Uncommon Mariners: A Nautical Almanac
A Voyage in a Book
How would you like to chase pirates and mariners across the seven seas? I’ve written a book Uncommon Mariners, and if you like the sea, and things of the sea, and stories about men and women who have lived and died on it, I think you’re going to love this book. But let’s forget the book for now, and let me tell you a little something about my birth into the world of the sea, pirates, and mariners.
Maybe it was one of those day trips to the Jersey Shore as a kid. My oldest sister Sandi and my brother-in-law Larry Molinaro arrived at the curb of my home in their maroon Lincoln, and they piled my sisters and me into the back seat along with my mother and off we went barreling down Black Horse Pike. The pungent salt air that rose from the marshes outside Atlantic City and the sand castles I built at the edge of that miraculous sea were bliss itself.
It was with a deep sense of loss that I packed up my sand bucket and shovel and headed for the local bathhouse as the sun lowered in the sky. Weeks later back in Philly, I could still feel the rise and fall of the sea as surely as those white curling breakers hurled themselves relentlessly towards my sandcastle that hot August day.
Or maybe it was that auspicious birthday years later, when my daughter Maureen and her husband Jason Olsen gave me the legendary gift box of Jimmy Buffett’s four CD’s Beaches, Boats, Bars, and Ballads. There was something about that mix of songs on the Boats CD that awakened the sleeping pirate in me. Suddenly, a black flag snapped somewhere in my brain, and I realized Jimmy vocalized what I had been feeling for years.
My first trip to the Florida Keys only further inflamed those pirate aspirations. Less than fifty yards down the isolation of Card Sound Road, civilization was replaced by the stark beauty of a paradise I could only guess at, and I knew I was home. Anyone who ever set foot on a ship and lost sight of land knows what I‘m talking about. I stood on the edge of the Universe and my whole soul opened up and I was swept into eternity.
Soon after, I experienced another event that insured I would never sleep again without the Jolly Roger wrapped tightly around my soul. One crisp October afternoon, while doing yard work, I disturbed a nest of hornets. I was stung on my ankle as the machine rattled and snarled at the aggravated bees. Armed with a can of wasp killer in each hand, the scene quickly deteriorated into hand to hand combat. Eventually I was able to slip in between the fragmented cloud of bees and turn the machine off. I left the wasps that were left to deal with their dying and dead.
Little did I realize that minutes later I would be joining them. My clothes were soaked with sweat; then the violent heart palpitations and black spots started. Slumped over my kitchen table, I slipped into complete anaphylactic shock. Before losing consciousness, I was able to dial 911. It took the medics close to fifty minutes to stabilize me before taking me to the hospital. I owe Lori Tobia and Dave Shotwell not only my life, but my rebirth as a pirate, for I had a deep sense that evening and everyday since that the God that rules the sea had sent me a message loud and clear.
Time for the dreams of your pirate heart, Forget the old path. Time to chart a new course on your pirate map.
This pirate was paying attention. Two years later found me retired after 37 years of teaching and relocated in South Carolina with my beautiful first mate, Maureen.
I love the sea, and there is no other place I’d rather be. When I studied Latin in high school, I learned how the most terrible punishment for a Roman was not death but to be exiled from Rome. I could never understand how being deprived of living in Rome was such an excruciating fate when there were so many other places surely as lovely to live. But now I understand. If I were told I could never see the ocean again or be near it as often as I liked, it would, indeed, be crushing.
Whether you have the heart of a pirate, the soul of a sailor, or the spirit of a world-class explorer, my upcoming book Uncommon Mariners is for you. I’ve tried to distill the quintessence of the lives of mariners past and present into these pages along with the elements that make up their seafaring ways.
As a nautical almanac, Uncommon Mariners is meant to entertain, inspire, and inform, and on those nights when you can’t be close enough to hear the murmurings of the sea, it’s meant to help you feel its powerful tides rising in your veins.
Pirate or Poet. Sailor or Explorer or a little of each, this book is dedicated to you. You share a love for the sea that transcends time and place. It‘s why you‘re reading these words now. Chart your course. Raise the sail. And find the North Star of your dreams. The sea calls your name.
Next time I’ll share some thoughts about pirates and mariners with you.
May God Speed, and may you always have the wind at your back and following seas. See you out there on the high seas of life. Aarrgghh!