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

Mariners Face New Threats in 2017 While Dealing with the Old

No matter the size of the ship, a mariner's job is demanding.
No matter the size of the ship, a mariner’s job is demanding on any of the seven seas. 

It’s a brand new year for the world, but it looks like the Same Old S*** for mariners. Threats of piracy, accidents, death in foreign ports, and now, with Donald Trump as president, mariners forbidden to take leave in U.S. ports.

The next time you settle into that easy chair, or slip on your favorite running shoes, I want you to think about this. According to a recent article at Maritime Insight.com, a mariner is twenty times more likely to have an accident than someone who works ashore.

These aren’t accidents that involve bumping your head on a door or losing your balance when the ship rocks in rough seas. We’re talking about serious bodily injury or death. Let me put it this way. If you invited your Cousin Joe, who’s a merchant marine, and nineteen other cousins to a party, Joe’s chances of being injured or killed on the job are equal to the chances of all your other cousins combined.

Dr. Grahaeme Henderson president of the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping, recently told members, “When I meet families of seafarers, they tell me the most important thing is getting their loved ones home safely.”

Mariners, no matter what country they’re from, are somebody’s sons and fathers, brothers and uncles and cousins. Shipping companies can’t afford not to continually seek newer and better ways to improve on their safety record.

When the ship’s electrician, who was working on an elevator on the Carnival Ecstasy, was crushed to death, his blood flowed down the elevator doors. When events like this happen, we can’t just turn squeamishly away, upset that our cruise was ruined. If companies that employ these victims are genuinely sincere about the loss, they must do better than hire a new employee at the next port.

Carnival expressed “heartfelt sympathy” over the death of 66-year old Jose Sandoval Opazo. But a little soul searching and the development of stricter safety regulations onboard their ships would be far, far better than empty words. If Carnival’s concern ends with a press release, you can bet sooner or later we’ll be reading about more deaths on cruise ships.

As for the public’s part, I encourage you to visit cruisejunkie.com for a comprehensive list of accidents at sea. If that’s not enough to open your eyes, go to www.cruisecritic.com/news. Skip the link to “Finding a Cruise” and “Deals” and stay focused on “News.”

Here you can read about the crew member who died in a gas explosion this past February 09 aboard the Emerald Princess while the ship was in Port Chalmers, New Zealand. The cruise line released a statement saying, “We are deeply saddened that a member of Emerald Princess crew was fatally injured in the incident.” Continue reading

Sir Francis Drake: Sailor, Soldier, Strategist

The Golden Hinde from an old drawing. Nothing remains of the ship today except for one or two pieces of furniture.
The Golden Hinde from an old drawing. Nothing remains of the ship today except for one or two pieces of furniture.

A rather strange burial took place at sea over four hundred years ago. On January 29, 1596, A group of English sailors committed the body of Sir Francis Drake to the deep in a remote corner of the world. At his own request, he was buried in the armor he received when knighted by Queen Elizabeth. To this day, archeologists and divers have been unable to locate his remains and his sleep continues undisturbed somewhere off the coast of Portobello, Panama.

Drake is a fascinating figure who has captured the imagination of everyone from paupers to queens. For those who loved him, he possessed no flaws. For the Spanish of his time, he was known as El Dragon, a devil to be captured and beheaded.

Drake first sailed with the Hawkins family, relatives with whom he demonstrated an exceptional ability to fight, navigate, and lead. But one battle in the Caribbean changed John Hawkins’ opinion of his cousin. In the confusion of battle, they got separated, and Drake sailed away. Hawkins later claimed Drake abandoned him out of cowardice. Reports from eyewitnesses and Drake’s own reputation for bravery seem to discount this claim. Nevertheless, Hawkins cherished a particular animosity for Drake the rest of his life.

As a sailor, soldier, and strategist, Drake was unparalleled. Hired to bring back as much gold as possible from the Spanish Main, he adapted fighting and raiding techniques to the situation much like Special Forces teams today.  One of his targets were mule trains loaded with gold and silver headed to Nombre de Dios. The town was buried in a remote jungle far from his plundering ships, but his men adapted to the trek through snake and mosquito infested forests.

Though his initial efforts were unsuccessful, Drake would not be deterred. A chance meeting at sea with French pirate Guillaume le Testu was the stroke of luck he needed. Testu shared with Drake a hatred of Spain and a love for gold. With another raid by Drake farthest from their mind, the Spaniards were unprepared when privateer and pirate struck.

Drake carried off so much gold and silver, his men had to bury part of the booty. This no doubt help to popularize the belief that pirates buried their treasure. Unfortunately, le Testu was captured by the Spanish and beheaded, and the buried treasure reclaimed by the Spanish.   Continue reading