Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pirates: Crewmembers, Part 1



Pirate flag of Captain "Calico" Jack

Every man had/has a job on board a ship, but certain jobs are critical... here is a brief overview of a couple positions...

Sailing a ship required an experienced team of men. Apart from the ordinary pirate crew, there were several important posts upon which the crew's success and survival depended upon.


Captain Blackbeard, in action
Captain
A few captains such as Blackbeard ruled their crew with the brutality and ruthlessness that was customary in the Navy, but on the whole, the captain was elected by a majority vote and only remained in command by his own merit. According to Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, the only time a captain's position was secure was when "fighting, chasing, or plunder, or being chased", or if he lost the faith of the majority of the crew, he could quickly find himself voted out of his position.

The captain's main perk was that he received the greatest share of the booty, but in other respects he was like everyone else. For example, the captain had the best sleeping quarters, but any member of the crew supposedly was allowed to enter his room, eat off his plate, and sleep in his bed.

Captains who consistently led pirate sorties and brought back happy, wealthy shipmates gained the reputation of being "pistol proof". This reputation would guarantee them a good supply of willing and skilled recruits.



A Navigational Astrolabe

Navigator
Know on board as the "artist", the navigator knew the strange art of setting the ship's course and plotting its whereabouts using maps; mathematics; and (to the rest of the crew) mysterious instruments such as the compass, the "bring-'em-near (telescope), and the astrolabe (to calculate the altitude's of the sun and stars).

Good navigators were a rarity and a navigator's sea charts were his most prized possession. A skilled navigator could bring a ship within a few miles upwind of its destination, so that it could drift downwind into port. Arriving off the coast a few miles downwind could be a disaster. In 1720, Bartholomew Roberts was a few miles off the coast of West Africa, but couldn't beat prevailing trade winds to reach his destination, so had to turn around and sail across the Atlantic back to South America before making a second attempt.


Preparations to board a ship by the Quartermaster
Quartermaster
Elected by the crew, the quartermaster was technically the second-in-command, but he supervise the daily running of the ship. Because it was his job to settle disputes and make sure that the captain's orders were carried out, he had to be one of the toughest men on the ship. He was also the trial judge responsible for meting out punishment for minor offences. If a serious offence was committed, the crew and captain acted as jury with the quarter master as judge. He was also usually the only crew member who could administer a flogging, following the majority vote of a crew.

The quartermaster led the boarding party when raiding a captured ship and took charge of dividing up the plunder after a raid, ensuring that each man received what had been set down in the articles of conduct - a skill that nevertheless required a mixture of diplomacy and unchallenged authority.

Carpenter, J.R. (2006), Pirates, Scourge of the Seas, pgs 48-51;
Barnes & Noble [Gusto:China]

Steampunk Implications:
Captain - Even though pirating would be rough affair in the future, a captain would need more that what would be traditionally necessary for a captain to be successful (e.g. a track record of bringing in loot). He/she would have to be technically competent to run a skyship, and probably most vexing would be where repairs would be performed on the vessel. It wouldn't be a simple matter of beaching a ship and scraping off barnacles, but potentially a complex and dangerous maintenance effort with steam and pipe systems (and this isn't' even considering quality assurance issues - lol)!
Coupled with this, would be where to obtain crew members who could meet the array of technical skills necessary to perform the duties of a Steampunk skyship. You might be able to recruit individuals to join a pirate crew, but it would appear that the majority of individuals would have to be pressed into service, especially if their KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities) were in demand. The fact the economic picture of the "golden age" of pirates was so poor motivated men to join the nautical services could be replicated, but retaining highly skilled individuals on board what is essentially a "ship full of felons (albeit partying sky-flying felons), might prove challenging.
However, if the captain was a privateer, this would answer a number of problems easily. His (her) background could provide for professional military education (e.g. sky ship aero tactics), repairs could be done at the country of origin (or an ally), and the crew could be those discharged from the national navy. In that picture, a piratical captain would seem to fit a logical background.
Of course, you could have a captain through PFM (Pure F..[antastic] Magic), and not worry about any of the previously mentioned considerations!
Navigator - A skilled professional, he/she would have to be just as competent as his nautical brethren, although he/she'd have access to Steampunk navigational aids, (e.g. better sighting tools, mechanical calculating machines for determining position, ect...), along with support systems, technical (e.g. support for the navigational equipment) and training (e.g. teaching individuals how to use them - he/she can't teach everyone)!
Quartermaster - This position proved difficult to address. In the rl, the quartermaster is a specialized rate (job) that is responsible for keeping track of on board goods. I would lean towards believing this specialization on board a skyship also - if you needed something quickly, you'd want to have someone who could find it quickly, especially in tight quarters. Therefore, I'd assume that there would be either 1) someone else who could lead shipboard assaults on defeated enemies in the skies (e.g. someone from the weapons department)... assuming the prize ship doesn't crash and burn, or 2) the quartermaster is pretty damned tough, and expendable (lol)!

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