Last week I recounted several of the things we have to be grateful for in the ocean and the maritime environment. While some may consider these accomplishments mere footnotes to be buried in a year of frantic activity, I urge you to regard them as important stepping stones to a better future not just for the ocean and the mariners who sail upon them, but for all of us. Why? Because the future of every soul on this planet depends on a healthy ocean and its fragile ecosystems.
With this in mind, I urge you to visit several of the sites below and learn more about the organizations that champion a better ocean. You don’t even have to join them though that would be better. At least by visiting them, you’ll learn a few things you can do to help make Mother Ocean a healthier and safer place for its children and the eight billion children of this planet.
… Greenpeace at www.greenpeace.org uses peaceful protests and communication to expose environmental problems and promote solutions.
… Coral Reef Alliance at http://coral.org/ promotes the health of coral reefs around the globe.
… Cousteau Society at http://www.cousteau.org/ is all about helping people understand and care for seas and rivers worldwide.
… Marine Conservation Institute at http://www.marine-conservation.org targets key ecosystems around the world and advocates for them.
… Wild Oceans at http://wildoceans.org seeks to curb overfishing and restore depleted fish populations. If you’re a weekend fisherman, you owe them a lot.
… SeaKeepers at http://www.seakeepers.org energizes the yachting community to protect the world’s oceans. Their motto is: “Research, Educate, Protect, and Restore.”
… The Ocean Project at http://theoceanproject.org partners with aquariums, zoos, and museums to promote ocean conservation.
… Waterkeeper Alliance at http://waterkeeper.org helps protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways worldwide. Like to swim in clean water? Check them out.
Thanksgiving is almost upon us and not far beyond that Christmas and the end of another year on our Blue Planet. With all the dreadful news that has piled up on the threshold of our doorstep this year, there is some good news about the oceans for which we should indeed be grateful. Let me just cite a few things; they appear in no particular order.
… Incidents in piracy has dropped dramatically off the coast of Somalia. While it’s true, it has increased in other areas of the world such as the coast of West Africa and Malaysia, vigilance and cooperation are key to stunting its growth.
… One of the worst offenders of overfishing was caught earlier this year by the environmental group The Sea Shepherd. This after a 110 day chase on the high seas. When they were finally brought to justice, they were given hefty fines and even heftier jail sentences.
… The Suez Canal opened its second lane in September. The eight billion dollar project, done in just one year, is intended to speed up the trip for thousands of ships a year.
… Populations of fish are continuing to make a come-back according to PEW charitable trusts. Include among these groups the Goliath grouper. No-take reserves help fish come back more quickly. Support these areas whenever you can. We have a long ways to go, but it should buoy our hopes.
… The United States and Cuba after many years of acrimonious feelings have agreed to share scientific data and cooperate in marine conservation. Affected are the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Flower Garden Banks in the Gulf of Mexico, the Dry Tortugas, the Dry Tortugas and Biscayne National Parks, and the Guanahacabibes National Park. Sharks have also been targeted for protection. Put simply, without sharks, the rest of the marine ecosystem collapses pretty quickly.
… Both Chile and New Zealand have established marine sanctuaries, making them off limits to fishing. Chile’s is the Desventuradas Islands; New Zealand’s is a 239,000 square mile reserve in the Kermadec region.
…The Paris Climate Talks begin November 30, only a few days from now. Many countries have already prepared goals to reduce their carbon footprint and thus reduce global warming. The rising seas is an incredible threat to millions of peoples living on islands and coasts around the world. If they get displaced by rising seas, the refugee problem we have today will be but an inconvenience compared to what will come.
… The public has awakened to the dangers of micro-beads in thousands of beauty products. These beads are not only a threat to coral reefs and the creatures that feed off them but to larger fish, and eventually to humans who eat those fish. Furthermore, companies are listening to consumers and some have already pledged to phase out their use. Be part of the solution and let companies know you want healthier alternatives.
… Big oil has withdrawn its bid to drill in the Arctic. Because of its lust for huge profits, the prohibitive cost of doing business sent them packing, not a love for the pristine environment. Continue reading →
Sir Francis Bacon once remarked, “The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.
Recently we celebrated Friday the 13th. Did that creep you out? Thirteen has long been associated with bad luck for a long, long time. I bet the first cavemen, when they began scratching lines on their cave walls for the very first calendar said something like this: “Look, Ogmar! It’s that thirteen thing again. Be careful of those saber-toothed tigers.”
People eschew thirteen at many levels. The most common is the conscious decision of rational men and women who design and name buildings to not name the thirteenth floor as the thirteenth floor.
So does that change the reality that the fourteenth floor in buildings is really the thirteenth?
Of course, in the middle of this whole discussion, sailors are no different. Pirates never wanted women on board. I don’t think it was because they didn’t want to be nagged about picking up their dirty underwear. Short and simple, they believed they were bad luck.
There were exceptions, of course. Ann Bonny and Mary Read served on pirate Jack Rackham’s vessel. In fact, they fought valiantly while a very drunk Jack Rackham and his crew cowered below the decks to no avail. How lucky was that? Every sailor should have women of their ilk on board.
Ann made her point shortly before Jack was hanged when she reminded him: “If ye had fought like men, ye wouldn’t die like a dog.”
Sailors generally consider it bad luck to rename ships, but some do it at their own risk. Pirates used to do it all the time. Blackbeard renamed Le Concord de Nantes to the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Bartholomew Roberts renamed all the flagships he used The Royal Fortune. Stede Bonnet actually purchased his pirate ship and renamed it The Revenge. So that superstition thing has no basis at all. Right?
Oh, wait a minute! I just remembered! All those pirates are dead. Hanged or blown to bits while engaging in one of their famous pirate attacks. How lucky was that?
We often ascribe superstition to things we don’t understand. Remember Ogmar and his friends? Superstitions vary by culture, but there are often common themes. A Jonah on ship was one of them. The Bible tells us Jonah was swallowed by a whale. In truth, sailors who considered a sailor bad luck referred to him as a Jonah. And more than one sailor was either thrown overboard or marooned far from home to rid the ship of bad luck.
If bad luck follows some people everywhere then what about days? Is it possible that maybe some days you should just stay in bed? Consider April the 19th. In 2010, the explosion of an oil rig belonging to Deep Water Horizon killed rig workers and spewed oil for eighty-seven days. Five years later, the ferry Sewol sank sending 300 poor souls to their grave. How unlucky was that?
A coincidence? Then explain this! On May 19th, the Mary Rose sank in 1545 taking an estimated 400 plus lives. Four hundred and thirty-four years later the Atlantic Empress and the Aegean Captain collided off Little Tobago, leaving twenty-six dead and hundreds of thousands of tons of crude oil awash in the Caribbean.
But wait! There’s more! Just this past year on May 19th, the Stena Jutlandica collided with a tanker. This time the 1,500 passengers escaped with their lives. How lucky was that? I could go on, but I don’t think I will. I don’t want to push my luck.
There are other nautical superstitions, but you’ll have to wait for my book Uncommon Mariners before you indulge your curiosities. Until then it’s only fair to remind you that if you’re going on a cruise, politely decline the flowers someone sends to your cabin. Just blame it on your allergies; blame it on me. Accept them and I accept no responsibilities for what happens next. Consider yourself forewarned.
What about you? I know you have some superstitions. Share them here. If you dare! Incidentally, you may be relieved to know the next Friday the thirteenth doesn’t come till next May. Being forewarned is being forearmed.
Happy Veteran’s Day to all those men and women who have sacrificed so much so that all of us Americans could enjoy our freedom. Whether you served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard, our debt to you is profound. We honor and respect you and thank you for the freedoms we enjoy.
Arrrrgh! Sorry I be’s late with this communicado, but me and me pirate wench have been held incommunicado this past weekend. We were bivouacked at the Waccamaw Artists Guild’s Art in the Park at Chapin Park, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
My wife creates Little Books of Mirth that she absconded from fairies who live in the woods behind our humble abode. She learned that trick from the best of pirates. But she be just as famous for her beautiful shell wreaths made with shells from beaches around the world where many a pirate and mariner have been marooned.
As fer me, me art comprises of photographs I took while pillaging’ and plunderin’ from Cape Cod to the Caribbean. One of me favorites is a diorama I discovered celebrating Homer Pyle’s painting Marooned. It depicts a solitary pirate sitting on an abandoned beach, a bandana wrapped about his head, shoulders slumped, lost in thought, no doubt contemplating the events that led to his situation. No doubt, one of those somber thoughts, is about what is to transpire with no worldly possession in reach other than a swallow of rum and a pistol.
Ye see, mates, pirates were frequently marooned on an inhospitable island with nothing more than a bit of rum and a pistol with one ball to speed his end at his own hand. It was a fate assigned to that pirate who didn’t play well with other pirates.
Howard Pyle is also known for two other easily recognizable paintings of pirates. One is of a blindfolded man, hands tied, ready to walk the plank. In the background, several pirates leer gleefully, exhorting the victim to the edge.
No doubt, Pyle got his ideas of pirates from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Alexander Exquemelin who served as physician among pirates. While Exquemelin’s embellished accounts in The Buccaneers of America are grounded in fact, Stevenson’s poetic license resulted in the creation of several pirate myths that thrive to this day.
The truth is there are only one or two accounts of pirates making their victims walk the plank. Not being well known for their patience, pirates devised a much quicker method of disposing of unwanted mariners. “Run a saber through the bloke and throw the body overboard. Alive or dead. Makes no difference to me,” pretty much captures their attitude.
However, considering that some captains and crews were, indeed, sadistic, it’s not hard to visualize pirates delighting in the torment of a blindfolded victim teetering on a plank extended over the sea.
Continue reading →