Serious Pirate Ships

Oceanic Pirate Projection Platforms (OPPP) – Serious Pirate Ships

This broad category of pirate ships includes bluewater-capable pirate ships, with a full 3-masted rig (ship or barque rig). Smaller ships with enhanced pirate credibility have also been listed as OPPPs, so long as they exhibit a frightful sculptural program or evolved “ghost ship” systems.

Flying Dutchman LOA 200′ TDISP unknown. This is the pirate ship equivalent to a Nimitz class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. This best balances pirate multi-role capability: it is an effective gun platform, pierced for 50 or more cannon of unknown caliber, spread over two gundecks; it has decent stern galleries, a terrifying beakhead/prow, and the most sublimely-terrifying, decayed aspect we have seen. The pirate captain has good accommodations space with those almost ogival turrets at the stern. This would be a good Piracy Information Center (PIC) for a the senior rogues. The whole sculptural program and layout appears to be closely based on the ill-fated Swedish royal ship Vasa of 1628, with her intricate levels of open quarter and stern galleries, topped with domed “towerettes.” The ship is slightly reduced with shorter gundecks. Some demonic yard took the design in hand and piratically upgraded it to enhance frightfulness. It was given grotesque, screaming gunports, a split beakhead/head rails that can reportedly devour smaller ships, and two triple-barreled, revolver-style bow-chaser guns of unknown design.

The “Flying Dutchman” as it is sometimes known, “laid up” at Castaway Cay, 2008. Best in Show! Credit: EmbraerSkyPilot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Really, this terrifying apparition has achieved area-fright capability. It scares birds away, it scares sea life, it is so scary mollusks won’t even bind to its hull. Is it the pinnacle of piratical power projection? Probable. It also was dismantled at its Castaway Cay base around 2010…or is that what its crew wants you to think?

Black Pearl - Queen Anne's Revenge pirate ship castaway cay

Flying Dutchman at Castaway Cay, showing the stern galleries and some “pirate damage” to the port hull, including the lower gundeck, and the quarter galleries, 2008. [Detail of] Credit: Warfieldian, CC BY-SA 3.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons
Neptune / Jolly Roger (Genoese pirate ship) LOA 215′ TDISP 1,500 tons. This massive replica Spanish Galleon is confused. It also acted as Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger. The Neptune is perhaps the most heavily-armed Spanish Galleon we have ever heard of, and this would be what pirates would go to sleep dreaming of. She is pierced for about 80 cannon, disposed over three gundecks. She was originally built in Tunisia for the 1985 Roman Polanski film Pirates. She is explored further in our July 2021 post on surviving 3-decker ships of the line.

Neptune recently built, 1985, in Tunisian waters. CreditSoftwareSimian, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Neptune replica galleon Genoa 2017Neptune replica galleon Genoa 2015

Black Pearl/Wicked Wench/Queen Anne’s Revenge LOA 165′ pierced for 32 cannon. This pirate ship was so successful that it inspired a plastic model, or maybe the plastic model inspired the ship. The design philosophy was a bit different on this: less guns, more black paint. Still, it was a more cost-effective option, which had good multi-role capability. This ship also offered good subterfuge/ruse de guerre potential: Brighten up the goth tones and you have a perfectly respectable (looking) merchant ship. Indeed, her backstory, from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, was that she was a (heavily-armed) East India Trading Co. ship named “Wicked Wench.” The overall lines of this small 2-decker, her generous beam and single row of stern galleries/lights, set on the upper deck, certainly do look like a merchant ship from the late 17th Century. The ship was also converted to play Queen Anne’s Revenge for one movie, which involved quite a bit of cosmetic work. That version had a much higher quarterdeck and poop, and an elaborate set of double stern galleries. After her crew was pardoned and allowed to live in the Americas, the movie ship, based on the oil-rig supply ship “Sunset,” was scrapped in Louisiana in the early 2010s. Her prow has been mounted in a nearby park, serving as a modern warning about where movie piracy inevitably leads.

Black Pearl, on display, ca. 2006. Credit: Edward Russell via wikipedia.

 Black Pearl - Sunset pirate ship Puerto Rico 2013Black Pearl - Sunset pirate ship scrap Lafitte LA 2015Black Pearl - Sunset pirate shipbow park Lafitte LA 2019

Black Pearl - Black Swan 1 to 150 scale overview
Black Pearl / Black Swan model ship in 1/150 scale. Revell kit is labelled “ghost ship” and comes with glow paint, but is a high-quality mould.
Black Pearl-Black Swan 1-350 scale AC2
View of our tiny, 11cm long 1:350 scale model of the Black Pearl, called “Black Swan” by Zvezda models. Credit:
Black Pearl-Black Swan 1-350 scale AC1
View of the Zvezda 1:350 scale model of the Black Pearl/Black Swan.

VOC Batavia LOA 186′ pierced for 24 guns. This is an ideal pirate ship, with good multi-mission capability. East Indiamen were already heavily armed, but also had good cargo/loot carrying capacity. In anything but a ship-to-ship duel against a royal warship (high intensity anti-piracy scenario) you are competitive in this platform. Low down on her hull, you can also see several ports for large sweeps (oars), which are a nice feature, as they allow pirates to overcome becalmed merchant ships.

The replica Batavia during filming, dressed as the nieew moon. ADZee / Public domain

VOC Batavia 2018 LelystadVOC Batavia 2019 Lelystad

VOC Amsterdam LOA 158′ TDISP 1100 tons replica of a 1748 ship. Pierced for 42 cannon, in other respects she is an updated VOC Batavia from a hundred years on. As a merchant ship she was not likely to have carried such a heavy armament.

Replica VOC ship Amsterdam, built in 1990 on the lines of a 1748 ship which foundered in the English Channel the next year. Credit: Ashu Mathura from Amsterdam, The Netherlands / CC BY-SA (

VOC Amsterdam 2019 replicaVOC Amsterdam 2017 replica

Götheborg Swedish East Indiaman. LOA 190′ TDISP 800 tons. This could easily have been captured and converted by pirates in the Malay straits, or elsewhere. This is a definite aspirational pirate ship. Pierced for about 12 cannon. This is also our recommendation, should anyone ever wish it, for a ship to play John Paul Jones’ original Bonhomme Richard, a converted French merchant ship of similar size, tonnage, and even with similar ornamentation. Add gunports on lower and upper decks, and you are all set for some HMS Serapis-whooping!

Gotheborg Brest 2012
Götheborg participating in a parade of sail at Brest, July 2012. Credit: Ph. Saget, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Götheborg replica Götheborg 2018Götheborg replica Götheborg 2014

Exxon Valdez from the 1997 film Waterworld. This is one of the most terrifying pirate ships that has ever been imagined. In the film, it was a kind of post-apocalyptical pirate mother ship. A 100′ long model was built for the film. Years later, it was stored at the Mojave Plane Yard/ Edwards Air Force Base aircraft boneyard, near Boeing 747s. There was a movement to save the model, with an indiegogo site. Meanwhile, the real ship, last registered under the name “Oriental Nicety” was scrapped at Alang, India, in 2012.

Exxon_Valdez_Oil_Spill_pirate modified
The film version of this had many advanced features, such as stacked sea containers forming crenelated bulwarks along the open deck edges. Credit: NOAA’s National Ocean Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Exxon Valdez movie prop Mojave plane yard 2011

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