The Element of Surprise
Throughout history, pirates would frequent shipping lanes waiting for unsuspecting merchant or slave ships to cross their paths. When necessary, pirates would carry their deception even further than sailing under a false flag. If a confrontation required extreme deception, pirate crews would dress in the clothing of the country they were pretending to be from, sometimes even using a crewmember or prisoner who spoke their language to further envelop their prey in a false sense of security. Many pirates attacked at night, when they had the advantage of being able to quietly approach their prey when most of them were asleep and the ship was lightly guarded.
If pirates could exploit the element of surprise they always would, as they preferred to avoid heavy gunfire that could potentially damage their booty. Whether they were seen by their victims or not, they would typically move in close to the other ship at the first opportunity, and when near enough would toss grappling hooks to fasten their vessel to the other. They would then pull the vessels close, swarm over the side of the boat, and engage the enemy in combat. Since pirate ships generally had crews over ten times the size of the average merchant ship crew, raids were usually over in a hurry. Either the crew surrendered, if the pirates were allowing it, or they were quickly killed.
What does “shiver me timbers” mean?
The expression shiver me timbers originated from the shock or surprise that resulted from the vibrations of the wooden masts or timbers of a sailing vessel when it was struck by a cannonball or if the vessel suddenly struck an unseen object.
Once a battle was over, pirates would search the captured vessel looking for whatever cargo they could use or sell, and would then transfer it to their own holds. When they could find nothing else of any use, they would occasionally let the ship and her captured crew go free or set them adrift, but more often than not, they would load the prisoners onto their own ship, then burn or scuttle the victim's ship to sink it. Many pirate captains offered prisoners the option of joining their ship or alternately force them to sign the articles and be drafted. Sometimes the pirates would lock the prisoners in a hold before they burned the ship and then leave them there to die, or simply maroon them on the nearest island.