Pirates, Parrots, and Poop Decks

Many of us grew up hearing, reading, or watching tales of the exploits of pirates of days of yore. They managed to stay out of sight on the bright blue seas, waiting for a ship to pass so they could wreak havoc and strike fear in the hearts of good men, and women of virtue.

They made men walk the plank when they captured a ship, and the captain always carried a parrot on his shoulder as a trusty companion to guard their secrets. They were black-hearted rogues and scamps whose aim in life was to make travelers on the open waters fear for their lives and their treasures.

Yes, we know all about pirates and the pirate life from books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Captain Crunch television ads. And believe it or not, business is sometimes a kindred spirit with pirate ways of old.

Hostile Takeovers

When pirates boarded and took control of a ship at sea, the captain offered the captured crew the opportunity to sign on with him as a pirate. This, of course, appealed to the crew who were used to a life of insufficient pay, unrealistic work expectations, rotting rations, and more.

As a member of the pirate’s crew (even though they were new recruits), the new crew members shared equally in whatever was plundered from the captured vessels. In exchange for this, all they had to do was sell out their morals and ethics. If a crew member refused to join the pirate crew, he was welcome to take his chances in the ocean miles away from land.

Walking The Plank

Pirates were interested in plunder and treasures. They weren’t terribly interested in murder, and only killed when they found themselves in a “kill or be killed” situation.

In fact, they were highly unlikely to increase their crew size (and garner some crewmen with enviable skills) if they made the crew walk the plank every time they overtook a ship. After all, even back then, time was money, and therefore the time required to set up a plank and to neatly march crew members down the plank into the water to their deaths was a poor use of their time.

If you were going to dump some crew members, that’s what you did: You threw them overboard without any pomp or ceremony.   While it’s true that everyone in a while, they did make some crew members walk the plank, it was usually done purely for amusement’s sake and when it was known that there was time to waste on the extravaganza.

And truth be told, if pirates made a habit of making the crew walk the plank, honest crews weren’t apt to surrender easily to the pirates. They’d fight to save their lives.

But if they knew that the worst they could expect was to either join the pirate crew or be thrown overboard, they rarely put up much of a fight. After all, the ship they were defending wasn’t theirs, and they didn’t enjoy an equal share in the profits of that ship.

Pirate Code of Conduct

Contrary to what one might think, pirates ran a democracy for the most part, with a workman’s compensation plan in place for those who became debilitated in the line of work.

The Code of Conduct that was part of Black Bart Roberts’ ship included these rules:

  1. Every man had a vote in affairs of the moment;
  2. Every man had an equal title to the fresh provisions and strong liquors;
  3. Every man had an equal share in all treasures plundered;
  4. Every man had an opportunity to receive certain items above and beyond their proper share under specific circumstances (a bonus, if you will) which sometimes included a new set of clothes;
  5. Gambling for money was not allowed;
  6. Lights and candles were out by eight o’clock at night, however, the crew could remain on the open deck if they were drinking.
  7. All weapons were to be kept in good working order;
  8. Physical fights were not permitted on board (in the workplace) but instead were allowed on shore (their form of mediation);
  9. Musicians were allowed to rest on Sundays, but were otherwise expected to perform their duties, day or night, on the other six days of the week without exception; and
  10. Any man who breached the Code of Conduct would be subject to punishment which might include being marooned on the next available island (suspension without pay).

A Pirate And His Parrot

Parrots poop … a lot. According to parrot experts, they poop every 10 to 30 minutes.   What this means is that pirate captains were unlikely to be walking around with a poop factory on their shoulders.

What parrots were good for was quick money when needed as the exotic pet trade was healthy in Europe during the heyday of pirates on the Seven Seas. The upper class was willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money for parrots. This meant that parrots made for some of the best bribes when dealing with disreputable government officials looking to make money on the side from European noblemen and noblewomen desperate to own a healthy, colorful parrot.

Pirates And Their CEO’s

In the case of Black Bart Roberts (one of the most successful pirates known who captured nearly 500 ships between 1719 and 1722), he was the result of a hostile takeover of a merchant ship. His navigational skills, however, set him apart from others on the ship (a very valuable resource at the time), and within a short period of time, he was voted to be captain of the ship by the rest of the crew.

Before taking on the role of CEO of the ship, Roberts struggled with his conscience, and eventually came to the conclusion that living the honest life of a merchant seaman was a pale comparison to a pirate’s life, even if it was a short one. With that decision under his belt, he became the famous Black Bart — loved by his crew, feared by all others.

Pirates and Equal Rights

Although most pirates refused to have women and boys on board, it was the illustrious Calico Jack Rackham who was responsible for the advancement of both Anne Bonny and Mary Read who rose through the ranks as female pirates of note.   But just because there’s what appears to be equality on a pirate ship, don’t be fooled into thinking that equality exists on that pirate ship. When Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Calico Jack Rackham, and the crew were arrested, it was only the men who were hanged.

Final Note From The Poop Deck

Doing business today is no different now than back in the day of pirates. There are ethical business and unethical businesses. Sometimes there are hostile takeovers, and sometimes businesses will engage in secondary business dealings as a way to protect the interests of the primary business.

These days pirates watch for their competitors’ vulnerabilities so they can march into their boardrooms and make off with the booty someone else has gathered, whether it’s booty as in “something gained or won” or booty as in “valuable stolen goods seized after a battle.”

What each business owner and entrepreneur has to ask themselves is this: What kind of ship are you running?

Elyse Bruce

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