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Historical Piracy & Privateering, &c.

As of August 5, 2011, I've somewhat shifted the focus of this page to historical piracy and privateering--sea roving, in other words--including the debunking of some pirate myths. I'll include anything else that strikes my interest, along with anything that doesn't fit anywhere else. However, much of what used to go on this page now goes on my Wordpress blog, a link is on the main page.

April 10, 2013, Updated January 2017: Did Pirates Wear Eye Patches?

I've substantially updated this post with this blog on my WordPress site: "Did Pirates Wear Eye Patches?"

"Did pirates wear eye patches?" The short answer: Only if they had lost eyes to disease or injury, and this was no more prevalent among pirates than among fighting seamen and soldiers. The Mythbusters television show and other speculators have only added to the myth by working backward from the proposition, that is, "If pirates wore eye patches, why would they have worn them?" rather than looking first at primary sources to see if there is any evidence that pirates wore them at all. (Similarly is the French term joli rouge pointed to as the origin of the term Jolly Roger, but an examination of primary sources, including French piracy and privateering journals and records, shows the term was never used. Jolly Roger is entirely unrelated to the term.) The suggestions that pirates may have worn eye patches to improve night vision or daylight observations isn't supported by primary source material. In fact, the loss of sight in an eye, even by wearing an eye patch, causes significant loss in both depth perception and visual breadth, making movement aboard a vessel, aloft especially, very dangerous. It would also make visual observation by a lookout much more difficult.

The origin of the myth that pirates wore eye patches is almost certainly literary, with roots in reality. The idea that the one-eyed are fearsome-looking goes back millennia, and probably farther. Homer's Cyclops is an early instance. Some versions of Bernal Diaz's The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico describe the old musketeer Heredia, sent to frighten Native Americans, as a one-eyed, one-legged (or game legged) soldier. The same work describes how Cortez's enemy, Narvaez, lost an eye in battle. Among seafaring works, there is only occasional mention of one-eyed seamen, usually in lists of those wounded in battle. Exquemelin's various editions of The Buccaneers of America famously list compensation for the wounded, including the loss of an eye, and it is here that the primary source of the myth of pirates and eye patches is probably to be found, in combination with other works such as Bernal Diaz's.

Even so, this myth, like many pirate myths, didn't come fully into being until the nineteenth century, a hundred or more years after the Golden Age of Piracy. Walter Scott, in The Fortunes of Nigel, describes "The noble Captain Colepepper, or Peppercull, for he was known by both these names, and some others besides, had a martial and a swashing exterior, which, on the present occasion, was rendered yet more peculiar, by a patch covering his left eye and a part of the cheek. The sleeves of his thickset velvet jerkin were polished and shone with grease, — his buff gloves had huge tops, which reached almost to the elbow; his sword-belt of the same materials extended its breadth from his haunchbone to his small ribs, and supported on the one side his large black-hilted back-sword, on the other a dagger of like proportions." Here is the epitome of the swashbuckler, easily translated to the pirate. Not long after, Charles Dickens described an eye-patched pirate, and soon afterward did many writers of popular fiction. However, many of our principle originators or propagators of pirate myths—Robert Louis Stevenson, J. M. Barrie, Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, for example—do not appear to have bothered with this myth, although Barrie's Captain Hook probably did encourage other images of pirates missing a vital part such as a limb or eye. In 1926 Douglas Fairbanks propagated nineteenth century pirate myths, as well as a few he helped create, across the world with his film The Black Pirate. In it he established the modern pirate swashbuckler stereotype, based much on Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates, Peter Pan, and probably Captain Blood (one of whose characters, by the way, was one-eyed, although he lost the eye at Sedgemoor, not at sea). Around the same time, we begin to see pirate book cover art and other illustrations showing pirates with eye patches. But it would take later films, such as The Crimson Pirate with Burt Lancaster, to make the eye patch an obvious, routine part of the stereotypical pirate costume.

Halloween, 2012: The Flying Dutchman

“[H]e must be a bold specter that can frighten me from doubloons.” From Francis Marryat's The Phanthom Ship, 1839. The image is from a painting by Albert Ryder, 1887.

September 26, 2012: Dean Cornwell

Excellent blog showcasing Dean Cornwell's illustrations for Captain Blood Returns, along with other of his work. Other illustrators of Sabatini's Captain Blood or derivative sequels include N. C. Wyeth and Clyde Osmer Deland. The illustration shown here was used in full color for the cover of the US edition of Captain Blood Returns.

September 19, 2012: Talk Like a Pirate Day

“Come chearly my Hearts! It is a Prize worth fighting for... Hold fast Gunner, do not Fire till we hail them with our speaking Trumpet; Port edge towards him; so, now we are fairly along side of him, and within Musket shot: Come, my brave Men, run out your Guns, and give him a Broadside, a Volley of small Arms, and a Huzza. Well done, my Hearts! He returns our Compliment, by firing his Broadside upon us. What chear, my Hearts, is all well betwixt Decks? Yea, yea, only he has rak'd us through and through; no Force, it is his Turn next; but give not Fire again, till We are within Pistol shot: Port edge towards him, he plies his Small shot. Come, Boys, Load and fire our small Arms briskly at him… Starboard a little; Give fire, Gunner! (That was well done!) This Broadside hath made their Deck thin, but the small Shot at first did gaul us. Clap in some Case-shot in the Guns you are now a loading; Brace too the Fore-top-saiI, that we may not shoot a head; He lies broad off to the Southward, to bring his other Broadside to bear upon us. (Starboard hard!) Get to Larboard Fore-tack; trim your Topsails, run out your Larboard Guns. He fires his Starboard Broadside upon us. He pours in his small Shot. Starboard give not fire until he fall off, that the Prize may receive our full Broad-side. Steady: Port a little; give fire Gunner! His Fore-mast is by the board. This last Broad-side hath done great Execution. Cheerly my Mates, the day will be ours!”

From Sturmy’s Mariner’s Magazine, 1669, with a slight update from Kelly’s The Modern Navigator’s Compleat Tutor, 1733. Exclamations added. This text is found in several various period books on seamanship. Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!

September 14, 2012: In Memoriam

Remembering former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, killed while defending the U.S. consulate and ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

August 16, 2012: In Memoriam

Remembering two Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Patrick D. Feeks of Edgewater, Maryland and Special Warfare Operator Second Class David J. Warsen of Kentwood, Michigan, killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

December 2, 2011: The Likely Origin of Captain Hook and His Crocodilian Nemesis

Almost without doubt Barrie was influenced by Alexandre Exquemelin's The Buccaneers of America. The book was and remains widely read. In a description in Crooke's two 1684/5 editions, as well as in the 1684 Malthus edition although the text is somewhat different, Exquemelin, who was present at the incident, writes, "These animals [crocodiles] would usually come every night to the Sides of our Ship, and make resemblance of climbing up into the Vessel. One of these, on a certain night, we seized with an iron Hook, but he instead of flying to the bottom, began to mount the Ladder of the Ship, till we kill'd him with other Instruments." The illustration is from Histoire naturelle et morale des Iles Antilles de l'Amérique by César de Rochefort et al (Rotterdam: A. Leers, 1658).

October 17, 2011: Peter Pan at 100 Years

This past week was the 100th anniversary of the publication of the novelization of J. M. Barrie's play Peter and Wendy, variously titled variously as Peter Pan, Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan and Wendy. The book remains one of the few children's books that truly captures the wonder, mystery, and fear of childhood, a book suitable to adults as well. Although I've noted before that I don't much care for any of the characters in the book (Peter is an ass, for example, and Wendy a fool for hoping the ass will ever grow up, but I do like Tiger Lily and her Native American tribe), I still find myself rereading it every few years. Film versions, along with the sequel Hook, are generally unsatisfactory as compared to the play and book (and for that matter, so are prequel and sequel novels unless written by the original author), although the 2003 Peter Pan wasn't bad, even with the liberties it took. In early December the Syfy channel is offering a prequel, Neverland, with Bob Hoskins reprising his role as Smee from Hook and Kieira Knightly providing the voice of Tinkerbell. (Tinkerbells have generally been portrayed as thin, although in fact the Pan-infatuated fairy inclined to "en bon point" or plumpness.) The two-part miniseries also includes Anna Friel as "Captain Anne Bonny," a new character, Rhys Ivans as Hook, Charlie Rowe as Pan, and Q'orianka Kilcher as Aaya, aka Princess Tiger Lily in the book. I've already commented on the swordplay and some other series-related issues on the Swordplay page. Hopefully the series will capture some of the sense of wonder Barrie's work, along with the sense of wonder of adventure and of drifting into the lucid land between consciousness and dream.

The image above is of the cover of the excellent centennial annotated version of Peter Pan, edited and annotated by Harvard veteran folklore and mythology scholar Maria Tatar. The book is filled with a variety of illustrations, associated writings, and other supplemental information. This being said, I do think Professor Tatar may have overlooked some elements regarding the origin of the book. The subject of piracy in popular literature surged in the late 17th century, beginning in 1678, with the publication of Alexandre Exquemelin's The Buccaneers of America. By 1720, given by Tatar as the rise in popular pirate literature, the subject had already been a bestseller in Britain for nearly forty years. Exquemelin's book has repeated mention of, for example, crocodilians, and is the likely origin of Hook's ultimate nemesis, Neverland's crocodile. In fact, at one point pirates use an "iron hook" to fend off an attack by an alligator or crocodile. Exquemelin's English edition also describes Captain Cook, a more likely origin of "Hook" than the later explorer Cook alone. There are other quibbles as well: I'd like to have seen more detailed and accurate maritime annotations (for example, a bosun handles a vessel's line and other cordage ("rope"), is responsible for a vessel's rigging, has ship-handling and disciplinary responsibilities, and is also a petty officer aboard naval vessels as well as aboard merchant vessels), and I believe it's about time to dispense with Freudian and Jungian notions regarding not only myths but also dreams. I suspect Neverland's origin lies in lucid dreams, not Freudian or Jungian psychobabble. Nonetheless, Tatar's book is an excellent one, and indispensable for a better understanding of Peter Pan's appeal.

I would also suggest digging up an old dusty copy of Peter Pan in an old independent bookstore as well. For children too young to read, the Disneyland ride, "Peter Pan's Flight," actually does capture some of the book's sense of wonder. I'd also recommend parents reading the book to their young children. Along with Tolkein's The Hobbit, it truly does draw children into another world. I also recommend two excellent associated articles, each with a generally opposing viewpoint: "No More Adventures in Wonderland" in the nytimes by Maria Tatar (October 9, 2011), and "Loitering in Neverland: the strangeness of Peter Pan" in The Guardian (October 7, 2011).

October 6, 2011: Halloween Is Coming...

Buried far below on this page is a list of suggested maritime-related Halloween book and film titles, to which I add the following. Some are lighthearted, some serious. None are mere horror. One might expect more books and films associated with piracy, sea roving, and the sea in general: sea mythology is filled with ghost ships, skulls and bones, strange sea beasts, fearful superstitions, lost ships treasures, and coral-gathering bones.

For a fun start, try Disney's Blackbeard's Ghost (1968). Although the DVD print could be improved significantly, the film is saved by Peter Ustinov as Blackbeard, by the ever-enchanting "girl next door" Suzanne Pleshette, and by the pirate ship-inspired retirement home set. Also stars Dean Jones, whose comedic acting is as solid as ever. Not a great film, but a fun one. Younger children will especially enjoy it.

For the romantically inclined, watch The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951). Both involve ghosts of sorts. The former is lighter, the latter more mysterious, even exotic. And the latter also brings to life the Dutchman myth, including the idea that the Dutchman's captain may come ashore every so many years, a myth Disney distorted when it combined Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman (there was never any connection), making Davy Jones the Dutchman's captain and giving him the right to come ashore every so many years. The shots in Pandora and Flying Dutchman are brilliantly composed, and the entire film has a sense of paranormal wonder rooted in reality, not to mention superior insight into the relationship between men and women. For those interested in further tales of the Flying Dutchman, try Francis Marryat's 1839 novel, The Phantom Ship (sometimes published as The Phanthom Ship). Marryat was a novelist and officer in the Royal Navy.

Although not strictly a maritime Halloween film, The Ghost Breakers (1940), starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, is worth a watch. A short sea voyage from New York to Havana, a ghostly castle on a dark island, a zombie, real crooks and a real ghost, a secret passage and hidden treasure, Goddard's acting, smile, and racy wardrobe (read Robert Herrick's "Upon Julia's Clothes"), and typical Hope humor make for an enjoyable film, although the occasional racial humor is a bit uncomfortable, yet typical for the era. The film's title, along with a line by Hope, are without doubt the inspiration for the series of Ghost Busters films, and quite possibly for Scooby Do as well. The film, which gently mocks Gothic cliches, was inspired by the success of the previous year's The Cat and the Canary, also starring Hope and Goddard.

For the comical animation inclined, try Scooby Do on Zombie Island (1998), Scooby Do! Pirates Ahoy! (2006), and The Venture Brothers: Ghosts of the Sargasso (2004, season 1, episode 6). The latter is by far the best, although Zombie Island is fun to watch with your children (and might even frighten them a bit, if very young).

Last, if you can find a copy, try The Spirit is Willing with Sid Caesar and Vera Miles (1967). A silly comedy, it nonetheless scared the hell out of me when I was seven or so years old, or at least gave me nightmares for a week. It's not a great film, and I had to do a lot research to track down just which movie scared the hell out of me in my dreams. The plot involves a New England seaside home haunted by nautical ghosts and their varying sexual and murderous proclivities. Last, although I hesitate to add it, Disney's first Pirates--or hell, all four for that matter--can be considered Halloweenish, given their emphasis on the supernatural.

The illustration above is "Cap'n Goldsack" by Howard Pyle, to accompany William Sharp's poem of the same name, which describes a ghost seeking his lost treasure under the sea. It was originally published in Harper's Magazine (July 1902), page 164. Sharp's poem is on page 282. The illustration was republished in some, not all, editions of Pyle's Book of Pirates. It was not included in my copy, for example, which was published during WWII "in strict conformity with Government regulations for saving paper."

October 2, 2011: In Memoriam, SO1 Caleb Andrew Nelson

Navy SEAL Petty Officer First Class Caleb Andrew Nelson of Omaha, Nebraska was killed on October 1, 2011 in Zabul province, Afghanistan, when his vehicle hit a roadside IED. Petty Officer Nelson graduated from BUD/S Class 260, and was serving as a member of SEAL Team Ten when he died. He is survived by his wife, two sons, and parents.

September 30, 2011: The St. Augustine Pirate Museum

Recently moved from Key West, Florida, the museum is worth visiting not only by pirate fans but by visitors in general. It houses a large collection or pirate, pirate-related, and maritime artifacts, both from the Golden Age of Piracy as well as from the eighteenth century. The museum is geared toward the romantic image of the pirate, though, and does little to put piracy in perspective. There are a few factual glitches as well. There are three "jolly rogers" in existence, not two, as advertised at the museum: one is at the Åland Maritime Museum in Finland, another is in a private collection but currently on loan to the Museum of London Docklands, and the third is at this museum. The flags in Finland and Britain are Barbary in origin, and date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. (There was little information regarding the flag on display at St. Augustine, other than that it dates to 1850. At an employee's request, I emailed information about the third known flag, but received no reply.) Another quibble is with an exhibit in the treasure room, where coins from the wreck of the Santa Maria de la Consolación are displayed with the notation that pirates tortured and killed many of the crew. In fact, pirates never saw the ship or attempted to recover its treasure. It ran aground and sank on its own. (See the August 17, 2011 entry below.) There were a few smaller issues, including a parrying dagger or main gauche misidentified as a rapier, and so forth, but these errors should not dissuade anyone from visiting. Nor should the price of admission dissuade anyone. The museum is not overpriced, something to be thankful for in this economy. The photograph links to the museum website.

September 26 - October 1, 2011: Banned Books Week

Don't forget to celebrate by reading a banned book, and continuing to not only read banned books, but to stand up to book banners and would-be book banners. Unfortunately, they're everywhere. The image links to the ALA's short Banned Books Week page. More details are available on the ALA's main site.

September 11, 2011: Navy SEALs and 9/11

Today, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, a Ft. Pierce, Florida stonemason is adding seventeen more names to the Navy SEAL Memorial at the National Navy UDT/SEAL Museum, bringing the total to 270 names of SEALs and their forebears--Navy Combat Demolition Units, Scouts and Raiders, OSS Combat Swimmers, and Underwater Demolition Teams--killed in action or in training since World War Two. Fifty-seven Navy SEALs have been killed in action or in training since 9/11. The job is a dangerous one: since World War Two, there have only been roughly 13,000 or fewer of these men. Roughly one in forty dies, with worse odds in wartime, and far more are seriously wounded or injured. Roughly two-thirds of SEAL deaths take place during training exercises. Soon, but surely not soon enough, women will join their ranks. Admiral Eric Olsen, until recently the head of SOCOM, has said it is time to see a female Navy SEAL, and many SEALs, active and former, agree with him. (The image, of the Navy SEAL insignia, aka Trident or "Budweiser," links to the museum.)

September 1, 2011: Talk Like a Pirate Day Coming Soon

The now famous or infamous "Talk Like a Pirate Day" arrives again on September 17. Check out the homepage here, and also Tiger Lee's "Talk Like a Pirate Day / Hot Pirate Babes Calendar Release Party" here. The image on the right is from From Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates. Pyle's drawing captures our imagination, not to mention everything we think we know about the pirate. Drawing from Charles Johnson and Robert Louis Stevenson, Pyle created much of the modern image and myth, right down to the "bucket boots"--riding boots, that is--that pirates did not wear. Still, the image is a romantic one, and it has captured our imaginations. Similarly, just because we know (or should know) that pirates did not speak like they do in Hollywood films or the popular imagination, we do not have to let this spoil Talk Like a Pirate Day. I don't have a problem with it, and I've written a chapter and an article on real pirate speech.

An eight reale piece-of-eight salvaged from the wreck of the treasure ship Santa Maria de la Consolación.

August 17, 2011: Consolacion "Pirate" Treasure

Silver reales--pieces-of-eight--from the 1681 wreck of the Santa Maria de la Consolación continue to be sold even by reputable vendors as coins from a "pirated" wreck. According to the tale told in the coins' advertising, the ship encountered Bartholomew Sharp and his South Sea buccaneers. Chased by the pirates, it ran aground at Santa Clara Island, Guayaquil, Ecuador. So incensed were the pirates that they tortured and murdered many of the crew, and forced locals to attempt to salvage the treasure. Today the island is known as the Isla de Muerto. In some accounts the name is taken from the "massacre."

It all makes for good advertising for "pirate coins," but in fact there is no evidence I've seen to indicate that anything other than the shipwreck occured. No massacre, no torture, no pirates attempting to recover the treasure. In fact, Sharp and his buccaneers were hundreds of miles to leeward when they learned of the ship from a captured Spanish prisoner, who had wisely waited until the buccaneers were too far away to pursue a course to possibly intercept the vessel. I did note this in an email some time ago to Sedwick Coins, but much of the advertising literature remains the same, although I have seen some ads during this past year that indicate that "some say" pirates chased the ship aground and killed the crew, as opposed to declaring this as fact.

As to the apparent myth of the massacre, it doubtless derives from Santa Clara’s modern nickname, Isla de Muerto or Island of the Dead. The island, as noted in late 17th century maps, is shaped like “the corps of a man in a shroud.” Buccaneer and explorer William Dampier also notes that "it appears like a dead Man stretched out in a Shroud." From this would derive not only the island’s nickname, but also the myth.

This being said, coins from the wreck are indeed the closest to legitimate pirate pieces-of-eight available, for the ship was in fact racing to port to avoid pirates in the Pacific. She just never actually sighted the pirates. More details are available farther below. Bartholomew Sharp and his cohort are discussed in substantial detail in The Buccaneer's Realm, and I devoted an entire chapter to him in How History's Greatest Pirates...

August 16, 2011: Happy Rum Day!

The title is self-explanatory. To celebrate, I suggest Pusser's or Gosling's for rum as it should be experienced. Appleton's and Mount Gay will also serve. For an 18th and 19th century pot-stilled London rum experience, try Smith & Cross. For those seeking a more primitive "pirate" rum experience, try Cruzan's Black Strap. I strongly suggest making an original punch (key limes, water, muscovado sugar) with it, rather than drinking it straight. With luck, one day we can celebrate with Smoke and Oakum's Gunpowder rum, a concoction of small batch rum, black powder, chillies, and Calumet "tobacco." Unfortunately, only available so far in New Zealand. As ever, see or Bilgemunky on Facebook for rum reviews and news.

August 12, 2011: “Pirates, Legends and Lore” at the Petaluma Museum

Pirates: Legends and Lore at The Petaluma Museum: "Buccaneers and Pirates ruled the seas during the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth centuries. Part historical marauder, part boogey man, part dashing hero and largely a figment of the imagination of both authors and Hollywood dream-weavers, the image of pirates in the minds of the public is a fanciful mix. Through images, historical text and modern reproductions, we will hope to learn more about the myths and realities of these legendary figures." September 16th, 2011 – November 28th, 2011 at the Petaluma Museum, Petaluma, California.

August 8, 2011: In Memoriam

Mourning the loss of the more than thirty warriors whose helicopter was shot down this past weekend in Afghanistan. Seventeen Navy SEALs along with five associated Naval Special Warfare personnel died in the crash. Also killed were five US Army special operations air crew, three Air Force special operations combat controllers, seven Afghan special operations troops, one civilian interpreter, and a SEAL dog named Bart. Interested parties may contribute to the Navy SEAL Foundation. (The image above links to the Navy SEAL Foundation.) The Foundation provides "immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare community and their families." Donations may also be made to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The Warrior Foundation "provides full scholarship grants and educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families."

The ship's cat staring out a gunport.

July 5, 2011: The Ship's Cat

The ship's cat (scurriously named "Latrine" in typical sailor-fashion by one of the crew) aboard the Niagara while my daughter was aboard. The cat is well-cared for. See also The Ship's Cat by Richard Adams, beautifully illustrated by Alan Aldridge. The book was inspired by an incident in Hakluyt's Voyages ("The voyage of M. Iohn Locke to Ierusalem" in 1553) in which a captain sent the ship's boat to rescue his cat who had fallen overboard and was quickly carried away by wind and water. The writer doubted the captain would have spared such effort for any of his crew. See far below for more details on the book and its origin.

Bree, on right, standing on the topgallant yard some 100 feet above the deck while helping set the royal.

July 5, 2011: The Flagship Niagara

A quick plug for the US Brig Niagara, also known as the Flagship Niagara, upon which my younger daughter spent the last five weeks. It was, she said, an incredible experience and one both she and I highly recommend. Besides the many obvious virtues of working a "tall ship," the experience also unconsciously reminds participants that they need not submit to a mundane suburban lifestyle. Life, while it lasts, can be an adventure, and should be. Those interested in possibly becoming students aboard the vessel should inquire at The Flagship Niagara.

July 5, 2011: Another Cover

A different cover floating around some websites for The Great Pirate Legends Debunked, although the cover in the column on the left should be the correct one--assuming, of course, that Quarto Group un-freezes the Fair Winds history line. The cover illustration is by Howard Pyle.

Update, July 6, 2011: Fair Winds, per Quarto Group's directive, is unfortunately abandoning its history line, preferring the financial appeal of cookbooks and books on dieting and make-up over authentic history.

July 5, 2011: The Adventures of Tintin

Specifically, The Treasure of the Unicorn. Produced by Steven Speilberg and Peter Jackson, the film is based on three of Hergé's graphic tales: Le Crabe aux Pinces d'Or (in which Tintin first meets Captain Haddock), Le Secret de la Licorne, and Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge. The film opens in December, a trailer has already been released. The books are available in the original French (Hergé was Belgian) and also in English and numerous other languages.

July 5, 2011: Captain Blood Radio Play

Excellent adaptation of Sabatini's most famous novel, well worth listening to on road trips and during nine-hour delays at airports (thank you, Delta, for two maintenance-but-otherwise-unrelated delays in a single day). Note that the cover depicted here is not the current one, but the original more romantic one.

June 28, 2005: Never Forget

Remembering the loss of eleven Navy SEALs and eight Army special operations personnel on a single day.

June 7, 2011: How History's Greatest Pirates...

The title is available online, at major bookstore chains as well as independent bookstores, and also at Sam's.

May 17, 2011: The Price of Freedom

If you can't wait until Friday for Jack Sparrow, or if you've always wanted to know of his past adventures, I highly recommend Ann Crispin's The Price of Freedom. Not a child's book, but a novel for grown-ups (and surely many youthful readers as well!), it appeals not only to fans of the Disney film franchise, but to pirate fans in general. And if you're not a fan of Disney's convoluted film plots, try the book instead--it makes sense! Filled with believable characters and swashbuckling derring-do, the novel even sticks to the facts as much as it can within the limits of the fantasy pirate world of the films. On shelves now.

April 3, 2011: Bravo Zulu

A well-deserved Bravo Zulu to the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden.

As a side note, please, New York Times, use naval and SEAL Team terminology correctly. In the interest of full disclosure, I subscribe to the paper and enjoy reading it. However, the petty hubris the paper displays--in this case, the resolute refusal to spell and use "SEAL" correctly--calls into the question the paper's integrity on greater issues. The correct use, per the AP style guide, most dictionaries, and the US military, is Navy SEAL, Navy SEALs, SEALs, or SEAL Team (official, as in a designated command), or SEAL team (as in a small unit of SEALs). Not "Navy Seal," not "Seals team," not "Seal member" (that would be an arrogant seal's penis), all of which are incorrect terms the paper has used. I addressed this issue to the paper some time ago, and received a reply to the effect that the paper's style guide dictates the lower case usage, as in "Nascar." My follow ups, noting dictionaries and AP style guide, were ignored. Small wonder some members of the military consider the paper to have an anti-military bias. I should point out that the NY Times is not alone in this: Time Magazine appears to have the same problem. As I pointed out earlier, a Seal is a pinniped with an ego. A SEAL is a US naval commando. I can forgive foreign media for getting it wrong--but not US media.

(Thank you, PBS, CNN, ABC, Reuters, AP, and numerous others, for getting it right! Huntsville Times--it's SEALs, not SEALS.)

February 16, 2011: Available for Pre-Order--Not Anymore

The Great Pirate Legends Debunked: Uncovering the Truth About History's Most Notorious Pirates was available for pre-order on Amazon. Unfortunately, Quarto Group has frozen the Fair Winds history line. The book may or may not be published by Fair Winds. See the book's page for the sordid details.

January 29, 2011: Forgotten Hero

A line from Horace comes to mind, about gallant heroes who lived before Agamemnon, but all are forgotten, "unwept and unknown" because they lacked a sacred poet. Eileen Nearne did on September 2, 2010, at the age of 89. Only after her death did neighbors realize she was one of 39 female Special Operations Executive secret agents dropped into France during WWII. She was captured three times: twice she persuaded her captors of her innocence, and once she escaped from a forced labor camp. Her primary duty was the arrangement of weapons drops to the French resistance. Too often we forget such profound acts of courage and the persons who proved them. In this age, we often elevate persons of no substance, simply because they shout the loudest about themselves. Ms. Nearne, however, upon discovery of her heroism, received the funeral and honors she was due. No family or friends could be traced, but her admirers now number in the thousands. (Source: BBC)

January 25, 2011: Robert Burns & Haggis

Yet another Robert Burns Night passes without authentic Scottish haggis in the United States, keeping in place a forty year ban on the traditional dish of pinhead oats, chopped sheep's heart, liver, and lungs mixed with onions, suet, spices, and seasonings, all boiled in a sheep's stomach. Since 1971 the US has prohibited the import of products with sheep lung. Scotland for years has been doing its best to appeal the ban. None of the foregoing should suggest, however, that I am a fan of this Scottish delicacy. Single malt Scotch whiskey, heavy on the peat, suffices! (Source: BBC)

December 6, 2010: How History's Greatest Pirates... in Print

The book is now available at online vendors and is headed to chain and local bookstores.

September 28, 2010: Black Tot Rum

The last consignment of authentic British navy rum is now available. However, at £600 per bottle it is not for the fainthearted, or at least not for the reasonably impecunious, like most of us these days. The British Royal Navy discontinued its rum ration in 1970, ending a slightly more than three hundred year tradition. Black Tot's website is here. My thanks to Geoffrey Babb for forwarding this news and link to me.

September 24, 2010: Helicopter Crash

Earlier this week a US helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, killing Navy SEALs Lieutenant Brendan J. Looney, Petty Officer Second Class Adam O. Smith, and Petty Officer Third Class Denis C. Miranda. Senior Chief Petty Officer David B. McLendon, assigned to Naval Special Warfare, also died in the crash. Lieutenant j. g. Andrew Dow, a Navy SEAL, was severely injured. Five US Army personnel lost their lives in the accident and two were grievously injured.

September 17, 2010: Pirate Hunting

Pirate Hunting has been released, and is in stock online at the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million, and is headed to neighborhood bookstores.

September 17, 2010: Pirate Treasures

Librarian and curator Shelley Barber has posted a series of photographs of "Pirate Treasures from the John J. Burns Library at Boston College" online. Enjoy!

September 17, 2010: A Good Excuse

My many thanks to Geoffrey Babb and Chad Scales--friends and fellow epee fencers--for using the publication of Pirate Hunting as an excuse to host a rum tasting. Twenty-three rums, to be exact. If only all book releases were so sincerely celebrated among friends, with emphasis on the rums.

September 12, 2010: More Rums

Two more rums to be added to the list below: Pussers 15 Year, and Mount Gay Extra Old. Along with Gosling's Family Reserve Old Rum, they may be the best rums around, at least according to my palate. See Bilgemunky for reviews.

September 2, 2010: Forthcoming Pirate Films

According to Movie Hole, the SyFy channel is shooting a four hour version of Neverland, which will include not only the usual characters of Captain Hook, Peter Pan, and Smee, but also “Captain Elizabeth Bonny.” Peter Cornwall is to direct a new feature film version of Treasure Island. Phil Noyce will be directing an outer space version of Sabatini’s famous Captain Blood. Production continues on the fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, set to open next May. Word from other sites indicates that Steven Spielberg will produce Michael Crichton's Pirate Latitudes. Anime blogs and web news sites note that a CG film, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, following the further adventures of the famous anime pirate, is slated for a 2012 release. Hopefully the pirate queen Emeraldas will be featured in the film.

How well a science fiction version of Captain Blood will sit with fans of the book or Errol Flynn film is unknown. However, my own informal poll suggests not well, at least among serious fans of the book and movie.

Update, September 11, 2010: Various anime and manga sites report that Alexandre Aja (Piranha 3-D) will direct a film based on the anime and manga Space Pirate Cobra. The series is unknown to me.

September 1, 2010: MCPO Robert Dean Stethem

From the Stars and Stripes of August 25, 2010: "Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Dean Stethem was posthumously promoted [to Master Chief Petty Officer] 25 years after Lebanese hijackers aboard TWA Flight 847 singled him out because of his military status, killing him when their demands were not met. Stethem’s brother, retired Chief Petty Officer Kenneth Stethem, accepted the honor on Robert’s behalf, according to a Navy news release." Kenneth Stethem became a Navy SEAL after his brother's death. The USS Stethem was named after Robert Dean Stethem, and the chiefs mess (also known as the CPO mess) of the Stethem proposed the promotion.

One of the terrorist hijackers, Mohammed Ali Hamadi, was convicted in 1989 and released in 2005, possibly in exchange for a German citizen being held in Iraq. Hamadi may have been killed in a drone attack near the Afghanistan border in June of this year. Another of the terrorist hijackers, Imad Moughniyah, was reportedly killed in 2008 in a bombing in Damascus.

August 31, 2010: The ACLU

The ACLU, an organization I support in principle but do not always agree with, is suing the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for the use of its "special missions units" in engaging terrorists worldwide. The ACLU's argument is that the President lacks the authority to use such units, whose mission is to capture or kill terrorists, except on the battlefield. However, counter-terrorism, like counter-piracy, requires a two-pronged strategy: diminish the conditions that inspire terrorists and provide them with money and recruits, and capture or kill active terrorists. The use of "special mission units" is in keeping with this effective strategy, and the terrorist's battlefield is indeed worldwide. I suspect the ACLU will not get far with this suit, and this would be a good thing. Watchdogs, including the ACLU, are expected to bark, but are not expected to be right every time.

On probably firmer legal ground, unfortunately, is the ALCU challenge of the "Stolen Valor Act." In essence, the argument of the ACLU and attorneys defending a man accused of wearing two medals he never earned is that lying is covered under free speech. The law, they say, fails to require that someone be harmed or defamed by such behavior. However, many of those who pretend, for example, to be or have been Navy SEALs, do so for profit of one sort or another, ranging from impressing a woman to receiving adulation to the development of business enterprise. Harm is always there, and the men and women of our armed forces are defamed by such behavior.

Of course, the most effective means of dissuading such dishonorable behavior would be to turn the practitioners over to those whose honor and valor they're trying to steal. A fake SEAL discovered in a bar by a real SEAL is unlikely to escape with his reputation (and perhaps his nose as well) unscathed, and might regret the pretense for a long time to come. However, we're a nation of laws, and as such it would be nice to see our laws against this sort of behavior remain in place, if the Constitution permits. Otherwise, public censure remains the only viable means, and this requires the public's willingness to ostracize such thieves, and hold them up to ridicule and shame. In the column on the right is a link regarding fake SEALs.

August 26, 2010: SOC Collin Trent Thomas, USN.

From the UDT-SEAL Association: "Chief Special Warfare Operator Collin Trent Thomas, 33, a distinguished and highly decorated combat veteran, was fatally shot during combat operations in eastern Afghanistan. Thomas was forward deployed to Afghanistan as part of an East Coast based Navy SEAL Team." SOC Thomas died on August 18, 2010.

August 20, 2010: Rum. To be added the commentary on rum below, a must-have is Gosling's Family Reserve Old Rum. Exquisite! Dark and powerful, it's all that a rum should be. And also very expensive, so reserve it for special occasions ranging from victories to passages to adamant refusals to give up trying. A quick reminder: check Bilgemunky for real rum reviews.

August 20, 2010: The Queen Anne's Revenge. has posted a photo of Disney's rendering of Blackbeard's ship for Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Similar photos are also available variously online. The ship is exactly what we'd like to see in a swashbuckling pirate fantasy--a large ship with a high Spanish stern, heavy armament, skeleton decorations, and large galleries and great cabin. In reality, of course, Blackbeard's ship was a roughly 200 ton vessel--a small ship, in other words. It could not have mounted the forty or more "great guns" it is often popularly credited with. Twenty to twenty-four is the maximum, and they would have been small guns: six pounders, sakers, minions, and three pounders. The rest would have been swivel guns. At present, what is believed to be the wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge is being slowly excavated by the Queen Anne's Shipwreck Project.

August 20, 2010: Recent Deaths

Journalist Daniel Schorr, whose principles led him to stand up both to President Nixon and to CNN media bosses, died in July. Most recently, he was a fixture at NPR. Novelist Peter O’Donnell, creator of Modesty Blaise, the sexy, highly effective ex-criminal secret agent and problem solver, passed away in May at the age of 90. Illustrator Frank Frazetta, known for his fantasy art--and whose illustrations of Martian princess Dejah Thoris entranced me in my teens--also passed away in May, at the age of 82.

Lt. John W. Finn, USN (Ret.), the oldest surviving recipient of the Medal of Honor, died on May 27 at the age of 100. Lt. Finn was a chief petty officer stationed at Kaneohe, Hawaii at the time Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other US military bases in the Hawaiian islands. During the attack, he set up a makeshift tripod to support a large caliber machine gun. Firing from out in the open where he could see the Japanese aircraft flying in to make their attack runs, he fought for over two and a half hours, and received more than twenty wounds. He retired in 1956 as a Navy lieutenant.

Bill Millin, the Scottish bagpiper who played his pipes under fire during the D-Day landing at Normandy during WWII, died on August 18. Private Millin was asked by Lord Lovat to play his pipes, in spite of standing orders to the contrary. Lovat explained that the standing orders were English, not Scottish. Mr. Millin later learned that German snipers had not targeted him because they thought he was crazy and was bound to get killed sooner or later.

Closer to home, Dave LaConte, a former Navy SEAL, was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in April. He died in Afghanistan in November 2009. In late June, Trond Bolle, a Norwegian Marine Jager (a unit with a mission similar to that of Navy SEALs) was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. He was held in high regard by his Navy SEAL brethren.

August 13, 2010: The Book of Pirates

One of my favorite books when I was a child was Stevenson’s Treasure Island. An aunt gave me an annotated copy, and I was fascinated both by the story itself as well as the explanations in the margins and appendices. The perfect accompaniment would have been The Book of Pirates: A Guide to Plundering, Pillaging and Other Pursuits by the venerable Jamaica Rose (AKA Christine Lampe) and Capt. Michael MacLeod (AKA Michael Lampe) of No Quarter Given (see the links in the right column). The book combines pirate history with the “how to” of being a pirate for anyone age 8 and up. In print now.

August 13, 2010: Pieces-of-Eight

Not long ago I purchased a purportedly wreck-salvaged piece-of-eight on eBay as a memento. I’m not a big coin collector, and generally don’t care for salvage coins. Perhaps only one wreck whose coins are available on the market has any direct relationship to actual pirates or sea rovers, and most salvage coins are in poor shape as compared to many “land hoard” coins. I prefer coins that have been handled and used, not those that have lain for centuries at the bottom of the sea soon after being minted. In other words, I prefer coins with a long history.

However, having written several times of Bartholomew Sharp and his South Sea buccaneers, I thought a coin from the wreck of the Santa Maria de la Consolación off Santa Clara Island in the Bay of Guayaquil would be in order, given its association with the South Sea buccaneers. I found one reasonably priced, from a reliable coin vendor with high ratings and thousands of transactions. The coin was not expensive, as eight reale pieces-of-eight go, and was priced in the lower end of the range. I did not examine it too closely before buying it, although I ran it past the images of forged pieces-of-eight on the Sedwick website. But when I received the coin I was perplexed. It appeared genuine, but there was no sea damage at all, nor did the coin match any description of any New World coin.

Eventually I appealed to Mr. Sedwick to evaluate the coin for me. The coin was genuine, as I thought, but was a common piece-of-eight minted in Spain, and not one from the wreck of the Santa Maria. Further, the certificate of authenticity had been forged. I hesitate to accuse the vendor of this, although he should have spotted it. More curious, though, is what the certificate forger, not to mention criminal jackass, whoever he or she was, expected to get away with. Perhaps he or she intended to capitalize on the inexplicable (to me at least) preference for sea salvage coins over land hoard and circulated coins which are typically in much better shape, although not always. Whatever he or she intended, the coin's pretended shipwreck status did nothing to increase its value. Comparable Spain-minted coins often go for more money than I paid for it. I lost nothing on the transaction except the coin as memento, and soon after, of course, I was able to obtain a legitimate coin from the wreck. eBay is often criticized for failing to scrutinize its coin vendors enough, and buyers need to be careful when buying from anyone other than a highly reputable dealer who deals regularly in Spanish cobs. Sedwick’s book, The Practical Book of Cobs has good sections on buying coins and spotting fakes. Although an expensive book, readers should also review Sewall Menzel's Cobs: Pieces of Eight and Treasure Coins--The Early Spanish American Mints and Their Coinages, 1536-1773.

Regarding the Santa Maria de la Consolación, coins salvaged from her wreck are often advertised as pirate coins, in that the ship was purportedly chased by buccaneer Bartholomew Sharp. Again purportedly, the buccaneers chased the ship aground, attempted to salvage treasure, and in some material advertising the coins, the buccaneers massacred local Spaniards. All of this is supposedly based on Spanish records. Foremost, I need to point out that I have not seen the reported Spanish records, but then, I haven’t seen any citations of the records either. The fact is, the English accounts do not mention any such chase, much less massacre--and this voyage is the best-documented pirate voyage in history, with seven journals writing about all or part of it. Several journals--those of Ringrose, Sharp, Povey(?), Dick, and Cox--cover the voyage from beginning to end. However, the only mention of the ship is a note that a Spanish prisoner informed the buccaneers of it--and its “100,000 pieces of eight”--after the fact. The buccaneers never actually sighted it or chased it, much less ran it aground and massacred any of its crew or any locals.

William Dampier mentions the wreck, describing a Spanish salvage effort to recover the silver, and also Native American divers who occasionally dove surreptitiously on the wreck. However, like other buccaneer journalists, Dampier does not note that the ship was chased by English pirates. Had it been, he would have mentioned it. He notes only that a "very rich Wreck" was reported to lie there. Some of the Hacke copies of the Spanish derrotero captured during the voyage do mention the wreck. One notes a rich wreck from 1680, while another notes that Captain Sharp chased the ship in 1681. But these maps were made in England, after the fact, by third parties. Basil Ringrose, who sailed on the entire voyage, does not note any such chase, neither in his journal nor in his extensive notes to the derrotero.

As to the apparent myth of the massacre, it doubtless derives from Santa Clara’s modern nickname, Isla de Muerto or Island of the Dead. The island, as noted in the Hacke maps, is shaped like “the corps of a man in a shroud.” Dampier also notes that "it appears like a dead Man stretched out in a Shroud." From this would derive not only the island’s nickname, but also the myth.

However, none of the foregoing should devalue the coins as “pirate treasure,” not even the fact that the buccaneers never chased the ship. Sharp’s voyage was epic, and these coins were what he was after. The Santa Maria de la Consolación, sailing alone, struggled to make it safely to port, in fear all the while of Sharp’s buccaneers. These coins are the closest pieces-of-eight available to what we would describe as “pirate treasure.”

July 20, 2010: Replica Roundshot, Grapeshot, and Grenades

Loyalist Arms is now offering replica roundshot ("cannonballs" in the parlance of lubbers), grapeshot, and inert grenades for re-enactors and others with an interest in pirate and age of sail accessories. Loyalist Arms also sells fully functioning flintlock and other firearms. I've used a replica doglock pistol, purchased from Loyalist Arms, for a variety of test firings. Loyalist Arms also offers film services.

June 8, 2010: Minor Mystery Solved

I finally learned a few days ago, after nearly a year, who put the accurately rigged model of a Spanish galleon on my front porch. The blame lies with David Meagher, who did the illustrations in my first two books. David does outstanding maritime illustrations, especially of line art. If you think you might need his services, email me and I'll put you in touch.

March 23, 2010: Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Officer Adam Lee Brown

From the UDT-SEAL Association: "Chief Petty Officer Adam Lee Brown, 36, a decorated combat veteran, was fatally wounded during a battle with heavily armed militants, according to a statement Friday from Naval Special Warfare Group 2 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. He was a recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart." Chief Brown was a native of Hot Springs, Arkansas, and is survived by his wife and two children.

March 22, 2010: More on Penelope the Pirate

Press releases indicate that Penelope Cruz will be playing Blackbeard's daughter in the forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, and, naturally, will be Sparrow's romantic interest. Regarding other female parts in the film (pun unintended, read on), Disney recently announced a casting call for young women dancers and swimmers, all of whom must have natural breasts. Implants not allowed, and I suppose airbrushing, as was done with Kiera Knightly in at least the first film, won't be permitted either. All in all, a good thing I suppose. Anachronisms may abound in the film, but at least the breasts will be correct. That being said, at least one blog has pointed out that "fit dancer bodies" were probably uncommon in pirate haunts. Perhaps Disney is looking for mermaids.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has stated that the film will be going in a "new direction," and also noted in regard to Ian McShane as Blackbeard, that Blackbeard was the "nastiest pirate ever." In fact, he wasn't--he just had good press. As a doer of dirty deeds, he doesn't even make the top ten of his age, nor the top one hundred of history. However, his notoriety--and notoriety is important, because among criminal enterprises it creates fear--makes it necessary to include him in any pirate history. In other words, Blackbeard was made for Hollywood.

March 22, 2010: The Pacific

HBO's miniseries The Pacific began airing last week. The war in the Pacific was very much a Navy and Marine Corps war, although certainly not entirely so. The series is highly recommended. Almost 37,000 Navy personnel were killed in action, died later of wounds received, or died in captivity during World War Two, and similarly almost 20,000 Marines. The majority of Navy and Marine losses were in the Pacific theater.

March 18, 2010: Rest in Peace Daniel and Davy

Fess Parker, known for his television portrayals of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, died today at the age of eighty-five from complications of old age. We'll miss you, Mr. Parker, Kentucky pioneer and "King of the Wild Frontier."

February 18, 2010: SO2 Ron Woodle Dies in Diving Accident

Special Warfare Operator Second Class Ronald Tyler Woodle, 26, of Waynesville, North Carolina died near Key West, Florida during a dive training exercise. A star high school soccer player, Woodle decided to become a Navy SEAL after several months of research into the US military. Due to the uniquely hazardous nature of naval special operations, diving accidents are responsible for a high percentage of non-combat SEAL deaths.

February 17, 2010: Penelope the Pirate?

For those so inclined, rumors abound of Penelope Cruz signing aboard the fourth Disney Pirates of the Caribbean. Although it's unlikely the film will elevate the genre from its current form as pirate fantasy, Cruz would nonetheless be a likable addition, perhaps making the film worth seeing, beyond its appeal as a pirate swashbuckler/fantasy. The film will certainly need an appealing female lead to replace Kiera Knightly. See the BBC and Bilgemunky for details.

February 17, 2010: New Orleans Saints

Can't say I'm much of a football fan, but I am a New Orleans fan, so Way to Go, Saints!

January 19, 2010: Favorite Pirate Books for Young Readers of All Ages (Updated January 20)

I had intended to post this before the holidays, but the holidays themselves happily intruded. Perhaps a few readers still have some money left on their gift cards and can put it to good use. Some of these titles are in print, but several are only to be found in used and antiquarian bookstores (and libraries!). and are good online sources.

And (thanks, Shell!) don't forget to look for these in libraries, both local "brick and mortar" and online! See Shelley Barber's links on the Questions page for other youthful pirate books.

For readers of all ages...

Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton. Not a pirate story per se, but a tale of a small treasure in an old "pirate" oak. Ever since a teacher read it to my first or second grade class in Chula Vista, California, I've been looking for lost treasures and the secrets surrounding them.

The Ballad of the Pirate Queens by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Shannon. Anne Bonny and Mary Read, a cowardly Jack Rackam and crew, silver seas and moon, and pregnant pirates, in verse with beautiful illustrations.

Lucy and the Pirates by Glen Petrie, illustrated by Matilda Harrison. Follow Lucy and runaway slave Wilkins, not to mention a black and white cat tucked away in most of the illustrations, as they search for Lucy's missing father.

The Ship's Cat by Richard Adams, beautifully illustrated by Alan Aldridge. Inspired by an incident in Hakluyt's Voyages ("The voyage of M. Iohn Locke to Ierusalem" in 1553) in which a captain sent the ship's boat to rescue his cat who had fallen overboard and was quickly carried away by wind and water. The writer doubted the captain would have spared such effort for any of his crew. The ship's cat of Adams's tale--a cat's cat indeed!--takes on the Spanish in the New World-- rats, cats, and men--in the time of Elizabeth I and her sea dogs. In verse. (Full title: The Adventures and Brave Deeds of the Ship's Cat on the Spanish Maine, Together with the most lamentable losse of the Alcestis and Triumphant Firing of the Port of Chagres. The text of the inspiring incident can be read at the front of the book itself, or in Hakluyt, volume IX [Asia, part 2], Edinburgh: Goldsmid, 1889.)

Just after the holidays I ran across the recent A Pirate's Night Before Christmas, charmingly written by Philip Yates and just as charmingly illustrated by Sebastià Serra. As in the book, my daughters occasionally find small treasure chests under the tree.

And for older readers...

Peter and Wendy, aka Peter Pan. With a cast of, in many ways, less than admirable yet endearing leading characters who never change their ways, the book is nonetheless worth re-reading every few years for its adventure, truths, and atmosphere. Many beautifully illustrated editions exist, both in and out of print, but the best illustrations are those found in one's own mind. As with Neverland itself, each reader will--and should--see something different.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Inspired by a variety of literary sources, the book is a classic must-read. N. C. Wyeth's illustrations capture its essence, although my favorite edition (and also my first copy) is an annotated version sold in grocery stores circa 1970. Treasure Island remains one of the best pirate stories ever written, its pirate anachronisms and fostering of pirate myths notwithstanding.

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, as well as its two sequels of related short stories, The Fortunes Of Captain Blood and Captain Blood Returns. Classic sea roving adventure! I should probably add Black Swan, far better (and more subtle) than its film version, and The Sea Hawk as well, noting that the book has absolutely nothing in common with the Errol Flynn film except the title. Sabatini's The Seahawk is about an English renegade among the Barbary corsairs, while the film is about invented English "sea hawks" (as opposed to the correct term, sea dogs) raiding Spanish dominions and spoiling nefarious Spanish plots. Of course, it was necessary to use the term "sea hawks" in order to profit from the popularity of Sabatini's book.

Howard Pyle's The Book of Pirates and Tales of Pirates and Buccaneers are also highly recommended, and are available in various editions.

Older readers, women in particular, may enjoy Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek.

Recommended non-fiction includes any of the various editions of Alexander Exquemelin's The Buccaneers of America, and Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates. (Note, Daniel Defoe is often incorrectly given as the author of this book. The edition linked here is the complete 1726 edition. Many published editions are incomplete.)

My daughters highly recommend Pirates! by Celia Rees.

January 15, 2010: Haiti

Given the scope of the recent disaster in Haiti, all who can are encouraged to donate to the American Red Cross (Haiti Relief and Development Fund, a donation link is located at or to other relief agencies. For those soapbox bigots who claim that such aid is pointless, or that the Haitians brought the disaster on themselves, it is unfortunately too much to hope that their listeners will ostracize them, much less ride them out of town on rails.

Haiti was formerly known as the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola.

January 15, 2010: The Right to Confront Witnesses (Updated January 18, 2010)

Commentary on the American Legion website rightly points out that the three Navy SEALs, more or less accused of punching a prisoner believed responsible for the attack that killed four US contractors in Fallujah in 2004, should be allowed to confront their accuser, Ahmed Hashim Abed. At the moment, their courts martial are set for the US, although prosecutors are apparently reticent to bring their accuser here, in spite of the US intention to bring other detainees and prisoners here for trial. However, I disagree with the commentator's opinion that we should not in general bring detainees here for trial, or hold or incarcerate them in the US. Much of the opposition to bringing accused or convicted terrorists here appears to be grounded in fear, and such fear only strengthens an adversary. A terrorist deserves no such regard.

Update January 18, 2010: According to the Navy Times, the trials of two of three accused have been moved to Iraq in order that the accused may confront their accuser.

January 4, 2010: Death of CIA Contractor and Former Navy SEAL

Jeremy Jason Wise, 35, a former Navy SEAL, has been reported as killed in the recent suicide bomber attack on a CIA operating base in Afghanistan. Mr. Wise worked for Xe, formerly known as Blackwater. Further information is being withheld, given the nature of CIA operations.

December 29, 2009: Kraken Black Spiced Rum (Updated January 18)

Bilgemunky's first notes on Kraken Black Spiced Rum (a new rum, “strong, rich, black, and smooth” according to the distiller). If nothing else, the advertising campaign and rum bottle are worthy of note.

Update: Bilgemunky's review is posted here. (He likes it.)

December 17, 2009: French Court Fines Google Books

A French court has fined Google for electronically copying books without permission. Read the BBC article here.

October 21, 2009: Hand Salutes

The Defense Authorization Acts of 2008 and 2009 contain amendments permitting out-of-uniform military personnel as well as veterans to render a hand salute during the raising, lowering, or passing of the US flag, and also during the National Anthem.

October 21, 2009: More E-Book News

A new york times article notes that e-book sellers and some e-book owners suggest that readers are reading more due to the availability of books in various electronic formats. Maybe. I've yet to purchase an e-book reader, and a day of research through .pdf books generally leaves me feeling seasick, although I do appreciate the access to books I might not otherwise have. See "E-Book Fans Keep Format in Spotlight".

Barnes and Noble is introducing its own e-book reader, the Nook, $259, available November 30th.

October 19, 2009: Rum (Updated January 18 and March 22, 2010)

With the coming of fall, my palate tends to turn to hot drinks and comfort food, several of which do well with the addition of rum, notwithstanding that rum is by origin and popularity a notoriously tropical drink. The fact is, rum travels well everywhere. Given the season--although in fact I could have written this same commentary this past summer--I'm noting my favorite rums below. But be advised: by no means am I a rum connoisseur, or a connoisseur of any liquid spirit, much less am I able to do justice to any rum in a review. Nonetheless, I know what I like, and the suggestions below are based purely on my own preferences. For real rum reviews you need to see Bilgemunky's rum reviews, very highly recommended.

Gosling’s Black Seal: my favorite for drinking straight, by a hair over Pusser’s. Maybe it’s the “Seal” in the name. It's dark and strong, and it tastes like adventure. A great drink after you’ve cheated death one more time. Also use it for a toast when you need to take a hard line against the idiots, asses, and egos of the world. I’ve been told (thanks, Mary) that in Bermuda “Black and Coke” is a popular drink. Even so, Black Seal is best drunk straight up--neat, as it were. Don’t waste it by mixing it with something else. Savor it.

Pusser’s Rum: authentic Royal Navy rum. Likewise drink it straight and savor it. Great for toasting nautical adventures, cheating death, rich memories, absent friends, and fallen comrades. It does make a good punch when mixed with Pusser’s punch mix, but I hesitate to suggest mixing for a rum that should be drunk straight. I alternate Pusser's with Gosling's. I've heard that Jack Tar Rum is comparable, but have yet to find a bottle in Alabama.

Myer’s Dark Rum: A good general-purpose rum. Drink it straight, mix it, use it for cooking and flavoring (see below). Makes a good rum punch (rum, fresh key lime juice, dark muscovado sugar, water) as well as a good piña colada (follow the recipe on Coco Lopez coconut cream). To hell with those who say mixed rum drinks require white rums. In general, though, I avoid mixed drinks. If you're going to pay for decent liquor, you might as well be able to taste it.

Cruzan Black Strap Rum: Not to be drunk straight unless you really like to drink molasses. Nonetheless, it’s a great rum for cooking and flavoring. For example, French toast: bread, heavy cream, eggs, fresh grated nutmeg, vanilla, and rum. Or plantain in butter and sugar: slice the plantain, cook in butter, add dark muscovado sugar, flame with black strap rum. It also makes a great hot buttered rum: rum, butter, cloves, dark muscovado sugar, and hot water, all to taste.

Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum: If you must drink a spiced rum. Generally I avoid them, but am occasionally tempted. Perhaps it's the woman in the grass skirt.

When all else fails or you need something different: drink Irish whiskey. Jameson’s might well be the best thing to drink after a cold salt water soak, accidental or intended, or when you contemplate the satisfaction of living yet one more day under any circumstances. The recent commercial (lost cask, cold Irish seas, giant octopus) actually does a bit of humorous justice to the whiskey. Again, drink it straight (no ice, no water!), and savor it. Jack Daniels and Maker's Mark will likewise work in a pinch, and my Scotch drinking friends swear by a good single malt. Not to be forgotten are good 100% agave mescals and tequilas. Tasting of earth and sex, they coax out memories of some of life's best experiences, and occasionally inspire some of them as well--provided, as with all liquor, you don't go overboard with them. Enjoy wisely!

Update, January 18, 2010: I think I'll have to add Cruzan Single Barrel, placing it alongside Pusser's and Gosling's. I also neglected to mention Appleton Estate VX, an old standby.

Update, March 22, 2010: Added Maker's Mark after Jack Daniels. Damn good, Maker's Mark.

October 17, 2009: This Can Only Hurt Most Writers

Walmart and Amazon continue their price war over books: "Price War Over Books Worries Industry"

October 15, 2009: More Writing and Publishing Articles of Interest

The potential dangers to writers and publishers of electronic lending in libraries: "Libraries and Readers Wade Into Digital Lending"

The latest on the Google book pact: "Google to Revise Book Pact by Nov. 9"

Google's take on its electronic library: "A Libary to Last Forever"

October 7, 2009: Hallowe'en

See last year's post below regarding Halloween seafaring fare.

One arguable addition to the list is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney. The script and Harrison's acting indeed capture the classic essence of the mariner, and the music and mood capture the sense of a haunted presence. Still, the movie is ultimately a romance, and certainly one worth watching, but if you're looking for scary sea-going Halloween fare, you need to look elsewhere.

October 7, 2009: E-Libraries and E-Books

Two more articles of interest: "In E-Books, It's an Army Versus Google" and "New Amazon Kindle to Download Books Beyond U.S."

October 4, 2009: Book Pirating

A new york times article, "Will Books Be Napsterized?"

October 1, 2009: SO2 Ryan C. Job, USN (Ret.)

Former Navy SEAL Ryan C. Job died unexpectedly on September 24th after surgery to repair an eye socket. A combat injury sustained during a SEAL Team Three combat mission in Iraq in 2006 had left him blind. The following is from a UDT-SEAL Association notice: "Although Ryan lost his eyesight to a sniper's bullet and his lifelong dream of becoming a commercial pilot, he returned from Iraq determined to press on. He embraced his recovery with the same passion and drive he embodied to earn his Trident. He was supported by many caring people in his recovery process these past three years, and none more dedicated than his loving wife Kelly who is pregnant with their first child and due in May. Ryan and his family drew strength and inspiration from his teammates and veterans organizations who rallied around him to help him reach his goals. Ryan just graduated from college this last semester and had recently started a new job with General Dynamics in Scottsdale, Ariz. Ryan has been an inspiration to us all. His passing is a tremendous loss for the Navy and this Nation."

September 16, 2009: Talk Like a Pirate Day is Saturday September 19th, for those so inclined.

September 16, 2009: Special Operations at Their Most Effective. The killing of terrorist Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in Somalia by US special operations forces, identified by some spokesmen off the record as US Navy SEALs and other special operations forces: "U.S. Kills Top Qaeda Leader in Southern Somalia."

September 8, 2009: More Electronic Book Issues

Google Books tries to mollify European fears: Google Books and European rights.

Amazon can delete your Kindle books, or rather, can delete the material you are licensed to view--you don't actually own Kindle ebooks: see this brief National Business Review article on the subject.

Don't expect Amazon to disable your stolen Kindle: tracking (but not disabling) stolen devices.

September 4, 2009: Google Books and Its Adversaries

The BBC's take on the Google's digital out-of-print books effort and the opposition to it.

September 3, 2009: Charity Chain Harming Independent Booksellers

A new york times article on a charity used book chain in Britain putting independent used booksellers out of business: "Beleaguered Bookseller Knows Whom to Blame: Oxfam"

September 3, 2009: From the Authors Guild

The Authors Guild sent the following email out today:

"Headline: Amazon Accuses Someone Else of Monopolizing Bookselling
Amazon made it official yesterday, filing a brief in the Google case claiming that someone else might gain a monopoly in bookselling. It seems we're compelled to state the obvious:

Amazon's hypocrisy is breathtaking. It dominates online bookselling and the fledgling e-book industry. At this moment it's trying to cement its control of the e-book industry by routinely selling e-books at a loss. It won't do that forever, of course. Eventually, when enough readers are locked in to its Kindle, everyone in the industry expects Amazon to squeeze publishers and authors. The results could be devastating for the economics of authorship.

Amazon apparently fears that Google could upend its plans. Amazon needn't worry, really: this agreement is about out-of-print books. Its lock on the online distribution of in-print books, unfortunately, seems secure.

The settlement would make millions of out-of-print books available to readers again, and Google would get no exclusive rights under the agreement. The agreement opens new markets, and that's a good thing for readers and authors. It offers to make millions upon millions of out-of-print books available for free online viewing at 16,500 public library buildings and more than 4,000 colleges and universities, and that's a great thing for readers, students and scholars. The public has an overwhelming interest in having this settlement approved.

Feel free to forward, post or tweet. Here's a short URL for linking:"

August 17, 2009: Best Mexican Food in Town

Hands down, the best Mexican food in Huntsville is found at El Cazador on South Parkway, an innocuous and inexpensive restaurant serving real Mexican food, not Tex-Mex or a bland "Anglo" version. I haven't had any as good except in Mexico itself.

August 17, 2009: Sea Film

Miyazaki's Ponyo opened this week, a refreshing animated film about the complex nature of humanity and the sea, built around an uplifting retelling of The Little Mermaid. Small children as well as adults will enjoy it.

August 17, 2009: Babbling Twits

According to US market research firm Pear Analytics, forty percent of Twitter messages are "pointless babble." (BBC)

July 25, 2009: More Twits

Yet again Alabama officials are busy promoting Alabama's image as a national backwater replete with Puritanical hypocrisy, this time by rejecting the nude nymph label on Cycles Gladiator wine. Apparently Alabama law does not permit sales of liquor whose labels illustrate a person in "an immoral or sensual manner." The label was actually rejected last year, but the fact that the wine with the label was still being sold in the state was brought to the attention of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board by a concerned citizen, perhaps of the same sort who protests the reading of Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying in public schools, or shields their child's eyes from a nude Bouguereau (La Nuit, if I recall correctly) once on display at Huntsville Museum of Art. This is not the first such sex-art-and-wine-fearing nonsense to afflict the state. Some years ago the ABC Board prohibited the sale of wine during the intermission of the nude Broadway musical Oh! Calcutta! in Huntsville, probably fearing that Chardonnay imbibing patrons would cavort naked in the aisles. I have to wonder whether anyone who objects to the label fears it's alcohol inducing, sex inducing, or, worse, fears it might lure someone into enjoying life. Here it is, in all its offensive nude artistic glory:

And by the way, it's also good wine.

July 3, 2009: Lit for Twits

According to the Chicago Tribune, two University of Chicago freshmen have signed a deal with Penguin Books to rewrite classic novels as "Twitterature." Doubtless the twitterati will be ecstatic. The rest of us will probably do without, letting substance reign in both literature and life.

July 3, 2009: Antitrust Books

The US Justice Department is conducting an antitrust investigation into the settlement between Google and the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers over Google's online publication of orphan and out-of-print titles. (Details below, November 2, 2008.) Read the new york times article here.

June 5, 2009: Reader's Circle

For readers interested in joining a book club or in forming one, check out Reader's Circle, a non-profit organization that helps readers find local book clubs.

May 25, 2009: Memorial Day

Navy Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Eric F. Shellenberger died on May 7, 2009 during a diving accident while conducting SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) operations in Alaska. SDV operations, which involve “wet” submersible vehicles and which are often conducted in cold water, are inherently hazardous. Chief Shellenberger was a member of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and had more than seven combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Between ten and eleven thousand men have served as Navy SEALs or their predecessors, the Combat Demolition Units, Underwater Demolition Teams, Scouts and Raiders, and OSS Operational Swimmers, since World War Two; approximately 260 of them (roughly one in forty) have been killed in action or have died in training accidents. Many more have been wounded in combat or seriously injured in training. More than forty Navy SEALs have died in combat or in training accidents since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Ft. Pierce, Florida is raising funds for a permanent Memorial to Navy frogmen and SEALs who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. Details, as well as information on making a donation, can be found here.

April 20, 2009: Mystery Ship

To the unknown person who left a model of a sixteenth century Spanish galleon on my front porch Friday night or Saturday morning: my thanks and my compliments on the quality of your work. The ship is on display in my dining room.

March 16, 2009: Book Review, Threats in the Age of Obama.

I rarely review books, and when I do, I do so only if I can do so fairly and favorably. This attitude probably derives from the many bad reviews of books I’ve read that deserved far better, and perhaps from a couple of amusingly slanted reviews of my own books. Too often the reviewer has an ax to grind, has an ego that demands attention, or is competing professionally or financially with the material or ideas he or she is reviewing. One need only look at the variety of reviews on Amazon of outstanding literature--look at some of the negative reviews of Moby Dick, for example--to see what I mean. Perhaps not surprisingly, not even the published “peer reviews” of academia are immune to the aforementioned. In the case of competing ideas, some academic reviews occasionally cross the line of legitimate review so egregiously--perhaps deliberately, perhaps due to myopia--as to be considered unethical, if one assumes the standard to be one of intellectual honesty, fairness, and fact. Thankfully, such reviews are in the minority.

All this being said, I highly recommend Threats in the Age of Obama, edited by Michael Tanji. The compilation is an excellent review of the threats facing both the US and the world, from a broad range of perspectives, with emphasis on their evolving nature. Chapters range from Matt Armstrong’s insightful evaluation of public diplomacy--in particular, of “global engagement”--as a vital part of national security in “Arming for the Second War of Ideas,” to Daniel H. Abbott’s surely controversial thesis of true democracy as a threat to the US military-industrial complex, and thus to itself, in “An Outbreak of Democracy.” Whether or not one agrees with all of the many assessments and arguments presented in it, the book is a must-read for anyone with an active hand in world affairs at any level, and for that matter, for anyone with an interest in the both the near-term and long-term future of our world in general.

March 6, 2009: Strip Clubs and Sailors

The BBC recently reported ("Israeli admiral's go-go bar regret") on an apology tendered by an Israeli admiral after he was caught visiting a strip club in Tel Aviv. For those naïve enough to believe that sailors won’t be sailors, let me advise them now that male sailors--and their officers--have all visited a strip club at one time or another. Sometimes it’s merely social, sometimes it’s to watch the women, often it’s both. I well understand that strip clubs are sexist and often demeaning to women as well; however, sailors will be sailors. (And let's not forget that there's a strong business in male strip clubs for women.) As one woman noted to me regarding the situation, “It’s not like strip clubs are going away, and sailors are stereotyped as they are for a reason.” The admiral's job is to defend his country, not pander to or kowtow to the puritanically-minded. In other words, cut the admiral some slack.

February 4, 2009: The New York Times and Navy SEALs

I’ve noticed that a couple of recent New York Times articles mentioning US Navy SEALs have referred to them as “Seals.” Just for the record, SEAL is a near-acronym of Sea-Air-Land, although the words themselves are seldom used; a "Seal" is a pinniped with a large ego. Qualified members of the elite SEAL Team naval commando units are most correctly referred to as “Navy SEALs,” although commonly the term “SEALs” suffices. SEAL is always written in the uppercase in the US military--Navy SEALs themselves are adamant that SEAL be written in the uppercase--and newspapers should follow this correct usage. Even Merriam Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary lists the term correctly. An email I sent to the newspaper last year pointing this out received no reply, nor has the newspaper changed its policy of lowercasing SEAL. Although I am an avid reader of the New York Times, I have to wonder what sort of editorial intransigence or hubris permits the paper to modify terms--in this case, to reduce the name of an elite US Navy organization with a distinguished reputation to what is essentially a diminutive--as it pleases.

Update, February 5: Today I sent a second email regarding this issue to New York Times and received a prompt and courteous reply. In short, the newspaper's style guide defines "Seal" as the informal name for the US Navy's Sea-Air-Land units. I suggested in reply that the newspaper amend its style guide to reflect the usage of the US Navy and of SEALs themselves, that is, Navy SEAL or SEALs. A copy editor from another newspaper advised me that both the AP Stylebook and Webster's New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition correctly use the uppercase form, and I pointed this out as well in a subsequent email.

Update, February 9: No reply to my two follow up emails. Here's to the triumph of administrative inflexibility over fact and substance.

Update, April 15: Even CNN spells SEAL and SEALs correctly, as observed on the news crawl at the bottom of the screen during the Maersk Alabama hostage crisis, in which Navy SEAL snipers killed the three pirates holding the Alabama's captain. The new york times, however, continues to spell SEAL as Seal.

January 16, 2009: Andrew Wyeth Dies at 91

Andrew Wyeth, the famous American painter whose work was often decried by art critics, has died at ninety-one. Wyeth first studied under his father, N. C. Wyeth, the famous illustrator, who had himself studied under Howard Pyle, another famous American illustrator. All three were often inspired by the sea. Andrew Wyeth, damned by many art critics for the style and eventual popularity of his works (neither in keeping with the "true artist" cliché of the 20th century), was nonetheless an American icon and national treasure, and was, above all, quintessentially an artist. For details and a retrospective, read the New York Times article.

November 1, 2008: Days of Remembrance in October

October has passed with little remark on the anniversaries of two significant US military incidents in which US service personnel were killed. Twenty-five years ago on October 25, Palestinian terrorists used a suicide truck bomb to attack the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing two hundred forty-one US servicemen, most of them Marines, and wounding sixty. Two minutes later, fifty-eight French paratroopers were killed in a similar attack. Four months later, President Reagan ordered US troops withdrawn.

October 3 and 4 of this year was the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu, in which US forces consisting primarily of Army Rangers and Delta Force commandos attempted to capture leading members of warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s clan. Eighteen US troops were killed in the failed action and seventy-three were wounded. Again, US troops were soon withdrawn, this time by order of President Clinton.

Both incidents led to a reevaluation of US military missions and the circumstances under which they would be employed. In both cases, some observers considered the withdrawals to be retreats, while others considered them to be practical acts that removed US troops from hostile areas in which there was no reasonable US mission with a reasonable chance of success. In both cases, both major US political parties tended to react according to perceived political advantage.

October 27, 2008: Right Out of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

A recent article in the UK Telegraph describes how the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has initiated a contest to develop a vehicle capable of flight, as well as of travel on and under the surface of the water--a flying submarine, in other words. The vessel would be primarily used to insert and extract US Navy SEALs. Such a vehicle was first envisioned by the writers of the 1960s science fiction and fantasy television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Just how feasible such a project will be with current or near-term technology is debatable. The US Navy's Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS)--a mini-sub designed to insert Navy SEALs--had its inception in the late 1980s, was years overdue, was fraught with developmental problems and cost overruns, and was finally cancelled in 2006. And it was only a submarine. However, one ASDS was built, and further testing and development with this mini-sub is apparently still ongoing. More feasible, at least as an interim project, might be a flying semi-submersible--a vehicle which transits with most of its hull submerged, but whose upper surface or deck remains at sea level.

October 16, 2008: Maritime Halloween Fare

Hallowe'en, or All Hallows Eve, a holiday well-celebrated in our home due much in part to a Hallowe'en birthday, is in the offing, and thus a review of some of the films and books celebrating the dark side of the sea is in order. From the sea are a multitude of images suitable to the holiday that celebrates the brief period when, as some believe, the dead briefly walk among the living. There are ghost ships and the ghosts aboard them, and spirits guarding treasures lost beneath the sea or buried in sandy shores. Strange sights and sounds are often seen and heard on stormy nights on or near the sea. Within the wrecks of ships are the bones and souls of those lost at sea. Anyone who has spent any time at all at sea can attest to at least one inexplicable occurrence that hints of the supernatural, whether or not the witness actually believes in ghosts and other things that go bump in the night.

Looking briefly at films, Ghost Ship, 2002, starring Julianna Margulies and Gabriel Byrne, is a modern tale of a violently haunted abandoned cruise liner, and one of several films that exploit the mystery of a cursed abandoned ship. The Fog is a coastal horror flick bound to a notion of lepers, mariners, murder, and revenge. The 1980 version stars Jamie Leigh Curtis, and the 2005, Selma Blair. In the "sea monster aboard ship" genre are Leviathan, 1989, starring Peter Weller and with an undersea base substituting for the usual ship; Deep Rising, 1998, starring Treat Williams and Famke Janssen; and Virus, 1999, starring Jamie Leigh Curtis, screenplay by ex-Navy SEAL Chuck Pfarrer. The Goonies is adolescent adventure of dead pirates and their treasure. The first Pirates of the Caribbean film might make the cut, as it is at least fodder for pirate costumes and dead pirate Halloween props, not to mention that the Black Pearl of the first film, with its cursed skeleton pirates and shredded black sails, is a ghostlier ghost ship than the Flying Dutchman of the second and third.

But films are social fare. Books, read in solitude, play better with the genre of ghostly tales of the sea, particularly late at night with the lights down low, or better, with candlelight, and if the weather cooperates, with wind howling outside and rain lashing at the window. Poe as ever is a good place to start. His "MS. Found in a Bottle" and "A Descent into the Maelström" are classic supernatural short stories of the sea, and may have influenced the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films. "The Gold-Bug" is not a tale of the sea per se, but of buried treasure on a sea island and is listed here for its influence on Stevenson's Treasure Island. Ghosts, after all, are invariably associated with buried treasure. A Skeleton at the Helm, edited by John Richard Stephens in the tradition of the N. C. Wyeth's compilations Marauders of the Sea and Great Stories of the Sea and Ships, is an excellent collection of short stories, excerpts, and poetry of the supernatural at sea during the age of sail.

Turning to the novel, Bram Stoker's The Mystery of the Sea, a gothic tale replete with every cliché of the genre, is a good title to start with. Within its pages are ghosts, a Gaelic seer, the second sight, caves, vaults, grottos, buried treasure, secret passages, a shipwreck, an old castle, international intrigue, a kidnap plot, and a fight at sea, not to mention late nineteenth century stereotypes of women (even a strong-willed independent woman must be subordinate to her husband, for example), race, nationality, and ethnicity. The story even includes some clichés I had only seen spoofed in films mocking the gothic genre, and which, so as not to spoil them, I won't note here. The book is not up to the standard of Stoker's Dracula, but it does provide nearly everything one expects from a gothic tale of the sea, only a ghost ship excepted.

Failing all of the above, you could simply imagine yourself in the shoes of a Spaniard attacked and captured by a seventeenth century pirate such as L'Ollonois. Think Disney's Pirate's of the Caribbean ride with a pirate-costumed cutlass-armed sociopath on the loose. Surely the living nightmare of an assault by a man who might cut your heart out alive--and eat it--is far more horrific than even an imaginary headless horseman hunting heads.

All commentary Copyright Benerson Little 2008, 2009

Archived Questions and Answers


Reply: Thanks, smartass! :-) Can't believe I didn't recognize it was you, but should have known. I'll start getting some fiction out while you're away partying in Colombia aka teaching English. The Marxist left is sure to be offended, by the way, and doubtless the Leninist "right" as well (as will anyone else of any ilk who pays homage foremost to theory or ideology as opposed to fact). I assume you believe that if one goes far enough to the left or right he or she will meet on the other extreme?

How does it feel to be a tooty snooty writer? :-) Just kidding. :-) Do you feel like you're on the verge of your big break out, and how do you feel your next two books will be received by terrorist nations, that is to say, do you consider your books to be propaganda for the marxist left or the leninist right? Also, why will no one publish your fiction--you have to be sick of pirates by now?


Reply: Thanks, Shell! And thanks for reminding me not to forget libraries!

Thanks for the very excellent list of books! Remember to hunt for pirate books in libraries, too! Here are a couple of online examples:

Villanova University has digitized some beautiful illustrations of pirates by Irish artist Jack Yeats (William Butler Yeats little brother), which were included in his sisters’ publication A Broadside.
A link to the collection: Press Broadside Collection/

And an individual issue:

Another favorite is a book that was the collaboration of a group of very talented book folks including typographers Frederick and Bertha Goudy, and Bruce Rogers, and book binder Edith Diehl. It is a fun poem to read aloud! The book has been digitized by the University of California and can be read online here:

Of course, if you like them they’d be fun to own, so by all means collect ‘em too!



Reply emailed. (And payment issues resolved!)
Best, Ben (September 2009)

Update, November 2010: Potomac Books payment issues back to the usual, with both the submission advance for Pirate Hunting and 2009 royalties long overdue. I only managed to get payment on previous overdue advances and royalties by withholding the Pirate Hunting manuscript for many months. Advice to authors considering Potomac Books: look elsewhere, find a publisher who pays on time. In my experience, and in that of a number of other Potomac authors, Potomac's record of payments to authors is unacceptable. Ann, I may be contacting Writer Beware after all to lodge a complaint. Thanks for pointing the way to Fair Winds, by the way, no payment issues there. Best, Ben

Hi, Mr. Little!

I am a newcomer to pirate lore, but your book, The Sea Rover's Practice, has been incredibly useful to me. I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer who has been contracted by Disney to write the first full-length Pirates of the Caribbean novel. (I don't blame you if you winced.) But I take assignments seriously, and have been researching pirates for over a year now as I worked to get a book outline approved. Finally got an approved outline for a prequel novel detailing how Jack Sparrow first became a pirate captain. I realize I can't hope to become the next Patrick O'Brian, but I'm making a good faith attempt to be accurate about the details of maritime life cira 1700, where reality doesn't conflict with the POTC "canon."

At any rate, thank you for your book, and all its detail. I'm working with a retired Navy man who is getting an advanced degree in Maritime History, and he recommended it to me very highly. I'll have to pick up the second, and then the third when it comes out.

At this point I have a whole shelf of pirate resources and yours has been THE BEST.

Sign me up as a fan. If you'd like to drop me a line, feel free. I'm I read about your payment problems [Potomac]...I'm guessing you don't have an agent? I might be able to give you some suggestions in that regard, since I'm the Chair of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's "Writer Beware" ( It's a volunteer group that monitors agents and publishers, to try and keep authors safe from the predators. I know a LOT of agents, both real and fake.

Anyway, thanks again for your books.


Ann C. Crispin
(A.C. Crispin)


Seriously? The Jamestown picture? Ew. I like the cover of your new book!



--Dad :-)


Dan, long time! Send me your email address via the link in the right hand column so we can talk privately.


Hey Ben,
Came across your books while surfing. Looks like you are doing well (as always expected).
If you get this, please contact me.
Dan Carey


Was just involved with the filming of the Tv series "Deadliest Warrior" that you were consultant on.I was the camera boat for the "on water" scenes shot off San Diego and look forward to seeing the finished footage and the interpretation it offers. As a keen maritime photographer,it was a real treat(and fun) to be up close for the action and gunfire. cheers Darrall @

Reply: Wish I'd been there--I don't get enough time on or in the water anymore, haven't been back to San Diego in a while, and would've enjoyed the gunfire on the water. Looking forward to seeing the final product myself. Sounds like it was a fun job to be on. Best, Ben. PS--I took a look at your site, very impressive portfolio!


Pirates in Paradise is celebrating its 10th year in Key West this year. It has a large period encampment and will have a buccaneer representation as well in 2009, based largely on your work. What's the possibility of you attending the event. The dates are Dec. 3-6. More than 100 re-enactors make camp there. They also have an Artists and Writers Workshop. You can email me directly at if you'd like. -- Robb

Author's Reply: Details in my email reply, but I'd love to return to Key West. --Ben


Woo cool format!!! ~Courtney Little

Author's Reply: Thanks, Courtney. :-) It's largely due to changes in the Author's Guild's website templates.


In a recent History Channel show on pirates you said something along the lines of "In warfare audacity is a virtue." Please forgive me if I not quoted you exactly. Is this a phrase of your invention? If so, is it in one or your books? If not, do you know its origin? Regards, D. North

Author's Reply: The phrase (I'm not sure exactly how I repeated it in the documentary) is seen in various forms throughout history in discussions of warfare, and also in some fencing texts as well. It may have originated in antiquity from Virgil, "Audentis Fortuna iuvat," which is usually translated more or less as "Fortune aids the bold." I suspect, however, that the phrase in some form has cropped up independently many times during history, as it seems to be a universal truth. The two more recent variations I'm most familiar with are French privateer Duguay-Trouin's "La fortune aidait souvent la valeur un peu téméraire," which I've translated as "Fortune often aids valor that is a bit reckless," and the British SAS's "Who Dares Wins." (Téméraire can also mean daring. I quoted Duguay-Trouin in The Sea Rover's Practice, page 27, and in an endnote mention the SAS motto. I believe some other military forces have adopted "Who Dares Wins," although the SAS was the first to do so.) Similarly, my first fencing master, Dr. Francis Zold, used to tell me thirty years ago to "Never hesitate!"--in other words, when the opportunity presents itself, be bold. As for what I said in the documentary, if it's original it's only so in my particular phrasing, and I'm not even sure of that, given that audacity as a virtue in warfare is an ancient and often repeated truth. By no means is it an original idea of my own. Hope this helps! Best regards.

Dear Sir, Thank you for the very extensive reply regarding audacity as a virtue in war. It will prove very helpful to me indeed! Regards, D. North


The current newsletter (March 2008) mentions that the Midway Atoll is reopening for tourism after being closed for six years. What are the reasons for its closure, and likewise, for its reopening? Were there environmental or political reasons for either or both? --M.C.

Author's Reply: According to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge site (, the refuge was closed due to the loss of its "coordinator" in 2002. Apparently the tour operator at that time ceased operations, and therefore Aloha Airlines stopped serving Midway as well. The US Fish and Wildlife Service recently granted the Oceanic Society, a non-profit marine conservation society, a license to run tours, and seven week-long tours are anticipated in 2008, at a cost of roughly $5000 per person.

Thanks so much. I realized after I posted that I probably could've done some research on it. Though, it's always nice to have an expert there to help. Thanks again. --M.C.


In Buccaneer's Realm, there are several points where it talks about the presence of cultural diversity in port/coastal cities. Would these cities have been more greatly influened culturally and, perhaps, linguistically by the ruling power at the time rather than equally among the various nations represented, or is that hard to say? --Lily Rose

Author's Reply: With a warning to you that I'm not a cultural anthropologist, my best guess, based on what I've seen in my research (and without further research into your question), is that linguistically the colony's ruling nation was the greatest influence. Witness, for example, Haiti after its revolution. Its language was, and is today, a form of French, but its culture, although heavily French-influenced, was and is African-creole. That being said, the way the language was spoken and the way it changed was certainly influenced by the variety of peoples and cultures present. On the other hand, I suspect that in the broader and more general sense of "cultural influence," and depending on the colony, culture was determined by the various peoples represented, assuming they made up a reasonable percentage of the population. For example, the culture of New England seaports in the 17th century appears to have reflected their largely Puritan population. With the exception of some Native American influences, they generally seemed to have lacked a multi-cultural aspect. Seamen, whose crews were usually multi-cultural, were transient, and African and Native American slavery were small scale. On the other hand, Petit Goave in the 17th century, with its permanent and semi-permanent international population of sea rovers, settlers, and slaves, certainly reflected a multi-cultural aspect, although there was no doubting it was French. (It would be interesting to find out the degree Haitian French has been influenced by the languages of Haiti's early inhabitants.) Modern New Orleans, for example, is an American city, yet its culture, including its spoken English, is very much French creole, Acadian (Cajun), and African. Yours is an excellent question, and you may have answered it best when you said "hard to say." Hope this rather brief answer to a complex question helps!


On a related issue, you mention that blacking out on ascent is called both shallow water blackout and deep water blackout. Can you clarify? Thanks. --"Diver Dan"

Author's reply: Both in the mid-70s when I first learned to dive, and in BUDS and Diving Supervisor training in SEAL Team in 80s, I was taught that passing out on ascent from the change in partial of oxygen during a breath-hold dive was called "shallow water blackout" because unconsciousness occurred as the diver ascended to shallower depth. (If a breath-hold diver consumes most of his oxygen at depth, the partial pressure may still be sufficient for consciousness, but on ascent as pressure reduces, pp02 can drop too low to sustain consciousness.) However, some divers use the term to refer to unconsciousness resulting from the consumption of oxygen at shallow depth, for example, a breath-hold diver swimming underwater in a pool, who simply holds his breath too long. The same divers use the term "deep water blackout" to refer to unconsciousness from a drop in pp02 on ascent. Others call this "hypoxia of ascent" or "hypoxia during ascent" to avoid confusion. The latter term is used in the current US Navy Diving Manual.


(More to do with the author than the works.) What draws you to this subject matter? M.C.

Author's reply: I suspect it was or is a combination of growing up around the sea, watching swashbuckling movies as a child, reading Treasure Island and Captain Blood, and having a desire to explore and, to some degree, rebel. In SEAL Team I saw many similarities, both tactical and behavioral, between privateers/pirates and naval commandos, and this helped inspire my research.


In Buccaneer's Realm you write that Native American divers dipping back underwater to prevent "bad air" resembles decompression. How likely is it that this was actually the case? --"Diver Dan"

Author's reply: The potential for decompression sickness from arduous breath-hold diving has been long recognized, and recent studies have found that indeed divers in such circumstances are susceptible to dcs. As I noted, it may be that Native American breath-hold divers realized that their symptoms subsided when they dove back under water, as symptoms of dcs typically do. Recompression is the standard treatment for dcs, and for omitted decompression as well. (Strictly speaking, returning to the water for decompression after surfacing is considered in-water recompression.) We don't know the depth to which the divers descended, however, nor whether such practice actually reduced the incidence of decompression sickness. As for the divers on the Phips expedition, whose sickness I speculated might be due in part to dcs, we also don't know how much may have been due to the stresses of diving, or to smallpox or other diseases. The question of Native American divers ducking back under the water to avoid "bad air" requires a diving medicine specialist with experience studying breath-hold diving, and perhaps an anthropologist as well.