The Golden Age of Piracy held many dangers for the average buccaneer, but none was more fearful and unpredictable than that of the ocean wrath in the form of hurricanes and storms. The sea herself was the biggest and most present danger to any sailor or pirate, and a hurricane was a true monster of the open ocean. With none of the modern technology that we have today to tell us how big a storm will be, when it may hit, and how long it could last, Pirates were pretty much at the mercy of mother nature.
How pirates survived storms and hurricanes (if they ever did!).
Perhaps the best advice was to try to avoid the hurricane, though that is easier said than done, especially during the golden age of pirates when they did not have weather reports. However, the more expert pirates might be able to outrun a storm or at least get away from the driving edge of the hurricane to increase their chances of survival.
Avoid man over board
The first rule of survive a hurricane whilst at sea, however trite it may seem, was to stay onboard the ship (unless it was going under, in which case there wasn’t much anyone could do). During the Golden Age pirates would lash themselves to the ship by ropes because a man overboard was, to put it lightly, a dead man.
Heavier the better
This was one situation in which a full belly was the best thing for the ship; the weight of a full cargo would help to keep the ship upright in a storm by counteracting the pressure of the wind on the sails. If a ship did roll it was most likely that its entire crew was going down with it.
Sailing at an angle
During a hurricane at sea during the golden age of pirates the forces acting upon a ship were truly awesome; running directly before the wind was liable to end in destruction as the stern (back) of a ship was too weak to withstand the weight of the crashing waves. If it didn’t crush the vessel it could simply sink a ship by allowing too much water on board. The safest course, believe it or not, was to turn into the storm and sail at an angle along the waves with the stern, the strongest part of the ship, aimed at oncoming waves.
Protecting the sails and masts
The sails and masts were perhaps most at risk during a storm (if you don’t count the pirates themselves) as these delicate parts of the ship faced the most strain from high winds. Some ships did carry storm sails which were more durable and less likely to shred, but these could take full day to put on. Most often they weren’t on board, or there wasn’t enough time to put them up before they hit the hurricane, however, and so the safest option was to furl the sails.
The first sails to be taken down were the back ones as pressure on these sails could cause a ship to slide sideways. Next the lower courses were furled, and finally all that would be left up were the fore (front) sails and a jib or headsail to enable movement and keep up momentum.
Keep moving with the hurricane
The trick to survival, however was to keep the ship moving into the waves whilst not placing too much strain on the sails and masts. The ship needed to keep enough speed to move up the sides of oncoming waves whilst keeping its rudder in the water to enable steering. Can you imagine having to do all of this without any modern technology to tell you how long the storm would go for, and how strong it was going to become? Scary!
Avoid land, sandbanks and other ships
Surviving a hurricane whilst on a ship was difficult enough, but if a ship was too near land it could be a real disaster. What was known as a “lee shore” was the sailor’s worst nightmare; being stuck between the land and the sea, with the wind driving you onwards could end only in shipwreck and most likely death!
It would not be too dramatic to say that more pirates were killed by the sea itself than by the combined might of the world’s Navys. All you have to do is remember the effects of the most recent hurricanes such as Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Wilma, and you can see that pirates didn’t stand a chance against the wrath of a Category 4 or 5 storm.