The History of the Mighty Fully-Rigged Pinnace

Imagine a mighty pirate ship on the open sea. If the image of large sails, mighty masts and huge cannons come to mind, you’re thinking of a fully-rigged pinnace.

In truth, the vessel itself could be a European warship prepared for open-sea battles or a ship’s boat used by settlers to scout out a foreign land.

The Origin of the Pinnace

The fully-rigged pinnace was a 16th-century vessel used as a Northern European warship, merchant vessel or privateer ship. The name comes from the Spanish word for “pine,” which was the type of wood used to build these hardy ships. That said, the design of the ship varied, depending on its main function. Interestingly, the definition of a pinnace can change, as well, depending on the time period in which it sailed.

Arguably one of the most famous pirate ships in history, the Queen Anne’s , is the ultimate example of a fully-rigged ship in action! This mighty vessel, stolen by the infamous pirate Blackbeard in 1717, is believed to have originated as a slave-trading merchant vessel from France.

The 200-ton ship carried more than 30 cannons, packing a fierce punch in the hands of a vicious privateer like Blackbeard.

Types of Pinnaces

The typical definition of a multi-ton, fully-rigged pinnace is that of a craft with two to three masts sporting large, squared sails. It typically looks much like the classic pirate ship in many seafaring stories.

This type of warship carried a significant number of weapons for defense purposes, usually from 18 to 40 guns or cannons at a time. The aftcastle (front part of the ship) sometimes bore intricate carvings or decorative elements and often served as the captain’s private study. The fully-rigged pinnace is considered the predecessor of the 17th-century frigate, a fully-armed, fast-sailing warship that dominated the Age of Sail (1570-1862).

Smaller pinnaces, sometimes referred to as “ship’s boats,” were scaled-down, oared companion ships that were launched independently of the larger ship. They were used to transport personnel or supplies to shore. The size and capabilities of this type of pinnace depended on the size of the warship that carried it. It was also usually equipped with a small sail and up to 16 oars.

The Kalmar Nyckel

One notable fully-rigged pinnace was the Dutch-made Kalmar Nyckel. This armed merchant ship carried Swedish settlers to America in the 17th century to settle New Sweden and Fort Christina in what is now known as Wilmington, Delaware.

Touted as the only colonial vessel to make several successful round trips, this famous pinnace served as a courier and transport for the Swedish Navy when not in regular use.

There is a modern version of the famous Kalmar Nyckel on display in Delaware that’s available for tours! This massive, true-to-history recreation of the vessel was built in 1997 and is open to the public as a tribute to the original ship.

In the summer, this modern facsimile of the Kalmar Nyckel takes daily voyages between its homeport in Wilmington and secondary port in Lewes. Operated exclusively by volunteers, the 300-person crew sails in excess of 3,000 miles a year! Whether you’re a history buff or a sea-faring enthusiast (or both), the modern Kalmar Nyckel will satisfy your nautical curiosity and thirst for adventure.