Welcome to the World of Mariners,

Pirates, and the Eternal Sea.

My Stamp of Approval

It’s amazing how many different kinds of postage stamps you can buy at the post office this time of year. There’s the Madonna and Child, Saint Nick, and a lamb proclaiming, “All is calm and bright.” Of course, there’s also one celebrating Hanukkah, another Kwanzaa, plus quite a few more. And that’s on top of some pretty amazing stamps commemorating people and events from America’s past.

One of my favorites is a black and white stamp of John Kennedy. It captures a very handsome man displaying an air of leadership and dignity, something lacking in the presidency these days. I remember when he first became president. I was only 14, but even a callow youth like me sensed the feeling of hope that pervaded the country. Anything seemed possible then, so much so that Kennedy promised the United States would put a man on the moon in a decade. He beat his own timeline.

Coming from any other politician, the prediction would have been preposterous dribble, like a slimy politician promising to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country. But when a man like John Kennedy shared the vision of a New Frontier, most Americans believed that it was not only possible but probable.

I don’t think we should put the picture of politicians on postage stamps today. It seems most are obnoxious and deceitful, many millionaires who buy their position with the family inheritance or with obscene amounts of money from lobbyists. And that’s a disgrace. Who wants to mail a letter with a politician’s picture on it who robs from the poor to give to the rich?

It’s not that people don’t expect you to bend the rules when you ’re president, but they do expect you to play fairly and not be mean-spirited or vengeful. Which brings me back to postage stamps and an interesting character from America’s past. Blackbeard.

It takes a real leader to handle a shipload of pirates. Imagine what Blackbeard could have accomplished as President

I can’t help but think he would have made a great president, looking great on a postage stamp. He was clever, manipulative, strong, focused, and a great motivator. If you served with him, you might not always agree with his methods or his goals, but life couldn’t have been fairer on his ship. He wouldn’t have had to tweet for you to know what he was thinking or to exert his authority.

As I mull over this whole postage stamp thing, I can’t help but think what one would look like with Blackbeard’s picture on it. He’s usually portrayed with a black, straggly beard and a full head of hair. His eyes didn’t twinkle like Santa Claus’. Rather they were dark and piercing, quick to root out malingerers.

I don’t know if Donald Trump’s likeness will ever appear on a postage stamp. One reason is just practicality. How can you get a picture of someone with all that hair into such a small space? The other reason is more ethical. Is it really a good idea to extol someone who thinks it okay to grab a woman by her genitals without even asking? I’d like to see Donald Trump do that around Blackbeard.

Another figure that deserves a place on a postage stamp is Captain William Kidd. Kidd’s gotten a pretty bad rap over the years, but many historians are revising their view of Kidd as a ruthless, blood-thirsty murderer. The fact is, when Kidd set sail from New York, he did so with the explicit approval of some very influential politicians. His fortunes turned bad when his crew grew mutinous after failing to capture any ships on a list pre-approved by the King and politicians.

Kidd struggled to control his crew, all the while attempting to satisfy the demands of his well-connected investors. If Kidd had a flaw, it was that he was naïve and trusting. After returning to the Caribbean, he discovered he was a wanted man, yet opted to willingly return to New York, certain he would find support from those who hired him.

Politicians, realizing they were about to be embarrassed, disassociated themselves from Kidd, and even went so far as to hide two tickets that would have exonerated him. Upon his arrival in New York, he was jailed and shipped to England to be tried for murder and piracy. Forbidden to present an adequate defense, he was found guilty and condemned to hang. Kidd’s picture on a postage stamp? He earned it after dealing with cutthroats at home and at sea.

And not to slight the ladies, I think Ann Bonny is another pirate who deserves to be on a postage stamp. At an age when women on ships were taboo, Ann broke the glass ceiling or at least the crow’s nest on the mainmast. It took a lot of courage for a woman to pass herself off as a man, rubbing elbows and God knows what else with a ship filled with lusty sailors. Just going to the bathroom took a lot finesse and cleverness so as not to expose her identity as well as other things.

Eventually, Bonny’s sex was discovered, but she earned the crew’s approval when she showed she could fight as well as any man. Surprisingly, Ann and her cohort Mary Read proved more valorous than the men who cowered below deck when the ship was under attack. When captured, she was tried and sentenced to death. The only reason the sentence wasn’t carried out was because she was pregnant.

Blackbeard’s flag depicts a heartless scoundrel, but he was fair to the little guy. He would disapprove of today’s politicians who steal from the poor guy to give to the wealthy.

I could suggest other pirates whose faces deserve to be on postage stamps, but I’d be happy with just these three. Like the typical politician today, they were resourceful, clever, and master manipulators. Unlike today’s politicians with their aristocratic attitudes, pirates had a strong sense of fair play and democracy. On a pirate ship, no one was privileged. Not the rich; not the well-connected; and certainly not the blood-sucking lobbyists.

The motto of pirates could be summed up in a familiar phrase: “All for one. One for all.” If Blackbeard and his ilk were alive today, they might even adopt the motto of the Carnival Cruise Line: “Fun for all, All for Fun.” Though they would probably insist on changing it to: “Rum for all. All for Rum.” Rather than argue with them, I figure why not join them.

It’s almost 4:30, and I have to close this piece. My wife needs a book of stamps at the post office. I don’t know what kind she wants, but if I had my way, I know which ones I’d buy.

                                            Bill Hegerich

                                            The Uncommon Mariner

 

To leave a comment, go to https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/12/09/my-stamp-of-approval/

 

World Octopus Day

It may surprise you to know that World Octopus Day is October 8. In fact, you may be even more surprised that anyone would take the time to celebrate such an inglorious creature, but the octopus, despite its silly appearance, plays a vital role in the health of this planet.

For example, did you know that the octopus is an important part of the diet of    sea birds, whales, and sharks. Not to mention hundreds of other species of fish that find this charming creature absolutely delicious. You can put humans on that list as well. Over 300,000 tons of octopus are eaten around the world every year. Among Mediterranean and Asian peoples, octopus is an important part of the diet.

Let me tell you a little about this multi-faceted creature. It’s part of the classification of cephalopods. That’s a fancy word that scientists use to describe sea creatures whose arms are attached directly to its head. You should thank God every night that you’re not a cephalopod. You’d look pretty funny if you had your arms and legs attached to your head. And think of the money your saving on deodorant by not having to deal with eight armpits.

Some of the different kinds of cephalopods include octopus, squid, and the cuttlefish. Though it can get confusing, octopus should not be confused with squid. Octopus can range from quite small up to three feet and beyond. Squid are generally much larger with tentacles capable of wrapping clear around some whales. In bygone years, when sailors whispered tales of sea monsters, the squid was often the real subject.

A squid has ten arms and legs while an octopus has only eight. Just remember that October and octopus both come from the Latin word octo which means eight. In the old Roman calendar, October was actually the eighth month of the year, not the tenth.

Both squid and octopus are capable of ejecting a dark ink when threatened. How cool is that? The confusion it creates allows it enough time to escape. As a writer, I’d like to have some of that ink. Do you have any idea how much money I’d save by not having to  buy all those ink cartridges at Office Depot?

I bet there are a lot of people out there who have eaten octopus and don’t even know it. That’s because chefs got the idea of giving it a fancy name like Seafood Delight cooked in a special wine sauce. Cooking with wine definitely improves the taste of octopus especially if you have a few glasses before adding some to the sauce pan.

My favorite dish at the China Buffet where I sometimes dine used to serve octopus. I don’t know why they stopped, but I do know they were delicious. I’d hate to think I was the reason they removed it from the menu.

No longer than an inch or two, they were mostly head with tiny arms. Like any good Buddhist would do, I always prayed that those on my plate would have a better life next time. I also prayed that God would send more. I don’t think he was listening very hard to the second half of my prayer. Maybe he was out trying to save some lost sole in the ocean.

Many octopus have the unique ability to change their body. Many can camouflage themselves by changing their color. However, there’s one species that can actually change the shape of their bodies. This is the mimic octopus, and it can assume just about any shape it wants. Some can turn themselves into shrimp, while others turn themselves into sea snakes, crabs, and even jelly fish.

I kind of wish I could do that. I think it would be quite useful especially when getting into a movie theatre or a restaurant that gives children half price. I could save a lot of money, and I bet you would too. Besides the practical aspect of changing my appearance, I think of all the fun I could have by turning into a dog and whizzing on my neighbor’s lawn as payback for all the years I put up with her feeding feral cats.

I don’t mean to seem irreverent, but I bet President Trump would make a great octopus. He could hold a comb in each of his six arms and rake through that coiffure of his while tweeting with two phones at the same time.

Of course, not all octopus are good. There’s one in the warm waters of the South Pacific called the blue ringed octopus. This guy is one of the deadliest creatures in the sea with enough venom to kill a couple dozen men. Its bite can kill within minutes. Fortunately, it likes to be left alone and will only attack if threatened.

Now that I scared the hell out of you, let me leave you with a couple of amusing riddles.

Why did the nervous octopus pace the ocean floor?

His wife was having a baby and he needed something to octopi his mind.

How did the liquor store owner describe the octopus who held him up?

He told police that he was well-armed.

I’d like to share a lot more about the octopus here, but space is limited. However, you can read a lot more about them and other creatures of the sea in my book Uncommon Mariners. Just look for the chapter Mother Ocean and her Children when the book comes out.

When World Octopus Day rolls around, arm yourself with a knife in one hand, a fork in the other, and a six-pack of beer in the other six and chill out. And just be glad you’re not on the menu at the Grand China Buffet.

                                                 Bill Hegerich

                                                The Uncommon Mariner

To leave a comment, click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/world-octopus-day/

Back from the Bermuda Triangle

Mark Twain once called Bermuda his favorite place to visit. Here’s a view of the ocean en route there.

 

Earlier this month, I returned safely from my son’s honeymoon cruise to Bermuda and the Devil’s Triangle, but it felt a little strange for more reasons than one.

First of all, I never embarked on a cruise ship before without visiting the Caribbean. Because my soul is so attracted to those islands, I suspect my ancestors are from there, but I wouldn’t dream of taking one of those DNA tests to find out.

I always believed it’s more important to focus on where you’re heading in life and less on where your ancestors have been. Do you really want to head back to the Stone Age or the Middle Ages?

Bermuda is a very nice place. Mark Twain once said of all the places he traveled to on earth, it was his favorite destination. And he visited hundreds of locales on world tours so he would know. As I said, Bermuda is nice, but for Twain to be so impressed, I think he must have visited a different part from where I landed.

The Carnival ship, Sunshine, took us to King’s Wharf. Once we disembarked, we were greeted by two tugs. Faithful and Powerful. I have to confess, as a photographer, I’m a sucker for boats and ships. If it floats, I want to photograph it. That includes everything from the lowly tugs docked in King’s Wharf harbor to the United States Coast Guard’s training vessel, Eagle, which I was once privileged to photograph when docked in Key West.

I was so enamored by the two tugs tied up not far from our haughty ship that I got lost in the moment capturing them on film. Well, it’s not really a film camera. I just don’t want to be negative.

Fortunately, my two grandchildren, James and Brian, who are closer to men than children, came to fetch me, and we followed the road to the beach where everyone else on ship was already scrambling like lemmings.

James (left) and Brian (right) pause after rescuing their grandfather from some buccaneers in Bermuda.

Let me tell you about this road from the cruise ship to the sea. They have these green feet painted on the sidewalks, and even if you never look up, you can still arrive at the beach if you follow them. You’ll have more difficulty seeing the ocean once you arrive because the view is mostly blocked by beach chairs and umbrellas.

It wasn’t till I was back on ship that I realized even a drunken sailor could find his way to the beach and back though I suspect these green feet were more for tourists who were already half in the bag when they disembarked.

What little I saw of Bermuda was quite charming. Before the main beach, there’s this not-so-small side beach that butts up against the wall of an old fort. Scattered around the beach, but mostly along the wall, are miniature sailboats with sails painstakingly painted in incredible detail. Most depict nautical and tropical scenes, but one even portrays the Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. I was thrilled at the discovery, but I doubt few of the hordes that descended on the beach even noticed them.

The Birth of Venus is one of several scenes artistically depicted on small sailboats in Bermuda.

One thing did surprise me about our port of call. Just beyond the reef was a treasure trove of sea glass. My son and daughter, before reboarding, had taken their share of booty and donated a generous portion to my wife. She decorates her shell wreaths with them and sells them in galleries and art shows. Anyone lucky enough to own one of her wreaths is a lucky person indeed.

Maureen’s shell wreaths are so popular, she has difficulty keeping up with the demand.

There was another strange thing I found out on the cruise. None of the dining rooms on the Sunshine open out onto a deck where sunshine abounds. All you can see is a fuzzy view of the ship’s wake through large glass panels. I felt part of a surrealistic Dali painting, looking out at the ocean much like a goldfish staring from his bowl.

This view of the ocean through a wall of glass was more than a little disappointing.

Maybe it’s a growing trend in cruise ships, but I find it disturbing to spend a ship load of money and not be able to feel the sun and breeze on my face while savoring my omelet and morning coffee with my mermaid.

The other thing I found intriguing was at the aft of the ship on deck nine. There a swimming pool occupies the center of the deck and is shouldered by a couple of bars. The puzzling thing is that high above the pool is a huge movie screen. During the day, you can watch a videotape of all kinds of tropical fish, some darting and others swimming lazily. Funny thing though. I never saw any sharks.

I still have yet to find someone who can explain to me why a sane person would spend thousands of dollars to go on a cruise then sit in front of a TV screen you can watch at home for free.

Out on the ocean, you can watch videos of fish in the sea. How bizarre is that?

It doesn’t get any better at night when they play pablum-puking movies, trying to appeal to the masses. Again, I wonder why an intelligent person would spend two hours absorbed in a movie screen when the most spectacular view on the face of the planet is on either side of the ship.

One thing I immensely enjoyed about the vessel were the two or three areas where I could enjoy a cigar while soaking in a view of the ocean. To be sure, I did take advantage of that. I was certain as I savored my Kristoff Maduro that I saw a ship flying the Jolly Roger not far off the starboard bow. And that was after only one margarita.

Before you go on a cruise, I recommend you do three things. Get in touch with my wife, the mermaid. She can find you deals that even travel agents don’t know about. In fact, she could save you so much, you’d fear Blackbeard would return from the dead to get his grubby hands on some of that money you save.

Two, check out the ship you’re thinking of calling home for several days. If you can’t eat outside, reconsider. There’s something about the ocean breeze on your body that makes your food taste twice as good.

Finally, forget about the big screen TV on the back of the ship and go to the upper deck where you can feel the sun on your face and the sea breeze in your hair. And remember to bring your own cigar if you want to blow smoke rings at passing pirate ships because you’re not getting mine.

                                                Bill Hegerich 

                                                The Uncommon Mariner 

To leave a comment, click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/back-from-the-bermuda-triangle/

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