Monthly Archives: August 2015

Uncommon Mariners Not Just For Pirates



“Welcome to the World of Pirates, Mariners, and the Eternal Sea.” Like billowing sails on a three-masted schooner, these words greet every visitor to my site. I put them front and center because I want everyone who comes to my page to know exactly what they can expect.

Like my upcoming book, Uncommon Mariners, you’ll find lots of information on pirates, ancient and modern, though my site isn’t just about pirates. It belongs just as much to mariners- those lusty, able-bodied men and women who for years have worked and played and sailed on high seas and in harbors all around the world.

Moreover, my site is also about the sea and the creatures that live there. The drama that plays out in the oceans every day as thousands of species struggle for survival is both riveting and shocking.

As I mention elsewhere on my webpage, I don’t propose to be the final word on any of these topics. Other sites do a fine job keeping you abreast of pirates and threats to mariners and the sea.

When you come to Uncommon Mariners, bring a pirate’s heart, playful and rebellious, but bring an inquisitive and probing mind too.  Do this and I promise you an entertaining, inspiring, and informative voyage.

I want to put a smile on your face with curious facts and amazing stories about mariners and the sea, but I also want to incense and anger you by making you aware of events and trends that are impacting mariners, the ocean, and its creatures in terrible ways.

Because the news isn’t all bad, I want to tell you about key players making a positive difference in mariners lives, the ocean environment, and the fight against piracy. And I want to provide you with links so you can learn more about these issues and act in ways big and small to make a difference. Continue reading →

A Pirate’s Four Keys to Success


Caribbean pirates used the Jolly Roger to intimidate their prey. Modern pirates often use grenade launchers and high tech weapons instead.

Caribbean pirates used the Jolly Roger to intimidate their prey. Modern pirates often use grenade launchers and high tech weapons instead.

The success of pirates today hinges very much on four basic elements, much like their Caribbean brothers three hundred years ago. Without these components, modern pirates would be more of a nuisance than a threat.

   …..First, pirates depend heavily on a hideout. This could be a port or country where either no one cares about their presence or is unable to do much about it. Strongholds of the Caribbean pirates were scattered throughout the islands: Port Royal, Tortuga, and Nassau. Far from Spain and England, these pirates wreaked havoc at will then returned to their refuge.

Until recently, Somalian pirates had been quite successful. With no country in close proximity to their home base, they merely had to blatantly sail home with their booty. Times have changed for Somalian pirates; like England and France years ago, the countries affected have brought pressure upon them and the attacks have dropped dramatically; but the price is vigilance.

…..Second, pirates thrive on a hot bed of commercial shipping. You can’t be a bank robber if you aren’t near banks. You can’t be a sailor if you aren’t willing to go to where there’s water. Caribbean pirates thrived on the Spanish Main and any other shipping lane offering the promise of wealth. Ships passing through the islands became easy prey for treasure, ships, human cargo, and other booty.

Modern pirates in the Indian Ocean, off the West Coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia all have their own targets. Some are even brazen enough to attack ships anchored in port. Oil and other precious cargo have become the new booty.

…..Third, pirates take every advantage of the hit and run. It wasn’t baseball players, but pirates who perfected this technique 300 years ago. With craft smaller and faster than their prey, their strength lay in surprise and speed. We often think those pirates loved massive ships loaded with cannons, but the truth is many pirates preferred small craft that were unobtrusive and fast. Take the prey by surprise, get in, get out, disappear. Today’s pirates with their modern boats and sophisticated technology have reinvented this technique.

Continue reading →

The Greatest Treasure Hunter that Ever Lived


It’s the birthday of Mel Fisher this week. Born August 21, 1922, Mel will always be remembered as one of the greatest treasure hunters that ever lived. This is quite an accomplishment for a lad who grew up in the hinterlands of America, far from the sound of the ocean murmuring on a sandy beach.

Raised in Indiana, Mel became a humble chicken farmer. He eventually made his way to California where, as the Beach Boys say, “All the girls get so tan.” Mel fell in love with the sea and opened up California’s first dive shop. But there was one beauty who stood out from the rest of those tanned beach girls, and that was Dolores Horton. Deo not only became Mel’s lifelong business partner and wife but was an accomplished diver in her own right. Eventually, Mel moved to the East Coast where more opportunities to dive wrecks abounded.

For Mel it was never really about the money. As a kid, he read Treasure Island and would be possessed his whole life by the dreams of diving and finding sunken treasure. Mel turned his eye to the Florida Keys where the Nuestra Senora de Atocha waited to reward that one persistent treasure hunter who didn’t know how to quit. The Atocha became Mel’s Holy Grail. It was a quest that called to him even in the darkest hour of his soul when he lost his son, Dirk, his daughter-in-law, Angel, and his dear friend, Rick Gage in a terrible accident on the site.

With the help of family, friends, and investors, he searched sixteen years before discovering the mother of all shipwrecks July 20, 1985. Mel Fisher’s dream was realized.

Then the vultures came. Other treasure hunters. The state of Florida. The United States government. Even the government of Spain. All laid claim to the booty Mel and his coterie of friends, family, and investors sacrificed so long and hard for. Beleagured by a hundred legal battles, Mel, like the heroic Odysseus, stood his ground. Eventually, the Supreme Court came down on Mel’s side, noting it was Mel Fisher and his team who labored for years and invested millions of dollars to retrieve the treasure. Nowhere to be found during that time was the state or federal governments.

For anyone who has heard the story of Mel Fisher, the lessons are clear:

… Every dream has a price and you must be prepared to pay it.

… When it seems darkest, don’t quit.

… When the storms blow, don’t run for cover. Run for your wet suit.

… Mel redefined the meaning of persistence, attested to by sixteen years of relentless searching.

… Mel was also the master of laser focus. He would not allow himself or his crew to be distracted by anything.

… And to ward off discouragement for himself and his team, he kept a sign over his desk, reminding everyone of the need for faith and hope. TODAY’S THE DAY! became his mantra. You see those words everywhere today, but it was Mel Fisher and his crew who lived by those words in the face of uncertainty.

You may not have dreams of discovering treasure at the bottom of the sea, but no doubt your dreams involve untold treasure just the same. When you awake tomorrow, chart your course, set your sails, and check your compass. Your dreams are like the North Star. Follow them and you’ll never get lost. And when you climb into bed at night and every bone in your body aches, you can drop off to sleep contented, knowing you’ve come closer to realizing your dream.

Mel Fisher Museum, Key West is home to hundreds of artifacts from the Atocha.

Mel Fisher Museum, Key West is home to hundreds of artifacts from the Atocha.

Author’s Note:

The Atocha site still yields treasure. To learn more about it or to dive the site yourself, go to . Or better yet, stop by Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum and Gift Shop at 1322 Hwy US 1 Sebastian, Florida. When you’re in Key West, check out the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum at 200 Greene St.

Curious Facts You May Not Know about Hemingway, Cuba, & Key West

Charlie Chaplin enjoying a quiet moment in Key West.

Charlie Chaplin enjoying a quiet moment at the Hemingway House in Key West.

… Gregorio Fuentes is often credited as the inspiration for the old man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Since he was almost Hemingway’s age when he worked on his boat, he was hardly old. Carlos Gutierrez was already an old man when Hemingway first met him. He was also the one who told Hemingway a Cuban tale about an old fisherman and his struggle with a marlin and sharks.

… Hemingway would often finish writing by two or so in the afternoon then head off to Sloppy Joe’s Bar to unwind.

… While Hemingway was away covering the Spanish Civil War, his wife Pauline decided to have a pool installed in their Key West backyard as a surprise. He was surprised all right! When he returned home, he pointed out Key West was an island and they could go swimming anywhere, anytime.

… Angry, he slammed a penny down by the pool and stormed off. “You spent my money building the pool; you might as well take my last cent.” Visitors to the Hemingway House can see that penny still preserved in cement by the pool.

… Though Hemingway blustered about the money, the house was actually a wedding gift from Pauline’s uncle, Gus.

… Ernest and Pauline often swam nude in the pool in the afternoon. Workers were admonished to stay away under threat of being fired.

… Pilar, the name of Hemingway’s boat, was the pet name Hemingway called Pauline while courting her.

… The five-toed cats that prowl the Hemingway House in Key West are actually descendants of the cats that roamed his property in Cuba. No word if they speak Spanish.

… Each cat living on the property is given a name. A cat cemetery is tucked into a corner behind the house. The graveyard is resident to the likes of Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, and Charlie Chaplin.

… The original bar where Hemingway hung out was originally located where Captain Tony’s is now. Back then it was called Sloppy Joe’s and was the former city morgue. Sloppy Joe ran his bar there from 1933 to 1937.

… With the help of Hemingway and a few friends, he moved it across the street one night  to its present location on Duval St. because the landlord raised the rent six dollars a month.

Continue reading →