March 08, 2016

Pirates Of The Caribbean Were Just Lucky With The Weather

Henry Morgan once put his long and lucrative career in privateering down to a misspent youth, being “more used to the pike than the book”.

Black Sam Bellamy, the Robin Hood of the sea, liked to boast of his peculiar blend of dash and gallantry. Jack Sparrow, portrayed on screen by Johnny Depp, cited “skulduggery and pernickety-nee”.

Yet a new study suggests that the real pirates of the Caribbean may have owed their success to something much less glamorous: a distinct lack of shiver in their timbers.

Researchers counting Spanish shipwrecks and ancient tree rings have found that the scale of hurricanes in the tropics fell by as much as three-quarters after 1645, leaving the seas far calmer than they have been at any time since.

Historians often refer to the years between 1650 and 1730 as the golden age of piracy, when trade tussles from Tortuga to the Barbary Coast gave free rein to any man in command of a seaworthy ship, a hearty crew and malleable scruples.


Nowhere did the pirates flourish more than in the West Indies, where the likes of Blackbeard, William Kidd and Calico Jack became rich at the expense of Spanish shipping.
This period happened to ­coincide with an abrupt drop in solar activity known as the Maunder Minimum.

From about 1645 to 1710, sunspots — vast magnetic storms on the surface of the Sun that are linked to solar flares and violent outbursts of burning gas — turned up as rarely as once every six months, compared with four or five times a day in the modern era.

The outcome was a cooling of the Earth, which meant calmer seas and thus fewer cyclones.

Scientists and historians at the universities of Huelva in Spain and Arizona and southern Mississippi in the US looked at records of 657 Spanish ships that had been wrecked in the ­Caribbean basin between 1495 and 1825 in an attempt to map out a history of cyclones in the region.

They also used the size of the rings in 38 ancient slash pine trees from Florida Keys, which tend to grow much less in years of fierce winds and surges of ­seawater whipped up by storms.

Their calculations, published in the journal PNAS, show a ­decline in hurricanes between the middle of the 17th century and the early years of the 18th.

Thar, in short, she did not blow — at least not as much as she used to.
 By Oliver Moody

With many thanks to The Australian


Tortuga -  with many thanks to Google Maps.

Reprise - Jarrod Radnich plays  the theme from Pirates Of The Caribbean


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