How Pirates Work


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from www.HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark: Arr and welcome to the podcast. I am Josh Clark. With me is the laughing - what was that little laugh?

Chuck Bryant: I was joking. I thought, "Who is going to be the first one to do it, and I didn't know you literally were going to lead in with that.

Josh Clark: Sure. I like to surprise you.

Chuck Bryant: That's a good one. It's h-arr-d to amaze me.

Josh Clark: I'm glad you did it. Chuck says he wasn't going to.

Chuck Bryant: I know. What did I last? Like 30 seconds? I'm such a pushover.

Josh Clark: I haven't announced you yet. That's Chuck Bryant.

Chuck Bryant: Ahoy, etc.

Josh Clark: This is Stuff You Should Know, the pirate edition. I think we should be done with the pirate talking.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. That could be really annoying.

Josh Clark: You know what is probably the most annoying day of the year?

Chuck Bryant: Some kind of pirate day?

Josh Clark: September 19th, Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Chuck Bryant: Really? I think I remember that because Strickland was slinging arrs all over the office.

Josh Clark: Strickland and TW are big into pirate stuff.

Chuck Bryant: Tracy? She wrote this, didn't she?

Josh Clark: Yep.

Chuck Bryant: This is a great article, I must say.

Josh Clark: She's the keeper of the How Stuff Works voice.

Chuck Bryant: She is indeed, and a fine keeper she is.

Josh Clark: She's like the old sage on that Led Zeppelin poster with the lantern.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: That's what I think of with Tracy. Except with Star Trek earrings! Speaking of "off comes your head," we're going to get into that because we're talking about pirates. Whenever pirates got caught, people loved to cut off their head and post it as a warning to other pirates.

Chuck Bryant: That's gross.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it is.

Chuck Bryant: Do you want me to define pirate, Josh?

Josh Clark: Can you really define pirate?

Chuck Bryant: Sure. A pirate is someone who uses a boat to attack another boat with the intent to kidnap, steal or otherwise do harm.

Josh Clark: Bing, bang, boom. End of podcast.

Chuck Bryant: But that's not all. There are a few other criteria. It must be for private gain, using a private vessel.

Josh Clark: And it's for gain, like it can't be Green Peace coming up on a whaling ship, or something.

Chuck Bryant: No. Pirates! They operate outside of a government authority. Back in the day, governments used people called privateers.

Josh Clark: Yeah. A lot of pirates started out as privateers, which are basically government-licensed pirates. They had a letter of mark that said, "This guy's allowed to -"

Chuck Bryant: Plunder.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Do whatever to, say, the French or the Dutch or maybe the Spanish.

Chuck Bryant: The problem is during non times of war - peace I think is the way most people put it - during times of peace, these privateers would be out of work, and they'd be like, "Well, I have one skill." Then they turned to piracy.

Josh Clark: Right. Or they could've gone and been, like, regular seamen and not gotten paid all that much.

Chuck Bryant: Who wants to do that when you can plunder and get the loot?

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: One of the reasons people engaged in piracy early on is the same reason they do now, the economy. When things are down, just like anything else with theft - and we talked about shoplifting and stuff like that in other podcasts -

Josh Clark: Not one hour ago.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. The crime rate goes up. So poverty led to an increase in piracy over the years.

Josh Clark: It's not only when times are tough, when times are really good too and there's a lot of trade on the high seas, the opposite will attract pirates as well.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. The Golden Age of piracy, which we'll get into!

Josh Clark: Piracy actually as a very long, hearty tradition that dates back at least to the fourth century B.C.E.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, the Lucca. I had never heard of that.

Josh Clark: I hadn't either.

Chuck Bryant: They attacked boats of the coast of what is now turkey in the 14the century. That was a long time ago.

Josh Clark: That was a very long time ago. That's as many as 3,400 or 3,500 years ago.

Chuck Bryant: It seems like almost since there were boats on the high seas, there was piracy.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Tracy makes that point, too. As long as people were plying the high seas with goods that were worth stealing, people stole them in boats. Piracy.

Chuck Bryant: You might have heard of the Corsairs. Famous pirates! That was the 15th and 16 century.

Josh Clark: And of course, there were the Barbary pirates. Actually, I read an article on the Barbary pirates. They were America's first terrorist threat.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Uh huh. Jefferson was the one who had to deal with them. they actually got their start from the Red Beard brothers who were Turks, but they went down to North Africa, and I think converted to Islam, and they used to kidnap and torture and murder Spaniards, and Spaniards did the opposite, but these two brothers - the brothers Barbarossa - which means red beard - gave the start to the Barbary pirates. They were very successful for I think over a century.

Chuck Bryant: I did not know that. Then of course, the Buccaneers, the lousy, stinking, Tampa Bay Buccaneers are named after the pirate Buccaneers of the 17th century. There's a lot more history in this article, but that's an overview, if you will.

Josh Clark: It is an overview. It's not just European or African. The Chinese used to like to pillage and pirate after the Han dynasty around 220 B.C.E.

Chuck Bryant: They still like to pirate, sure.

Josh Clark: I'm trying to get this word out as a verb, too.

Chuck Bryant: I like that.

Josh Clark: Also, I decided the new Rick Roll is Dion Warrick performing "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: It's worked so far. I did it to Robert Lamb, and he's like, "That's good."

Chuck Bryant: Where was that going? Anywhere? Okay. Josh, what do you think of when you think of a pirate? What comes to mind? What mental image do you get?

Josh Clark: I think of a guy with maybe a tri-cornered hat.

Chuck Bryant: It's called a tricorn.

Josh Clark: Okay. Some hoop earrings. What are those called?

Chuck Bryant: Hoop earrings.

Josh Clark: Okay. A parrot that says things like "pieces of eight," and "dead men tell no tales," and stuff like that.

Chuck Bryant: What else?

Josh Clark: A peg leg, usually, or a hook for a hand.

Chuck Bryant: That's a good one.

Josh Clark: I think of very weathered, scarred skin, tattoos. I think of Johnny D epp.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. What about the clothes?

Josh Clark: The clothes, you know a ruffled shirt. You know, a little fruity.

Chuck Bryant: Long coat.

Josh Clark: Yeah, a long coat. Leather, probably, and I also think of a nice, long sword, maybe a flintlock pistol. Furries also come to mind. Usually if you run into a furry, there's someone dressed as a pirate nearby.

Chuck Bryant: Josh, do you want to talk about if that's real or not, all that stuff you just named?

Josh Clark: It is real.

Chuck Bryant: I the Golden Age of piracy, which is - when we think of all those things, you're thinking of the Golden Age of piracy.

Josh Clark: Right. Actually, I was surprised after reading this article how short it was, but I guess we'll get to that in a minute.

Chuck Bryant: What was it? Like 50 years or so?

Josh Clark: Between 1690 and 1730.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. Yeah, 40 years! That's when you might've heard of people like Black Beard, Calico Jack. You ever heard of him?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: He was controversial.

Josh Clark: I know he was.

Chuck Bryant: Do you know why?

Josh Clark: I do know why.

Chuck Bryant: Because he allowed women pirates.

Josh Clark: Not only did he allow women pirates, he had a pretty torrid affair on the high seas with one Anne Bonny.

Chuck Bryant: That seems like a pretty good reason to have a woman pirate.

Josh Clark: Yeah. They had a kid together, which was born in Cuba. He stole her away from her husband. She basically was this housewife who went into a life of piracy. She and another woman named Mary Read were aboard Calico Jack's ship. Once the crew found out they were women, they accepted them because I think Calico Jack was like, "If you don't, I'll cut your head off."

Chuck Bryant: Sure. "But don't accept them too much, because I'll cut your head off if you do."

Josh Clark: Right. So they dressed as women when they were just sailing. Then when they were about to start fighting, they would dress up as men. Apparently, they killed as many people as anyone else on that ship. A witness for when they were both caught later on, a witness who testified against them, said they swore and cursed with the best of them.

Chuck Bryant: Good for them. Women's lib!

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Way back in the Golden Age of piracy. One of the reasons it was the Golden Age back then, from what you just said, that was when the seas were really flying around between African, and America, and Europe.

Josh Clark: Have you heard the theory that African slaves; Africa was tapped for slavery simply because of the trade wind?

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: Yep. It went from the East coast of the United States right down to western Africa.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: Yep. It just took you right down. That's why Africans became slaves, because it was so easy to get there.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: Yeah, although the Portuguese already had a lock on the slave trade by the time the colonists started, or the English.

Chuck Bryant: Very true. We didn't make that up. So lots of boats with sugar and rum! Startlingly, it wasn't big trunks of gold coins usually. That did happen, but it was more like goods.

Josh Clark: Yeah. There was one specific ship that went down, actually, and the pirates treasure that you hear of a lot is pretty much emblematic of this one called the Whydah. It was pirate captain Sam Bellamy's ship, and it went down in 1717 off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It had literally chests of gold and jewels and things in it when it went down, but normally they pillaged sugar, rum, molasses, stuff that you could turn around, and sell in bulk to somebody in say, Port Royal or wherever.

Chuck Bryant: Right. So the Golden Age, I mentioned it was big for two reasons - that's what we think of when we think of pirates, because the Golden Age was so big and because of books like Treasure Island and Peter Pan. That's why we think of pirates as what you described earlier.

Josh Clark: It's like Santa Clause. Our conception of Santa Clause comes from a 1931 illustration from a guy who was paid by Coca Cola.

Chuck Bryant: Let's go over those real quick. The flag that you often think of!

Josh Clark: The Jolly Roger. Did you do any additional research on this?

Chuck Bryant: No. Did you?

Josh Clark: Tracy kind of traipsed around that one. It's a little sticky. This is definitely a family friendly article.

Chuck Bryant: Can we mention it?

Josh Clark: No, we can't, but anybody can type in "origins of Jolly Roger" in Google and find it themselves. We would bear no responsibility whatsoever for that.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. Well, that flag made its first appearance in the early 18th century. Before that - this is a little-known fact, by me at least - and this makes total sense - pirates would fly false colors to mislead other ships that they were dangerous. That makes total sense.

Josh Clark: Yeah. That's the smart thing to do. The Jolly Roger, which I also found out from this one, often had a skeleton, not just the skull and crossbones.

Chuck Bryant: Oh really?

Josh Clark: Sometimes it was a black flag with a white skeleton. It always struck me as weird because you're like, "I'm a pirate, and I'm coming after you," but it turns out they did do that purposely because in a lot of ways, the pirates were so feared, the ship would just be like, "Okay, you're a pirate. Take our stuff."

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Best-case scenario, what they want is for a ship to immediately surrender. That's what they're really looking for.

Josh Clark: Yeah. Then you get the cargo. You get whatever stuff is on board, money maybe.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. You get the crew.

Josh Clark: And you get the ship. Apparently, it wasn't hard to flip a crew over to piracy. I think there's a really thin line between legitimate seamen and a pirate during the Golden Age of piracy. If you captured a crew and said, "I need you guys," they say, "Okay."

Chuck Bryant: Or they probably said, "You have a couple of choices. You can be a pirate, or we can shoot you in the face, or maroon you on this island."

Josh Clark: I love that word.

Chuck Bryant: What, maroon?

Josh Clark: Yes. I think it's a great word. Of course, that means "to strand" on a deserted island. It doesn't really work if you drop them off in Haiti.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: But you find a deserted island, drop off the crew. Sometimes they would leave them with supplies. Other times they would leave them with nothing and just leave. It's pretty much a death sentence.

Chuck Bryant: Pretty much. The clothes you described, Josh, could've been real. They basically wore what people wore at the time, but a lot of times they would get the clothes that were maybe being shipped to wealthy people.

Josh Clark: Or the captain's clothes.

Chuck Bryant: Um hm. So they would have fine clothes, like the ruffled shirts and all that. Parrots! True or not true?

Josh Clark: I don't think it's true.

Chuck Bryant: Not necessarily, she says. They did capture parrots to sell them, but that's from Treasure Island basically. Hooks and pegs?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That happened. Do you know why?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Because being a pirate was dangerous.

Josh Clark: Yeah, okay.

Chuck Bryant: You get your arms and legs blown off many times, so though were probably some peg legs walking around, stumping around, but that was also from Captain Hook and Treasure Island. These things are fictional, but may or may not have happened. Flintlock pistols? They had those back then.

Josh Clark: That's true, but they didn't work very well at sea.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah because of the salt water, right?

Josh Clark: Uh huh.

Chuck Bryant: But they still used them when they could.

Josh Clark: At the very least, you could club somebody in the head with it.

Chuck Bryant: They're big. Then obviously along with the swords and daggers and stuff that you're familiar with!

Josh Clark: Right. And Chuck, we are focusing on the Golden Age of piracy. I think we should say one of the reasons that gave rise to it was the War of Spanish Succession.

Chuck Bryant: Right. What I was talking about with the privateers.

Josh Clark: Right. And that happened many, many times. The War of Spanish Succession gave rise to the Golden Age of piracy because there were so many privateers, but the United States used to give letters of mark to privateers that turned pirate. The British did it. It happened, I think, well into the 19th century. There were privateers turned pirates.

Chuck Bryant: Ah. Another falsehood: They are often depicted as steering these huge galleons. They would often attack these galleons, but a galleon isn't great if you're going to be a pirate because you want to get in and out. It's all about speed. In fact, modern pirates use speedboats mainly, which we'll get to in a minute. They usually used smaller sloops and schooners so they could get in and out quicker, but no less cool.

Josh Clark: Or they could've also used a brigantine.

Chuck Bryant: What's that?

Josh Clark: It's like a larger version of the schooner. It could hold about 150 men and probably about 30 cannons.

Chuck Bryant: Not bad.

Josh Clark: No. You could do some real damage with that.

Chuck Bryant: So what's life like on a boat, Josh?

Josh Clark: It's [censored].

Chuck Bryant: It is indeed, because they're not feasting on fine meals and drinking fine wines. I guess if they pillage some they could, but when that's gone, they're eating spoiled meat. They are eating water tainted with algae.

Josh Clark: Which you could eat, actually, if there's enough algae in it.

Chuck Bryant: Drank it. They ate their water with a fork. That's how bad it was. And they ate sometimes called hardtack. I never heard of that.

Josh Clark: Do know what another word for hardtack is?

Chuck Bryant: What?

Josh Clark: Sea biscuit.

Chuck Bryant: Really? Is that where that comes from?

Josh Clark: Yep.

Chuck Bryant: I'm learning all kinds of things. That's like a really hard cracker. They took that out to sea because it didn' t spoil as fast.

Josh Clark: Yeah, but I bet it was hell on teeth.

Chuck Bryant: Well, yah. They also said when you're out to sea that long, it's got weevils crawling around. That's gross.

Josh Clark: Yeah, so you're not exactly happy. Probably after a couple of days of eating hardtack and spoiled meat, you are really ready to go butcher a crew to get your hands on their food.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: I imagine that you had no trouble persuading your crew to go after each and every ship you came upon.

Chuck Bryant: I would. Think so. You know how they did that? Do you want to talk about how they did their thing?

Josh Clark: Yeah. Let's talk about that.

Chuck Bryant: Usually at night, they would sneak up on the stern side. They would throw up the grappling hooks, and climb aboard, and try to get them to surrender as quickly as possible.

Josh Clark: Like you said, the ideal confrontation was one where the other ship just gave up immediately without a fight. Sometimes that didn't work, so they would have to fight. Did you say grappling hooks?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Grappling hooks to get up.

Josh Clark: So they'd board. You'd want to keep your ship out of cannon fire range, so you would just get in a few boats and row over to it and then climb aboard. Then the massacre would begin.

Chuck Bryant: Right, if not a surrender, then the massacre would begin. They would disable the rudder too, which I didn't know, which is pretty smart. Straightway so they couldn't steer away or anything like that.

Josh Clark: Right. But you could still tow it, I would imagine. Or fix it.

Chuck Bryant: I guess the ideal situation is to get the boat. That's why they didn't want to bombard them with cannon fire. You want to take the boat and everything it's got on it in one piece.

Josh Clark: Plus, even if you don't intend to take the boat, you don't want to sink it before you can get to the cargo.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. But there was cannon fire that did happen when all else failed.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: I think Tracy said they also fired grape shot. Have you ever heard of that? What are those, like small little cannonballs?

Josh Clark: It looks like a bunch of grapes, actually.

Chuck Bryant: And they would spew out like a shotgun?

Josh Clark: Yeah. I think so. Or else they were molded together. I think they do spit out like a shotgun, but they were that big around.

Chuck Bryant: Like spray.

Josh Clark: You're in trouble if somebody hits you with grapeshot. Actually, they would go for the guy at the wheel, was their first shot if they shot at the other ship.

Chuck Bryant: The guy steering.

Josh Clark: Apparently, when they did capture crew, if they weren't in the mood to turn them, there were several things they could do aboard the high seas. One thing I read about was they would tie somebody to the mast and just throw broken bottles at them until they got bored with that.

Chuck Bryant: That's fun.

Josh Clark: That was one thing.

Chuck Bryant: Keel hauling.

Josh Clark: This sounds awful.

Chuck Bryant: Keel hauling is when they tied a rope - they were big on the rope - and they would throw you overboard and drag you under the keel of the boat, which pretty much means you drowned.

Josh Clark: And along the way, you were cut up by the barnacles that were stuck to the ship.

Chuck Bryant: They would do this to their own guys. There was a strict code on the boat with the crew, and if you disobeyed the code, you would be treated just like the enemy would be.

Josh Clark: One thing that is fiction is walking the plank, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: I did not know that either. This is like the totem pole. I'm learning.

Josh Clark: The low man on the totem pole.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. That's all just made up for books, right? Walking the plank?

Josh Clark: Yep.

Chuck Bryant: That's disappointing.

Josh Clark: Let's see what else. Tracy made a really excellent point that I hadn't thought of, but if you have two ships and they're the same type of ship, how does one catch the other if you're using sails and oars? Same number of oars, same wind? Apparently, if you were a decent pirate, you would beat your ship every once in a while and clean off the hull, clean the barnacles off the hull to make it slide through a lot faster. Remember when we were talking about ships that are being outfitted with that ooze that resembles a pilot whale skin?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: The pilot whales keep barnacles off, and the aim of the ooze is to keep barnacles off these ships.

Chuck Bryant: So they can go more efficiently.

Josh Clark: And go faster. I think it was going to cut fuel consumption by 20 percent. So that is how you would catch up to somebody else. You could also offload cargo, store it, maybe bury it in North Carolina.

Chuck Bryant: Got you. That is an interesting point. I never thought about that.

Josh Clark: Thank you.

Chuck Bryant: Because they have the same wind.

Josh Clark: Hat's right.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. Are we done with old pirates?

Josh Clark: It seems like it.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. Modern times?

Josh Clark: Yeah. There was a lull between the 19th century and the 21st century really. All of a sudden, we have pirates again.

Chuck Bryant: I mean, there was probably a little pirating here and there.

Josh Clark: Not like we've been seeing lately.

Chuck Bryant: One could almost call this the second golden age of piracy, Josh.

Josh Clark: If one were so inclined.

Chuck Bryant: Do you know why it is flourishing again?

Josh Clark: Economy.

Chuck Bryant: Much for the same reasons that it flourished back then. Economy is bad. Ship masters have been reluctant to report them.

Josh Clark: Who?

Chuck Bryant: Ship masters. Ship masters are reluctant to report the attacks because it can take a long time, be expensive, and hold them up, so they'll just let it go undone. Because of the economy, they're staffing ships with smaller crews.

Josh Clark: The vast majority of modern pirate attacks are happening in the Gulf of Aiden, and they are being undertaken by Somali pirates. One of the reasons the pirates are getting away with it is because Somali is, as far as I know, the one nation on the entire planet that doesn't have a functioning central government. It's truly lawless. Great place for pirates to hang out!

Chuck Bryant: I would say so. They're land-based these days.

Josh Clark: They're hugging shore more.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but they have their operations based on land.

Josh Clark: Oh, right. Well, I mean, they did the same thing during other ages of piracy, like the buccaneers all hung out in Port Royal.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, they did?

Josh Clark: Yeah. The other reason the Gulf of Aiden is such a hot spot for piracy, apparently ten percent, or 11 percent of all the world's oil goes through the Gulf of Aiden, which is a relatively narrow stretch between the Middle East and North Africa, northeastern Africa. It's 250 miles wide, and it's like that for 900 miles, so it's like a bottle neck.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. You're trapped.

Josh Clark: Then you're going right alongside the only country on the planet without a functioning central government.

Chuck Bryant: There you have it.

Josh Clark: I think eight percent of all of the good shipped globally go through the Gulf of Aiden as well. There's a lot of cash that flows through that gulf.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. So you know how they operate nowadays?

Josh Clark: I do.

Chuck Bryant: Kind of just like they used to.

Josh Clark: Except with rocket-propelled grenades.

Chuck Bryant: They have RPGs, but they will do the same thing. They will get a smaller boat, faster boat. They will sneak up on the stern in the dead of night with their grappling hooks, and board the ship. Of course, now they have a crew of - like the one incident earlier this year was six or eight guys, wasn't it?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So not as hard to overtake a ship these days when you have machine guns and RPGs and a crew of six that you have to overtake.

Josh Clark: Are you talking about the Maersk Alabama?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: The one where the Navy came in, and the snipers killed the guys?

Chuck Bryant: He did a little two tap?

Josh Clark: I would imagine so, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: But they're not after cargo, which I didn't know.

Josh Clark: It depends.

Chuck Bryant: I guess it does, but Tracy made the point that they can't overtake these huge cargo ships because they don't have the means to get rid of all that stuff, so they're usually after smaller equipment on the boat, personal loot, and sometimes they carry a lot of money in safes.

Josh Clark: I found it interesting, because I think she wrote this in 2005, maybe 2006, and it seems like 2007 or 2008 was when things really changed. Remember the cargo ship filled with Russian tanks that was held?

Chuck Bryant: Uh huh.

Josh Clark: The tanker filled with oil that was held, so they are going after the cargo now. They're just holding it for ransom. They're not trying to fence it. You can't fence 100 Russian tanks or a container ship full of oil, but you can hold it hostage and get money. You can hold it ransom and get money to release it. That's what they've been doing successfully.

Chuck Bryant: I never followed up, but I remember hearing about a couple that was sailing around the world. They were kidnapped by pirates. I read something in the New York Times. That was this year, I think, but I never found out what happened to them, like a wealthy couple.

Josh Clark: Do you remember that guy that had a walk-on part on? I don't remember what he was, but he was on "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers." He killed some couple for their yacht.

Chuck Bryant: This wasn't him.

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: He wasn't a pirate. He was a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger.

Josh Clark: Chuck, let's say we are aboard a cargo ship filled with oil and pirates are heading our way with RPGs, rocket launchers, AK-47s, what do we do?

Chuck Bryant: If you see them headed, I'm not really sure. I know what you can do beforehand. You can not discuss your route while you're in port. Don't go to the bar and say, "We've got a shipment of diamonds. We're going to be taking them through the Straits of Hormuz.

Josh Clark: That was the jackass shipmate who has a loud mouth. That was a perfect impression. You know what? I'll bet that rule of thumb goes back to the Lucca.

Chuck Bryant: I bet so.

Josh Clark: You just keep your mouth shut.

Chuck Bryant: We've learned that a lot on this show.

Josh Clark: I know.

Chuck Bryant: If only we could. Keep constant watch, obviously. Have someone up in - what's it called? - the crow's nest looking out. Avoid bottle necks, which unfortunately with that one route you're talking about it: sounds like it's hard to do, if not impossible.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Search your ship. Make sure no one is stowing away. Sometimes pirates will already be there as stowaways.

Josh Clark: It's like, "Surprise!"

Chuck Bryant: Call for help. I think there's systems now that monitors where your boats are if you're a cargo boat.

Josh Clark: Shiplock.

Chuck Bryant: What do they do?

Josh Clark: It's like LoJack for your ship.

Chuck Bryant: Okay. There you have it.

Josh Clark: If you do see some pirates coming aboard, if you ever happen to find yourself commanding an oil tanker and you see pirates coming toward you, you do call for help, as Chuck said. You also want to sound your alarm, turn on your lights. You want the pirates to know that you've seen them so there's no element of surprise.

Chuck Bryant: Maybe it would scare them off.

Josh Clark: It may actually deter their attack because you're a huge cargo ship, and they're five guys. A lot of ships, especially tankers, have their own fire hoses, like the big kind. You can spray guys as they try to come up the side of the ship.

Chuck Bryant: The big kind. Not like, just don't put your thumb over the end.

Josh Clark: A garden hose, yeah. If you aren't transporting oil or any kind of flammable material, there's actually a new kind of technology that electrifies the hull.

Chuck Bryant: I heard about that.

Josh Clark: The guy tries to climb up, he's like, "Eee."

Chuck Bryant : Surprise. That'd be awesome.

Josh Clark: Oh, it would be.

Chuck Bryant: Dude, if I had that system, I would go through the shipping channel you're talking about. I would camp out in a lawn chair.

Josh Clark: You'd just eat donuts in the Gulf of Aiden.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Just smoke a cigar and crack a beer and be like, "Come and get it." So that's pirates. Is that it? That's it, isn't it?

Josh Clark: I'm sure that's not it at all. It's the tip of the iceberg. Even as far as Tracy's article goes, there's still more we didn't touch on. It's such a rich, beautiful history of Buccaneers, and Corsairs, and swashbuckling, etc.

Chuck Bryant: And we're not touching on film and TV at all because if we mention 100 pirate things, we would get an email saying, "I can't believe you didn't mention Pirate X from Movie XYZ.

Josh Clark: Actually, there's a little graph Tracy had made for this article. It's our ten favorite pirates, but we're just going to break the news that this is Tracy's ten favorite pirates.

Chuck Bryant: Who's her favorite? I didn't see that. Black Beard?

Josh Clark: Black Beard's No. 1 for historical pirates. Then for fiction, Dread Pirate Roberts.

Chuck Bryant: Who's that?

Josh Clark: The guy from "Princess Bride."

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark: And the guy from "Firefly" is in there too.

Chuck Bryant: I like Jack Sparrow. Those movies weren't the best ever, but he was pretty awesome.

Josh Clark: We just fell in to what you said we weren't going to do.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but come on.

Josh Clark: Well, we welcome your emails. We'll give you the email address you can send your angry pirate emails to in a second.

Chuck Bryant: Let me say this. No email with multiple arrs will be read or answered.

Josh Clark: As a matter of fact, I think we should set up a spam filter. If arr appears in the email, it automatically deletes it. We don't even see it. If you want to learn more about pirates, type that word in - pirate, pirates, something like that - into the handy search bar at www.HowStuffWorks.com. That means it's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: Yes indeed, Josh. Today we have a listener mail I m going to call "Jeri Was Amazed by This Email."

Josh Clark: Awesome.

Chuck Bryant: I was too. "Hey guys. I was listening to your podcast on hostage negotiation, and you had a little back and forth at about the ten-minute mark that made me laugh a little bit."

Josh Clark: This isn't the one, is it?

Chuck Bryant: This is the one. Should we play that now?

Josh Clark: Let's. I love doing that.

Chuck Bryant: It's usually just a regular-old domestic scene. The worst ones are those you see on the news where you see some dude's got a baby acting as a human shield.

Josh Clark: Who does that?

Chuck Bryant: You've never seen that?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Man, it's the worst. Watch some of those cop shows.

Josh Clark: A baby as a human shield?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: They've got a gun to the baby's head?

Chuck Bryant: The dad is out of his mind and on drugs or something, and he'll have his baby. It's just the worst thing in the world to watch unfold. Josh, this is from Danny. This is what Danny had to say about that.

Josh Clark: This is the one.

Chuck Bryant: "In 1987, I was one of those babies. We were living in Queens, New York at the time, and my father barricaded himself in our top-floor apartment for hours. He was holding me and threatening to jump out the window with me in his arms if the police got too close. He didn't have any elaborate demands other than not wanting my mother to take me away from him in a custody dispute. The police used a negotiator to try and distract him so the SWAT team could do their thing, but they deemed it too risky to try an assault with him dangling me out the window," like Michael Jackson did. That's not in there. I just threw that in. "Eventually, the negotiator started playing to his religious beliefs," good tactic, "and got him to let a priest come into the apartment. They were finally able to take him down without brute force. You can imagine how much I appreciate the art of hostage negotiation." No kidding, Danny. "The story made the cover of very New York newspaper that day, and I have all of them saved. Odd souvenirs, I guess. Thanks for the great show." I couldn't believe this happened to Danny. I wrote him back and asked what happened to his dad, and I have not heard back from him, so I'm not really sure. Dude, Danny, I'm glad you're around, man.

Josh Clark: I am too. That's just mind-boggling actually. It turns out people do use babies as human shields.

Chuck Bryant: And they listen to Stuff You Should Know 20 years on.

Josh Clark: That's crazy. If you have an absolutely nutty, mind-boggling, real-life story, Chuck, Jeri, and I are always interested in those.

Chuck Bryant: If you're a Somali pirate and you listen to the show.

Josh Clark: Let us see your view. We don't hear your view very often here in the west, so let us know what life is like for you. Somali pirate, human shield, or anything else, let us know. Send in an email to StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com.

Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit www.HowStuffWorks.com. Want more How Stuff Works? Check out our blogs on the www.HowStuffWorks.com home page.

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