The Life of a Pyrate

by Jake The Peg

You offer "Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash", eh? Where do I sign?

"The law of the sea is the law for me, seafaring pedophile. With no law at all, I'll be having a ball, seafaring pedophile!". That Rolf Harris, he be an amateur.

So ye be wanting to become a pirate, eh? Maybe ye are tired from all those kings and generals who tell you, the Catholic, to kill your friend because he's a Protestant? Maybe ye be a slave that's escaped? Or maybe you are a robber, or want to become rich an easy way? Maybe ye think you can band together with free men? Well, it's not as easy as ye may think. Most likely ye already be captured, mayhap you were pressed into another ship, eh? Go to the inn for a quiet drink and next thing you know, you wake up with a splitting headache working on a ship. Well, then you was captured by us, and now you have the life of a pyrate. Congratulations, haha.

Many think that the life of pyrate is some sort of free association. Well, it's true in some cases, sort of. Sometimes there are rules, called Articles, that determine the division of spoils and behaviour, and they apply to all and equally, even the captain, sometimes. Ye may even get to vote on the captain, and the runner-up will be the quarter master. But on other ships the captain rules worse than any monarch. If he don't like ye, ye be flogged if ye be lucky. Or maybe sold as a slave at the next port if ye have a useful trade. But most of the time, a pirate ship is founded on two basic truths. The first is if us don't rob, there be no money for us. The second being, if they catch us, us will all be hanged. That's usually enough motivation to keep us all ship-shape.

Now we know who be in charge. The next be your quarters. Glorious they are! Lots of sweaty men crowded together on a rotting lump o' wood. So ye like that, eh? Fresh water is a luxury; beer and rum is better for ye anyways. The food is mostly hard tack - it be made from water, flour, and lard, and salted meat - and not much of it. There be no fat pyrates, but plenty who are half-starved, with a lean and hungry look. The damn rats seem to like our food tho', they be everywhere. Then there is the bilge. Water always seeps into a ship, even if she be tighter than the arse of a newly ordained nun, and I should know. They don't call me Jake "the peg" for nothing, haha. But the bilge, it fill up with water, and that water begins to rot the wood. So every ship has pumps to get rid of it, for it will smell most terrible and eventually sink the ship. You'll never forget it. And don't move that! Everything here has its place, carefully allocated to keep the ship balanced. If you have the call of nature, go to the bow. We have nice holes there where you squat and deliver ye goods to Neptune.

Remember this when we find a fat merchant laden with gold and other valuable. Us pyrates win because we are sneaky, fast, and normal folk be absolutely terrified of us. Usually the merchant or navy quite outnumber us; bigger boats, more men, and more cannon. So sneak up them, best at sunset or dawn, take them by the bow or stern, so them cannons cannot turn on us. There's a fearsome reputation given to us, so we give a signal, the black flag, and let them know that if they resist, we'll kill them all. A lot of the time it's all that's needed, most crew on a merchant ship won't lay down their lives. But if there be a fight, kill 'em, ye hear? When them surrender, just torture a couple and then put the rest on a boat or island. Our fearsome reputation is deserved!

In a fight ye may get hurt. Mayhap our Articles give ye some extra gold or silver, ye know like insurance. It be a dangerous job! So ye be hurt and in a lot of pain. Well man up, because it look like them merchant pistoles have done ye leg. Shattered it is, we'll dig out the shot. No, there is no real knowledge of infection. But us know that flesh like that will go necrotic. So us going to chop ye leg off. A shot of rum will steady your nerves, but not save ye from the pain. But don't worry, us has the best surgeon-carpenter available on the ship. He'll take ye leg off in only five minutes with his saw. If ye don't die from the shock or the bleeding, he'll give ye a haircut! Hahaha.

Stop ye complaining. Ye be lucky, at least ye not have shot in the torso, that almost always kills. The only question is how long it take before the chill hand o'death reaches ye and how much pain ye have in the time reamining. Mayhap if ye be fat, the bullet not puncture too far and it will work itself out, but as I said, there be no fat pyrates. To be fair tho', ye could have been luckier. If ye bones not be fractured then there would be no amputation. "A flesh wound", they say. Us can just dig the bullet out, sew up the wound, and bandage ye up. Who knows? Maybe ye get better from it.

What else can ail ye in this life? Plenty, by God! Us pyrates live in filth. Apart from the those rats who can give ye a wicked bite than cause the fever, there be enough lice, fleas, and ticks to make a stew out of 'em. The scabies will give ye the itch and sometimes ye scratch so much it become the boils. Then there be fevers, like typhoid and typhus, not the same thing. There is also the Great Pox, which ye get from whoring and send ye more mad than ye already be, and the Small Pox, which turn ye body into exploding blisters. Ye may even acquire the malaria, or what the Spanish call vomito negro or what we English call yellow fever. Everyone will have some of that, most of ye will survive. Then there may be an outbreak of the consumption, which ye modern types call 'tuberculosis'. Highly contagious and fatal, the devil himself must have brewed that one. Then there's the gripes, which ye call plain-ol' food poisoning, which us can provider lavender water. That'll fix it, eh? More serious is the flux, which ye call dysentery, and cause ye to shit like water and bleed from the arse.

And everyone has the scurvy. Ye bleed from the gums? Ye breath is foul? Why ye be a pyrate!

The best treatment us have for all this is bleeding. Ye see, Hippocrates and Galen both said that disease is an imbalance of the humours, and ye know the Ancients were perfect in all matters of medicine. It is usually blood that go out of balance, so that be why us do the bleeding. If us don't have leeches on board, us just lance a vein. Sometimes tho' it may be a different humour; so we induce vomit, uriniation, or diarrhea, or maybe give ye an enema. Anything to get the overflow of them imbalanced humours out of ye body!

From the plunder ye may acquire all sorts of coin. The Spanish have silver reales and gold escudo. The famous "piece of eight" is worth eight reales, see? But we call 'em "peso". Each reale has one-eight of an ounce of silver, and each onza escuado, one ounce of gold. If ye want to know what that is worth in shillings and pounds, the shilling it has only one twentieth of an ounce, and twenty shillings is one pound. So the English pound is only an ounce of silver. Why the famous treasure of Captain Kidd be found in a shipwreck off the coast of Madagascar ye say? There be 1750 ounces of silver in a single bar? Not quite as grand as the Wydah. She sank carrying the booty of fifty ships, more than ten times that amount.

Now I know ye be thinking “If Jake be such a good pyrate, where be his parrot?” Well, the simple fact is that many filthy rich people have taken an most eccentric hobby of having strange animals and the stranger the better. A talking parrot is worth some good gold among such people, or maybe even a monkey, although the parrot be easier kept. On the ship though, us do keep a cat to keep the rat population down, and even some hunting dogs for when us go ashore. The cat be good luck too, so it best be have at least one. But don't let anyone who has the name Jonah on board. It says right here in the Holy Scriptures that such people bring bad luck to a ship.

Ye say that pyrates be a superstitious lot, but it be for good reason. Life on the sea is full of hidden and unexpected dangers and us have not explored the bottom of Davey Jones's locker, haha. Let me tell ye some of the monsters that ye must certainly will find in the deep. First there be the lucsa, a giant octopus that be almost 25 yards long and with a mouth like a great shark. It live in the Caribbean among the atolls and reefs. Then there be the Kraken, which is like the lucsa but ye see is from the far north in the Greenland and Norwegian Sea. Ye must also be aware of the Leatherback in the same region, it look like an skerry island covered in heather. But it truly a malicious whale that will dive and drown ye all once you have alighted upon it. Then it will eat you, obviously. It is a dangerous place these oceans, for it is also the home of the great sea serpent. Not much more need be said about that monster; I will let Olaus Magnus explain.

"Those who sail up along the coast of Norway to trade or to fish, all tell the remarkable story of how a serpent of fearsome size, 200 feet long and 20 feet wide, resides in rifts and caves outside Bergen. On bright summer nights this serpent leaves the caves to eat calves, lambs and pigs, or it fares out to the sea and feeds on sea nettles, crabs and similar marine animals."

Now I prefer the islands of the Caribbean, but us have our own monsters here. In Trinidad there is a terrible woman, "La Diablesse" who was born a woman but did deal with the devil. She appears beautiful, but keep her hideous face hidden and have a cloven hoof. She will enchant men with her honeyed and offer them all sorts of favours. When they follow her into the forest, they are lost and never to return. Ye should also be fearful of the soucouyant, an old woman by day, a blood-sucking fireball by night. And then there is the lagahoo who like the werewolf changes shape in the night with malice. And if ye encounter a great man with a beard of leaves then that is Papa Bois, the master of the woods. Be ye polite to him, and stare not at his hooves.

And don't let me get started on The Flying Dutchman.

But there be one final myth that I do want to clear up for ye. That be the pyrate language. Us don't say “arrr”, for that be an invention of ye film industry. But we do speak in archaic and working-class English from the seventeenth century. Which be somewhat like Shakespeare, I do suppose. Also us have many words that us take from the French, the Spanish, the Dutch and even from the Carib and Taino people.

So there ye have it. Do ye still want to be a pyrate? If so, come closer to me. I'll keep ye warm, cabin boy.