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

 

 

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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

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