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How to defend a pirate attack

A sail! A sail!” The first line of defence was the lookout on the masthead. When faced with attack by pirates, a ship's commander had three options: he could flee (but a fast pirate ship would almost certainly catch up); he could surrender, and hope the enemy would spare the ship and their lives; or he could fight. Against a determined attack, surrender was often considered the best policy. But if the commander chose to fight, there were several measures that could be used to prepare his ship for boarding and launching a counter-attack (closed quarters). In the early phases of the attack, he could also position his ship side-on to the pirates’ bow and fire cannon straight down her length. This was called raking. If the target was hit, its hull could be shattered from bow to stern.


With its precious cargo aboard, the Treasure Fleet convoy sets sail from Havana, Cuba, bound for Spain. The Spanish Treasure Fleet was a tempting target for every pirate sailing in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. For protection against these predators, the treasure ships always sailed in convoy, accompanied by an escort of men-of-war—powerfully-armed warships. In a large convoy the admiral usually sailed at its head, the vice-admiral at the rear and other men-of-war to windward.

Some Spanish treasure ship convoys consisted of 15 men-of-war protecting up to 80 cargo ships.

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