Monday, December 31, 2012

Nigerian Piracy: A Different Kind of Crime

The new pirates

In a "Booze and Boat Bits" way back in August 2011, I noted the rise of piracy off the coast of Nigeria.  A week ago, on Christmas Eve, as Americans were reaching Grandma's house, drinking eggnog, and settling down for the proverbial long winter's night, four sailors were kidnapped from the MV Asso Ventuno 40 nautical miles off the coast of Bayelsa State of Nigeria in the Niger Delta.  This is only the latest event.  In an article for the Associated Press, reporter Nicole Winfield wrote, "Pirate attacks are on the rise in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent's curve from Liberia to Gabon.  Over the last year and a half, piracy there has escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts."  I have written on numerous occasions about modern piracy on the other side of Africa.  Somali pirates, as recently noted, are quieting down.  Attention is now shifting, but the new piracy is very different.  Somali piracy, as argued by Jay Bahadur, is (was?) based on clan affiliation and short-term, opportunistic bands.  Nigerian piracy--and there seems to be a consensus that the pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are largely Nigerian--is based on a new kind of organized crime.  Indeed, the analyses I've read imply that crime is essentially a cultural value in Nigeria, and the new piracy is simply crime moved offshore.

Monday, December 24, 2012

encore: "The Pirate's Night Before Christmas," by Blue Lou Logan

(A repost from last year.  Enjoy, and remember...this is the first Christmas after the apocalypse!)

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the boat,

Not a sailor was stirring, not one soul afloat.

The stockings were hung from the yardarms with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The pirates were scattered all over the deck,

Dreaming of jewels adorning their necks.

The first mate in his hammock, me in my bunk,

Safely above the ship’s treasure trunk.

When out on the sea I heard such a splash,

I instinctively grabbed to protect my stash.

Out of my cabin I flew like a bird,

Slipping and sliding, I looked quite absurd.

The moon it was gone.  The sky had turned black.

I knew right away we were under attack!

And what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a great, hulking warship, drawing quite near,

With a slimy old skipper, at the wheel alone,

I knew in a moment it was Davey Jones.

He ran out his cannons, how quickly they came,

And each of his guns after pirates he named:

"Out Blackbeard!  Out Bonny!  Out Reade and out Rackham!

Out Davis and Dampier!  Arrr, let’s attack ‘em!

Now over the sides!” Davey Jones called.

“No quarter! No quarter! No quarter at all!”

The cutlasses clashed, the pistols let fly,

We fought for our lives, gave it our desperate try.

How could we win against that demon crew?

Our chances were hopeless, what could we do?

And then, in a twinkling, off our starboard beam,

A new ship appeared as if out of a dream.

As I blocked Jones’ sword, and was turning around,

Down the mainmast St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in oilskins, from his head to his foot,

Here was old Santa, in knee-high sea boots,

An elf crew there with him, to avert the attack,

But then Santa stopped and opened his pack.

Coins, how they twinkled!  Doubloons, oh, how merry!

Rubies like roses, some as big as a cherry!

Davey Jones he drew up, and he laid his sword low,

And then suddenly it started to snow!

Jones drew on the pipe that he held in his teeth,

And then he blew smoke in the shape of a wreath.

A smile emerged from his tentacled face.

What was a battle turned a right cheerful place.

Jones he stood there with that jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw them, in spite of myself.

Jones ordered his crew, with a twist of his head,

To return to the ship; there was no more to dread.

Santa and crew went right to their work,

And filled all our stockings; then he turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the mainmast he rose;

He landed on deck and yelled, “Mainsail haul!”

And the elves did make sail, singing “Haul away all!”

And I heard him exclaim, as they went out of sight,

Merry Christmas, me buckos!  And fair winds this night!

Copyright 2011, S.L.W.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Booze and Boat Bits #7 (5 Short Items of Interest)

And now it's time to return to Blue Lou's quick entries on happenings in the world of piracy, vessels, and alcohol!  It's been a while for some of these topics, starting with...

washed up?

1.  Somalia update:  There are numerous signs that piracy in Somalia has been, if not eradicated, at least brought under a reasonable amount of control.  Signs of its demise began earlier this year.  A September 25th article for the Huffington Post described how Hobyo, historically one of the key pirate dens, is now back on hard times.  You know the boom is over when "most of the prostitutes are gone and luxury cars (are) repossessed."  At that time, 5 vessels had been seized in 2012, compared to 25 in 2011 and 47 in 2010.  December 17th news was even better:  NO ships have been seized by the Somalis in the last 6 months!  Many factors have been credited for the increased success in averting successful pirate attacks--on-board defenses, better and more constant communication between merchant vessels and naval patrols, and air reconnaissance over the shoreline.  Nevertheless, Somali piracy is far from over.  5 ships and 136 hostages are still being held.  In an article for Reuters, Dutch Commodore Ben Bekkering, now commander of NATO's Operation Ocean Shield, told the press, "I am convinced, if navy ships would disappear, the piracy model would still be intact."  He insisted that a minimum of 16 to 18 ships need to be on patrol at any one time just to cover the broad area of the pirates' hunting ground.  Out-of-work pirates, meanwhile, are not treated warmly in the towns where they live, many citizens blaming piracy for what Hobyo mayor Ali Duale Kahiye calls "inflation, indecency, and insecurity."  Even the investors that used to fund pirate expeditions are backing off, seeing decreasing returns.  It is important to keep in mind that poverty and instability will still make the pirates' life appealing.  Yet it seems that...just maybe...we're winning.

washed up?

2.  Kalakala update:  Our dear old ferry has entered a new phase of limbo.  As reported at the Tacoma News Tribune, in November the Kalakala passed from Steve Rodrigues to Karl Anderson, who owns the moorage where the ferry resides and who invited Rodrigues and his boat back in 2004.  The transfer was a "quietly arranged lien foreclosure sale," as Rodrigues owned $4,000 in past due rent.  Kalakala remains in its conundrum:  The Coast Guard still considers it "a hazard to navigation," but, at the same time the Coast Guard has declared it too fragile to move, environmental regulators have forbidden repairs on the water.  Call me a perpetual optimist, but, honestly, I am hopeful about the new ownership.  Rodrigues' heart was in the right place, but he was a dreamer not a planner, and certainly no businessman.  Anderson has made clear that he'd rather restore than scrap, and, besides, the only graving dock up to the task of dismantling the big ferry--a dock that also happens to be owned by Anderson--is tied up with making pontoons for the 520 floating bridge for two years.  Anderson may not be the one to bring back the Kalakala to its former glory, but, at the very least he seems to care about her.  The waiting game continues, same as it ever was.

washed down!
3.  'Tis the season to give beer.  Last week at work, we had "Secret Santa" exchanges.  My Secret Santa scored perfectly, supplying me with toys, a huge one-pound bag of Pirate's Booty cheese puffs, the book Dead Men Tell No Tales on the 18th century pirate Charles Gibbs (a book I didn't even know existed), and finally a gift box with three pint glasses she hand etched with skull and crossbones and two big bottles of ale!!  The beer was from a brewery I was unfamiliar with, Minhas Craft Brewery of Monroe, Wisconsin.  Minhas traces its origins to the Blumer Brewery, founded way back in 1845 during the Midwest's lager boom, and today makes its way out of Wisconsin via Trader Joe's.  Although it is in a little town in rural cheese country, they style themselves nautical under the brand name "Boatswain."  The two beers I was given were a double IPA called Twin Screw Steamer and a strong ale called Heavy Lift Vessel.  The former was unremarkable, simply because I really could care less about IPA.  The latter, however, I would recommend as a sturdy, hearty brew, one that I would not only drink again but also could see myself trying to adapt into a homebrew recipe.  More importantly, I would like to suggest that my coworker Juanita had the right idea:  Don't waste your Christmas money buying socks or a gift card, show someone you care by giving them good ale!

4. It may be a wee bit wet and cold for sailing, but what does that matter to underwater archaeologists?  Between diverticulitis, work, and the coming of fall weather, I have not been to the Center for Wooden Boats in months, but then the CWB livery does tend to hibernate, too.  Nevertheless, the CWB's blog "Bearings" tells of restoration work, a new exhibit on boathouses and fishing resorts of Puget Sound, and the ongoing survey of shipwrecks on the bottom of Lake Union.  I have embedded a nicely made 9-minute video about the project above, and you can learn more at the Lake Union Virtual Museum.  I have written about this before.  It is not just of local interest:  It is a remarkable work of archaeology because of the extreme conditions it takes place in and the treasure trove of vessels found.

not a wash, a wish

5.  A month ago, I posted on how I was going to 'pretend' to take Mystic Seaport's summer seminar at the Munson Institute.  Well, all of the books have arrived from Amazon as well as two thick readers from Dr. Glenn Gordinier.  Dr. Gordinier told me that the seminar did not have any assignments; this was not a graduate seminar but an educators' seminar, and not only was the reading list too intense for weekly papers, but, really, teachers probably don't need the practice when they're too busy writing articles for actual publication.  So, by comparing the reading list to the draft syllabus posted online, I have created my OWN assignments.  In the upcoming weeks (or, rather, months), I will be posting here what I am already calling, perhaps presumptuously, "The Munson Papers."  Some of these will be topic only until the reading is done.  These subjects include the definition of maritime studies, the relationship between maritime labor and slavery, and the end of the age of sail.  Others, drawing partly from the actual seminar and partly from my own library and interests, already have initial titles:  "Blackbeard in Colonial Context," "Late Piracy and the Early U.S. Navy:  The Case of Charles Gibbs" (thanks again had no idea), and "Scholars and Scavengers:  Archaeology vs. 'Treasure Hunting'."  As you can tell, my brain is all buzzing.  The bad news is that it might be a while 'til you see a post here on the blog, as I lose myself in hundreds of pages of literature; Hell, I might even take a break from O'Brian (*gasp*)!  The good news is that there are over a dozen 'papers' you can look forward to reading...and, for me, perhaps the seeds of a new academic career.  Plus, you know, I'm a pirate, and thus likely to be distracted by something shiny that I think is worth writing about.

Stay roguish, my friends...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Aubrey-Maturin in Brief...A Review & 10: The Far Side of the World

Ladies, gentlemen, and those below and between, we have reached the half way point of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series.  We have also reached the book that most directly inspired and gave the title to the film that made Stephen and Jack visible to far more than a broad but nevertheless niche audience.  Before we get to the book itself, let's review where the winds and currents have taken us so far.  SPOILERS beware...

 1.  Master & Commander:  The Introduction.  In the year 1800, Lt. Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin meet in Port Mahon, Minorca.  Aubrey is given his first command, HMS Sophie, and with his friend Maturin cruises the Mediterranean, taking many prizes and gaining his reputation as "Lucky Jack."  The action climaxes with a dramatic battle with the xebec-frigate Cacafuego and ends with the witnessing of the Battle of Algeciras.

2.  Post Captain:  In Love and War.  Aubrey and Maturin, during a brief peace, discover that life ashore can be at least as complicated as life at sea as they become entangled in romance, social politics, and, in Aubrey's case, debt.  The situation is not much better when the war resumes, as Aubrey suffers the command of the dubious HMS Polychrest and nearly comes to a duel with Maturin over their mutual interest in the same woman.  In the end, Aubrey is made Post Captain and professes his love for Sophie Williams, and he and Maturin are as close as friends as ever.  Maturin, meanwhile, reveals his dangerous role in British intelligence and pines for the tempestuous and unattainable Diana Villiers.

3. HMS Surprise:  Romance in the Broad Empire.  After Aubrey is pulled from the tedium of the Toulon blockade aboard the Lively, and in turn after Aubrey rescues Maturin from torture in now-Spanish-controlled Port Mahon, our duo sets sail on Lucky Jack's favorite ship on a mission for Indonesia.  Surviving near disaster in the far south seas, they reach Bombay, where Maturin continues to pursue Villiers while she is under the keeping of the rich merchant Canning. The diplomatic mission fails, but Aubrey succeeds in defending the China Fleet from the squadron of French Admiral Linois.  In Calcutta, Aubrey is celebrated and gains enough freight money to be out of debt and marry Sophie.  Maturin is forced to duel Canning; he kills him but still loses Villiers.

4.  The Mauritius Command:  The Burden of a Grand Campaign.  With the secret help of Maturin, Aubrey is saved from domestic life and given command not only of the ship Boadicea but also of a whole squadron to take Mauritius and the surrounding islands from the French.  Aubrey finds it just as difficult to keep his captains in check and bear the mantle of Admiral as it is to outmaneuver the French Admiral Hamelin.  With the help of Maturin's negotiations and propaganda, bad odds are slowly improved.  The enterprise is nearly ruined with the horrible defeat at Grand Port.  Yet Aubrey defeats Hamelin, and tho' he does not gain all the credit Mauritius is taken.

5.  Desolation Island:  A Harrowing Adventure.  Aubrey and Maturin again escape domestic entanglements with a new mission:  Aubrey is to take the Leopard to Australia with a load of convicts, while Maturin is to coerce information from one of the prisoners, a beautiful American spy named Louisa Wogan.  It is a difficult voyage.  They barely survive a gale in the Bay of Biscay.  Wogan is in love with a stowaway named Herapath.  Much of the crew is killed by gaol-fever.  They play cat and mouse with the Dutch 74 Waakzaamheid until the Dutchman is suddenly swamped in the cruel Roaring Forties.  Then the Leopard runs into an iceberg and limps to the Kerguelen Islands.  In this cold, unforgiving place, the arrival of a Nantucket whaler allows Aubrey to save his ship at the same time that Maturin succeeds in planting poisoned intelligence.

6.  The Fortune of War:  Aubrey and Maturin in America.  The doomed Leopard barely makes Malaysia, and, as Aubrey and Maturin sail back towards England, the War of 1812 against the United States breaks out.  After their ship explodes, they find HMS Java, which is soon defeated by USS Constitution.  Aubrey and Maturin are taken as prisoners to Boston.  As Aubrey recovers from dire wounds at a mad house, Maturin falls into a dangerous spy game that involves the French, Wogan, Herapath and his father, and Harry Johnson, the American "protector" of none other than Diana Villiers.  After several scrapes, Maturin gets himself, Aubrey, and Villiers to HMS Shannon, which gives the British a much-needed victory when she successfully duels USS Chesapeake.

7.  The Surgeon's Mate:  Which Maturin Finally Wins Diana Villiers.  Maturin tries unsuccessfully to convince Villiers into marriage during the celebration of the Shannon in Halifax.  Aubrey, Maturin, and Villiers head home and narrowly escape a pair of American privateers.  Skirting the perpetual personal problems of their own country, Villiers goes to France, and Aubrey and Maturin sail to the Baltic for a delicate diplomatic mission aboard HMS Ariel.  They succeed but afterwards are wrecked on the rocks near Ushant and are imprisoned in France.  Weeks later, after Maturin makes a dangerous deal with a French agent, Aubrey and Maturin escape and are reunited with Villiers.  As they sail from Calais, Maturin and Villers are finally married.

8.  The Ionian Mission:  Back at the War.  Aubrey takes command of HMS Worcester and falls into the perpetual repetition of the blockade of Toulon.  A short, unsuccessful mission to Barka fails to improve the mood.  Maturin fares not much better:  A clandestine rendezvous at the mouth of the Aigouille River ends in chaos.  The Worcester breaks during an inconclusive chase with the French fleet.  Yet this allows Aubrey to regain his dear Surprise, and he and Maturin set off to the Ionian Islands to negotiate among the Turkish Beys to take the strategically important town of Marga.  Between Maturin's mechinations and Aubrey's fierce battle with two Turkish ships, success is at last achieved.

 9.  Treason's Harbor:  Trust No One.  In Valletta on the island of Malta, Aubrey and Maturin suffer interweaving woes:  Aubrey sees Surprise sit unrepaired, Maturin sees intelligence chaos in the city, and both of their lives are complicated by Laura Fielding, the wife of a captured British officer who has been coerced into spying for the French.  The new Commander in Chief gives the two a secret mission to Mubara, but, after braving the hot sands of Sinai and a treacherous voyage down the Red Sea, Aubrey and Maturin find that they have been betrayed, and both a diplomatic coup and a chest of treasure are denied.  Back in Valletta, Maturin uses Fielding as a means to counterintelligence just before joining Aubrey, with a now able Surprise, to escort the Adriatic convoy, during which they find that Fielding's husband is alive...and jealous.  Aubrey and Maturin receive another mission, this time to Zambra, but it's failure again as the French are once more alerted and destroy the British 64-gun Pollux, and the Surprise runs for Gibraltar.

In pseudo-chronological time, perhaps fifteen years have gone by.  Aubrey has obtained his captaincy; married; realized he's better off at sea, tho' better on a single warship than commanding a fleet of squabbling commanders; gained, lost, and regained his favorite ship; and ventured to locales from the Mediterranean to India to nearly Antarctica.  Maturin, in addition to following his friend everywhere, has seen (and been denied) many natural wonders, battled his own inner demons, won the difficult heart of his soul mate, saved many a wounded seaman, spied and been spied upon, and survived innumerable scrapes with death.

The Far Side of the World is, perhaps, Aubrey and Maturin's most far-flung adventure.  Some of the things you know from the movie are here:  Hollom the "Jonah," the rounding of Cape Horn, the Galapagos.  Yet I must hasten to remind you that the movie picked and chose from the whole O'Brian series, and even the plot lines that came directly from the book bear in many cases only scant resemblance to their literary source.  Trust me, the film is great, on its own or as a 'Best of O'Brian.'  But put away the IMDB, clear your mind, and let this fabulous voyage unfold without expectation...

"Nelson at Gibraltar" by Gordon Frickers

(1) In Gibraltar, Capt. Jack Aubrey nervously waits to report the failed mission to Zambra to the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Francis Ives.  The Surprise is doomed to be condemned, and the once cheerful ship has become a dismal place, her crew to be scattered and her captain with no clear certainty of a command.  On the streets, Aubrey encounters Mr. Hollom, an unlucky perpetual midshipman who had served under him aboard the Lively, and against his better judgment Aubrey takes pity on Hollom and orders him aboard the Surprise.  Aubrey dines with the Fieldings; having been rumored to have had an affair with Mrs. Fielding, Aubrey fears the evening, but he finds that the air has already been cleared.  Dr. Stephen Maturin, meanwhile, receives a letter from the head of British naval intelligence, Sir Joseph Blaine, congratulating him on his coup against French spies in Valletta and hinting at American operations in the Pacific.  Aubrey finally reports to Ives and is pleasantly surprised when he is congratulated for the destruction of the French two-decker Mars.  Even more happily, Aubrey and the Surprise are saved from doom and ordered to intercept the American frigate Norfolk, which is on its way to the Pacific to harass British whalers.  As usual, there is not a moment to be lost.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Tenuous Lives of Tall Ships: A Reminder


In the recent Weather Channel special on the rescue of fourteen of the sixteen crew of the HMS Bounty by the United States Coast Guard, survivor Douglas Faunt said it well:  "A wooden boat is always sinking."

The mariners all know, to borrow a turn from Gordon Lightfoot, that there is no permanency to a ship.  This was simply a given in the age of sail:  The lee shore would come, or simply the timber would give out.  The bottom of of any body of water will bear testament to that water's power over the vessels that pass through it.  Yet today's tall ships--museums, classrooms, and symbols of the bygone--can achieve such a status that their fragility can be overlooked.

Wasn't she lovely:  HMS Bounty and a nice bow wave

The 1960 replica of the legendary HMS Bounty has, outside of the family of sailors and fans, perhaps achieved that unfortunate status of becoming more famous in death than in life, like the Edmund Fitzgerald that Gord immortalized in song.  The aforementioned TV special places equal emphasis on the tragedy of the ship's loss and the heroism of the Coast Guard.  It seemed wise enough for Captain Walbridge, who had commanded the Bounty for seventeen years and through plenty of rough weather, to see riding out Hurricane Sandy at sea as a better alternative to being battered ashore.  Whether it was the 80 knot winds and the 30 foot seas, some special circumstance, or some fateful decision that brought the ship and its commander down may never be known.  What is clear is that the personnel of an HC-130 and two helicopters braved incredible conditions to rescue the equally courageous souls, in gumby suits and fragile rafts, that made it off the Bounty as she took on water, listed, and sank.  USCG rescue swimmers have the most insane job ever, and, really, Daniel Todd deserved a shout out from President Obama.  Yet I cannot help but think that for millennia there were no such saviors.  Is it possible that sailors take for granted that a Jayhawk will swoop out of the sky, drop a swimmer and a basket, and put the sea at bay?

Almost beautiful:  The La Grace aground

And is it also possible that we take today's tall ships for granted, as if their curatorial position makes them more invincible than the thousands of real, working vessels that they strive to maintain the memory of?  Over at the Fo'c'sle, the fate of the the Czech brig La Grace has been followed after she ran aground at Marbella, Spain, in October.  There was no hurricane taking over the national media here, no dramatic rescue.  It took weeks for the La Grace to be pulled free, and it is still unclear whether the damage sustained is too severe for the ship to be restored to her previous splendor.  Only slightly less alarming was the Fo'c'sle's reporting that schooner W.N. Ragland, built in 1913, the private boat of Neil Young for 35 years, and a regular at the CWB's annual festival (and thus I boat I have been aboard) was dismasted during transit from Seattle to San Francisco.

La Grace:  It could happen to anyone

You have to be getting the picture by now.  All beings are mortal.  Boats are mortal.  Wooden boats are even more mortal.  I shudder at the idea that, some day, dear vessels to me, from the little sharpies Betsy D and Colleen Wagner to the grand ships Lady Washington and Surprise, may not exist.  You are the choir being preached to, of course, but recent events MUST REMIND US that we cannot assume that boats we know and love can live and thrive without human care and effort.  Let not the deaths of Robin Walbridge, Claudene Christian, and the ship they adored be not without a lesson worth repeating, a purpose worth giving and even sacrificing for.  Do everything that you can.