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 Afternoon, For 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

When the Volcano Blows

June 25, 1997 began as a normal day in the Caribbean, and the people in the villages on the southern part of Montserrat went about their routine activities, aware of the smoking Soufriere Hills but not overly concerned. It had been smoking and fussing for months and this Wednesday was no exception. Then shortly after noon, the earth that held it back collapsed, and hot lava and gas flowed into the unsuspecting valleys below. Before the ash and lava settled, 19 people lay dead, and ten villages were either obliterated or rendered uninhabitable. Subsequent volcanic activity wiped Montserrat’s capital, Plymouth, off the map.

Three years later, less than 1,200 people remained on the island. Over 7,000 were evacuated, more than half of them fleeing to Britain where they received citizenship in 2002.

More than 20 years later, the southern part of the island lies in an exclusion zone, deemed uninhabitable and severely restricted to both the island’s inhabitants and tourists. The northern half of the island remains postcard perfect. Lush hills and valleys with the blue-green Caribbean as a scenic backdrop continues to be home to natives and expatriates alike.

A lot of Irish are surprised to find that this British-controlled isle, that lies about 300 miles from Puerto Rico, is nicknamed the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean. Settlers arrived there in 1642 from Ireland. Over the years, European nations shuffled it back and forth amongst themselves, but even with a slave rebellion, the settlers of Montserrat adapted. Blacks and whites intermarried, and harmonious relationships punctuated island life, though with an Irish twist. A testament to that is the National Holiday celebrated March 17 commemorating not Saint Patrick’s Day as much as a slave revolt.

Volcanoes aren’t unique to the Caribbean. Hundreds of Islands throughout the world were sired by volcanoes. Hawaii is, perhaps, the most famous. James Michener’s Hawaii provides an absorbing account of the islands. He not only traces the history of its people but the formation of the island itself.

It’s interesting to note that volcanoes are equal opportunity purveyors of death and misery. You can find them in Italy, Iceland, Japan, and the United States. Think Mauna Loa, Hawaii and Mount St. Helens in Washington.  Mount Pelee in Martinique, Mexico, and Columbia are also home to the volcano gods as is Indonesia which is blessed with at least three. These volcanoes are worrisome at best and should be feared when they awaken. Most will bring a terrifying and deadly side effect: tsunamis capable of wiping out civilization on hundreds of islands and killing hundreds of thousands of people.

Jimmy Buffett recorded a song called Volcano on an album by the same name in November 1979.  It recounts the dangers of living on a Caribbean island where volcanoes, like hurricanes, are nothing to be trifled with. Ironically, he recorded it in a studio on Montserrat which was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  Volcano is so popular with his parrothead followers that he wouldn’t dare not play it at a concert. I suspect fans would blow their tops.

The lyrics capture the uncertainty of living on an island with a volcano that is misbehaving. Implied is the overriding question, “When is it going to blow?” And he seeks answers to questions such as where do you go to get away from the damn thing? Though volcanoes are destructive, Buffett captures the resilient spirit of the islanders who eventually must overcome the tragedy and put their lives back together.

I hope the natives caught up in the next volcanic event find a safe place to go, and I hope they are able to rebuild their lives stronger and better than ever. The people of Montserrat are a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.

Whether you live in the Caribbean or on the far side of the world, tragedy comes to visit us all. It may not take the shape of a volcano, but it can be just as devastating. When the next volcano blows in your life, I pray you find the strength and resources not only to overcome it but, like the phoenix, rise from the ashes stronger than ever.

If you see me out there on the High Seas of Life, don’t forget to wave that pirate sword of yours in my direction and yell, “Aarrrgh!” I’ll be looking for you and those volcanoes.

                                    Bill Hegerich

                                   The Uncommon Mariner

 

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 reading 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

A Memorial Day Tribute

When the storm clouds form on the horizon of this country, you can always count on the strong and brave Armed Forces of the United States. Thanks to all our Veterans.

I think it’s quite appropriate this Memorial Day to recognize all the current members of our Armed Forces and those who served so generously in the past. That includes the United States Navy, Army, Air Force, as well as the United States Coast Guard and the Marine Corps. Though all branches merit attention, because this is a blog about pirates, mariners, and the sea, and because of space constraints, I’m limiting this piece to those military branches that served primarily on the sea.

The following is a little quiz to see how much you know about the Armed Forces that have protected your Homeland and your Freedom since its birth. And here’s a little challenge to go along with that. How about contributing a dollar for every incorrect answer to a worthy cause that serves our Veterans. They need no introduction from me.  Unsure if a charity really supports Vets? Check it out at www.charitynavigator.org/. You’ll find the answers to the quiz at the end of each section. Good luck. Hoorah!

True or False

  1. The United States Coast Guard was born August 4, 1790 at Alexander Hamilton’s request.
  2. The Coast Guard was once called the US Revenue Cutter Service.
  3. There are approximately 25,000 members of the Coast Guard.
  4. The US Coast Guard operates 100 cutters, 100 aircraft, and 500 other boats.
  5. The Coast Guard has been transferred to the Department of Navy four times in its history.
  6. The US Coast Guard is the only military branch within the Homeland Security.
  7. Boot camp for the USCG is located at Parris Island, SC.
  8. On the average day, the USCG saves 10 lives and conducts almost 50 Search and Rescue missions.
Answers: 1.  True 2. True 3. False: members of the USCG exceed 50,000 4. False: There are 243 cutters, 201 aircraft, and over 1,600 other boats operated by the USCG. 5. False: The Coast Guard has been transferred to the Navy only twice; in WWI and WWII. 6. True. 7. False: Boot camp for the Coast Guard is located at Cape May, New Jersey. 8. True: Thank you Coast Guardians for saving our lives.
  1. The US Navy is actually older than the United States.
  2. Including reserves, over 400,000 personnel serve in the US Navy.
  3. A permanent Navy wasn’t established until 1794.
  4. Only China has a larger aircraft carrier fleet than the US Navy.
  5. Other than navy personnel assigned around the world, the largest concentration of the US Navy is at Hampton Rhodes, VA.
  6. The largest overseas naval base is located in the Philippines.
  7. The initials USS before a ship stands for United States Ship.
  8. About half the US aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear-powered.
    Answers: 9. True: It was founded as the Continental Navy October 13, 1775. 10. True. 11: True. 12. False: The US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers in service, two in reserve, and three under construction. 13. True 14. False: The largest overseas naval base is at Yokosuka, Japan. 15. True 16. False: All active subs and carriers are powered by nuclear energy.
  9. The US Marines were first formed to fight the British in 1775.
  10. The Marine Corps once actively fought pirates in what became known as the Barbary Wars.
  11. The marines have close to 90,000 serving in the Corps.
  12. Devil Dogs is an affectionate name for the marines.
  13. A detachment of marines frequently served on board regular Navy vessels as security guards.
  14. Those who serve 20 years in the Marine Corps are known as Lifers.
  15. The mascot of the Marine Corps is the eagle.
  16. The motto of the USMC is “By Land or by Sea.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Answers: 17: True: Two battalions were formed in Philadelphia Nov. 10, 1775. 18. True: The fighting took place in the Mediterranean Sea off Tripoli, and inspired the line from the Marines’ Hymn: “To the shores of Tripoli.” 19. False: The number of Marines in the Corps exceeds 182,000 with another 40,000 in reserve.   True. Leatherneck is also a nickname for a marine. 21. True. 22. True. 23. False: The Marines’ mascot is the English bulldog. 24. False: The motto of the USMC is: “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”

Many thanks to the countless men and women currently serving in the Armed Forces who are keeping America strong and free. And many thanks to veterans past who likewise sacrificed so much to make this land the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free. May this country always stand by you as you have by it.

                                Bill Hegerich 

                                The Uncommon Mariner

Cuba: Pearl of the Caribbean

The red in the Cuban flag symbolizes blood and courage. The star represents independence and freedom.

You’d have to have been sleeping under a stack of tobacco leaves if you haven’t heard that great changes are taking place in Cuba. Recently, Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for the past fifty-plus years has died, and the United States and Cuba have taken steps to normalize relations.

American cruise ships are now allowed to enter Havana, and American visitors, that were previously denied travel to this third world country lying at our doorstep, are now permitted limited access to its major ports. It’s interesting to note that other countries around the world have always had access to Cuba. Quite surprising, Cuba is the most popular tourist destination in the Caribbean.

Americans have always been seduced by the exotic culture of Cuba. Their cigars are the standard-bearer by which other cigars are judged. Their passionate music and alluring food are legendary. But it’s the people that are Cuba’s richest and most vibrant resource, so it should put a big smile on the faces of a lot of Americans that the barriers between the United States and Cuba are falling much like the Berlin Wall did less than thirty years ago.

Americans associate Fidel Castro with Cuba’s ills, but what they may not realize is that Castro’s rise to power was only possible by elected president, Fulgencio Batista who served his country well between 1933 and 1944. Batista brought many welcome changes to Cuba. When he left office, education, public works, and the economy had made enormous progress. In his absence, corruption became rift and the gains Cuba made deteriorated.

Batista returned to Cuba in 1952 as a dictator whose rule this time was brutal and ruthless. Thousands died, thousands more were routinely tortured and imprisoned. Fidel Castro’s rise to power was a welcome relief both to the people of Cuba and the U.S. Unfortunately, as Castro defined his beliefs, it became clear he was as bad as Batista, and, in fact, much worse.

Cubans lost their freedoms completely. They were stripped of their land as Cuba became a totalitarian government almost overnight. Devastated exiles fled to Miami, many determined to overthrow Castro’s regime. Backed by the CIA, the exiles launched an invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

The date was April 17, 1961, and 1,200 refugees participated. For some reason, the air cover the expatriates were to receive never materialized, and they were mowed down on the beach as they attempted to establish a beachhead. The uprising the expatriates were hoping to foment never happened. Over a hundred died, and the rest were imprisoned. Eventually, John F. Kennedy let the responsibility of the invasion fall squarely on his shoulders, exactly where it belonged.

Needless-to-say, relations between the two countries not only were severed, but developed into a bitter confrontation that endured for more than sixty-five years.

The Cubans who fled their motherland made a new home for themselves in Miami and Southern Florida. They are an inspiration to 20th century immigrants. Like their Italian, Irish, and other European counterparts, they came to this country with only two things besides the clothes on their back. A dream for a better future and a determination to make it happen.

It would be nice to think that democracy will soon flourish in Cuba, and that Cubans will once again live normal lives and be free to savor their culture without worrying about being arrested and thrown in prison for sedition.

My greatest fear is that, amidst all the changes taking place, the country and its culture may lose the essence of what makes Cuba so charming. When cruise ships show up in Cuba’s harbors, it’s going to be hard to stop the crass commercialism their invasion brings.

The Cuban people deserve better. Despite the hardship they have endured over the years, they are a resilient and warm people brimming with a deep faith in themselves and their future. They are no stranger to the sweat and tears that build a strong nation. Whether their domicile is in Havana, the breathtaking countryside, or South Florida, I wish them well.

Vaya con Dios.

                                                  Bill Hegerich

                                                 The Uncommon Mariner

 

 

The Mystery of the Devil’s Triangle

It can be a mysterious place out there on the high seas. No place is more mysterious than the Devil’s Triangle.

In a few months, I’ll be headed to Bermuda to accompany my son on his honeymoon. Don’t even ask. His kids are going too. While I anticipate having a good time, I am filled with a little consternation because of the reputation the area has. I know you’ve heard of the Bermuda Triangle, sometimes referred to as the Devil’s Triangle.

Depending on whom you talk to, the area covers an area approximately 500,000 to a million and a half square miles. Facing south from Bermuda, the right side of the triangle runs roughly to Miami, Florida. The left side of the triangle runs to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A lot of strange things have happened in the area, everything from small pleasure boats to military ships and planes disappearing, and nobody really seems to know why

Oh, there’s lots of speculation. Scientists are at no loss to offer countless hypotheses about what happened to these boats, ships, and planes, but in the end, they are just that. Hypotheses.

I’m not an anti-science nut like Donald Trump and many of the morons in the Congress and Senate of the United States who vehemently deny climate change. Its effects are palpable, measurable, and worldwide.

It’s just that in the case of the Bermuda Triangle, science just doesn’t have a definitive answer. Let’s take a look at a few of the mysterious disappearances. On March 4, 1918, the USS Cyclops vanished after departing Barbados and heading for Baltimore, MD. Neither the ship nor the 309-member crew were heard from again.

In fact, there wasn’t so much as a piece of wreckage. You can be sure the United States government launched an incredibly detailed search of the area and found nothing. Not even a hint of sabotage by a foreign government. I’m sure if Donald Trump had been president then, he would have found someone to blame and make pay for the missing ship. Continue reading

The Secret Life of Oysters

Oysters not only taste good but do good for our planet.
Oysters not only taste good but do good for our planet.

It’s late winter in North America, and most people are suffering from winter doldrums, and summer seems far, far away. I thought I’d brighten your week by sharing some thoughts about oysters, even though we don’t celebrate National Oyster Day till August. Personally, I think six months is too long to wait; oysters are so good, we should celebrate them every day of the year.

The English satirist, Jonathan Swift, once said, “It was a brave man who first ate an oyster.” There may be some truth to that. Oysters are slimy and shaped funny with little folds in them that promise a world of delight. They can be white or gray, and their bodies sometimes fringed with a little black. But that’s part of the fun of eating them. If oysters had the consistency of an apple, the color of a carrot, or the appearance of broccoli, they would lose a lot of their mystery.

Oysters do a great service to mankind. They keep the waters around the mouth of our bays and estuaries clean. Did you know each oyster filters about a half of a gallon of water, and it’s for that reason some people are repulsed by them? That’s good! That means there’s that many more for me and other oyster lovers.

This may come as a shock to you, but did you also know that our beloved Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants were processed, was once called Oyster Island? That was before the very first European settlers felt it was their duty to rape the land and pollute the waters when they came to the New World. It may be hard to conceive this, but this area once teemed with huge, juicy oysters.

Oysters are not only delicious, but are good for you. Not only are they filled with zinc, iron, and vitamin B-12, but they contain amino acids that promote sexual performance, earning them the reputation of being an aphrodisiac. The womanizer, Casanova, known for his wild affairs, was reputed to have eaten fifty oysters for breakfast.  I don’t think I could eat that many at one time and then frolic with my wife, but it’s something I think I’ll put on my bucket list. Continue reading