Belaying Pins And Pirates

Belaying Pins Are A Beauteous Thing

Part of the fun of pirate festivals and days set aside to talk like a pirate is the exploration into history and discovering the details of how life had meaning in another era. 

As a reminder, an illustrious day draws nigh on 19 September. Yes, our fun-loving, swashbuckling, Talk Like A Pirate Day. Be sure to mark your calendar.

Talking like a pirate expands into wearing the clothing and accoutrements of a pirate or any other sort of character who frequented the lives of pirates and lived in the late 1700s.

A Cast Of Characters

If you attend any pirate festival you'll find pirates, of course, but also those who chased them such as The Royal Navy. Amongst the crowd will also be lurking innkeepers, barmaids, aristocracy and townsfolk. Many people research the time period and know a great deal about its details.

Choosing your time travel outfit needs care and preparation. Participants aim for authenticity. At the Northern California Pirate Festival a few years back, I discovered an important part of any pirate's outfit, the belaying pin. 

A local woodworker artisan had on display gorgeous belaying pins he had created from various woods. The photo above was from his tent at the festival. He was happy to share with me some stories behind belaying pins.

Belaying Pins On A Sailing Ship

Belaying pins are not just a bit of folklore. They are an integral part of a sailing ship as shown in this photo by Bruno Girin. They secure the many ropes of the ship's rigging which is connected to the sails. When you need to release the ropes quickly, rather than taking time to unwind them, you simply pull out the belaying pin and the ropes are set free.

A belaying pin is a device used on traditional sailing vessels to secure lines. Their function on modern vessels has been replaced by cleats, but they are still used, particularly on larger sailing ships.

A belaying pin is a solid wood or metal bar with a curved top portion and cylindrical shaft. It is inserted into a hole in a wooden pintail, which usually runs along the inside of the bulwarks (although free-standing pintails are also used). This means that if a line needs to be released in a hurry, the belaying pin can be lifted out, releasing the line.

The rope line is guided under and behind the base of the pin, then around the top in a figure-8 pattern until at least four turns are completed.

Belaying pins are also used to provide increased friction to control a line by taking a single round-turn and one or more "S" turns around the pin. Thus, it effectively belays the line. Donald Launer sings the praises of belaying pins in his article in the magazine Good Old Boat

Belaying pins are usually made from a dense hardwood that can withstand the wet and salty elements found aboard a ship at sea. In the photo below, you can see this ship taking on water. Since they are located throughout a sailing ship, belaying pins are readily accessible to sailors which leads us to their other not-so-benign uses.

Belaying Pins As Weapons

Belaying pins had numerous uses including:

As improvised weapons and means of discipline on both military and civilian ships. They were sometimes used to force conscripts onto a ship.
Belaying pins were also used in battle when other weapons were not available.

In a romantic historical novel about Christopher Columbus entitled Columbus, author Rafael Sabatini described the use of a belaying pin in battle in the hands of his character Colon.

Colon stood alone to stem the rush, armed with an iron belaying pin which he had plucked from the rack.
Colon swung the belaying pin , and the Irishman went down with a broken head...
In a moment the waist of the caravel was a scene of raging battle. Colon’s belaying pin smashed the arm of Gomez as that broken hidalgo was brandishing a knife, and it sent another of his assailants rolling in the scuppers.
Colon turned his belaying pin into a projectile, and hurled it into the mass of the assailants...
— Columbus, by Rafael Sabatini

Belaying Pins And Pirates

Pirates also made use of belaying pins as an improvised weapon. Local ordinances banned sailors from carrying swords and pistols when they came ashore. Weapons had to remain on the ship. Well, being pirates with reputations to maintain for getting into skirmishes, they hedged their bets by tucking a spare belaying pin in their belts when they went tavern hopping.

Every true pirate needs a good belaying pin. Proper etiquette indicates that you wear it tucked in your belt on your back. It's in easy reach so you can pull it out should a scuffle present itself.

Arrgggh, as they say. A little self-protection.

Treasure Island And Belaying Pins

In the 1934 movie of Treasure Island, based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, Long John Silver knocks Ben Gunn over the head with a belaying pin before escaping off the Hispaniola.

In the 1972 Treasure Island movie version, members of Long John Silver's company take over the Hispaniola after arming themselves with belaying pins and incapacitating Redruth by throwing one at his head. (Reference: The Pirate Primer, by George Choundas.)

Making History Come Alive

For students of The Radiance Technique® (TRT®), you can use TRT® when you study history or participate in Talk Like A Pirate Day. Your use of TRT® hands-on while learning puts you more in touch with past events, expanding your understanding of history. 

For those who have studied to The Second Degree of TRT®, they can direct energy to events or to specific people whom they find intriguing. It supports you to go deeper in your awareness of past and present and to get in touch with different people who have influenced our times.

For any history buff, learning the details of life in another era brings delight. It's intriguing to imagine how others have moved across time and space.

A little disclaimer: in no way does this post support using belaying pins as a weapon or for harm. This is about discovering and exploring history, not making it happen again in reality.

Could I interest you in a belaying pin, me matey?