Here is the list of ships of the history’s most (in)famous swashbucklers and bucaneers.
The Ark Royal was an English galleon ordered by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1586. It was first named as “Ark Raleigh” as it was customary to name the ship after its owner. However, she was later purchased by Queen Elizabeth I… well, actually Raleigh presented the boat to the queen as a payment of his debts, as he owed her a considerable sum.
The Ark Royal became the flagship of the English fleet during the Spanish Armada and brought it to its defeat. The ship served for over half a century.
Sir Francis Drake was the captain of this galleon which is known for circumnavigating the world between the years 1577 and 1580. Originally named as Pelican, Drake re-named her Golden Hind while in the middle of his voyage. It was a tribute to Drake’s sponsor Sir Christopher Hatton, whose crest was a golden hind (deer).
The CSS Alabama was a Confederate warship that is considered one of the most destructive at that time. She was built in Liverpool, England in 1862 by John Laird whose family business was building ships for the Royal Navy. Alabama was also one of the fastest during its time; her pivot gun fired 100-pound cannons. Her captain Ralph Semmes, is considered by one historian as a “pirate of the high seas” in part because of his cunning tactics. When he took control of another ship, he would lower his camouflage flag and raise his true Confederate flag.
Alabama was sunk by the USS Kearsarge during a battle off the Normandy coast, in 1864.
Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts was one of the most successful pirates of his time. During his peak years as a pirate he seized three ships: a French brigantine, a French warship, and the frigate Onslow off the African coast, all of which he renamed as Royal Fortune.
He was killed during a battle in 1722, and his last Royal Fortune was sunk by HMS Swallow.
Whydah was built in 1715 and was initially launched as a West African slave ship; the ship’s name was derived from West African port of Ouidah in today’s Benin. However, while navigating the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola in February 1717, the ship was attacked by pirates led by “Black Sam” Bellamy, who seized Whydah and made her as his flagship. The Whydah went down in a storm in 1717.
The Whydah is believed to hold a huge bounty — that includes 400,000 gold and silver coins — from about 50 ships that pirates looted. The wreck was found in 1984 but not all of her treasures.
Originally, the 46-gun privateer was named Charles II after the Spanish king. Former Royal Navy midshipman Henry Avery (or Every) seized Charles II off the Spanish coast and re-named as Fancy in 1694, and set off for his brief but successful career as a pirate.
He and his 150-men crew plundered ships on the Indian Ocean until they set off for the Bahamas to retire early, with treasures in tow. Although the fate of Fancy is unknown, it is believed that Avery gave the whole ship to the governor of Nassau as a gift or bribe.
The ship was originally a Royal Navy ship HMS Concord, launched in 1710. She was captured by France in 1711 and was used as a slave ship La Concorde de Nantes. In 1717 she was captured by pirate Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard who renamed it as Queen Anne’s Revente and added with 26 guns (the ship already had 14). This made one of the most powerful ships to sail the American seas.
Although Blackbeard used Queen Anne’s Revenge as his flagship for less than a year, it looted a several ships. In 1718 Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground on Topsail Inlet, and suffered a great damage when it collided with a sandbar. It is said that Blackbeard, knowing the area well, deliberately wrecked the ship to kill off some of his crew so that he would have more share of the bounty
Adventure Galley was captained by Scottish pirate William Kidd during the late 17th century. The ship was unique at that time as it both had sails as well as oars that helped it to maneuver itself in calm waters.
Kidd had the sponsorship of, among others, New York colonel Robert Livingston who instructed him to hunt down pirates and steal their booty. Between the years 1696 and 1698, Kidd traveled for many miles across the Atlantic and Indian Ocean but hunting them down wasn’t easy for him. He had agreed to pay back the investment if he returned empty-handed. But when he didn’t find any pirate ships, instead he chose to attack allied ships. However, by the time the ship reached the coast off Madagascar, she had suffered a rotten hull. Adventure was stripped off her furnishings and sank.
Ambrose Light was a one-gun brigantine ship ran by Colombian rebels. The USS Alliance was sailing to Cartagena when it sighted Ambrose Light and captured it, suspecting as a rebel ship in 1885. However, the court ruled in favor of the Ambrose Light, saying that the ship was legal in transporting Colombian troops during the country’s civil war.
One of the rare cases of modern-day piracy is the steel ketch named Cythera, built by former Royal Navy officer Peter A. Fenton in Sydney, Australia. She was launched on March 17, 1962. Fenton, his wife, their journalist friend and two crew members set off for Cythera‘s maiden voyage on March 31, 1963.
On April 10 that year, while all parties had stopped at Lord Howe Island for a short stay, the two crew members stole the yacht away from the mooring and sailed off, out of the radar range. The Fentons and their journalist friend were marooned on the island until they managed to find a shelter and then fly back to Sydney.
After reported missing for seven days, the Cythera was found in Norfolk Island and the thieves had been caught. The Fentons, police officers and volunteer crew arrived on the island. The yacht, by then, was badly damaged and ransacked of any valuables. The Fentons and the volunteers did some repairs on the yacht and departed for Sydney — but not without challenges such as storms that occurred twice and lasted for days. On May 12, the yacht finally arrived at a dock north of Sydney.
As for the thieves, they were found guilty of piracy and were sentenced to four years in prison. But they served for only two and half years before Cythera set off again in 1966. For 20 years she became home to the Fentons until stroke forced Peter Fenton to retire. He died in 2002 in southwestern Florida.
The Cythera had been sold and her new owner eventually sailed her to Jamaica. However, a major breakdown in the yacht’s system occurred and the new owner and his crew abandoned her. After 10 days, the ship was found on the shores southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. The new owner sold the yacht, which was still floating but otherwise badly damaged, to a local fisherman.
The CSS McRae was a 19th-century Confederate naval vessel which was originally a Mexican rebel ship named Marques de la Havana. She was captured by the USS Saratoga in 1860 as a pirate ship, and purchased by the Confederate States Navy at New Orleans the following year. She was the fitted out and renamed as CSS McRae.
During the Civil War the ship provided protection to blockade runners that slip in and out of Mississippi and Mobile Bay and participated in an engagement with the Federal blockers in October 1861. During the April 1861 naval battle near Forts Jackson and Saint Philip which the McRae gallantly defended, the officers and crew fought to their deaths but she became badly damaged and her commander was killed in action. She crippled back to New Orleans under a flag of truce, and was ultimately abandoned and sank upon her arrival there.
The HMS Raven was an Albacore-class wooden screw gunboat that was launched in 1856 and sold in 1875. Its sister ship, the HMS Forward, was launched in 1855 and sold in 1869. It was seized by Mexican pirates and was attacked by the USS Mohican during the Battle of Boca Teacapan, which led to her destruction.