (I think I have a copy of that one around here somewhere.)
I also have The Anti-Pirate Potato Cannon and 101 Other Things for Young Mariners to Build, Try and Do on the Water. Look, you got all your crafty/buildy things out because – against my advice – you’re building some kind of weaponized hurling system. How hard would it be to turn that around and help your kid build a Ship-in-a-Bottle? Or a superfun whistle? Or a percussive potato delivery device? I guess it doesn’t matter what you make; spend time with your kid so he doesn’t grow up to be a pirate.
English works pretty well for a pirate, though there’s no telling what languages could come in handy. Pirates come from everywhere and go everywhere. Do yourself a favor, though, and grab The Pirate Primer: Mastering the Language of Swashbucklers and Rogues by George Choundas. It’ll be easy to catch on, if you’re up on your Shakespeare. If you’re not, you could get fairly well tangled up in misunderstanding if some Old Schooler plops a string o’ flourishes on you and stands there awaiting an answer. Your knowledge of the lingo could be the difference between a cutlass or a fresh ale in your gut. Good privy reading.
That’s what’s left of my pirate library. Help me mend my ways by taking these things off my hands. They’re in good condition, minimal salt encrustation on the edges and a bit of a citrus scent, but it’s rather pleasant.
Note: A few of you have asked about my parrot. Raskal is not for sale.