Review: The Sea Rover’s Practice

Rating: ★★★★★
The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730
by Benerson Little
www.benersonlittle.com

During my time running Bilgemunky.com, I’ve read many, many pirate books. And in doing so, I’ve developed exactly two heroes. The first was Kevin Rushby for possessing the wherewithal to truly – and I mean truly – explore the waters and cultures between Cape Town and Madagascar. And only now have I found a second author of truly heroic status. Benerson Little has written a book without precedent – a small tome of combat knowledge as it applies to our pirate forebears. Be it ship-to-ship, hand-to-hand, or just plain deceit and cheating, the tactics are all here and explained in glorious detail. So why does this make Little a hero? Because he speaks from experience.

It’s one thing for a historian to write about old naval tactics. It’s quite another when that historian is a former navy SEAL. Unlike most any other writer of his genre, Little has actually raided ships. He’s risked his life at sea in ways that few can imagine. As a former navy man myself, I’ve tremendous respect for SEALs. But that alone doesn’t make him heroic (actually – by definition – it does, although not in the piratey sense) – it’s his willingness to take his unique experience and knowledge, and then apply it to 17th century piracy, that makes him truly admirable.

Ok, I’m done fluttering about. Let’s talk about the book.

Sea Rover’s Practice is exactly what the title claims – an explanation of the hows and whys of the tactics utilized by seagoing scalliwags during the Golden Age of Piracy. Not so much a step-by-step tutorial as a detailed account of the science of age of sail combat. Issues such as weather gage are discussed – we all know it’s a good thing to have, but do you know why? And what might be the advantage of coming at your enemy from his leeward side (it’s a tiny advantage, but interesting trivia. You’ll have to read the book to know the answer)? Are you well versed in cannons and small arms? Do you know which boats are better for pirating than others? Or how about a few methods for taking a ship without force? It’s all here. And if you’re ever so fortunate to find a Spanish galleon, the skills you gain will be invaluable.

Sea Rover’s Practice covers most every conceivable tactic utilized in piratical ship-to-ship combat – with a healthy dose of ship-to-shore thrown in for good measure (just in case you’re hoping to pillage Maracaibo.) Each chapter addresses a key ingredient, beginning with the assembly of the crew, carrying forward to cannon and eventually hand-to-hand boarding practices, and eventually on to spending the plunder and heading out for another go. Throughout, the book is written in the level-headed upfront manner one would expect from an author accustomed to the life-and-death practicalities of the material, while also being laced with a very human wit and humor. Wrapping it all up is an extensive appendix addressing pirate terminology, cuisine (including an exceptional grog recipe, assuming you can find muscovado sugar), and the author’s own take on the exploits of some of the more famous sea rovers.

A truly exceptional book, and deserving of a special place of honor amongst your other piratical novels.