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"Looking for differences between Napoleonic & Pirate ships" Topic

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irishman09 Jul 2018 7:31 a.m. PST

Honored Gronards,

I am interested in doing some English vs Pirate scenarios for Sails of Glory. I can, with ease, Paint some Sails of Glory ships up to be pirate ships. However it got me thinking, were the ships of the Napoleonic Wars (early 1800s) technically that much different than the ships of the golden age of Piracy a hundred years earlier?

Ive done some research on this, and I cant really find anything definitive. Were there major changes in ship types (size, number of guns, number of decks, fore or aft decks, etc) between the two eras?

Mike Petro09 Jul 2018 7:37 a.m. PST

Probably not but technology was always changing as today

irishman09 Jul 2018 7:42 a.m. PST

Agreed, just like the Constitution class ship was such a game changer for America. But that was post Napoleonic wars.

My main goal is to see if I can use the 1800s era sloops/frigates/SOL from Sails of Glory as 1700s pirates and Galeons with any level of historical accuracy.

Not that it REALLY matters, but im very curious.

keithbarker09 Jul 2018 7:48 a.m. PST

I think the most obvious change in the sail plan would be that by the time of the Napoleonic wars they had started using a gaff headed spanker on the mizzenmast.

You could probably use a sloop, a frigate or an east indiaman as a pirate ship, but not a SOL.

wakenney09 Jul 2018 8:00 a.m. PST

Size and number of guns would vary. Other than that and the consequent changes on the game stats, there isn't a big difference.

irishman09 Jul 2018 8:00 a.m. PST

what about SOL as a Treasure Galleon?

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP09 Jul 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

USS Constitution fought in the Napoleonic period,
Irishman. She fought and defeated 5 British ships,
though to be fair, she outclassed them in gunnery,
strength of hull and sailing qualities (she and her
sisters were designed as 'capital' ships of the fledgling
US Navy).

The RN responded with its own class of large frigates, and
created the first razee's from 60-gun SOL, (HMS
Indefatigable being the first [1794] and most noteworthy,
but she was not a 'reply' to USS Constitution; those
would be the 56-gun class created by razee'ing 74's
starting in 1813 (HMS Goliath, HMS Saturn and
HMS Majestic being the first 3 converted).

To get to your original question, you could use small
sloops, but I'd shy away from any but the smallest frigates.
Unless you want to create Letters of Marque vessels,
which could be small warships fitted out to go merchant
raiding by wealthy sponsors in the hopes of large

Most nations were willing to issue Letters of Marque
but there was no guarantee that the crews of such would
not be treated as pirates.

Letters of Marque were usually called 'privateers,'
hence not real pirates, although some historians suggest
that early 18C pirates started out as legitimate
Letters of Marque raiders and 'went rogue', although
there is not much scholarship on that issue.

Most 'real' pirates did not operate large vessels but
stayed mostly in waters in which they could quickly
sail out, snap up an unwary merchant vessel and then
quickly return to port to 'cash in' their prize.

Personal logo War Artisan Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Jul 2018 8:16 a.m. PST

My main goal is to see if I can use the 1800s era sloops/frigates/SOL from Sails of Glory as 1700s pirates and Galeons with any level of historical accuracy.

If you are very curious, google some images and you will see differences. If the differences aren't great enough to bother you, then go ahead and use SoG ships as pirates. It would be a little like using a WWII tank in a Cold War scenario.

There will be a couple issues other than paint, though. The sail plan of a 17th century ship was quite distinctive. A SoG ship won't match that at all and I'm guessing you're not planning on doing any extensive re-building.

The SoG ships are almost all square-rigged, rated ships (frigates and larger) but pirates almost universally operated small vessels, often fore-and-aft rigged (because they required fewer men). Only very rarely did pirates ever operate anything as large as a frigate, but if you're doing "Movie Pirates" and not historical pirates, that won't matter.

irishman09 Jul 2018 9:05 a.m. PST

I would be interested in doing re-rigging of a 17th century ship, hence my questions here. So I have been googling some images, but was hoping that some more intelligent people here, could give some additional context. Keith Barker's comment on the Gaft headed Spanker on the Mizzen was most enlightening.

BuckeyeBob09 Jul 2018 9:36 a.m. PST

this may be helpful (or not).

keithbarker09 Jul 2018 9:48 a.m. PST

This is what I would expect the mizzen to look like on an early 1700s ship.

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 10:43 a.m. PST

+1 War Artisan

The Golden Age of Piracy was really the second half of the 17th C. and the very early 18th. To get a feel for how ships of this period looked, search Wikimedia Commons for paintings by these artists:

[]Richard Endsor is a modern student of 17th C. nautical maritime art and one of the best recreators of period-looking paintings I've ever seen.

Be wary of earlier 17th C. artists, like Hendrick Corneliszoon Vroom and Andries van Eertvelt. They made lovely art, but they were less concerned with accuracy, more prone to cartoonish exaggeration, and the subjects themselves had more exaggerated lines. The taste for hyper-realism didn't really take over maritime art until the 1660s.

The anachronism that stands out most about 18th/19th C. ships pretending to be 17th C. ships is the excessive streamlining. Through the 1700s, ships lost their high sterns and the forecastles integrated better into the rest of the hull shape. I find it's possible to modify some later-period models into 17th C. appearance by adding an entire deck to the stern and melding the rails into a steeper sweep upward toward the very tip-top of the poop deck. (Some large Napoleonic warships need two decks added to the stern, though this shouldn't be much of a concern for pirate gaming.)

Ther changes to the colors and the designs of stern galleries and the beaks under the bowsprits can be simulated with paint or a little crafting, but the basic lines of the hull are harder to modify.

A lot of the warships in the paintings above tend to be the biggest, most exciting ships of the age (suitable topics for an expensive, commissioned painting), and the riot of carving, gilding and painting is a reflection of lavish state funding. Pirate ships and their pedestrian merchant prey would be smaller and mostly devoid of art, and the smaller warships and Indiamen sent out to oppose and hunt pirates would generally only be fancier in paint/varnish, not additional art.

I recommend starting with models designed for the period or genre.

I find the Skytrex 1/600 Armada period galleons to be a good starting point for 17th C. models.

The Peter Pig 1/450 Pirates range is designed outright for the age of piracy, and while many of the ships are a bit too streamlined for 17th C. appearance, they can be modified with extra decks, and supplemented with Skytrex models.

Either of these ranges could also be supplemented with War Artisan's 17th C. paper models of the smaller vessels.

Minairons is ramping up production of 17th C. galleons as well. There are two versions of a large Spanish galleon now, and theoretically more to come.

1/1200 scale is quite small for the period, but has a lot of options. The smallest vessels in Langton's Anglo-Dutch Wars range will work right out of the box as large merchants and pirate-hunting warships. The small unrated vessels of the Langton, GHQ, and other Napoleonic ranges can be used with few modifications. The galleons of the Valiant "Spanish Main" range will work for ships up to the late 17th C. with almost no modifications at all.

- Ix

irishman09 Jul 2018 11:39 a.m. PST

What a Brilliant summary Admiral. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I am always in awe of the depth of knowledge of the readers of this site.

Mad Malx09 Jul 2018 11:52 a.m. PST

What scale are the Sails of Glory ships? The War Artisans Workshop -Jeff Knudsen on here does some lovely card-stock models in 1:600 for the Anglo-Dutch wars that would be just the right period and look. I've built some of Jeff's ships and really like them.

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 2:06 p.m. PST

Fixing the Richard Endsor Google image search link I screwed up: link

Here's his actual web site: link

- Ix

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 3:26 p.m. PST

Some of my favorite inspirations for 17th C. naval gaming:

The battle of Dunkirk in 1639 (earlier in the pirate era when most had letters of marque or backing by joint stock companies), a fleet action near the end of the galleon era where most of the ships would have been armed merchantmen and indiamen.

Merchant ships until the end of the 17th C. would be similarly shaped, but smaller, less ostentatiously decorated, and with fewer guns (or perhaps none, on short-haul routes in safe waters).

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 3:27 p.m. PST

A 1674 painting by an unknown artist of a 1650ish fleet of the VOC (Dutch East India Company), showing the kinds of Dutch ships pirates would have been after in the 1600s.

Other nations' ships would have been similar, though with differing national character (e.g. the fluyt was a very Dutch design, the Iberians had a penchant for big galleons, each nation had different artistic preferences, English shipwrights preferred "round" sterns to the Dutch "square" sterns, etc.).

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 3:27 p.m. PST

A painting by Hendrick van Anthonissen of Dutch VOC indiamen attacking big Portugese galleons at Goa, India. The date on this painting is 1653, but the style looks later than that. I love the detail, and I really love that it looks like a wargame in progress. grin

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 3:31 p.m. PST

This is a 1673 painting of Dutch fluyts, more illustrative than inspirational. Fluyts were very common in the North Sea and Baltic, but were so useful and efficient they traversed the globe (as in that painting depicting Batavia above). They tended to have few guns, small crews, and lots of cargo space, so pirates would consider them valuable prey. Captured ones would probably also make nice pirate ships, since they were efficient, capacious, and non-threatening. If you're going to do pirate gaming in the Golden Age, you should have some fluyts.

Yellow Admiral09 Jul 2018 3:57 p.m. PST

If you want a treasure galleon, Minairons makes one in 1/600 scale:

Lion in the Stars09 Jul 2018 6:23 p.m. PST

I'd be very surprised if any pirate ever sailed something as big as an American 44. Don't get me wrong, the Constitution and her sisters are awesome ships, probably the one time he 'battlecruiser' idea of being well-armed enough to kill anything that they can catch and fast enough to outrun anything that can kill them actually worked.

But the American 44s are warships, not cargo haulers with guns. The Constitution needs a crew of some 300 to sail. Pirates are somewhat like merchants, they want a ship that needs minimal crew to run because that makes for more crew available for prizes.

Pirates should run like hell if they see a warship's topsails over the horizon, or better yet go for shallow water that the deep-draft warships can't managed.

jowady09 Jul 2018 6:35 p.m. PST

If you are looking for "Captain Blood" type ships they really didn't exist. Carribean pirates went for fast handy small vessels, usually with small crews (remember, everyone got a share (an American 44 had a crew of over 400))and a small number of small guns. Most of their ships were captures,very few purpose built. In 1/1200th scale you can find a good assortment of ships in Langton's Anglo Dutch wars line. And as has been posted large 17th Century ships did not look all that much like Napoleonic ships of the line.

Pyrate Captain18 Jul 2018 7:55 a.m. PST

Bermuda sloops, a favorite of pirates were relatively unchanged from the 18th to 19th centuries, but sails of glory would really need to be scaled back to use vessels popular among common pirates. Even Blackbeard's final battle was fought between sloops.

SgtPrylo22 Jul 2018 3:59 p.m. PST

You would definitely have to do a 'Hollywood' style game to use SoG ships. As has been stated quite expertly here, the overwhelming majority of pirates didn't use ships even as large as a Napoleonic frigate.

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