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Not-So-Safe Harbor

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"Where the streets have no name
Where the devil's in all men
If you knew what was at stake
Pay or flee in Tortuga Bay"
Running Wild,"Tortuga Bay"

As far as humankind has dominated the sea, sailors have been considered as one of the lowest links of the social hierarchy, since these men spend many, many weeks at sea, usually don't have a steady place to live, and usually use the little wages they have on lowly pleasures. Hence, the typical image of the settlements made to give these men a place to spend their wages and satisfy their urges.


Common elements of these Wretched Hive-types of ports are shady merchants, run-down taverns with lots of drinking and gambling, cheap whores, barrels and crates everywhere, and lots and lots of fish. But we have managed to classify them in two types:

  1. Booty Bay, usually the hangout of your favorite pirates, whether they're idle or not. Expect them to be on an unknown location where authorities try to be on the margin of things and raids every once in a while. Set either somewhere in the Caribbean or in Southeast Asia, though not exclusively, expect it to be set in the 18th or the early 19th century. And yes, it's full of both kinds of Pirate Booty.

  2. Stormalong Harbor, generally associated with the novel Moby-Dick and a staple of the New England culture in general, though it is not a requirement to be. Expect sea shanties, whalers, maidens who wait for their men to return, and privateers around, usually set during the 19th century or the early 20th century.

This trope still has its echoes in present-day fiction, as dockyards remain a popular setting for police to uncover contraband of all sorts. Its friendlier counterpart is the Port Town.

Here be examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • When Shrayuki and Kazuki get kidnapped by the slave trading pirates known as the Claws of the Sea in Snow White with the Red Hair, Kazuki freezes in their escape attempt when he sees just where the ship they're on is docked since he used to be one of the Claws before they sold him and he recognizes the fortified "town" as a pirate based settlement and realizes that they are well and truly trapped without outside assistance.
  • Berserk
    • Avast! The city of Vritanis, containing at least one pirate captain, complete with eyepatch, pegleg and cutlass.
    • It has an arc around a battle next to a port. Being a Crapsack World like few others, the whole town and implicitly its port fits this.
    • After destroying the pirates who pursues after them, Guts and crew lands in a small island to resupply, only to find out that the inhabitants, save for one little girl, are all part-human and part-deep sea monstrosity. Lovecraft would have been proud.
  • Roanapur from Black Lagoon is a modern-day Booty Bay, being a hangout for pretty much every illegal or semi-legal shipping crews in the south Asian sea.
  • One Piece: The Grand Line in all its cliched piratey glory. Interestingly, you can find both kinds.
    • Mock Town is an insanely violent version of Booty Bay. It's so bad there, a man standing on top of a building challenging everyone to a fight and killing anyone who dares with his bare hands barely draws a crowd, much less a flaming man getting kicked out a window.
    • Water 7 is a Stormalong Harbor. Mostly legitimate businesses of shipwrights and traders, but it's still a place full of gambling, street parties, bars, and other places where you can spend several MILLION of the world's currency in a matter of hours and have nothing to show for it.
    • Sabaody Archipelago manages to be both by being broken into sections which can range from legitimate businesses and tourist traps to rip-off bars and slave shops while also being the meeting point of powerful rookie pirates. In fact the only thing keeping the order is the fact that it's right next to the Marine HQ and no one wants to draw that kind of trouble. After the Time Skip, the Navy moves their headquarters to the other side of the Red Line, and as a result Sabaody becomes more Booty Bay.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 
  • Klugetown in My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) is a landlocked airship harbor where sentient creatures and their body parts can be bought and sold. In the Mane Six's first encounter with a merchant in Klugetown, he asks Princess Twilight if she's interested in selling her horn, other residents offer bids for individual ponies, Rarity's mane, the whole lot of them, and Pinkie Pie's picture of her sister Maud, and Capper tries to sell them to pay off a debt.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Sweethaven in Popeye The Movie.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Tortuga, Singapore and Shipwreck Cove. Jack tells his crew to be careful about the latter as it's apparently a Meaningful Name. The Tortuga of the film is still somewhat cleaned up and Disney-fied, compared to how you'd expect it to be in real life; women can walk safely around without any fears of being raped, for example, though almost all of them appear to be professionals who are accustomed to this anyway. Considering that most of the pirates have no qualms about murder (at least in theory), that there are much more men than women everywhere in the film, and how most pirates spend a long time in boats without women, you'd expect that even pretty young men wouldn't be safe which is what Elizabeth Swann was disguised as.
  • A New Hope: Mos Eisley is this trope IN SPACE! You will never find a more wretched hive...
  • The movie Dagon transports Innsmouth of H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth to Spain and renames the town "Imboca", which translates to "in the mouth". It's set in the present day, but looks as though it could be the 19th century.
  • Das Boot opens with scenes at a Wretched Hive bar at La Rochelle (France) during WWII, full of drunken U-Boat sailors and cheap girls.

    Fan Works 
  • The Freeport Venture: The city of Freeport, run by greedy merchant-princes and with guards so corrupt they are expected to supplement their income with bribes, is a notorious haven for Black Market deals in every sort of banned good, a hotbed of espionage and counterespionage, and a nest of organized piracy.

  • Libertatia (or Libertalia), the free communalist colony forged by pirates on Madagascar under the leadership of Captain James Misson in the late 1600s. There is little historical evidence to suggest that Libertatia ever actually existed.

  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Innsmouth in the Cthulhu Mythos is a Stormalong Harbor Town with a Dark Secret.
  • The pirate town of Tortage in the Barachan Islands in the Conan the Barbarian novels.
  • Damocles Docks in the third book of A Series of Unfortunate Events.
  • Gloucester in Captains Courageous is the New England fishing village variety.
  • Rhodes in Over the Wine-Dark Sea is the home port. A whole bunch of other cities are where they visit.
  • Orca is set in a costal city and involves the House of Orca, whose "hat" is both seafaring, and being crooked businesspeople or government officials. So, while the town is actually quite nice looking, probably like a pretty New England town, it's actually a hive of corruption.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga, the planet Jackson's Whole started out as the Booty Bay variation In Space!
  • The Port in Septimus Heap comes awfully close to this, being a hiring place of pirates and having generally a reputation for being an unsafe place to be in.
  • Braavos in A Song of Ice and Fire. "Cat" provides a clam-seller's view from inside.
    • Lordsport is also one, given that its inhabitants are Ironborn.
  • Umbar in The Lord of the Rings
  • T*A*C*K: Sandy Harbor is actually a pretty nice little community, but they have seen the occasional thief or smuggler make trouble at least once a book so T*A*C*K can help solve the crime.
  • Neceda in the Eddie LaCrosse series. It's a small-ish river port rather than a sea port, but has a lot of the same characteristics (like having actual residents be outnumbered by disreputable passers-through looking to get drunk and/or laid).
  • Dreadweather, one of the two eponymous islands in Dreadweather and Sunrise, is a whole island populated by pirates. To say the place is a lawless cesspit would be praise. The male protagonist Egbert and his family are among the few non-pirate residents, who run the island's only inn.
  • The Pirate Republic of Saldonica in The Witchlands is a city-state controlled by two pirate groups always hungry for more slaves for their Gladiator Games. While the Baedyed half is actually well-maintained, the Red Sails part is a Wretched Hive where no-one dares to go without their weapons out.
  • According to The Compleat Discworld Atlas, Barrie Island in the Widdershins Ocean used to be a Booty Bay. These days it's a pirate themed Souvenir Land, the locals having discovered this is a much more efficient way of robbing people.
  • The town of Raguza in Brotherband is a town full of and run by pirates, making it a useful spot to duck from the law, or team up with other pirates to launch a mass attack on targets too strongly defended for just one ship to manage. It's run by Pragmatic Villainy-for example, if anyone starts a fight, for any reason, they're turfed out. The prices are also not too bad-trying to cheat people with lots of blades and short tempers is not the best idea. Docking fees are a percentage of whatever cargo the ship is carrying. The Herons end up there in Book 3, chasing Zavac, and pass by in Book 7.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Booty Bay is parodied on The Mighty Boosh episode "The Legend of Old Gregg".
  • In the 2002 TV movie Shackleton, the Antarctic explorers find a whaling station that fits this trope, and even they ponder what madmen or outlaws would work in such a Wretched Hive.

  • Although the Frame Story takes place in the belly of a whale, a Stormalong Harbor figures prominently in "The Mariner's Revenge Song" by The Decemberists. Stormalong Harbors in general are pretty common in The Decemberists' songs, being that a lot of their songs are shanties or otherwise nautically-themed.
  • Song example: Portobello Town in Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Pirates", "where we've been told That a purse of gold Buys any man a crown".
  • "Singapore" by Tom Waits.
  • Aside from the page quote, Running Wild's "Port Royal" also dwells on the subject.

  • In The Gamer's Alliance, the Pirates' Cove in Yamato is the base of the Blue Dragon pirates and also a hive of scum and villainy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Hollow Earth Expedition supplement Mysteries of the Hollow Earth. The pirate city of Bloody Bay is ruled by a cruel and heartless tyrant who overthrew the previous Pirate King. This has led to an atmosphere of paranoia and chaos in the streets, with violence rising to ten times previous levels.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon magazine #16 adventure "Vesicant". The port of Scrape is the home of not only vile and bold pirates, but a dangerous green dragon that can breathe out a cloud of chlorine gas.
  • In Castle Falkenstein, the economy of New Orleans is almost entirely based on licensed piracy.
  • Port Duck in the Discworld Role-Playing Game is a joint Sto Plains/Agatean settlement on the Brown Islands, and is full of sailors who definitely aren't pirates. Confusing things, the parts the Agatean tourists see are also full of people who really aren't pirates but insist they are, giving the tourists all the excitement of drinking in a pirate tavern without actually being in any danger. It’s a parody of the historical Port Royal, in the Caribbean, with an added dose of modern-day Hong Kong (and maybe a dash of Disneyland).

  • Les Misérables:
    "My band of soaks,my den of dissolutes/My dirty jokes/my always pissed as newts/My sons of whores spend their lives in my inn"
    • Montreuil-sur-Mer has definite elements of this trope.

    Video Games 
  • World of Warcraft:
    • There's Booty Bay, the former Trope Namer. Though, oddly enough, at least some pirates have actually been banned from docking there—the Bloodsail Buccaneers dock in a natural cove nearby. The mayor of the town even sics you on them as part of a quest. The town seems to be run jointly by the Steamwheedle Cartel and the Blackwater Raiders, the latter of which are (or at least were) pirates.
    • In Battle for Azeroth there's Freehold, which is described as a "free people's port": it has no rules or regulations about what vessels are allowed to dock. Privateers, mercenaries, and even pirates are welcome. One can get anything they want in Freehold, provided that they pay for it, in gold or steel.
  • Heroes of the Storm has Blackheart's Bay, a battleground ruled by the titular pirate himself, with his Ghost Ship at the center of the map, waiting for any hero to deliver his Doubloons to him.
  • Runescape boasts quite a few belonging to both types:
    • Port Sarim is the only sea town accessible to nonmembers, and the only pirate here would appear to be the friendly drunk Redbeard who just wants some Karamjan Rum.
    • In the member's world is Brimhaven on the north end of Karamja as a firm example of Booty Bay.
    • The Cabin Fever quest gives access to Mos Le'Harmless (pun intended), a whole island populated by pirates.
    • Port Phasmatys was once an example of Stormalong Harbor, until it became a literal Ghost Town when all the residents were transformed into spirits. Surprising lack of Ghost Pirates, although Bill Teach and Pirate Pete are pirates who are still very much alive.
  • EverQuest 1 has the entire Legacy of Ykesha expansion. All the zones in that expansion are located on an island called Brokenskull Rock, and Brokenskull Rock swarms with pirates. One of the zones is called Dulak's Harbor.
  • Smuggler's Cove in the computer game I Spy: Treasure Hunt, especially in the past, but even in the present day, most townspeople seem obsessed with pirates and the sea.
  • The Monkey Island series loves to parody the Booty Bay version with every town in every game. The town on Melee Island in Secret would be if all the pirates weren't too afraid to leave because of LeChuck, the town on Scabb Island in Revenge would be if all the pirates weren't too afraid to leave because of Largo LaGrande (and it's implied everyone is just lazy anyway), Puerto Pollo in Curse is a Booty Bay retirement community, and Melee again in Escape is until it's turned into a tourist trap. The only town to play it straight is (appropriately) Booty Island in Revenge.
  • The pirate island Buccaneer's Den, appearing in the Ultima series since Ultima IV.
  • Fire Emblem: Yaaargh, the port o' Badon, what be filled with pirates and other unsavory nautical characters.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door has the aptly named "Rogueport".
  • Bloodstone in Fable II.
  • Brynnlaw in Baldur's Gate 2, which also has the distinction of being the port servicing Spellhold.
  • Bloodbath Bay in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
  • Dragon Age II: The Docks in Kirkwall. Except for the Qunari compound (which nobody in their right mind messes with), it's a smugglers' haven in the daytime, and at night it falls into the hands of gangs. While the rest of Kirkwall is also unsafe at night, the dockside gangs get a special mention for, in two of the three Acts, being controlled by blood mages.
  • Lion's Arch, the hub city in the Guild Wars setting was founded as a Booty Bay in prehistory, but (mostly) all the pirates in the city are Respectable Business Owners now. Prior to the city being sacked, most of the architecture was built (somewhat impractically sometimes) beached ships and high arched bridges between them. The city is still run by a Captains' Council, though, and and many of the settings, events, explorable areas in the surrounding regions involve things piratical as players fight against (or sometimes with) pirates in various ways.
  • Scurvy Docks in MediEvil: Resurrection, where you must disguise yourself as a pirate to get a boat.
  • Kao the Kangaroo Round 2 uses a pirate-infested harbor as the Hub Level.
  • In BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm, this is how the website Reddit is portrayed. It’s a perfectly safe place if you have enough karma… but those without it are forced to live in the dirty, cutthroat alleys of Downvote Lane. When you visit, the first thing you see is a public execution (the man reposted a Buzzfeed article), and you’re accosted by a trio of thugs shortly afterwards.
  • Dead Island: Moresby, a Booty Bay coastal city, has this trope turned Up to Eleven with not only hostile human raiders roaming the streets, but hordes of zombies too. The loading screen hints suggest that the raider punks contributed significantly to the city's criminal elements prior to the outbreak. Everything just plunged into anarchy after.
  • Far Cry 3 takes place on the Rook Islands, a series of islands taken over by Ruthless Modern Pirates. The protagonist and his friends end up captured and enslaved in the beginning of the game when they decide to go sky-diving to the islands.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: One of Eorzea's great city-states, Limsa Lominsa, was originally a textbook Booty Bay, but in recent years its government has outlawed piracy and made an effort to reform it as a legitimate port city. It still has a reputation as a den of cutthroats and many pirate crews live on as privateers given legal leave to attack The Empire.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Not So Safe Harbour


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