essays

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

 

To leave a comment, please go to: https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/06/15/long-may-it-wave/

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/

 

Winter in the Sunny South

This is Perry, my attack Flamingo. After losing an eye in battle, he now guards my mailbox.

If Blackbeard were still alive, I’m not sure what he would think of the recent storms that have plagued the south. Though he spent quite a bit of time in the warm, sunny Caribbean particularly Nassau, he also made North Carolina his home. The Coastal Carolinas along with most of the deep south have been battling snow and ice for well over a week now.

I’ve lived here for the better part of thirteen years, and not only has this been the worst winter, but close to the worst winter on record. Folks up North have no trouble throwing me statistics showing how much more brutal winter has been in the North and Midwest. But when you live in Upstate New York or Wisconsin, you’re supposed to freeze your buns off, and you’re supposed to get snow. A lot of it.

Even flamingos aren’t immune to the cold. I had to thaw this one in my shower and give him an extra dram of rum.

To complain about it would be like natives here complaining because they get sand in their shoes when walking the sandy beaches of the Grand Strand.

The last time snow made news along the Grand Strand was in March 2010. It’s easy to remember. My son came to run the Myrtle Beach Marathon along with six thousand other runners. However, when the weatherman forecast snow for the morning of the marathon, organizers cancelled it the night before, even though the first snowflake had yet to fall. I can’t tell you how disappointed the athletes who trained long and hard were. My son traveled all the way from New Jersey. He ran it anyway along with others from New York, Ohio, and states far west of the Mississippi.

The cancellation pretty much reflects the attitude towards snow here. Towns throughout the South are not equipped to handle snow or the icing of roads. Cities and towns in northern cities stockpile mountains of salt and have a gazillion pieces of equipment to remove snow; most cities in the south have little in their artillery to fire back at old man winter.

The recent storm caught Blackbeard and his wench by surprise. Lucky for them, Captain Morgan kept ’em warm.

Normally, any snow or ice that falls is gone when the sun rises the next day. This past week has been far from normal. Last night it got down to 15 degrees. With temperatures barely above freezing during the day, snow and ice continue to hang around for days instead of hours.

Many bridges and roads still ice over at night. Other roads have never melted. When the storm first hit, cars and trucks plowed helplessly into one another because inexperienced drivers didn’t understand the dynamics of a two-ton vehicle skidding on ice. Even emergency vehicles were forced to drive more slowly because of the hazardous conditions.

Despite the ice and snow in my palm trees, I can still hear the songs of the conch shell beckoning me to the Caribbean. Aarrrgh!

Diehard golfers, who have a choice of over a hundred courses to play on, found themselves reluctantly sitting at home when managers covered parts of their greens to preserve them from the devastating effects of the storm.

The good news is that temperatures are expected to rise into the fifties this coming week. It’s not enough to entice the Southern Belles to grab their bikinis and head for the beach, but at least the ice that has clung so tenaciously to roads will be a distant memory, and folks can get back to the business of playing golf and getting their gardens ready for spring. Even the pirates holed up here can start dreaming of outfitting their ships and prepare for a little pillaging, plundering, and wenching.

Whether you’re in the Pinelands of New Jersey, buried under three feet of snow, or basking on a Florida beach working on your tan, I hope the rest of your winter is mild. If it’s not, I hope you have a plan for staying warm. Part of mine includes putting on a DVD of Jimmy Buffett’s concert in Anguilla and snuggling up with me pirate wench. Let me know what you’re going to do to make it through the rest of winter.

 

                                       Bill Hegerich

                                       The Uncommon Mariner

To leave a comment, go to https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/winter-in-the-sunny-south/ 

 

Twelve Resolutions that Can Change Your Life

The dawn of a New Year is upon us, and I wish you smooth sailing through 2018.

The closing hours of New Year’s Day are upon us and by now many of us who made resolutions have broken them. I’m posting this blog which I wrote last New Year’s Day because we all need a little encouragement when making changes to our lives.

Resolve to workout but missed the very first day? Promise to start that diet but answered that holiday candy that kept calling your name instead?

I’m not too concerned about that gym resolution or those few pounds that found their way to your waist. Doctors and psychologists will tell you it’s normal for people to break those kinds of resolutions shortly after they’re made unless they’re tied to a profound commitment to change.

And that’s why I’m offering you a second chance. A second chance to make some meaningful New Year Resolutions that will have a huge impact on your life. These twelve resolutions have less to do with diet and exercise and more to do with altering the behavior that will get you to the Far Side of the World where your Pirate Dreams await.

  1. Don’t surround yourself with negative people. These are people who make you feel small. People who laugh at your dreams. They may also be the people who get real quiet when you talk about your dreams instead of getting excited.

  2. Have a goal to work on every day. You always need to keep your Dream before you and do something small towards achieving it. It’s how you turn goals into GOLD.

  3. Forget the past. Forget the people who were mean to you, who gossiped about you, who failed when you needed help. Their negativity will consume too much of your energy. Don’t give them that power.

  4. When you’re tempted to quit, remember your dreams and why you held on for so long. They’re the reason you’ll hold on when the storms of life blow again.

  5. Have an island to go to. A retreat where you can rest when life is overbearing. It can be a room in your house, a corner of your yard, or simply a chair that offers comfort and a nice view. I’m lucky. I have an alcove in my bedroom with a sofa surrounded by bookcases brimming with books. I also have a sunporch and a backyard retreat with several hidden coves I can lose myself in. I can also retreat to Brookgreen Gardens only a stone’s throw from my house where the landscape and art work is salve to my soul.

  6. Take time to have fun every day. Jimmy Buffett once said, “Having fun is a good habit to get into.” It’s why children are so resilient when they get hurt emotionally and physically. They know how important it is to have fun.

  7. Take time to count your blessings. You’re richer than you think. Recognize all the good things working for you. Touch them mindfully every single day. If you’re not taking the time to savor the small things in your life, you’re killing it off.

  8. Enjoy the journey. If you wait until you reach a goal to be happy, you’re throwing away all the days you’re working to get there.

  9. Forgive yourself. We all mess up. When you fall, get up and keep going. Failure is not permanent unless you stay down. And remember people who remind you of your shortcomings, failings, and mistakes, aren’t your friends. Not to be too blunt about it, but in a sailor’s language, people who do that are scumbags that you don’t need in your life. The New Year is a good time to jettison them just as you would any other garbage mucking up your life.

  10. Raise your sails. The winds of opportunity may blow, but it does you no good if you stay in harbor.

  11. Don’t accept excuses from yourself. Somedays the storms of life never seem to stop blowing, but when your boat get swamped, bail it out, get yourself afloat, and sail on. Sitting your soggy ass in port feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to get you any closer to the Island of your Dreams.

  12. Finally, don’t let fear paralyze you. I always remind my pirate wife that fear always makes the cannons seem louder than they are. The remedy is to act. The smallest action will get you moving and break the chains of fear holding you back.

I hope this New Year holds a world of adventure for you with blessings that you can only begin to guess at. But if you expect to make it one for the record books, you have to hoist that anchor. God may provide the wind, but you have to raise those sails.

Good luck and see you out there on the Far Side of the World. Even if you’ve never met me, you’ll recognize me instantly. I’ll be the one yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs enjoying every swell and every dip on the High Seas of Life.

Happy New Year!!!

                                      Bill Hegerich

                                     The Uncommon Mariner

 

To leave a comment, click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/twelve-resolutions-that-can-change-your-life/  

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Mermaids

Mermaids have appeared in the oral and written traditions of cultures for thousands of years. According to a Syrian myth, 3,000 years old, the beautiful goddess, Atargatis, dove into the sea to become a fish. Smitten with her beauty, the gods intervened and let only the bottom half of her body transform itself.

A thousand years later, Pliny the Elder, a well-educated Roman philosopher and naturalist, not only believed in the existence of mermaids but described them in what was the prototype of the modern encyclopedia.

And though most people are familiar with mermaids, I bet many aren’t familiar with their close relatives, water sprites or naiads. The difference is that mermaids are physical beings like humans whereas naiads are less physical and more spirit. Most will not harm you unless disturbed. I know a lot of women today who are like that.

People who dismiss mermaids as a fairy tale are making a big mistake. Throughout history, quite a few intelligent people have sworn to sighting mermaids. Christopher Columbus in his journal noted that he and his men spotted three mermaids in the Caribbean just off Haiti though he was not impressed with them. In fact, he thought they were downright ugly.

I can’t help but wonder what the mermaids thought of him. The native peoples whom he brutalized weren’t particularly impressed with him either. Then there’s the explorer Henry Hudson who, with his men, spotted a mermaid and described her in detail in his log.

“She had the tail of a porpoise and was speckled like a mackerel…” When she turned over, his men discovered “From the navel up, her back and breasts were like a woman’s, her body as big as one of us; her skin very white with long black hair…”

If someone as sober and serious as the great explorer Henry Hudson is so certain of what he saw, it becomes difficult to reject the notion that these lovely aquatic creatures exist.

A few mermaids have the reputation of being downright dangerous. Some have been accused of dragging unsuspecting sailors off their ships and drowning them. Homer tells how Odysseus, on his journey home from war, encountered sirens. These seductive, mermaidlike creatures sang so beautifully that sailors, unable to resist steering their ship towards them, ended up dying on the rocky shore.

Odysseus was clever though. He had his men tie him to the mainmast of the ship with orders not to pay attention to him when they sailed past the sirens. Next, he had his men put wax in their ears. When they passed the sirens, only Odysseus was able to hear their seductive songs and howled for his men to steer towards them. More people should be as wise as Odysseus. I think the world would be in much better shape.

Not even the sea can quench the love between a mermaid and a human.

Another story recounts a young man taken by a mermaid below the sea where he fathered a family with her. I bet she was a lot prettier than the mermaids Columbus spotted. In fact, for him to father many children, she must have been a knockout.

In Medieval times, mermaids, with their voluptuous breasts exposed, appeared as figureheads at the end of church pews to remind friars to be ever vigilant to the temptations of the flesh. I don’t know about those monks, but if I were in that pew, I would have been meditating on all the fun we would have after a day at the beach.

Mermaids embody both a physical and spiritual beauty that is impossible to resist.

But who knows? Maybe those carvings increased the religious fervor of the monks. I, for one, would be showing up at chapel early, knowing I had one of God’s beautiful creatures to meditate on. At the very least, I’d be praying that she’d come alive.

Some people are surprised to learn that when mermaids come ashore, they can grow legs, though it becomes extremely painful for them to walk. Hans Christen Anderson was following tradition when he had his mermaid walking with great pain in The Little Mermaid.

Throughout history, there have been accounts of mermaids who were captured by men. Eventually, they escaped, but not without great consternation and pain. And I think that’s a shame. No creature should be taken from the sea and be treated as a pet or an oddity. Not mermaids, not dolphins, and certainly not whales That’s why the folks at SeaWorld and those who visit them should be filled with shame. How would you like it if dolphins captured you and made you do stupid tricks for the amusement of their friends when all you want is to be free and with your family?

Mermaids with streaming red hair are beautiful beyond description.

I’ve always been fascinated with mermaids, and I guess that’s why I’ve been married to one for forty-five years. And before you think I’ve been drinking too much of Blackbeard’s rum, let me point out my wife has all the traits of a mermaid. She’s beautiful, mysterious, seductive, charming, and enchanting. Her long, red hair, streaming in the wind or the sea, always confirms my suspicions.

And if that’s not enough to convince you, you should know that mermaids also have the power to grant someone their wishes. I can’t tell you how many wishes my mermaid has granted me over the years. And I’m not revealing what they were either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The skeptics, no doubt, think I’ve gone off the deep end. But if you want to live with a mermaid, you have to go into the deep where they live. Besides you know what they say. If it looks like a mermaid, sings like a mermaid, and swims like a mermaid, it must be a mermaid.

Christmas and Hanukah will soon be upon us, and I want to wish all the mariners and mermaids out on the sea and those who journey no farther than their living room chair, a wonderful holiday season.

I invite you to let me know if you suspect you’re a mermaid or know a mermaid personally.

 

                                    Bill Hegerich

                                    The Uncommon Mariner

 

To comment on this post, click on https://billhegerichsr.wordpress.com/2017/12/18/ten-things-you-didnt-know-about-mermaids/

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

 

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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

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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 

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Happy Birthday, Ernest

Hemingway loved the sea, and when he finally got his boat the Pilar, he couldn’t be kept from it

Today is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois July 21, 1899, but his travels took him from the heartland of America to half way around the world several times.

He served as a medic in Italy during World War I, and while recuperating from a wound, met his first wife, Hadley Richardson, his nurse. Later, while covering the Spanish Civil War, he fell in love with the Spanish culture. His experiences became the foundation of A Farewell to Arms, Death in the AfternoonFor Whom the Bell Tolls as well as countless other stories.

Hemingway has been called a lot of things in his life. Journalist, author, fisherman, big game hunter, and lady’s man. Crackpot is also one of them. Some people say he was nuts because of his eccentricities and wild choices. For example, how many people do you know would keep dumping one perfectly good woman for another? Okay, I get it. A couple thousand. But how many people do you know who get high on covering war up front and personal?

I’ve always admired Ernest Hemingway, probably for the same reasons Hemingway loved Mark Twain. His writing was impeccable. By that I mean you would be hard-pressed to delete one word from The Old Man and the Sea without affecting the impact of the story. That was his signature style.

The story is about an old man who triumphs after battling a marlin, only to lose it to sharks before anyone can see what a splendid fish he has caught. But the story is also about you and me and the struggles we face. Like the old man losing his great fish to the sharks, we sometimes lose to forces beyond our control.

But Hemingway shows us there is dignity in loss. The old man does not whine. Nor does he pity himself. He accepts his fate, knowing defeat is part of life, and life is good.

Probably what few people don’t realize about The Old Man and the Sea is that the story is a metaphor for Hemingway’s life. He published it in 1952, 12 years after publishing For Whom the Bells Toll. At this point in his writing career, critics were calling him washed up and an impotent writer.

What kind of a man can reach deep into his soul and dredge up a marlin of incredible power and beauty, and along with it, ravenous sharks who will mercilessly devour his prized possession? Hemingway worked on The Old Man and the Sea after moving out of his home in Key West and settling in Cuba. When he finally polished the last paragraph, he must have sensed he had written something that was timeless.

His life ended in tragedy when he took his life July 2, 1961 after an agonizing bout with depression that included inhumane shock treatments at the Mayo Clinic. Ernest Hemingway’s life should not be judged by the way it ended, but rather by the legacy he left us.

He was a character of epic proportions, much like Odysseus and Hercules who, despite their flaws, proved powerful and almost magical in the way they challenged life.

What about you? What is the marlin in your life that you are willing to sacrifice everything for? Get acquainted with that power deep in your soul, because one day you may have to dredge it up to

fight the sharks that inevitably come everyone’s way.

Happy Birthday, Ernest. And I hope you hook a big one wherever you are!

 

                                        Bill Hegerich

                                        The Uncommon Mariner

 

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Ready or Not Here They Come

Whether at sea or on land, when a devastating hurricane comes, there is no such thing as being too cautious.

Let me introduce you to Arlene, Ophelia, Maria, and Cindy. While quite feminine-sounding, these ladies could make your life a living hell in the months to come. And don’t be lulled into security by the gentlemen they hang out with: Don, Philippe, Jose, and Bret. These guys have the potential to be deadlier than the hitmen of a mafia’s don.

All of these characters appear on the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) list of hurricanes for 2017. Their partners in crime include Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Katia, Lee, Nate, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney. Let’s hope you never hear from any of these potential killers after this blog.

Hurricane predictions, though scientific, can be an inexact science. Consider that NOAA is predicting a 45% chance for above-normal hurricanes this season. But they hedge their bets by saying there’s a 35% chance of a normal hurricane season.

This means they are predicting 11 to 17 named storms with five to nine of them developing into hurricanes. Of those, they expect two to four to become major hurricanes capable of widespread damage.

On the other hand, meteorologists at AccuWeather are calling for a lighter than normal season with only ten named storms. Five they expect to develop into hurricanes, with three of those possessing the potential to become a category three or greater.

In case you were wondering, the average hurricane season, which, incidentally, lasts until Dec. 1, has 12 named storms with six developing into hurricanes. Out of those, three are likely to become a cat three or higher. Last year we had seven hurricanes, four of which were major. Remember Matthew? My wife and I fled to the mountains of North Carolina where my wife’s cousin, John Gilroy, and his lovely wife, Peggy, gave us haven for five days.

Ironically, my daughter and her family along with my sister-in-law eventually fled their homes and sought refuge in the house my wife and I abandoned when they lost power. It’s funny how life can be so strange.

Though we’re only a week into hurricane season, it’s NEVER too early to prepare for one. If you wait until Jim Cantore appears on your TV in his L.L. Bean rain slicker, it’s already too late for you.

Because we all need reminders, I’m reprinting part of an article I did last June on preparing for a hurricane. Hopefully, it will improve your chances of survival should one of those cat three or four hurricanes strike your hometown…

Most people think the real damage from hurricanes is caused by wind. The truth is winds can be extremely deadly, but the tidal surge accounts for the vast number of deaths. Audrey hit east Texas in 1957, pushing a massive tidal surge forward while unsuspecting residents slept in their beds. Over 500 people perished. The storm surge of Camile on Aug. 18, 1969 left over 250 dead from Louisiana to Virginia.

So what should you do to prevent you or your family from becoming a statistic? Three things: One, listen to officials and follow their directives. When they tell you to prepare to evacuate, be ready to go. Two, Be prepared. This means getting your property storm-ready and your family ready to move if necessary. Three, have a plan. Know what you need to do, what you need to bring with you, and who you will need to contact.

Several things are important if you want to minimize damage to your property or danger to yourself. Cut down dead trees and branches near your home now. They’ll look pretty darn ugly sticking through your roof when you could have done something about it earlier.

Have supplies on hand in case you are allowed to ride the storm out at home. These include: Batteries, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, a first aid kit, canned food, a manual can opener, water (at least a gallon per-day per-person), prescription drugs, and phone numbers of relatives.

Have a plan for evacuation. If you can leave earlier, do it. If you wait till the last minute, know beforehand where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. That plan should include having a full tank of gas way ahead of time.

Take inventory of everything in your home. You can document this for your insurance company by taking pictures. Be sure to open dresser drawers as well as kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Have a hurricane bag ready to snatch and run 365 days of the year because you never know when an emergency will strike. It should include: birth and wedding certificates, financial papers, wills, insurance policies which cover life, health, home, auto, and boat. It won’t hurt to bring income tax filings for the last year or two.

If you have a landline, keep a phone on hand that you can plug directly into the wall.  If you lose cell phone service and electricity goes out, you’ll have contact with the outside world.

Have a point of contact outside the hurricane area. If family or friends get separated during an evacuation, the person outside your area can relay vital information.

If you have pets, make provisions for them long before the storm appears on the weather channel’s maps. Bringing them to a shelter is not an option nor is abandoning them at home.

If you are able to seek refuge in a shelter, know where it is ahead of time. Don’t guess. Searching for a shelter you’ve never been to while a hurricane is bearing down on you is not the brightest thing you could do.

Remember no drugs, alcohol, or guns in a shelter. Do bring a few essentials like canned food, water, a blanket, reading materials, board games, cards, and a sense of humor. You may be anxious under the circumstances, but so is everyone else so be polite and courteous.

Forget the hurricane parties. For many people, attending one was the last thing they did. Even if you survive, the devastation a storm leaves behind can make your days miserable. After a hurricane you’re likely to have no water, electricity or toilet facilities for days. How much fun is that?

Hopefully, no major hurricanes will make landfall this year. Just don’t bet on it.  Stay safe out there no matter what the weather and enjoy the beautiful summer months ahead.  Smooth sailing out there on the high seas of life.

                                               Bill Hegerich

                                               The Uncommon Mariner

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