In 1993 LEGO Pirates had been available for four years and had already churned out some of the most memorable LEGO sets ever produced. Since 1989 the Black Seas Barracuda (6285) had been the literal flagship of the pirates and the figurative flagship set of the theme. By 1993 as is the custom it was time to retire the set and replace it with something new which was a difficult task. The Black Seas Barracuda was critically acclaimed and in the years since has attained legendary status among LEGO collectors for it’s aesthetic appeal and high quality. Would the Skull’s Eye Schooner be able to fill those gargantuan shoes?
In order to up the ante LEGO decided to include everything the Black Seas Barracuda had and add more. First of all the piece count was slightly higher clocking in at a whopping 892 compared to 865 for the Barracuda. The amount of mini figures was also increased by one to include nine. But the most striking difference was the use of a third mast above the captain’s cabin on the rear of the ship which makes the ship more visually striking and balanced as well as “faster”.
The Skull’s Eye Schooner features new black and white striped sails. The top sail on the middle mast is longer than the others which also helps give the ship a more balanced appearance than it’s predecessor. One gripe is that this main sail has a large skull and cross bones printed on it advertising the fact that this is a pirate ship to hopeful prey but this isn’t a deal breaker. The Jolly Roger looks a lot more menacing than the cartoonish depiction seen on the newer sets. To accommodate the longer sail the middle mast is taller than the front mast which also improves the aesthetics of the set.
The ship has four cannon ports on each side but only four cannons. Rather than the cannons being fixed in place each one is mounted to a turntable that is capable of rotating 360 degrees and sliding across the ship from port to starboard. There are also two small cannons on the poop deck which seems to be the correct terminology and isn’t as messy as it sounds. As a result this ship has more broadside firepower than any of the ships in the classic LEGO Pirates catalog. I love lining it up against the Caribbean Clipper and going “puuuw puuuuuw puuw puuuuuuw pum”. You know you would too.
There are two small hatches near the front (bow) of the ship for access below deck and the cabin can be accessed by opening the hinged walls on either side or by removing a portion of the deck on top. There isn’t much inside of the cabin, just some kind of a blue table or bed depending on whether your crew needs to eat or sleep. The wheel actually controls the rudder which is kind of a cool feature but more importantly it doesn’t monopolize the interior. There is also a working compass so your pirates are actually able to determine where they need to go and use the wheel to navigate. Also handy if you and your wife disagree which direction is west and you can point to the compass on a toy LEGO ship to prove your knowledge and maturity.
One of the coolest features of this ship and something that TLG has not replicated since is the life boat hanging from the stern. Although all of the larger ships have included life boat’s there has never been a way of integrating them onto the main model. Typically they are just bundled in the box or in the case of the Red Beard Runner meant to be towed behind the main ship via a rope. Even though the boat just hangs from some tubes on two half arches it really helps give this ship a larger sense of scale and it’s something I wish LEGO would have implemented again.
Rounding out the set are a parrot, a shark, and a monkey. As an adult these aren’t overly exciting elements since I have several by this point, but as a kid it really completed the presentation. Even if you didn’t own any other sets from the Pirates theme there was enough included with this set to have a great time. Unfortunately I never owned this as a kid. Instead I sat and stared at it in catalogs endlessly, longing for the day I could put this bad boy together. Since it was over $100 however this belonged to the group of toys that you could only hope to receive on Christmas or birthday. By the time I was old enough to start saving money for the larger sets this had been replaced by the inferior Red Beard Runner and was retired.
For nearly 25 years this set has been on my want list. Recently, with my birthday approaching and with ideas of what to get me at a minimum I convinced my wife to let me pick something vintage that I’ve wanted for awhile and just let me buy it. The Skull’s Eye Schooner was what I had in mind and as nerdy as this may sound when the box arrived at my doorstep it felt like a dream come true. Almost a quarter of a century of waiting had finally ended and I was able to behold this three masted beauty in person for the first time. It was worth the wait as this is everything I hoped it would be.