Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Pirate in a Pickle: Schooner Days MCLXXXXII (1182)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 21 Aug 1954
Full Text
Pirate in a Pickle
Schooner Days MCLXXXXII (1182)

by C. H. J. Snider

In the Orkneys, 1725

It is 200 years and more since all this happened, But among the unaging rocks and waves of the Orkney Islands time stands still and — except for the temperature and the smart diesel engined motor cruiser Balmoral which brought Schooner Days to Eday this July morning in 1954—the setting is unchanged, and what follows might have happened last winter.

THE pirate ship Revenge, John Gow, commander, came boldly past the towering Red Head cliff on the Eday side of Calf Sound. Its piled sandwiches of crimson sandstone separated by thin slices of slate make it look like a mountain of layer cake. Around its ruddy base the mingled waves of the North Sea and of the Arctic Ocean swirled and roared then as they do now. The flood tide was making strong against the strong south wind of the 13th-of-February morning.

The pressed pilot from Stromness held the Revenge straight for the entrance to the Sound, as close to the wind as she would lie. Her bowsprit pointed for the craggy cliff of the Grey Head on Calf Island.

"Damn your eyes, Porringer!" cried Gow, "Whan I say put the helm down, jam it down hard, or you'll go down yourself so hard you'll never come up!"

"Ye've not said ought yet," rumbled Pat Porringer.

"Hands 'bout ship! Stand by for stays! Helm a-lee, hard a-lee!" roared Gow.


Eyeing the captain's pistol bulged sash, the impromptu quartermaster hove the helm down, amid the whine of brace-blocks, the thunder of slatting sails and the maudlin shouts and contradictions of all the never-sober crew who were left after the longboat load deserted. Spinning sluggishly on her barnacled heel, the half-cleaned Revenge forged towards The Castles of Grey Head on the Calf.

This is a cyclopean structure piled higher than Scarboro Bluffs, crowned with green, and fluttering with seabirds. Enormous portals, cavern mouths fathoms high and wide and deep, open black jaws at the base. Some show daylight through. Their doorposts, lintels and thresholds are square cut as though chiseled by masonic giants.

The Revenge's bowsprit pointed at one yawning door after another. Tideborne, she was bing whirled sidewise into the Sound. The racing floodtide might have carried her through to her target, Carrick House, gleaming white in the frosty sunlight on the Eday side.

But she bumped once, "It was yerself that bade me put the helm hard down," shouted Porrenger so loudly all the other pirates heard.

Gow in panic ordered casting the biggest bower anchor. That fetched her up, riding sidewise in an eddy, so close to the frowning rocks that there was no room for her to swing or get under weigh again. She would have to kedge out into deeper water before she could make sail and gather headway.

The longboat, absolutely essential for kedging her, was fifty miles away now with the deserters. And she was leaking fast from having struck so hard before the anchor was let go. Pumping could keep the water down but "only just."

Again and again Gow damned Porrenger, whom he had kidnapped and the "scoundrels" who had escaped. His malevolent intentions towards his old schoolmate, the master of Carrick House, must wait—like Gow's own marriage with the heiress, which was to have taken place this very day.


He must try diplomacy. Enlist the fool's assistance in the name of old friendship! Make him help get the Revenge out of this hole! Then rob him — of wealth, wife and life!

The Revenge had only one boat left, a cockleshell useless for kedging or anchor handling. One anchor would sink it. It could not carry more than five men.

But in this he sent his crime sodden boatswain, James Belbin or Belvin and four of his worst scoundrels — to "borrow" the largest craft they could from his school mate in the manor house on the opposite side of the Sound. Belbin was the one who had carried off the girls from Phara, leaving their pleading mother to die on the beach, after he had sacked the house of Honeyman in Graemesay.

Gow gave these villians instructions to be polite, but not to come back without a longboat.

Now ensued a battle of brains.

James Fea "lord of the manor" of Carrick House, had only six men left on the island. He had his gentleman's sword, and a cool head. John Gow had 32 cannon in the Revenge, and a remaining crew of 18; no conscience; a brain full of alcohol; and a belt full of pistols.

How the battle proceeded will next be told.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
21 Aug 1954
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Scotland, United Kingdom
    Latitude: 59.23333 Longitude: -2.73333
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Pirate in a Pickle: Schooner Days MCLXXXXII (1182)