Sunday, August 30, 2015

Notes on the Florida Keys - Part 3

Chapter 3: Privateers

James Wimble
  • Born 1697
  • Built his own vessel with the help of friends and sailed from England to the West Indies. Lost his ship upon arrival.
  • Became a trader between American colonies and West Indies
  • Did this for 15 years. Got married, bought a distillery, had 5 kids, bought land in the Bahamas and North Carolina.
  • 1730 - Names 128 ton brigantine after his wife Rebecca
  • December 1731 - Rebecca (the ship) severely damaged in a storm
    • Stops in Bahamas to make repairs
    • Governor of the Bahamas refuses to let him leave. Orders Wimble and Rebecca into government service for the Bahamas to protect workers on the salt ponds against Spanish raids.
    • New Providence customs also fines him 200 pounds.
  • August 1732 - Hurricane hurled Rebecca ashore on Rum Cay and broke her to pieces
  • Attempts to get compensation from Bahamanian gov't for loss of ship. Fails repeatedly.
  • 1733 - Heavily in debt but partners with 3 other men to buy land near the mouth of Cape Fear River in North Carolina for a settlement. Uses funds from this to go back to sea as a trader.
  • 1735 - Says the Spanish have "taken" him 7 times. Unclear if this means just his cargo or his ship too.
  • 1739 - His wife is now dead. England has declared war against Spain and denied reimbursing him for Rebecca three times. Still heavily in debt. Decides to become a privateer.
  • 1741 - Takes command of an 18 gunner. Names it Revenge.
  • 1742 - Runs Revenge onto a reef in the Bahamas. Loses ship. Returns to New Providence. Acquires another ship. Names it Revenge again. Gets into a fight with the Spanish. A piece of chain shot (two cannon balls linked by chain) severed Wimble's left arm five inches below the shoulder. Wimble manages to conceal the loss of his arm until he passes out from blood loss. Recovers in 2 months and is back out to sea but only has a crew of 18.
  • July 14th, 1742 - Sees a Spanish privateer. Outnumbered 4 to 1. Engages. "For an hour and a half, the two exchanged cannon and musket fire at point blank range, variously reported as twenty feet to thirty yards. The Spaniards attempted to board the Revenge several times but were beaten back." "Taking a crowbar in his one hand, he [Wimble] leveled each of the guns as they were loaded. His well aimed shots killed the Spanish captain and thirty of his crewmen." Has 10 Spanish prisoners onboard. Prisoners break free during the fight. Prisoners recaptured. In the end, the Revenge was struck 120 times by cannon/musket. No crew killed or wounded. After two hours of fighting though, neither side was victorious. Stalemate.
  • 1743 - Joins forces with another privateer named Revenge. Capture a frigate loaded with sugar, mahogany, cotton, ivory, ginger and ammo.
  • November 1743 - Runs aground on rocks off the coast of Hispaniola. Dies.

In 1778, two American privateers chased the British ship Mary onto the reef off Cape Florida, where she was lost.

A prize master was a mariner qualified to serve as master and navigator of captured vessels for the purpose of bringing them back to an American port.

The thirty ton vessel was loaded with twenty thousand staves and headings (used to make barrels) and manned by a crew of five.

Thomas Boyle - captain of Comet

Armed with 16 12 pounder long guns, she was 116 feet and manned by a crew of 150 officers and men.

He also modified his masts and spars so that he could change his rig from schooner to brig, or brigantine, to deceive the enemy.

Suddenly, not three but ten gun ports in the schooner's side opened and erupted fire. A full broadside of grape and round shot struck the Chasseur with such force that she heeled over. A large number of men who had been concealed behind the schooner's bulwarks rose and began firing with muskets.

Just as the first man leaped aboard the British schooner her flag came down. In an unprecedented action lasting only 15 minutes, an American privateer had defeated a British man-of-war, His Britannic Majesty's Schooner St. Lawrence. Ironically, St. Lawrence was a former American privateer which had been captured by the British and refitted as a warship.

The St. Lawrence lost six men killed and 17 wounded, three of them mortally, and all her officers were among the dead and wounded.

Part 1 Seagoing Natives and Intro
Part 2 Castaways

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Notes on the Florida Keys - Part 2

Notes from "True Stories of the Perilous Straits" Chapter 2: Castaways (Chapter 1 is here)



A band of natives met the soldiers, told them that they were friends of Governor Menendez, and invited them into their huts. They gave the soldiers fish to eat and water to drink, but when the soldiers were relaxed, they attacked them with clubs and spears. 1577, when two Spanish vessels from Havana wrecked at the head of the Keys, the natives killed all the survivors except two they held for ransom.

..."build a colony of friends in a place of great importance where, even while remaining savages, they have contributed many times to the saving of shipwrecked Spaniards and as a scourge for the enemy (the English)."

cargo of logwood

arms, ammunition, provisions, and sails to make tents

Their spirits soared when they saw the English colors displayed in one of the canoes, but then sank a short while later when they realized the paddlers were Native Americans, not Englishmen.

The natives in one of the canoes paddled after Hammon, hauled him aboard, beat him mercilessly with a cutlass, and then tied him up. Having plundered the sloop of everything they wanted, the natives set it on fire, howling and yelling as the flames leapt into the rigging.

One day as he was walking in the city, a Spanish navy press gang seized him.

The war was known as the War of Jenkin's Ear because of an incident that took place in 1731. A guarda-costa vessel stopped and boarded a British merchant ship whose captain's name was Robert Jenkins. The guarda-costa crew tortured Jenkins to find out where he had hidden his money by alternately hanging him and then cutting him down before he died. In the end, they spared his life but cut off his ear. Supposedly, when Jenkins told his story and displayed his withered ear before Parliament, the ministry was forced by popular outrage to declare war against Spain.

...fourty-four gun frigate... with a crew of 200 men and a captured Spanish ship in tow....

But before the frigate gained headway on the opposite tack, the stern struck, and in rapid succession, the tiller snapped, the rudder broke and water started flooding into the hold.

...a series of large swells threw the frigate violently against the coral heads and stove in the bottom planks. the bread and the...gunpowder.

the reef of the Martyrs

As the sloop disappeared over the horizon, with the ships' boats in pursuit, crewmen set to work cutting holes in the frigate's decks to gain access to her stores of water and provisions.

Each year from August to March, fleets of Cuban fishermen came to the Keys and the southwest coats of Florida to fish and to salt and dry their catches on shore.

...catch turtles, cut hardwood timber, and salvage wrecks.

When two Spanish mail ships wrecked off Key Largo in 1794, Bahamian wreckers plundered the ships while the crews were still onboard and demanded an exorbitant fee to carry the crews back to Havana.

...with a sailor holding up a blanket as a sail, the raft drifted slowly away from the wreck.

One of the seamen attached his red neckcloth to an oar and waved it overhead, but the sloops, having sighted the wreck, changed course to investigate it.

Not long before, he said, the crew of a Spanish fishing vessel wrecked in the Keys had overpowered their Bahamian rescuers, seized their vessel, and taken it to Cuba.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Notes on the Florida Keys - Part 1

Last year, while in Key West, I picked up a couple of locally written history books by John Viele on the Florida Keys. There were three volumes, but I skipped the first one on Pioneers of the keys and grabbed "True Stories of the Perilous Straits" and "The Wreckers". I've wanted to do a thing about shipwrecks for a long time, and I thought those two volumes would be much more relevant to my interests.

Over the next few days I'm going to post my notes from each chapter. Mostly all are just quick quotes of names, item lists, gameable or interesting concepts, and potential conflict drivers. My commentary is in brackets.

Normally I'd plan to do a single big distillation post of the whole book, and then get overwhelmed and never finish it. So this time, you'll get a chapter by chapter note dump. But first, a few of the really interesting concepts that I picked up from reading the book:

  1. Captains ordering the crew to damage the ship. I never think of this and can't really think of it being depicted in any recent movies/shows/books, but it's a very important tool. In a bad storm, chop down the mast. If you've got more mutinous prisoners than you can handle, cut holes in the deck and chain their legs from below. If you need to get into a wreck just cut a hole! Or burn the boat to the waterline.
  2. At this moment I'm thinking that all the "romance" associated with the age of sail should be associated with Privateers and not Pirates. Pirates really are just awful awful criminal thugs. Raping and killing and crucifying people on the masts. The Privateers are the held in check slightly by a code and have more of the roguish swagger and clever flair. I'd associate privateers with a god of mischief (potentially bloody mischief) where as pirates would stick with a god of death.
  3. It's ALL about trade. It's all about the cargo. When pirates took a ship, cargo was the first priority. THEN they'd roll around and rob and kill their prisoners.
  4. Ships hauling other ships. Convoys. Groups. I always think of ships from the perspective of Pequod. A solo hunter in the empty ocean. That may be where the adventurers are, but the rest of the world is busy with flotillas and privateers hauling captured prize sloops back to their port.
  5. Hire the natives. They're better at diving for treasure than you. They make excellent guides. They know where the fresh water is! And if you convert them to your religion, then they may save your dudes when they wreck.
  6. Stove wood. This should have been obvious, but once again I never think about it. It's kinda boring, but it's such an excellent resource need to drive potential conflict. "Shit, we need fresh water and more stove wood". "We have to stop or the guys are going to start getting sick 'cause they're getting cold, but this island looks dangerous..." I may just be really lame, but I like to start adventures off with the common, mundane, "normal" and then ramp up the weird and fantastic.
Ivan Aivazovsky - The Lifting Storm

Notes from Chapter 1: Seagoing Natives

The rich cargoes of this traffic soon attracted pirates and privateers , and, as ships piled up on the reef in ever increasing numbers, salvage hunters (or, as they came to be known, wreckers).

native treasure divers [a table of treasure divers]

hollowed out canoes ranging in length from ten to forty or more feet [how convenient]

natives routinely made coastal voyages of several hundred miles in their dugouts

The friar urged the King to authorize missions to the Indians, arguing that their conversion to Christianity would help save the lives of cast away seamen.

"harvest of souls"

Key of Bones

the chief of the Key of Bones

The captain... anchored well off shore because of his fear of these Indians.

building a combined house and church for themselves

When the friars attempted to invade the Indians' temple in order to destroy their idols, the Indians drove the friars away with blows and threats to kill them.

provisions, clothing, religious items and other supplies

jugs of honey, wine and sugar

four or five sacks of maize, one sack of biscuit, and a little box of religious books




Instead of going directly to Key Carlos, Romero, apparently more interested in fishing than in delivering messages, went to the Keys.

On December 29, four weeks after they left Key Carlos, the friars and Esteva were rescued. On his return from the Mouths, Romero sailed to the Matecumbe Keys and sighted the friars on the beach searching for shellfish. Friar Lopez and one of the other friars paddled slowly out to the sloop in a dugout. Their undershirts were so worn and torn that their skin showed through. They were badly sunburned and very weak. When the sailors gave them a little biscut soaked in wine and a bit of chocolate, they promptly threw it up. The friar's ordeal was not completely finished. The sailors gave them clothes from their meager stores and shared their food with them, but for almost two more months, the friars were forced to live in the cramped quarters of the sloop while Romero and his crew continued fishing. [lol captain Romero!]

...the south Florida natives traded fish, ambergris, tree bark, fruit and hides for rum, tobacco, sugar, knives and other European items. An unusual and highly profitable trade good was the cardinal. Spanish seamen prized these birds and pets and paid high prices for them.

The usual image of wreckers salvaging in the Keys is one of fast sloops and schooners, manned by daring Bahamian and American seamen, racing through towering seas and gale winds to an unfortunate ship pounding to pieces on the reef. But in face, Keys natives, paddling out to the reef in dugout canoes, were plundering wrecks three hundred years before the Bahamians and Americans arrived on the scene.

gold, silver and jewels

wine and rum

hatchets and knives

...the Indians of Guarugumbe... were "rich, but... from the sea not from the land."

In 1592, English privateers under Christopher Newport stopped in the Keys to look for fresh water. The natives told the sailors where they could find water and traded gold and silver they had taken from wrecks for rusty hatchets and knives.

Salvage Divers

Two of the worst disasters to Spanish treasure fleets took place in the Florida Keys, the first in 1622 and the second in 1733. Native divers from the Keys were employed by the Spanish salvage expeditions in both instances. [Table: Who's been sent to look for this wreck and how far away are they? Empire treasure ship sinks. Empire hires locals to assist with recovery.]

convoy [why have I just been thinking solo ships?!?!?!]

The Rosario went ashore in the Dry Tortugas but did not sink. Her passengers and crew were saved and her treasure salvaged. The atocha and Santa Margarita sank in the Quicksands area to the west of the Marquesas Keys. Only five men from the Atocha and just sixty-eight from the Santa Margarita. In all, 550 lives were lost....

The first expedition reached the Marquesas Keys just ten days after the disaster only to find that the Keys natives had already recovered some items from the wrecks. The Spanish were forced to bargain with the natives to get them back.

... he employed nine Keys native divers along with some pearl divers....

...they recovered thirty-seven silver ingots and a large quantity of coin. Before they could bring up more, the Spaniard's enemies, the Dutch, arrived on the scene and forced the salvage party to flee for safety.

gifts of liquor, hatchets, knives, cloth and beads

three divers, two canoes and a fisherman to help feed them

six more divers and a native fisherman

In just three and a half days, the divers recovered 2,975 pounds of silver. They also recovered many pieces of silverware, such as plates and basins, as well as hundreds of coins. Melgar discovered that the natives were concealing coins in their breeches but was reluctant to make an issue of it for fear they would stop work. [How much will your hired divers steal?]

...some native divers decided they would rather hunt turtles than treasure.

a 22 ship convoy returning to Spain was struck by a hurricane. Fifteen ships were driven ashore or sunk.... Most of the passengers and crewmen made it to shore by paddling boats or rafts or by swimming, but three large ships sank with the loss of several hundred lives.

Spanish established fortified salvage camps....

When a ship could not be refloated, the salvors burned it to the waterline in order to allow the divers easier access to the cargo hold.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Update Time!

Because I work for Blizzard Entertainment, even though I have nothing to do with the game dev teams, creating my own game, and gaming content becomes surprisingly tricky. But the long and short of it is, Hot Springs Island is effectively complete. There are two books, a big ole hex map, and 150k (hopefully useful and evocative) words.

The first book, A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island, is written for players and serves as a sort of "in game artifact". All of the art, stories, rumors, hooks, monsters, plants, information and speculative theory it contains can and should be used by characters during play. This book is basically done done. It needs a good professional editor to scrub it vigorously, but the words, art, layout and whatnot are as good as I can get them.

The second book, The Dark of Hot Springs Island, is written for the game master. It contains all the "truth" of the island. It's got the hex key, over 20 town and dungeon maps, detailed writeups of the various factions, 300+ treasures and more NPCs that I care to count. Layout on this is NOT complete, but you can see where it's going in my Swordfish Islands G+ feed. This book also needs a good scrubbing from an editor, and new maps. The maps we have are functional, but ugly, and the estimable Billy Longino has agreed to help make 'em pretty!

I have, very recently, gotten the necessary approvals from the distant and mostly silent committees to run a Kickstarter. It's going to happen in January 2016, and its purpose will be to raise funds to hire a professional editor, pay for the map illustrations, and print a small run of beautious hard bound, cloth covered, foil stamped, ribbon bookmarked, smyth sewn black and white books.

As fair warning, I'm going to be spinning up the hypetrain #choochoo, but the plan is to do this by directly sharing the actual game content and illustrations. Basically what I've always done, but with a quicker and more consistent rate.

I've also got a sort of spin off project in the works on shipwrecks. This was originally going to be included in with Hot Springs Island, but it grew to the point that it needed to go off and become its own thing. Eventually it will be a small book of tables paired up with a "push button and get a detailed and interesting shipwreck" app of some sort. More to come!

Mog'ok god of vengeance