Though it is most common to see pirates as daring adventurers, dashing around the Caribbean in search of treasure and excitement, the reality of day to day pirate ship life was somewhat different. It was also a deal less glamorous and romantic; life aboard a pirate ship posed a real risk to the health of those who sailed the seas, recompensed by the slight chance of getting rich. The difference in quality of life between then and now is a little startling. Let’s take a look at the real pirate ship life.
Pirate ship life was not for those who liked to be bathed and coiffured. Hygiene and cleanliness on the average pirate ship was pretty low by today’s standards and was hard to maintain, especially with the low supplies of fresh water. Bathing or washing was pretty much a no-go on a pirate ship as water could not be wasted; those who fancied a shower would have to stand outside in the rain and risk pneumonia!
Visiting the bathroom, however, was a much more feasible exercise, thankfully. The officers and captain would have their very own chamber pots, which they would empty overboard the pirate ship when it was full. For the ordinary buccaneer, however, there were platforms, with holes cut into them, which extended over the side of the pirate ship. If nothing else, visiting the bathroom was an adventure for the pirates of the Golden age!
Food & Drink
Pirate ship life and gourmet dining don’t mix. Food and drink on board a pirate ship was far from gourmet standard and consisted largely of dry goods. The bulk of a pirate’s diet on long voyages was made up of dried or salted meats, sea biscuits and beans. Fresh water was in low supply and became stale after some time at sea, hence why pirates were always drunk! They would mix beer or rum in with the water to mask the stale, unappetizing taste.
The only time at which fresh fruit and vegetable were available was during or shortly after port stops. At this point fresh water, meat and fish would also be brought aboard the ship for consumption.
This lack of fresh, nutritious food and poor sanitation meant that illness and disease plagued the life of seafarers at this time in history. Pirate ship life was full of avoidable health risks. There were quite a few nasty diseases that pirates would have to contend with including scurvy, which occurs due to a lack of vitamins in the diet, yellow fever, malaria, gangrene and even dysentery.
The medical provisions on board a pirate ship were also very poor; if there was a surgeon his quarters would be as dark and unhygienic as the rest of the pirate ship at large. There was also little to no guarantee that the surgeon would have any medical training!
Despite the health risks, pirate ship life was full of fun and singing. Pirates loved to have a good time and, above all, they liked to sing and drink! Pirates were highly suspicious of those who didn’t drink, in fact. They also loved, like all sailors, to sing and dance to shanties (songs) when they weren’t gambling or womanizing (an option only really available in port).
Pirate ship life was also ruled by its own pirate code. Punishments aboard a pirate ship were harsh; they had to be for the captain needed to be in control of his ship at all times! If you broke the rules agreed upon by the pirates you could find yourself flogged, marooned (left on an island with no provisions and one shot in your gun), made to walk the plank or even sold into slavery!