Welcome to the World of Mariners,

Pirates, and the Eternal Sea.

Long May It Wave

Ever since Betsy Ross stitched the first few threads of Old Glory, our flag has become a symbol of freedom, liberty and fair play throughout the world. 

I’ve always been intrigued by mankind’s use of flags throughout history. They’ve been used to symbolize a variety of things. Governments have used them to evoke pride and patriotism in their peoples. Military leaders have used them on the battlefield to rally their troops. Flags have been used throughout history to instill fear in one’s enemies. Pirates were infamous for this. The mere sight of the Jolly Roger turned many courageous men into quivering jelly.

The U. S. Coast Guard flies a flag at small boat stations to indicate weather conditions. A single triangular red flag indicates a small craft advisory.  Two piggy-backed ones warn boaters of gale conditions. A single, oblong red flag with a black box in its center indicates a storm warning. When these are piggy-backed, boaters better take notice. A hurricane is on its way. Ignore the flags, and sail at your own risk. I just wish the fools who ignore the flags didn’t expect the brave men and women of the Coast Guard to risk their lives to save them.

Signal flags, with each flag representing a letter of the alphabet, are used to indicate a wide variety of events or dangers a ship may be facing. The science of using them requires training and skill. For example, did you know the Juliet flag means “Steer clear. I’m carrying dangerous cargo and am on fire?”  The Whiskey flag means “I have a medical emergency aboard.”  And the Oscar flag means “Man overboard.”

In old times, when a captain died at sea, a blue flag was flown. As the ship arrived in port, anyone watching it dock immediately knew the crew was in mourning. Hence, the expression in our language “feeling blue.”

One of the most famous flags in the world is, of course, the American flag. The United States has set aside June 14 to honor it. It’s simply called Flag Day. A type of Flag Day was first observed one hot summer in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861, but by the late 1800’s Flag Day observances were being held all over the country as a way to incorporate foreign children into our society. If that were to happen today, I don’t think it would go over too well in some communities on the Texas border. There foreign children are more likely to be deported or their parents shot at.

Most folks don’t know that Pennsylvania is the only state where Flag Day is a legal holiday. The forward-thinking citizens there made it so in 1937. Other states across the nation observe it, but only Pennsylvania citizens deemed the flag sacred enough to merit a special holiday.

It’s a shame more people don’t fly the flag regularly. Most folks wouldn’t think of going a day without cable service, but not many seem too concerned about not seeing Old Glory on a regular basis.

Did you know that the American Flag is flown year-round by Presidential decree in five different places? For clarity sake, it wasn’t Donald Trump who first ordered it. You can probably guess a couple of places it’s never taken down. The White House, the Washington Monument, the USS Arizona in Hawaii, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, and the moon. I bet a lot of Raven and Oriole fans didn’t even know that.

It wasn’t until President Harry Truman signed a bill into law in 1949 that Flag Day was nationally observed. I wonder why it took such a long time for so sacred a symbol to achieve such a venerable status. Can’t bombastic, self-serving politicians ever get anything done without dragging it out for decades? I bet if they were told no cocktail hour till some work is done, Flag Day would have been a reality back in 1927 when President Coolidge championed the idea. .

Not everyone in the United States is a big fan of Old Glory. Many protesters believe it’s their God-given right to burn it in protest of their government’s policies. The Supreme Court has ruled they have the right to freedom of expression, but I can’t help but wonder if those brave enough to burn the flag in broad daylight would do so if they had faced down deadly enemy fire in the dead of night in some remote outpost in Afghanistan or a dark jungle teeming with Viet Cong. Those who want to burn the flag should talk to my wife’s cousin, Johnny Gilroy, one of this country’s true heroes. He can tell you about some of  those Vietnam jungles and the men who fought by his side for your freedom.

If you really want to protest our government’s policies, smash your X-Box, burn your paycheck, or lend your debit card to a homeless Vet. A thousand protesters doing that will really get our nation’s attention.

I’m proud to be an American and if you come visit me, you’ll find the American flag flying along with the Jolly Roger and the flag of the Conch Republic. That’s the flag of the Florida Keys, a country unto itself, but that’s a story for another time.

It’s not a perfect country that Old Glory flies over, and like Blackbeard’s crew, we certainly have our blemishes. Bigotry, prejudice, and racial hatred don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

But when just one American stands up for another whom he doesn’t even know or even care for, the invisible threads of our unity are knit tighter than the threads of our flag. Great divisiveness has strangled our nation in recent years, but if we remember that only by working together can we survive, then our future is bright. But if we let anger, fear, hatred, and greed divide us, then we are doomed and no amount of flag-waving is going to save us. The choice is ours. Flag Day is a good day to remember we need to focus on what makes us Americans and not Republicans or Democrats.

                             Bill Hegerich

                              The Uncommon Mariner

 

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Big Oil Says Spills are an Inconvenience

Big Oil wants to start drilling in your backyard. Enjoy the pristine beauty of the egrets and herons in your neighborhood before they’re covered in black muck

Most Americans probably didn’t notice it because it happened in the East China Sea, but on Jan. 6, 2018 an Iranian tanker, the Sanchi, filled with petroleum condensate, collided with a Chinese freighter, the CF Crystal, spilling 100,000 tons of oil into the sea. It’s a tragedy when one mariner dies, but 31 crew members from the Sanchi were either killed in the accident or presumed dead.

Because it was petroleum condensate, the spill was extremely flammable and spread quickly across the surface of the water, creating a sea of fire. God only knows how many sailors were thrown into the sea and burned alive.

Chinese officials are having a tough time getting close to the scene to even assess the damage. The consequences for the environment are devastating. Since the area is a known spawning ground for many species of fish, all kinds of marine life along with their habitat are being destroyed because not much can be done to clean anything up.

Chinese authorities were caught off guard just like local authorities and citizens would be around the globe, when such a huge disaster occurs. And let’s be clear about this. Any oil spill is a disaster because it has so much impact on an already fragile ecosystem.

Of course, the first modern mega oil spill occurred in Santa Barbara, CA Jan. 28, 1969. The world had never seen anything like it. Don Craggs, spokesman for Union Oil, told the governor of California that no oil had escaped. He lied. Within ten days, close to 100,000 barrels of oil washed up on the beaches of California. Hundreds of thousands of birds and fish died and beaches were hopelessly contaminated.

And for those who think history does not repeat itself, consider that on May 19, 2015, 100,000 barrels of crude oil leaked from a broken pipeline along Santa Barbara, CA at the start of the tourist season. The oil slick stretched for nine miles. Eventually, the spokesperson for Plains All American Pipeline, Greg Armstrong, said he was sorry for the spill. “We apologize for the damage that has been done to the wildlife and the environment, and we’re very sorry for the disruption and inconvenience that it has caused the citizens and visitors of this area.”

“Inconvenience?” Did he say inconvenience? Did he say that with a straight face or was he just jerking citizens, businesses, and tourists around? Did he just call the destruction of wildlife and the destruction of nine miles of oceanic environment an inconvenience?

I’ll tell you what’s an inconvenience. Inconvenience is when you have to reschedule a doctor’s appointment because your physician had an emergency. Inconvenience is when your four-year old throws up as you’re taking her to daycare. Diabolical comes closer to what oil companies do when oil spills happen.

Most Americans are old enough to remember the Deepwater Horizon debacle that began in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, 2010. In that travesty, over five million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf until the well was capped three months later. That’s five million barrels not gallons. There’s no wonder millions of fish and birds were killed, miles of pristine coastline fouled with muck, and the fishing industry crippled.

Eleven workers died in that explosion. Strange that you don’t hear much about them anymore just like we’re not likely to hear about the mariners who died in the South China Sea. That’s a shame because they were as much victims as the environment, but when it comes to making big bucks, oil companies don’t discriminate between herons, fish and humans caught up in the atrocities it creates.

And now we have oil companies anxious to drill off the Eastern seaboard of the United States. They’ve already testified before Congress, spouting their lies. They claim they have better response plans far superior to Deepwater. The fact is, their plans are pretty much a carbon copy of Deepwater’s. You can put lipstick on a pig and parade it before Congress, but it’s still a pig.

A lot of people think a Deepwater scenario could never happen again. And they’re even more convinced that a replay of the incident in the China Sea is even less likely to occur. Just speed bumps on the road to progress, right?

Not so fast! Oil spills aren’t rare occurrences controlled by fate. They happen far more frequently than big oil wants you to know. On June 03, 1979, an offshore rig exploded in the Bay of Campeche in Mexico and leaked 126 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico before being capped ten months later.

Many Americans remember when the oil tanker, Valdez, crashed along the pristine shores of southwest Alaska, March 24, 1989, spilling 11 million gallons of oil and destroying thousands of acres of coastline and millions of birds, fish, seals, otters and even whales. The salmon industry still languishes because of a spill no one ever believed would happen.

Oil companies now want us to trust them with our beaches and coastlines from Maine to Florida to Texas.  They want us to believe that nothing bad is going to happen when they drill and eventually pump oil from offshore rigs.

They want us to believe there will be no blowouts, that their response to such events will be so much improved that not a drop of oil, not one tar ball will touch our shores.

President Trump, who at every chance has betrayed the common good of the average American in favor of big business, has removed all roadblocks to testing and drilling. However, state governors up and down the Eastern seaboard are not only suspicious but livid that he’s pushing testing and drilling down the throats of residents and business leaders. In South Carolina, the Grand Strand is the Pearl of South Carolina’s tourist industry. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit here each year, pumping millions of dollars into the Palmetto State’s economy while providing thousands of jobs.

How many people do you think will be flocking to South Carolina’s beaches, some traveling from as far away as California, Kansas, and Canada, when tar balls start smothering the beaches and the stench of oil fills the air.

Still the oil industry continues to overwork the old cliché, “This is good for the economy. Think of all the jobs we’re creating.” When they frame the argument that way, it portrays anyone opposing them as unamerican.

But let’s do the math! Suppose big oil does create 1,000 jobs in an area like South Carolina, but then destroys the state’s economy and causes the loss of twenty or thirty thousand jobs. Tell me how that’s looking out for the best interest of the folks who live here.

 

 

 

 

Oil companies assert that it won’t happen here. But if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice a major oil spill is likely to occur somewhere as frequently as every ten years if not sooner. I could have included in this dialogue many more examples of oil spills, so the problem is actually worse than it appears.

When oil companies say it won’t happen here, I’m reminded of what Mark Twain said: “There are lies, and there are damn lies.” To say the beaches up and down our coast will remain safe is a Damn Lie.

If the oil companies win out and set up oil platforms up and down the Eastern seaboard, South Carolina might want to consider trading in its state symbol of a crescent moon shining over a palmetto tree. Tar balls washing up on a beach blanket might be more appropriate.

What’s your opinion? Would you mind if your favorite beach resort, no matter where it’s located, is destroyed because big oil had its way? Trump has surrounded himself with bobbleheads who nod mindlessly when oil companies ask for a freehand where human lives and the environment are at stake. Don’t be a bobblehead. Learn the facts. Be aware of what’s going on. And question everything big oil and politicians tell you. Let them know you’re mad as hell, then go out and vote.

                                       Bill Hegerich

                                       The Uncommon Mariner

To leave a comment, click on http://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/01/28/big-oil-says-spills-are-an-inconvenience/

 

Hawaii

There are four major Tiki gods: Kono, Kane, Kanaloa, and Ku plus numerous small ones. These two Tiki gods apparently are discussing who drank their rum. I hope they know it wasn’t me.

We recently celebrated the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, January 18, 1778 by Captain James Cook. Surprisingly, there were no tiki bars when he landed, no grass skirts on the women, and no pineapples growing there.

And I’m pretty sure neither Cook nor his men got leied by the natives, though they were surprised to see the visitors appear on the horizon at the culmination of a sacred festival. The natives took their appearance as a sign that they were gods. I don’t think Cook and his men did much to discourage that idea.

Cook named his discovery the Sandwich Islands after John Montague, Earl of Sandwich, a generous benefactor who helped make Cook’s voyages possible. I don’t think I would have called it that especially in front of a crew of hungry sailors.

One of the best books ever written about the islands was penned by James Michener, who once served in the Navy there. He went to great extremes to research his topic so that he got it right. Of all things, he called his book Hawaii. Imagine that. What’s more, the book was translated into 32 languages. I’d be happy if my book was translated into one language.

Though it’s a fictionalized account of the islands, Hawaii is so true to its history that it could be a documentary. One of the things you might be surprised to learn about Hawaii is that among the first settlers were Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands and natives from Bora Bora in the South Pacific. I’m glad they didn’t name their new home Hawaii Hawaii.

Everyone has heard of Maui but not many are familiar with Molokai, Hawaii’s fifth largest island. Its dark secret may be the reason. Unimmune islanders contracted diseases from visiting sailors and foreigners seeking their fortune. A small section of the island was set aside as a leprosy colony in 1866 and operated for over a hundred years. People exiled here were declared legally dead. That’s sad.

I’ve never been to the islands, but my daughter and son-in-law honeymooned in Maui. I wasn’t invited. As you can guess, the islands are breathtaking and all have their own, unique microclimate, so much so that you can indulge in sandy beaches, towering mountains, tropical rain forests, or volcanoes that still grumble.

In case you haven’t heard, the Hawaiian Islands are 2,500 miles from the mainland of the United States. Natives there don’t really use the phrase “mainland of the United States.” They just call it the mainland, and because it is so far away, everything must be imported. Cars, toothbrushes, hamburgers, and Hawaiian shirts. That makes living there quite expensive. You probably know Hawaii was made the 50th state in 1959, but what you may not know is the average home is around $270,000 while the average home on the mainland is closer to $119,000.

Despite the inconvenience and expense of having everything imported, the United States government is not about to close any of its bases. Hawaii is the key to protecting the mainland as well as keeping an eye on things in that corner of the world.

Unless you spend your life in the fantasy world of Facebook, you no doubt have heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On a quiet Sunday morning on Dec. 07, 1941, Japanese Kamikaze bombers came roaring out of the western Pacific and bombed the hell out of the American fleet and the Navy personnel there. Over 2,200 Americans died that day with another 1,200 wounded.  The surprise attack destroyed battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and over 188 planes. The only reason our three great aircraft carriers weren’t destroyed was because they weren’t in port that day. Talk about luck.

Franklin D. Roosevelt called it a, “Day which will live in infamy.” He was right. And it’s why we should always be extremely cagey when dealing with the bastard in North Korea, nuts enough to think he can get away with something similar. When unstable leaders like Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump play chicken with each other, the whole world better sit up and pay attention.

As beautiful and breathtaking as the images of Hawaii are, America’s early involvement in the islands have their root in a dark and checkered past. The United States helped overthrow the legitimate ruler, Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 after years of wrangling and manipulation, and it wasn’t because the U.S. had a yearning for Hawaiian guitars, grass skirts, or luaus either. The culprits behind the overthrow of the queen were white businessmen headed by Sanford Dole, eager to expand their pineapple plantations at the islanders’ expense.

But non-Americans shouldn’t get too sanctimonious. The Spanish brutalized the natives of South America for gold and silver. European countries like England, France, Portugal, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands all had a hand in carving up the Dark Continent and wreaking untold misery on its native cultures.

Mark Twain once said, “There isn’t a foot of land in the world that doesn’t represent the ousting and re-ousting of a long line of successful “owners” who each in turn… defended it against the next gang of robbers who came to steal it…”  I bet Queen Lili’uokalani would agree with Twain’s assessment.

I don’t know if it’s the seductive images of Hawaii or the last few songs from Jimmy Buffett Live in Hawaii, but I think I’m getting a little nostalgic for luaus, Hawaiian shirts, and wahines in grass skirts. If my wife walks through the door wearing one, I’m getting my scissors out and do a little trimming. No sense letting grass grow under my feet. Or anywhere else.

                         Bill Hegerich

                        The Uncommon Mariner

To leave a comment or pay homage to the Tiki gods, go to https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/01/19/hawaii/