Kestrel's 7th Sea site > The Black Pearl

What kind of ship is the Black Pearl?

Silver-Gateway note: This is a copy of the page as archived on the Wayback Machine on 23 Dec 2008. I did this because I felt the information was too valuable to let it fade away, and if the original owners ask I will remove it. I take no credit for any of the content of this page. All content from here down is from (except for updated links), and first person references are to the original writer, not anyone associated with I did take the liberty of pulling the photo of the Lady Washington out from behind a link and putting her on the page -- she's too lovely a lady to hide ;-).

[What kind of ship is the Black Pearl?]

The following essay was written and all material scanned by mirshanndstree. (Her FanFiction site) I am happy to have permission to host the information on this site.

There have been many debates concerning exactly what kind of the ship the Black Pearl is. It's obvious that she is some kind of hybrid, dreamed up by the creators of PotC, and yet such a simple explanation simply isn't enough for us rabid fans.

Many have stated that she is a bark (or barque), but that's too simple a description. The title "bark" in reality only refers to the style of rigging: typically three-masted, but square-rigged only on the fore and main mast (the first two masts). On the mizzen-mast, or the last mast, it is gaff-rigged; that is to say, the sails run along the length of the ship, instead of the width. Like this:


However, in the images seen of the Pearl, it is plain that she is not gaff-rigged on the mizzenmast -- she is square-rigged, as can be seen on these two beautiful screenshots (click for larger images):

[Pearl 1] [Pearl 2]

In these pictures it's easy to see that the mizzen-mast is square-rigged. So, would that make her a full rigged ship? Perhaps so -- but then again, the definition of a full rigged ship is "square rigged on all (three or more) masts plus a gaff sail on the mizzen mast". And no gaff sail on the mizzenmast can been seen in either image.

So, at the very least, we can leave it at the fact that the Pearl is most likely a full-rigged ship. But what about the lovely style of her body? She's obviously quite large; she was nearly half-again the size of the Interceptor, if not twice as big. She's quite heavily ornamented, compared to sparse beauty of the Interceptor; and if her sails weren't in tatters, she'd carry a lot of canvas. The Interceptor had only one gun deck; the Pearl had at least two, plus an excess of oars (never really had a chance to try and count them). Just from that information alone, it's obvious that the Black Pearl was built with destruction in mind.

[Lady Washington] She is a warship; and not just any warship, but most likely a galleon. Now, not all galleons were particularly large -- take the Golden Hind (the first English galleon to circumnavigate the world), for instance, which was only 86 feet long from the bowsprit and displaced 100 tons. The Interceptor -- played by the Lady Washington (lovely image on the right, which I got from this entertaining site) -- is 112 feet long from the bowsprit and displaced 195 tons.

A good description of a galleon is this:

"The term 'galleon' first appeared in the 12th-century Annali Genovesi and was applied to a minor galley driven by 60-80 oars that was used for reconnaissance duty. The real galleon emerged in the course of the 16th century as a development of the galley. It was to combine the greater manoeuvrability of the galley with the requirements of long-distance sailing.

"The galleon was larger than the carrack, the outstanding 15th-century sailing vessel (Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria, was a carrack). The galleon was three times as long as it was wide, and the beam was two times its height. The bow of the galleon was still reminiscent of the galley, but the galley's long ram was modified. It was no longer an offensive weapon by provided support for the bowsprit. The sterncastle and forecastle were tall structures with two or more decks. The quarterdeck was elaborately decorated with wooden statues and allegorical figures, sometimes running the length of the quarterdeck as far as the mainmast.

"There were eight or ten gunports on the main deck for smaller pieces of artillery, and seven or eight cannons were installed on the upper stern decks. The main deck was not the most important, even though it was there that the complex manoeuvres and rigging took place. The next deck down was more important. It was there that the heavy artillery was installed, obviously with the intent of giving the ship a better distribution of weight.

"A 16th-century galleon was about 130 feet long and more than 30 feet at the beam. Minor galleons had three masts and greater sail surface. The foremast carried three square sails. The lowest of these three sails was the largest and served to balance the mainsail. The mainmast also carried three square sails, while the mizzenmast carried a triangular lanteen sail below and a square top-sail." (pg 71, Rand McNally: Sailing Ships)

But galleons were meant for carrying cargo, most say. Not so; the galleon was originally built as a warship, which made them the perfect ships to carry and guard the expansive treasures of the Spanish Main. After all, what fool would put hundreds of thousands of pieces of gold on a ship and not have that ship heavily armed? The Mayflower, for instance, was a style of galleon (though incredibly small -- only 65 feet long), as were the English ships that defeated the Spanish Armada in the late 1500's (like the Ark Royal, the Revenge, and the Victory; English galleons, all). Fully loaded, a galleon would no doubt be incredibly sluggish, as the Spanish galleons were said to be -- but laden with only the regular cargo and the compliment of sailors, they would no doubt fly.

Take these images, for example (again, click for larger images).

[Santa Maria] This is the Santa Maria, less that 100 feet long and carried (at a max) only forty men. Though the Santa Maria was actually a caravel, the unarmed or lightly armed version of the carrack, it's easy to see that the body of this ship is quite similar to the Black Pearl, or to that of a standard galleon.
[Couronne] And this ship is the French galleon Couronne, launched in 1636, and in my opinion this one looks the closest to what we could see of the Pearl during the movie. She was a bit smaller than the Lowe, at 150 feet, but could carry up to 638 men -- half again what the Lowe could carry. But again, even a ship this size could be piloted by a fairly small skeleton crew -- the standard compliment of British ships consisted of four watches (which would be more than a skeleton crew each -- at least 30 men for 4 watches totals 120 men at the smallest), and the rest of the men were mostly soldiers. 638 men on the Couronne would be incredibly cramped. This one, however, is full-rigged, whereas the Lowe has a lanteen-sail on the mizzenmast. As stated before, it's not easy to tell whether or not the Black Pearl has a squaresail or a lanteen-sail on the mizzenmast.

It is seen that many galleons carried a lateen sail on the mizzenmast; if the Pearl does, it can't be seen. But the state of the sails, the heavy decorations, the gun decks, the oars? With as much canvas as a galleon would carry, if she was built light and thin she would go fast. The English galleons were said to be the most mobile of their heavily armed warships -- after all, it was the English galleon that defeated the Spanish Armada, because the Spanish galleons were too large and sluggish to defend themselves well.

So, just what have I managed to discover from all of this research? That the basis for the Pearl was probably some kind of small man o' war/ship of the line/galleon, though otherwise she is indeed the figment of someone else's imagination -- and that I really do need to find better things to do with my time.

The copyright remains exclusively with the copyright owners.

Return to Kestrel's 7th Sea