On Ships and Nautical Affairs: Ship Categories

So I have decided to start a blog series in which I would love to share what I’ve learned about 17th, 18th, and even 19th-century ships and sailing throughout my writing endeavors thus far. Periodically, I’ll post about a particular aspect of ships and life at sea. If you have a particular topic or question, feel free to contact me and ask!

As a writer, it’s good practice to research the reality of setting, culture, and elements of a place and time in order to build the world within the story. Even fantasy and sci-fi has to use elements of reality to be believable and draw the reader in. Amethyst is heavily based off of late 17th and early 18th-century pirates and sea-life, so there was much research needed.

To start, I’ve learned more than I can probably use concerning the different types of ships and ship terminology. It’s all fantastic, and also begs the question of what my readers will know and understand and how much explaining I should do. But aside from that, it’s been an adventure and one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Within Amethyst, the primary ship-types used within the categories of merchantmen, warships, and pirate brigs are: brig, lugger, schooner, fluyt, xebec (or chebec), pinnace, frigate, and ballinger, with ideas derived also from what was called a fire ship. So what does that even mean?

Well for the categories, a merchantman is, in essence, a cargo ship or any ship used by merchants for the transport and trade of merchandise. Merchants were essential for the transport of people, weapons, goods, etc. not only in our world’s history but also in Aseath (Amethyst‘s world). Merchantmen usually were larger ships with multiple full decks and at least two masts with either fore and aft rigging, square rigging, or some combination of both. (For details on rigging, see my next article which I will link to soon :)) They were designed to carry maximum goods while also having minimum crew to man the ship and often were not well armed either which made them relatively easy targets for pirates, depending on the size. During the Golden Age of Piracy (from mid-17th century through early 18th century), merchantmen would often carry guns to protect the cargo, but only the largest ships, such as the galleon, were typically avoided by pirates.

Warships, in contrast, and as their name suggests, were designed specifically for war and less for cargo. They still had enough room for provisions for the crew, but the primary focus was on guns and ammunition. Not only were they designed to be faster, but also to sustain more damage from other ships and were a formidable enemy. Typically, pirates would avoid a warship since there was a slim chance the pirates would gain anything and would most likely be defeated. The only recorded times a pirate crew gained a warship was when said ship was docked at port and the men aboard were not prepared for an attack, but these occurrences were rare. However, if a pirate could capture a warship, he would for the advantage he would gain on his endeavors at sea.

Finally, pirate brigs (another term for ship), were simply any ship that had been commandeered (or captured) by a pirate crew. Pirates often went for ships that were low-profile and fast for two purposes: one, to overcome slower merchant vessels, and two for fast escapes. Pirate vessels also often relied on both sails and oars together which gave them that speed advantage pirates were looking for. As time wore on and warships advanced in design and formidability, pirates sought out ships with both speed and gun-power but mostly continued to rely on their ability to escape and hide from being caught. Pirates would paint their ships grey or blue as a form of camouflage.

There are other types of ships and ship purposes, such as whaling vessels, but the above are the most common and the primary ships I’ve researched and used.

In upcoming articles, I’ll explain different rigging, and what that means and also go into more details about specific ships within the above categories. See y’all next time!



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