No, I definitely will not write some pseudo-pirate gibberish as introduction to my first post here (or to any other actually). Enough tried already and failed miserably!
So – pirates! Back in 1989, the new pirate theme was the most spectacular Lego line I’ve ever seen. All the cool new hats and printed beards and finally women with lipstick! The most amazing thing of course was the Black Seas Barracuda (6285). It had so many new parts! It was so big, I mean really BIG. And it looked absolutely gorgeous. Ok, some aspects of it weren’t really useful from a playing perspective (all the hatches you could barely reach because parts of the ship were simply in your way), but this is nitpicking really. The Black Seas Barracuda easily conquered its iconic status as the definitive pirate ship till today.
Sure, Lego has released several more sail ships since, including a huge imperial warship (to finally give the redcoats a vessel suiting to their status as global power), but none really could match the charm of the original.
The Return of the Black Seas Barracuda (sort of)
When I was going through my rediscovered old Lego, I was delighted to find nearly all parts for it: sails (a bit stained, but actually in excellent condition), anchor, steering wheel, hull elements, windows, etc.- everything was there! Even the hinge-parts for mounting the sails to the masts (there is surely a technical term for that)!
I was really overjoyed and started making plans for giving the ship a glorious return… well, in a certain way at least. Firstly I don’t want to copy too much and whilst the parts do give certain boundaries regarding the ships layout, I wanted something different. Secondly, since I am quite into Steampunk, I simply couldn’t resist the idea of steampunkifying (if that isn’t a word, well – now it is!) the good old Black Seas Barracuda.
So after the decision was made, next I started researching. There was a relatively short time in history (early to mid 19th century), when conventionally build sail ships were equipped with steam engines. First with paddle wheels (which I rejected as too complex to build, too vulnerable to gunfire and simply too unpirateish looking), then finally with ship’s screws! However, the vessels of that time had their cannons still mounted behind hatches in the ship’s hull and could only fire to the sides (the famous “broadsides”), which I found impractical and boring looking too.
All in all the typical steam frigates were rather uninspiring vessels without any superstructures or otherwise interesting features. They basically looked more like swimming logs with sails and cannons sticking out of their sides. so I had to abandon real-life designs and do my own thing.
Firstly I wanted gun turrets at the sides. They take comparably less space on deck, look cool steampunky and ironclad-inspired and also increase the firing arcs of the cannons significantly. I also went for the typical raised Captains cabin at the rear with the steering wheel on top of it: that’s just how I find a pirate ship has to look like, if you ask me!
Also I wanted to tone down the decorations on the ship. A 19th century frigate looked much more down-to-earth than the flashy sail-ships of the 17th and 18th century, with their gilded ornaments at the stern (yay! a nautical term!). Since the original Black Seas Barracuda had a line of white bricks along its sides, I decided to pick up that feature and use a black and white colour scheme for the cabin, which looked pretty convincing. I just had to work out the dimensions, and not to forget: there was a steam-engine, which wanted to be on board too!
Due to weight-distribution reasons the only sane place for such a massive thing is mid-ship between the masts. Steam engines back in the day were simply huge. Especially compared to their low power output!). I might have increased the space between the masts slightly compared to the original model, but I didn’t measure the distance, so I can’t tell for sure (edit: it seems that the space is already pretty generous in the original one, so it might be actually smaller now!). Anyway, with the guns put out of the way in their turrets, the engine did fit in there perfectly without making anything looking out of place.
The sails were a bit stained, as I mentioned earlier. So they got a neat hand-wash. I admit, I was a bit nervous about the results. After all I didn’t wanted to ruin them after all that time! But they looked absolutely pristine after their washing. To dry them I wrapped a towel around them (avoiding folding them of course) and squeezed them between several large books for a few minutes. Then, they were still damp, I put them on the ship to let them dry in their place – and it worked like a charm! They seemed to became a bit softer though – likely because of some of the starch getting washed out – but that just means they move a bit more like real sails now.
I also wanted something special for the front of the ship. Originally I tinkered with a naval ram (yes, I looked that word up!), which looked pretty good, but just wasn’t crazy enough for me really. So I went for plan B and used the buzz saw piece from a Prince of Persia set and it looks just perfectly evil and mad science! This means however, that there isn’t a place left for a figurehead.
Anyway, I am very happy how my ship turned out. Everything found its place and looks good. It is also surprisingly light and sturdy.
After I had the ship, I needed a crew for it. An ordinary pirate crew would have been too simple really. And since my Lego collection encompasses a rather eclectic range of themes, I decided to make use of that and mix things a bit up.
Starting point for my crew was the Lord Sam Sinister Minifigure from the Orient Expedition theme, which fits just perfectly for the role as steampunk villain and mastermind of evil operations. So Sam Sinister found his destiny and became… the evil Baron Otto von Brickheimer!
While Captain Redbeard has retired and now lives on a tropical island with a huge sack of loot, first mate Rummey and Bo’Sun Will are still on board, together with a number their old and new pirates too. The rest of the crew is a pretty colourful assembly: several Orcs (not the most disciplined folks but pretty resilient at least), Bruno, the Berserker (more about him at another occasion) and even a “greedy” Rodian! While Baron von Brickheimer will be the nominal leader of the operations, the command over the ship will be in the capable hands of the dashing Emma Lee, Countess of the Caribbean!
I will do a proper introduction of the key characters in one of the following posts – stay tuned!
End of the Story? Not really!
While Baron von Brickheimer and the pirates are currently at sea on their adventures, the modifications of the Black Seas Barracuda are not done yet. They are just on a halt for now.
What will the future bring for the ship? I can’t really say. My stock of parts has significantly increased since this build and so did my experience and audacity for trying new things. I will certainly try a few more daring things with the ship – and I certainly want to use its space more efficiently. How this will look like – I will tell you about it as soon I found it out!