Monthly Archives: August 2016

Abandon Ship

Those two words are perhaps the most terrifying any passenger on the high seas can hear. On Wednesday, August 17, a ferry with 511 passengers and crew caught fire while en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico from Santo Domingo.  Miraculously, no one was killed as the Puerto Rico Coast Guard and local officials rushed to the scene.

It’s a voyage the ferry makes several times a week. This time a fire in the engine room changed routine into a near disaster when a fuel hose burst and spewed dangerous fuel everywhere. The fire spread to other parts of the Caribbean Fantasy, and when the ship lost power, it drifted finally grounding off Punta Salinas. While the hull sustained no damage from the fire, pictures reveal a different story for other parts of the ship.

More than a hundred people suffered smoke inhalation, dehydration, and shock. Though passengers were evacuated into life rafts by slide, several passengers suffered broken bones in the process.

The story has a happy ending because everyone did what they were supposed to do. Owners and authorities made sure proper equipment was on board. This included enough life vests for both passengers and crew, proper functioning slides, and enough life boats to accommodate everyone on board.

The story also has a happy ending because the captain, instead of trying to play hero and guide the ship into port, properly ordered the dreaded “Abandon Ship” command. Most importantly, everyone survived because the passengers kept their composure and did not panic in the face of a terrifying ordeal.

I shudder to think what would have happened in other parts of the world where ferry disasters are far too common and the loss of life seemingly routine. You don’t have to go too far back in the news to discover how bad it could have been for travelers on the Caribbean Fantasy.

On April 16, 2014, the South Korean ferry Sewol went down claiming 304 souls, most of them school children. When its sister ship was seized and inspected, authorities discovered the lifeboats would not release, and when one finally did by hard kicking, it barely inflated in the water. Continue reading →

Olympic Fever

Think you have what it takes to design your own pirate flag? Maybe we’ll see you in the very first Pirate Olympics.

Think you have what it takes to design your own pirate flag? Maybe we’ll see you in the very first Pirate Olympics.

Lately it seems wherever you turn, you either hear about the Rio Olympics or you see it on TV. I’m not complaining. I find it inspiring to see so many topnotch athletes performing at their best.

But did you ever wonder what it would be like if pirates held their own Olympics? I can’t help but think it would be an exciting event well worth watching.

If I was organizing the event, I would have eight categories. First, there would be the sword and cutlass events. The first part would consist of polishing and honing a sword or cutlass. (Swords are more for piercing; cutlasses are more for slashing though you can do both with either.)

Each pirate would be given a dull, rusty blade and his job would be to turn it into a thing of beauty that every other pirate would want to steal.

Since this event is in the nascent stages, I’m still working out the details like how to prevent a bunch of pirates who had too much rum to keep from cutting themselves. In the end, the sword that pirates try to steal the most gets the gold. And you know how pirates love gold.

The next event requires each pirate to draw a treasure map. You heard that X marks the spot. Can you imagine a pirate marking a hundred X’s on his map? A stolen map would be worthless to the pilferer.

And before you object to pirates stealing at the Olympics, I want to remind you that they’re pirates. They’re supposed to steal from each other. In fact, if they failed to steal anything during the events, they’d be disqualified.

Another event would require everyone to design their own pirate flag. The only stipulation is that it’s designed on cloth. One pirate new to the trade actually flew an old piece of burlap because that was all he had. As time went on he got better.

Imagine the possibilities pirates could come up with after a couple of rum and Cokes. A treasure chest on a field of pink. My grand daughter would love that. Or picture a skull and crossbones on a rainbow background. I bet that would bring a smile to the faces of a lot of men and women in the gay community. Aarrrrgh!

Pirates are often given a bad rap about their hygiene- and some might well deserve it. In this next event, pirates are given a bar of soap and required to wash up. Drop the soap, and you’re automatically disqualified. Continue reading →

Brutal!!!

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

Brutal. It’s one of the first words people utter when they read a true account of pirates, and they’re right. As a group, pirates were among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men a person could encounter on the high seas.

You’ll notice that qualification: “Among the hardest, toughest, and most dangerous men….” It must be understood a wide range of brutality existed not only on pirate ships, but on merchant and Royal Navy vessels as well. Running into a pirate ship was not exactly like running into the Red Cross, but then neither was running into a ship from the Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy was notorious for its institutionalized cruelty and violence. Some captains were despotic, sadistic leaders encouraged by the top brass to keep discipline at all costs. Like hardened sailors on pirate ships, these captains found a home in the British Navy.  Life on one of their ships was no less than a chamber of horrors.

On a scale of violence from one to ten, most pirates were somewhere around a five. Several pirates, however, like some captains in the Royal Navy, were off the charts. Their cruelty and sadistic tortures knew no bounds. If we are to be accurate about this, we should call them for what they were. Psychopaths. Piracy just happened to be the profession they chose like captains of the Royal Navy who relished the pain and misery they inflicted on their crew with little provocation.

If I had to select the top five cruelest pirates in history, I’d have to include Rock Barziliano, Francois L’Olonnais, Edward Low, Benito de Soto, and Don Pedro Gilbert.  I won’t go into specifics here, but I will tell you their horrific attacks are chronicled in Uncommon Mariners and a number of other riveting books by expert authors such as David Cordingly, Benerson Little, Peter Earle, and Colin Woodard.

The mutilations and murders by these men were so brutal that I have no doubt that it would make Blackbeard and Kidd flinch. In fact, I’ll go even further than that. I believe in my pirate soul that most of the pirates of the Golden Age would be embarrassed to have their names associated with the likes of them.

“That’s not what we were about, mate. Damn ye, scalawag, for even suggesting such a thing!” Blackbeard would no doubt thunder. Continue reading →