Thursday, November 18, 2010

Avast! Ye Scurvy Dogs

So, on Facebook I mentioned how I now know entirely way too much about 15th century sailing vessels. This is all due to the exhaustive research I've done in service to a scene I'm writing for the novel. Two of my chapters take place aboard a haunted pirate ship called the Ship O' Fools. In the video game, the ship is a blocky huge monstrosity that is never fully identified. All we know is that it is a pirate ship -- you really can't infer much else from the 2D levels and antiquated sprites.

So from this I had to extrapolate based on history what kind of pirate ship would be floating around the waters of the Mediterranean or Black seas circa the late 15th century. After looking at a tremendous number of ships (at one point I chose a Spanish galleon, although those didn't hit the scene until 200 years later), I finally settled on a carrack, or "nau" as it is called in Portuguese. What it has going for it is that it's huge (500 tons, 54 meters long), with 7 decks and around 35 cannon; it was in use around the time period my novel takes place; and more importantly it sailed many waters, including the Med and Black seas. I couldn't find much info on pirate naus, but I figured one could have theoretically been commandeered by pirates and then met an unfortunate end that "cursed" its crew.

So, with my historically accurate vessel picked out, I then had to learn everything I could about the layout and basic nautical terms of the ship. Wow, what an education I got! I scoured all over for sources other than Wikipedia (I hate that site!) and learned a ton of interesting stuff. Basic stuff that even the most amateur sailor already knows. Like the difference between a forecastle and an aftcastle. What a capstan is, or a bowsprit. That the three masts for my particular ship are: the foremast, the main mast, and the mizzenmast. What the heck the term "abaft" means, or "athwarthship". Where the quarterdeck is located, or that those funny net looking things leading up to the crow's nest are called "shrouds."

Armed with a wealth of knowledge (of which I'll probably only end up using less than 10%), I set about last night to start the first of the two chapters. Most of the writing centered around my three characters rowing a dinghy out to the haunted vessel, and a flashback of sorts being retold. I haven't started writing what happens once they get on the ship yet, though. That will be for tonight's session. But I did leave off with the trio having to climb up the hawsepipe to venture aboard, since none of the crew are around to hoist the dinghy up onto the main deck. All in all, I wrote an additional 2,050 words in the space of two hours. Not bad.

I'm really loving the way this novel is starting to take shape. I can't believe how much fun I'm still having. It really feels like I'm along for the adventure, waiting to see what happens next to my slowly developing characters. Sometimes I forget that I'm only writing a practice novel that will never see publication. Yes, it might seem like a waste of time to some, but for me I'm getting so much invaluable writing experience.

And, hey, it's my time to waste. So there!


  1. OK, David, you just had to go and put my pirate ship to shame, didn't you? ;D

    Nice going. I hope you are able to get enough info to bring the feel of the ship alive for the reader. That was a big thing for me when I got my MC aboard a battleship. Glad you are still having fun with it!

  2. I'm trying my best, Ian. Since the scene is being told mostly from the POV of a landlubber, I'm let off the hook a little with having to use the exact terminology in my descriptions. But one of the other characters is a pirate captain, so he damn well has to know what he's talking about when he speaks.

  3. oh I love the sounds of a haunted vessel - getting interested already


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