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

Second Chance

 

PIR FLAG 1800 PIXL

         We’re two weeks into the New Year and by now most people have blown their New Year’s Resolutions. Still working out every day? Missed two days the first week and the second week wasn’t any better. Showed up two days. That diet you’ve been on? Some have gained another pound or two trying to get rid of that holiday candy calling their name.

            But 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.

                                                   Bill Hegerich

                                                   The Uncommon Mariner

On Stede Bonnet, Pirate Myths, and Blackbeard’s Foil

Even Pirates have their limitations, but there arrrggh some things pirates will just never say.
Pirates were renowned for their generosity to barkeeps and lonely, defenseless wenches.

It’s been a busy month for pirates… at least those rascally bucaneers who pillaged and plundered the Caribbean three hundred years ago.

Disney was right to name their amusement attraction and film series by the name Pirates of the Caribbean. Both helped capture the essence of what has made pirates attractive over the centuries though some people I talk to are shocked when I point out Jack Sparrow was just a fictional character.

Books and films have propagated some of the common myths we cherish about pirates like burying treasure every chance they got or entertaining themselves endlessly by making their victims walk the plank.

The fact is pirates were too busy donating their money to impoverished innkeepers in exchange for a little rum to find time to bury it. Why they were even known to assist lonely women down on their luck and their backs in return for a couple of life’s simple pleasures. Their generosity left them broke.

As for walking the plank, it’s difficult but not impossible to find references to this diabolic deed. You can read more about it in me upcoming book Uncommon Mariners. Let it suffice to say, once pirates captured a ship, like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, they set straight to work, searching for all that hidden gold.

Disney would have you believe as would Howard Pyle the painter of pirates that those who didn’t cough up their belongings were forced to walk the plank while a crew of gnarly, smelly pirates chortled and snarled “Aarrrgh.” Sometimes spelled aarrrrgh or arrr, the accent being on the last three letters. The truth is, if murderous pirates were sufficiently annoyed with you or their underwear was too tight that day, they simply threw you overboard.

A lot of people including a number of historians over the years put Blackbeard in this category, but that’s only because they came to believe the Hollywood hype and Blackbeard’s own press releases. Of course, Blackbeard didn’t actually issue press releases. He didn’t have to. His physical demeanor gave the aura of being the nastiest, meanest, most ornery, ferocious pirate in the Caribbean. One look at his snarly beard bedecked with burning fuses struck more fear in a shipload of sailors than a hundred press releases.

The reason I’m telling you this is because December the 10 has slipped into oblivion again this year, the date Stede Bonnet, was hanged in Charleston in 1718. Bonnet was a gentleman pirate and one of Blackbeard’s consorts, but It would be stretching the truth to call him his friend.

Bonnet became a pirate for the most unlikely of reasons. He was tired of his wife’s nagging. If you had to pick him out of a lineup of ten pirates, you’d be wrong nine times. He looked more like a Wall Street type than a thick-bearded ruffian ready to cut your heart out.

Still the fact remains he was a pirate. Strangely enough, he had to buy his ship not steal it, and he didn’t even understand how the whole pirate thing worked: First, you pillage, then you plunder, drink some rum, then pay the crew. Pirates called it: “No prey, no pay!”

Stede’s first mistake was paying his crew before they even left port. Actually, his first mistake was becoming a pirate.

After being resoundly beaten in one of his earlier encounters, he limped into the pirate base of Nassau where it was love at first sight. Not what you’re thinking I guarantee you. Blackbeard was on the dock, and when he laid his eyes on Bonnet’s ship, the Revenge, he knew he had to have it.

The amusing thing is Blackbeard through wit and coercion had Stede Bonnet join his fleet with the gentleman pirate pretty much a hostage on his own ship. “You read yer books in yer fancy library,” he no doubt told Stede, “and I’ll find ye a fine sailing captain to manage the dirty work. Arrrrgh!” I’m not sure Bonnet was ever aware Blackbeard had relieved him of his ship.

A lot of adventures passed under the ship’s keel before Blackbeard and Bonnet parted ways, but you can be sure it wasn’t over until the master of intimidation said it was over.

Bonnet didn’t last long after that. The luckless pirate was caught by mistake off North Carolina when pirate hunters were searching for someone else. He was brought to Charleston, South Carolina where more than a few common folk threatened to riot when he and his men were scheduled to be hanged.

Many of these locals were ex pirates from Nassau and smugglers who made more money than an inside trader on Wall Street. But the thriving days of piracy in the Caribbean were on the wane, and Stede Bonnet’s days were numbered.

Stede Bonnet may not have cut the colorful swath in history Blackbeard did, but you deserve to know that despite the myths, he was Blackbeard’s peer and should be respected for that.

As for this well-educated man with a refined background turning to a life of crime, I have to ask you. What would it take for you to live your pirate dreams?

See you out there on the high seas of life. Arrrgh!

                                                        Bill Hegerich

                                                       The Uncommon Mariner

 

 

A Debt of Thanks

TURKEY AT 1000 IMAGE_edited-1

Every year we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States by acknowledging our blessings big and small. I wonder, however, how many of us are cognizant of the sacrifices the very first pilgrims made before they even set foot on this land.

We think of Pilgrims as religious refugees fleeing from such horrendous oppression that the dangers of an unknown country were welcome. The fact is the first puritans to New England were by virtue of their journey- mariners though they didn’t actually sail the ship. They hired professional sailors for that job; however, with the problems they faced at sea, they may as well have been.

Many aren’t aware that the pilgrims started out not on one but two ships. The Speedwell and the Mayflower. Twice they set out on their voyage, and twice they were forced to turn back when the Speedwell produced more leaks than Wiki-leaks. In fact, the Pilgrims had wracked up over 300 nautical miles at sea when the it leaked so badly  it would have sunk had they continued.

When the Mayflower resumed its journey on September 06, 1620, it was under chaotic conditions. A hundred and two passengers were forced to crowd together in such close quarters that whole families stayed behind while others were separated and members left in port.

Once at sea, the Pilgrims found the voyage went fairly smoothly. Then the storms of the North Atlantic struck and the passengers must have thought they entered hell. Seasickness was rampant on a ship that pitched wildly in the ocean. One man was swept overboard. William Bradford, the leader of the group, noted that it was God’s way of punishing a proud and haughty man. God must have been having a bad day if that was true.

When the storms continued to batter the ship mercilessly, the captain ordered the ship to heave to, furling the sails lest the ferocious winds snap the mast in half. Surely the Pilgrims must have thought they would never see land again as they rode the pitching sea for days at a time making no head way.

At one point, the main beam of the ship threatened to split apart from the violent beating of the sea. One of the passengers volunteered what is described as a giant screw to hold it together. With no Coast Guard to intercede, it’s a good thing he was there. Continue reading