Friday, May 29, 2009

Bumbo: Better than Grog

Grog has long been thought of as the quintessential pirate drink. Rum, watered down, often with lime added, and sometimes salt, was the drink rationed by the English Royal Navy to its sailors. The lime, of course, is used to prevent scurvy.

But most pirates saw land more often than navy sailors, and Caribbean pirates ate a lot of fresh fruit. Scurvy was not much of an issue of them. So they ditched the lime and added sugar and nutmeg to make it taste yummy.

Today, some bumbo recipes include cinnamon or grenadine.

Here's a simple recipe:

2 shots rum or dark rum
1 oz water
1-2 tsp sugar
dash nutmeg (& cinnamon if desired)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Day in Pyrate History: Death of Captain Kidd

Captain William Kidd may or may not have been a pirate. He was a privateer for sure, attacking French ships on behalf of England. His trial for piracy and execution were probably more political than anything, and surviving documents that were mysteriously missing at his trial point to his innocence. His career was not very lucrative at any rate, and he was plagued by bad karma. His crew did not respect him.

But according to hearsay, Captain Kidd, upon learning that he was wanted for piracy, buried a substantial amount of treasure somewhere, hoping to use its location as a bargaining chip for his freedom. His gambit failed, and he was hanged on May 23, 1701. Actually he was hanged twice, since on the first attempt the rope broke, which under some jurisdictions would have been considered an "Act of God" proving his innocence.

Captain Kidd spent his career trying to do the right thing, but his bad luck led him to a probably undeserved fate. But thanks to him we have the classic pirate trope of buried treasure.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pyrate Movie Review: Cutthroat Island

In 1995, Renny Harlin, the creative force behind such masterpieces as Exorcist: The Beginning and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, decided to write and direct a summer blockbuster about pirates. He wrote a script, and talked a studio into greenlighting his project. Then every leading man he approached passed after reading the script.

So what did he do? He revamped the script to make the love interest the main character.

Geena Davis was Harlin's wife at the time. The studio didn't think she was summer blockbuster leading lady material, but evidently Harlin has hypnotic powers. He cast her in the lead and never looked back.

The result? Cutthroat Island is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the worst film flop of all time. Budgeted at $100 million, the film grossed $10 million domestically.

But it's not a terrible movie. It's just not that interesting. The dialogue is bland and cliche-ridden. The direction is uneven: Harlin couldn't decide if his adventure movie should be campy or straight (best guess: he wanted it straight but his wife could only do campy). The plot is not driving; things happen in sequence, but no tension is established. There is a reason this film has been forgotten.

Although the writing and directing are fairly incompetent, the story itself is okay... since it's basically lifted from Treasure Island.

There are some who say, "if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." So let's take a moment to praise the art director. The costumes, ships, props and locations are all gorgeous. If you have a pirate party, project Cutthroat Island on the wall without the sound and play some music. Actually, play the CD of the film soundtrack, because John Debney's musical score is award-winningly good.

This film gave pirates a bad name in hollywood for ten years, and ended Geena Davis' film career. For some reason, the real perpetrator, Renny Harlin, is still being given work.


Two out of five skulls

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pirate Exhibit in Montreal

Near the end of the 17th century, Montreal-born Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville conducted a series of raids against the English in what is now Newfoundland. With the consent and blessing of the French government, he conducted a land campaign against English settlements. There was some plunder going on, but not at sea. In this case, I'd say he was a mercenary.

Then, in 1697, d'Iberville sailed to France and was given a commission by the French Navy to retake the mouth of the Mississippi river and resettle Louisiana. Sounds like a straight ahead Naval operation. At best we could call him a privateer...

But at the Pointe-a-Calliere museum in Old Montreal, they're calling him a pirate. They have a floor set up like a ship's deck, and they're displaying cutlasses, canon, sea chests, and other 17th-18th century seafaring goodies. The exhibit is called "Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters," and they're probably just promoting d'Iberville because he's a local boy and a loyal Frenchie (not that there's anything wrong with that). We say it's worth checking out if you're in the area.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pirate Haunt of the Day: Tortuga

Tortuga, featured as an anarchistic pirate haven in Pirates of the Caribbean is a mountainous, rocky island off Haiti's northwestern coast. Christopher Columbus encountered the island in 1493, and it was his crew that gave it the name Tortuga: its shape reminded them of a turtle. Some Spanish settlers eventually inhabited the island, and in the 1600's the Spanish fought over it with the English and the French. The Spanish ultimately abandoned it as unimportant, leaving it to the English and the French who set up neighboring colonies to grow tobacco and such.

The island was never well controlled by the colonial government, and it became a haven for Buccaneers who began calling themselves Brethren of the Coast. Henry Morgan-- who the rum is named after-- was a Brethren, and codified the previously loose association. In 1645, the French governor attempted to gain control of the island by bribing the pirates with over a thousand prostitutes. But pirates are an uncontrollable lot, and Tortuga remained under Brethren control for most of the 17th century.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Blackbeard News

When pirates were asked what country they were loyal to, some would euphemistically say "We're from the sea!" Meaning their allegiance was given to no nation.

It has long been thought that Edward Teach (Blackbeard) was a less-than-loyal subject of the British Crown, hailing from Bristol. But now Kevin P. Duffus, an author from North Carolina, is promulgating the idea that the notorious pirate is not from Bristol at all, but rather a local boy from the Carolinas.

His theory is that Blackeard was really Edward Beard, the son of Captain James Beard, a landowner near Charleston. Edward Beard went to Philadelphia to learn sailing skills, then went pirate, acquiring the moniker "Black," in the tradition of Black Bart Roberts and Black Sam Bellamy, thus "Black" Beard. Teach was just an alias.

Duffus admits he doesn't have any proof of this theory, but cites lack of documentation of anyone named Teach or Thatch in Bristol in those days. He is further attempting to bolster credibility of his idea by petitioning the state of North Carolina to DNA test an old skeleton to see if it is from one of Blackbeard's crew members. No, we can't see how that makes any sense either. But in our view, anything that gets historical pirates in the news is good.

So, one dude thinks Blackbeard was from South Carolina, and the rest of pirate scholarship thinks he was from Bristol. But one thing is for certain: he was from the sea.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Black Bart!

Today is the birthday of Bartholomew Roberts, arguably the most successful pirate of the Golden Age.

Born John Roberts in Wales in 1682, Bart was an honest hardworking seaman until 1719, when the ship he was third mate of (the Princess) was captured by pirates off the Gold Coast of Africa. He was pressganged into piracy, and by all accounts, he was reluctant at first. But his Captain, Howell Davis, found him to have excellent navigation skills, and being that Davis was also Welsh, he could communicate sensitive information to Roberts in their native tongue. So Roberts became a close confidant and soon reoriented his life philosophy. Captain Charles Johnson quotes Black Bart as saying:

In an honest service there is thin commons, low wages, and hard labour. In this, plenty and satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power; and who would not balance creditor on this side, when all the hazard that is run for it, at worst is only a sour look or two at choking? No, a merry life and a short one shall be my motto.

At the island of Princess off the African coast, Captain Davis flew the flag of an English merchantman, and invited the governor on board for tea, hoping to hold him for ransom. But the Portuguese found him out and lured him into a trap and shot him. Bart Roberts was elected captain by the crew and he ordered a raid on Princess to avenge Davis. Roberts and his men killed almost all the male inhabitants and took as much booty as they could carry.

After this, the crew voted to go to Brazil. So they sailed across the Atlantic and became successful Caribbean pirates. In his career, Bart Roberts captured almost 500 ships! Roberts also instituted a version of the Articles of Agreement (the "Pirate Code") that forbade rape, instituted a kind of medical insurance for crewmen, and prohibited gambling and fighting on board. All disputes were to be settled by duels on land.

On February 10, 1722, the H.M.S. Swallow engaged Roberts' ship the Royal Fortune at Cape Lopez off Equitorial Guinea. Roberts and his crew had just plundered the Neptune and his crew were still drunk with success (and alcohol). Bartholomew Roberts was killed in the battle, shocking many who thought him invincible: three years is very long for a pirate's career. Some historians cite Roberts' death as the end of the Golden Age of Piracy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pirates vs. Ninjas the Musical

Alas, the age old question: who would win in a fight: pirates or ninjas?

We thought after the pirate-ninja peace summit in 2008, this age-old question would be finally put to rest. But alas, the debate rages on, no doubt fueled by rum on the one side and... uh... puffer fish on the other?.

If ye want to display yer allegiance to one side or the other, you can get fine t-shirts to declare such (see end of post).

If instead ye want to set sail for Texas, you can see a spectacle of battle with periodic song and dance numbers. Pirates Versus Ninjas: The Musical runs Fridays and Saturdays through May 30 at the Overtime Theater in San Antonio.