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

Why Didn’t We Put a Real Pirate in Office?

 

Even Pirates have their limitations, but there arrrggh some things pirates will just never say.
Putting a real pirate in office isn’t as hard as you think. 

The election is over and Donald Trump is the president elect of the United States. Hopefully, he will lead this country wisely and bravely for the next four years.

I have my doubts considering his remarks and behavior during the primaries and this past election bid. The man gushed unashamedly about how he likes to ogle naked women as they change for a beauty contest. It’s one thing to have your private sexual fantasies and another to act on them.

He also bubbled with joy about grabbing women’s genitals without fear of repercussion because he was a celebrity. I wonder how many women he’ll actually attempt to fondle now that he’s even more of a celebrity. I suspect if he tries it with Angela Merkel, chancellor of West Germany, he’ll be in for a surprise.

Of course, all of this is not exactly the stuff role models and leaders are made of. So how do you explain him to your teenage son or daughter?

His opponent put up a fantastic fight, actually winning more votes than he did.  She no doubt would have made a fine president, but a quirk in our electoral college circumvented that. So forty-eight percent of Americans decided they liked a borderline pervert instead. And to think that many of those who selected him were Evangelical Christians who believe in the straight and narrow path. I can only guess their value system aligns with Donald Trump’s, so it leaves me more than a little confused how groping and humiliating women, Hispanics, and special needs persons fits into organized religion.

Now that the dust has cleared, I’m wondering why someone like Jimmy Buffett didn’t run for office. He’s smart just like Donald Trump. He’s funny, unlike Donald Trump. He’s engaging unlike Donald Trump. And he’s a good businessman just like Donald Trump. Look at how he’s packed his concerts city after city over the years. Margaritaville restaurants and stores which grew systemically from his songs are thriving. Even though the music poohbahs who give out awards have largely neglected his achievements, his loyal parrothead fans now include their children and their children’s children.

Because Jimmy’s trademark is pirates and parrots, I have no trouble seeing the White House filled with these colorful creatures. Jimmy has always been a pirate. There’s a story about how in his earlier years, he stole peanut butter and sardines from a local supermarket to keep from starving. I believe he made restitution a long time ago. His story is recounted in his song The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

I bet Donald Trump was never hungry a day in his life. Judging from his physical appearance, he sure doesn’t appear to have been. In fact, he received a nice little nest egg from his dad to get him started. Jimmy, on the other hand, had to endure a lot of hard times before he finally made it big. No nest eggs from his family. Just good family values and a pirate heart that told him he could do anything he set his mind to. Arrrgggh! Continue reading

Haunted Ships

 

Ghostly occurrences aren't just limited to land. Welcome aboard to the Supernatural at Sea.
Ghostly occurrences aren’t just limited to land. Welcome aboard to the Supernatural at Sea.

Do you believe in ghosts? Ever encounter an other-worldly spirit who just couldn’t resist scaring the bejessus out of you? Some scientists say hauntings are very much real and that they are done either by a soul who has a message for us, or someone who has difficulty crossing over to the other side.

And if you think hauntings are just for landlubbing ghosts and spirits, you better fasten your seatbelts. Well, better make that your life vest because you’re about to be thrown feet first into the sea of the supernatural.

Take the Ourang Medan, a Dutch freighter haunted by mystery as it floated near the Strait of Malacca sometime in the nineteen forties. When the City of Baltimore and the Silver Star picked up an SOS on their radios, they responded. But it was the Silver Star that arrived first. What their boarding party discovered, shocked even the most hardened seaman.

Disfigured corpses littered the deck everywhere. Even the carcass of a dog was found. On their faces were the most hideous expressions as if what they had just witnessed was too horrible to speak of. Was it Pirates? A mutiny? Not a trace of violence could be found on any of the sailors. No stab wounds. No blood. Nothing. Just the mangled corpses of the entire crew.

Before the boarding party could investigate further, a screaming explosion ripped the ship’s hull apart, and crew members were forced to return to their ship. Some authorities hypothesize that the ship was carrying sulfuric acid and when water finally came in contact with it, it exploded. Continue reading

In the Wake of the Storm

When the next storm will gather is anyone's guess. We still have five more weeks of hurricane season.
When the next storm will gather is anyone’s guess. We still have five more weeks of hurricane season.

It’s been almost two weeks since hurricane Matthew limped out to sea, an exhausted tropical storm that took its toll on people and property alike.

The clean-up is well underway in South Carolina and elsewhere. I can actually see my backyard and my palm trees again after clearing away fallen branches and trees of small oaks, chestnuts, and the like.

My sister-in-law wasn’t so lucky. A storm surge coupled with marsh flooding encroached on her condo with devastating consequences. Yet the clean-up proceeds even amidst mountains of ruined furniture, bedding, walls, and rugs. Hopefully, she’ll have her home back before the holidays and life will return to normal for her.

What’s particularly troubling are the properties that line the beaches up and down the Eastern Coast. Many are humble bungalows and others stately mansions that look out on the breathtaking beauty of the sea that brought so much destruction. No walk to the beach for these folks. The beach is their backyard.

The only problem is after a storm of Matthew’s magnitude many people rebuild right at the dune’s edge knowing full well the wrath of the sea will one day again destroy part or all of their property. How can they afford to do this you may well ask.

And the answer is twofold. One, high insurance rates, part of which is paid for by federal subsidies paid for by taxpayers like you and me. Two, they revert to petitioning, cajoling, or suing their state and federal governments to indulge in one of several projects to try to keep the sea at bay.

Some of these projects involve the construction of groins more commonly known as jetties. Another is the construction of sea walls. Many are made of stone, others of metal, or other materials.

Other common techniques used to preserve beach, dunes, and homes butted up against the sea include beach restoration with sand, dune building, and in some places the planting of native plants in the water to slow or alter wave action.

The truth is none of these solutions really work very well. In fact, since I’m supposed to be telling the truth, I’ll give it to you straight. These projects work terribly or not at all.

For example, it was jetties built in 1879 that led to the demise of the Morris Island Lighthouse. Traditional patterns of the sea determining where sand would be deposited shifted because of these manmade structures, and now Morris Light stands destitute, a half mile from shore.

Because jetties interrupt the normal flow of sand, when one neighbor builds a jetty, it encourages a neighbor to do the same to protect his property. And the domino effect continues all along the coast.

The wall built along Sea Bright, New Jersey to protect the homes of a few hundred home owners starves the federal park of Sandy Hook of tons of sand. This is a recreational area where millions of people from New York and New Jersey flock to every year.  How fair or sensible is that?

Every year municipalities all along the coasts of the United States spend millions of dollars to protect public and private property that will only be undone sometimes even before the project is completed. Continue reading

When the Big Storm Blows

Miami waits as storm clouds gather.
Miami waits as storm clouds gather.

Hurricane Matthew has long blown out to sea, and I know I speak for millions when I say good riddance. What began as a category four hurricane finally limped out to sea as a tropical storm after a week of spreading death and destruction to millions and creating havoc in the lives of millions more.

We should be particularly mindful of the folks in Haiti who lost over three hundred sons and daughters, parents, and grandparents when it crossed through the Windward Passage, the strait separating Cuba from Haiti. Ironically, it’s the same route buccaneers and pirates took hundreds of times when they wreaked havoc on passing ships in the eighteenth century Caribbean.

The Bahamas has learned to deal with both hurricanes and pirates
The Bahamas has learned to deal with both hurricanes and pirates

The Bahamas, as vulnerable as they are with their mostly low lying country, were spared the deadly impact of Matthew. Since Nassau was once a pirate stronghold with the ships of Benjamin Hornigold and Blackbeard filling their harbor, I’d like to think maybe they were keeping a watchful eye over the islands.

As for my wife and I, after two days of preparation, we finally evacuated our home in Murrells Inlet. At the time, Matthew was a category four hurricane still tormenting Haiti and the Caribbean, and Governor Haley of South Carolina was issuing evacuation orders.

Though the storm was downgraded to a category one when it arrived on my front door step, I don’t regret leaving. It gave my wife and I the opportunity to reunite with her cousin and his lovely wife in North Carolina where they were gracious enough  to host us for five days. The laughter and memories we shared were priceless, and Johnny’s stories about his time in Vietnam gave me an even deeper appreciation of the Vietnam vet. Thanks Johnny and Peggy. I hope you realize how much it meant to us. Continue reading

World Maritime Day 2016

At sea or in port, a mariner is like a doctor. He's always on call.
At sea or in port, a mariner is like a doctor. He’s always on call.

World Maritime Day was celebrated this year on September 29. Personally, mariners do so much for the billions of peoples on this planet, I think one day is not enough to thank them for all the sacrifices they make. Even if you’ve never seen an ocean, you owe them a huge debt.

Here are a few facts about mariners and the industry that you may not be aware of. It’s a tough business to be in whether you’re just starting out or the VP of a huge shipping company.

World Maritime Day was first established as an arm of the United Nations in 1978.

There are over a hundred thousand merchant marines in the United States alone. There are over a million worldwide.

The International Maritime Organization is an agency of the United Nations responsible for the safety, security, and pollution of ships globally.

Living and working on a ship is a dangerous job. Every year hundreds of mariners die in mishaps aboard the ship.

Last year this time twenty-eight crew members of the Faro sailed straight into hurricane Joaquin and perished.

Over 75% of casualties at sea are due to human error. Some sources put the figure closer to 95%.

One of the greatest challenges to the shipping industry is a shortage of engineering officers. These are needed to run ships far more sophisticated than they were just a few years ago. Continue reading