Welcome to the World of Mariners,

Pirates, and the Eternal Sea.

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/

The Running of the Bulls: A Most Unusual Birthday Celebration

 

The running of the bulls in Key West should be at the top of your bucket list. You’d be hard-pressed to have a better time anywhere else

Last week they celebrated the birthday of Ernest Hemingway in Key West, and the response I got was overwhelming for a peek inside the raucous days leading up to the celebration. As a bona fide conch who has visited Key West so often that the clerks at Fausto’s know me by my first name, I’d like to share some of the tomfoolery with you.

A couple weeks before the big bash begins, Hemingway look-alikes begin to show up in restaurants and bars all over town. As the event draws closer, they become more numerous, appearing on the streets often two and three at a time. Soon, like Santa Claus at Christmas, they are everywhere.

And just when you thought you saw one who is a dead-ringer for Ernest, another appears looking even more stunningly like him.

By the time Hemingway Days begins, Ernest is everywhere, his full white beard, round face, and sparkling eyes staring back at you from across the bar, his lips pursed tightly against the mouth of a tall glass filled with dark amber.

The epicenter for the main activities is Duval Street, particularly Sloppy Joe’s Bar, where for three nights, competitors take the stage and make speeches Hemingway would probably cringe at.

It’s good, boisterous fun as family, friends, and total strangers wildly applaud. Sometimes Hemingway look-alikes pepper their speeches with a song or ditty that would raise a chuckle from the real Ernest. Each night, the best are culled from the group. These semi-finalists then compete on Saturday night after the running of the bulls. The winner, of course, becomes the new Ernest Hemingway look-alike who reigns for the following year.

Of course, there are other serious-minded contests because, lest we forget, Hemingway was the consummate competitor. For example, in writing, he eventually took on his mentor, Gertrude Stein who helped him develop his sparse writing style when he lived in Paris. As you know, Stein was famous for her poetic line, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” When they finally parted ways, Hemingway paraphrased her saying, “A bitch is a bitch is a bitch.”

Ernest’s competitive nature naturally extended to fishing and hunting. A number of photographs show him standing on a Key West dock with gigantic marlins he hauled in on the boat of his friend, Sloppy Joe Russell. Sloppy Joe opened up a bar off Greene Street shortly after Prohibition ended. Hemingway inevitably ended up there after a good day’s work at his home just a few blocks away on Whitehead Street.

Hemingway spent many an afternoon hanging out at the bar his good friend Sloppy Joe Russell owned.

And what would Hemingway Days be without a three-day fishing tournament where the game is marlin. tuna, wahoo, and more; prizes of $50,000 go to the winners. If you believe the competitors in the bars, they hooked fish far bigger than the winners did. Understandably, the size of the fish grows in proportion to the number of beers the bearer of the tale has.

Because Ernest is one of the most famous writers that ever walked the planet, readings and literary presentations are held throughout the week. There is even a writing contest judged by his granddaughter, Lorian Hemingway. Entrants must submit their pieces months ahead of time in order for them to be judged in a timely fashion.

Everyone is more like family at the running of the bulls. Except of course the bulls themselves.

My favorite part of the whole celebration occurs on Saturday morning outside Sloppy Joe’s. Spectators and Hemingways. dressed in the traditional matador garb of white shirt and pants, and a red bandana, casually mull around the corner of Duval and Green St. It’s an opportunity to mingle with the look-alikes and have your picture taken perched on top one of the bulls huddled in the middle of a roped-off corral.

Some people, usually the ones who have imbibed a little too much, claim the bulls have been drugged so as not to be too dangerous when they run at one pm. That’s not true at all.

These bulls may seem ferocious, but they are used to the craziness of Key West.

Let me give you a little lesson on the anatomy of these bulls. Their muscular bodies, supported by wooden frames, are crowned with eyes that look like they’ve spent too much time under the tropical sun. A rope tail hangs from their backside and under their staunch legs are wheels so that when the Hemingway look-alikes push them around the block during the running of the bulls, they won’t become annoyed.

Let me see how I can put this next description delicately for the ladies. To make the bulls particularly realistic, they have hanging under them equipment that helps bulls do what bulls do so well with their girlfriends. If you were in Pamplona, Spain where Hemingway attended the running of the bulls and the bullfights afterwards, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake Key West bulls for the real thing.

Some tourists with one too many margaritas under their belt think the event is called the running of the balls, but that’s not true at all.

After a morning of slipping on and off these dangerous creatures to get their picture taken, the crowd, like the bulls, is pretty much exploding with excitement. At one pm the bulls are released from their pen with Hemingway winners from past years bravely mounted on top. The frenzy is on, and the crowd mixes with the snorting bulls as  look-alikes push them around the block of Sloppy Joe’s.

This is a dangerous job, but these brave men are well up to the task.

I can testify to just how dangerous this event is. With a cigar in one hand and a margarita in the other, I found it hard not to spill my drink as I doubled over with laughter rounding the first corner of the block. Within ten or fifteen minutes, it’s all over, and the exhausted bulls return to their corral, while the crowd breaks for Sloppy Joe’s, dying of thirst.

I still remember the year when, after the race, a huge birthday cake lay on a table outside the bar. There was enough to feed everyone in Key West. Twice. We all sang happy birthday to Ernest, then one of the winners of the look-alike contest from the previous year cut the cake. Borrowing an old wedding tradition, he fed the first slice to another Ernest.

Despite the exhausting run, these Hemingway winners from years past lead the crowd in singing happy birthday to Ernest Hemingway.

I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next. Do you know what a mess white icing and yellow cake make when smeared all over a full white beard?

You can travel to Africa like Hemingway did, or go fishing out in the Gulf Stream, but it’s going to be hard to have as much fun as you will in Key West at the Hemingway Days.

Maybe I’ll see you there next year. For a small donation, that profits local charities, you can even get a red beret like the Hemingway look-alikes wear. You’ll have fun and lots to drink, but you have to bring your own cigar.

And try not to knock the drink out of my hand going around that first corner of Sloppy Joe’s. It’s a long block under a hot tropical sun, and no one wants to take the chance of dying of thirst among a herd of excited bulls.

                                             Bill Hegerich

                                             The Uncommon Mariner

 

To leave a comment, click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/the-running-of-the-bulls-a-most-unusual-birthday-celebration/

 

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