Sabers, cannons and grenades
Until the optimization of portable firearms, the inability to realize consecutive shots in short lapse of time, was limiting its usefulness in hand to hand fight. Among the firearms can be mentioned: muskets, blunderbusses and little harquebuses, without forgetting the big cannons, and others of limited dimensions, as the culebrina or the falconet, lethal for assaulting and boarding ships. Another firearm very used in boarding was the grenade: a hollow metallic cylinder or sphere stuffed with pressed gunpowder and pellets, with a fuse soaked in tar. Also there were used mud receptacles filled with tar and rags, which acted as incendiary bomb, forming a thick smokescreen.
The knife more used was the sword, in its different variants: machete, saber of boarding, dagger, etc. It was used in boarding, to climb over the sides of the assaulted ship and also in the fights on deck. But the most used weapon was the boarding axe.
To fire a cannon effectively demanded a strict discipline: even the more trained gunners needed a few minutes to load and shoot. Undisciplined pirates almost never managed to shoot more than once before a boarding.
To sink a ship by cannon-shots was very difficult and, in any case, was not the aim of pirates, since nothing can be stolen of a sunken ship.
With shots of cannon the impact of the balls of iron inside the hull of a ship created a whirlwind of mortal splinters. There were also the linked bullets, this is two bullets joined by a chain and thrown up. These missiles were capable of break sails and masts as a way to prevent the attacked ship from escaping.
French corsairs used a few prickles of four tops that they threw on the deck of the ship that they were approaching. As sailors use to work barefooted to avoid to slip on the humid decks, these pickles could hurt terribly to whom stepped on them.
In the 17th and 18th century, all those who had to fight in the sea preferred the saber. Its short and broad leaf was turning into the ideal weapon for hand-to-hand combat on deck. A longer sword could get hooked up easily in the ropes and sails.
The dagger was so small that could be hidden under the clothes in an assault by surprise. In addition it was very effective in the low decks, where there was not room to handle a bigger sword.
Pirates who boarded a ship of big dimensions, as a galleon, used the axe of boarding to climb over the high sides of the assaulted ship and also in the fights on deck. Once there it became in a weapon as effective as a saber and in addition it served to cut ropes and to destroy sails.
Due to his lightness and size, the pistol was the favourite firearm of pirates for boarding. Nevertheless, the marine environment sometimes dampened the gunpowder: the pistol often failed and most of the time only served to make only one shot. To reload it was so slow that nobody used to try it; and, after the first shot, they used the hard butt like bludgeon.
For shots to longuer distance, just before a boarding, they used the blunderbuss, of slightly major dimensions, but with a power of fire and range greater than a pistol’s Buccaneers, expert hunters with much practice in shooting, were in the habit of using also the muskets: long shotguns of major precision and range. The shot with musket was used for relatively long distances and was the weapon used by armies and regular troops in his fight against pirates.