The MythBusters The MythBusters

MythBusters Episode 71: Pirate Special

Premier Date: January 17, 2007

Wooden shrapnel from a cannonball impact to pirate ship causes more damage than the cannonball impact itself.


Using a simple air cannon and four pig corpses, the MythBusters proved that a cannonball could penetrate at least four pigs with a single shot. However, when fired at a wooden wall, the splinters did not have enough power to pierce any of the pigs. In order to fully confirm or bust the myth, the MythBusters used an authentic Civil War era cannon. Though preliminary tested, they proved that the Civil War cannon was significantly more powerful than the air cannon. However, when fired at the wooden wall, none of the splinters managed to penetrate the pigs with enough force to be lethal. Therefore, the MythBusters concluded that getting hit with a cannonball was more deadly than the splinters it creates.

Pirates wore eyepatches to preserve night vision in one eye.


This myth works under the assumption that the eye covered with the eyepatch is already accustomed to low light conditions, while the other eye must take time to accustom. The MythBusters were sent into a dark room with light-accustomed eyes and were told to complete certain objectives. Their movements were hampered by the darkness and it took them five minutes to finish. When they went into a rearranged but equally dark room with an eye that was covered for thirty minutes, the MythBusters were able to complete the test in a fraction of the time. As a control test, the MythBusters then went back into the same exact room with light-accustomed eyes and ran into the same difficulty as the first test. The myth was deemed plausible because there is no recorded historical precedent for this myth.

You can slow a fall by using a knife to cut a sail.


Through various small scale tests, the MythBusters found that sails were not made in one piece, but in fact had a number of seams where the sail was folded over into several layers, making them harder to cut. Also, the sharpness of the knife plays a major role in the myth. If the knife is too sharp, the pirate falls too fast. If the knife is too dull, it would be unable to cut through the seams. In the full scale test, Tory attempted the myth himself by using a moderately sharp knife on a full-size sail. However, every time he attempted the myth, his knife would hit the seam and pop out of the sail. In the end, the MythBusters concluded that there is no possible way that a pirate’s knife would be able to be at the perfect balance between dullness and sharpness to safely cut through a sail.

Rum is a better clothes cleaner than detergent.


Using rum, modern detergent, period soap, and even urine, the MythBusters tested to see if rum could be used to clean up blood and tar stains on fabric. However, after the tests, the results were the modern detergent and urine doing fairly well, but almost no effect from the period soap and rum. Also, Jamie jokingly points out that pirates would more likely drink the rum rather than use it to clean their clothes.