Whenever we picture the stereotypical pirate, he’s usually wearing a long coat or striped shirt, is bearing acutlass, and is sporting an eye patch. While the first two are easily explainedas being appropriate for the period, the eye patch is an anomaly that seemsmore like a modern add-on to give the customary costume a unique touch.
The truth is, however, that the eyepatch was part of pirate garb, but that leaves the question as to why. It’s unlikely that so many pirates lost an eye to warrant it becoming synonymous with piracy. While it’s probable that many pirates were covering a damaged eye, there is another plausible reason that may explain why the eye patch was so prevalent out at sea.
The popularity of patches
Buy any Halloween pirate costume and there is a very good chance an eye patch is going to be included. While it’s a staple of the iconic getup, back in the days of piracy, the eye patch was believed to have had a clear purpose.
Living with a bounty on your head and enemies at every turn, pirates needed to be ready for anything. Whether day ornight, if a rival ship came too close or they happened upon a settlement worth sacking, pirates had to be ready. Come night fall, adjusting to the shift from light to dark was essential to pillaging and plundering. To prevent the nightfrom impeding their vision, pirates allegedly used eye patches so that they would always have one eye well-adjusted to the dark.
The importance of night vision
According to "Scientific American," it can take the human eye up to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness. For pirates, those 30 minutes could be the difference between being left on the ocean floor and getting a jump on incoming opposing flags.
Piracy doesn’t follow a set clock, andships were constantly moving through the night. In the event of a confrontation, it was vital that pirates could see. On starless and moonless nights, the sea could be pitch-black. Pirates who kept one eye in the dark had an advantage over those who didn’t.
Is it plausible?
The issue determining whether or not this reasoning is accurate is that there are no historical records to offer confirmation. There may be no evidence or pirate artifacts that support thistheory, but there are real-world applications that at least give reason to believe this theory.
The team behind the"MythBusters" TV show put this idea to the test in their 2007 pirate special. Known for taking the necessary steps to create a controlled environment and mimic the original conditions, the team set up a dark room and sent in light-adjusted eyes. In the dark maze, they stumbled and had adifficult time making it to the exit.
A second dark room served as a maze foreyes that were covered for 30 minutes. This room was completed in significantly less time.