Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 12, 2010

Avast, Ye Pirates!

The call has gone out, and they’ve answered. They have rowed, sailed, steamed and, sometimes, limped there from the far corners of the globe and from across history. The boats, ships, barges, launches, sloops, yachts, dreadnoughts and cruisers ride at anchor in the lee of an unknown crag in a seldom-visited part of the Mediterranean, out of shipping lanes and far from land. It is  a motley flotilla that, even hove-to as close as they dare (given their varied deck heights, draughts, oar-reaches and differing mobility) (or lack thereof), spans several hectares of open water.

Despite their different races, cultures, backgrounds and reasons for putting out to sea, the captains have sailed here to serve the one purpose that unites sailors everywhere, in every age. Pirates are asea! Off the coast of Somalia, well-armed ruthless bands of pirates are boldly interdicting the sea traffic of the world. This is the sort of anarchy that sets every sailor’s heart ablaze with a sense of injustice. It had brought the world’s greatest sailors together to scour the waves until no pirates remained. They have made their rendezvous here, to sail in force to overcome the foe. A blazing sun pours down on the wine-dark sea. By general agreement, they give the right to speak first to the most senior of them:  Odysseus. He stands in the high-prowed boat manned by his crew that had survived the cannibal, Laestrygones and the isle of the Cyclops, not to mention Scylla and Charybdis (who weren’t far from where they presently are, as a matter of fact).

Odysseus speaks, saying, “Όσο ο Οδυσσέας κοιμάται, η Αθηνά πηγαίνει στην πόλη των Φαιάκων και εμφανίζεται στο όνειρο της Ναυσικάς, της κόρης του βασιλιά Αλκίνοου, παίρνοντας τη μορφή μιας φίλης της.”

Charlie Allnut, who’s nursed The African Queen all the way up the west coast of Africa, calls over to Charles Marlow, who’s traveled with him from his Heart of Darkness, “Hey! Charlie, what in heck is he saying?” Marlow answers from his place on at the wheel of Nellie, “No idea. Kurtz would know, but it’s Greek to me!”

To no one’s surprise, Odysseus’ speech is interrupted by the fiery Leif Ericson. He stands in the bow of his skei, the Hwal-rad, a dragon boat more than a hundred feet long manned by 70 stalwart Vikings saying, “Tell me true/where traitors toil, I swear to swing/ my sword on helm! (Leif always speaks in alliterative half-lines, true to his Nordic upbringing).

“Don’t be rash, Ericson!” It’s Mike Nelson — who looks just like Lloyd Bridges — onboard the Argonaut. “I’ve got plenty of scuba divers here, but we need a plan. And it wouldn’t hurt if we could scare up an aircraft carrier and a couple of Aegis cruisers, you know.”

“Nonsense!” That’s Jason, aboard the Argo, who, already irritated that Odysseus got to speak first, begins to enumerate the reasons why he and his crew, hardened by encounters with some of the most legendary maritime threats ever recorded, should lead this flotilla, before he’s interrupted by Ernest Shackleton whose stalwart ship Endurance seems to’ve recovered from its nasty encounter with the ice of Antarctica. “I insist that the appropriate leader of this navy is Admiral Nelson. Sir,” he continues, “I salute you.”

And there IS the Admiral, feet firmly planted on the deck of Victory, turning slowly, magisterially, to acknowledge Shackleton, and preparing to speak, when he’s interrupted by an unseemly outburst of profanity and caterwauling from somewhere off his lee beam. “I say! What …?” and the Boatswain, leaning out over the rail spots two tiny craft, looking more like floating huts than sea vessels, dwarfed by the vast bulk of Victory.

What he sees ‘way down there on little matchstick boats — if they ARE indeed boats and not just shacks washed out to sea by a tsunami — is something like a cross between a vaudeville act and a scene from a Three Stooges movie. Two unkempt dudes in ragged clothes are alternately trying to maneuver their little wooden heaps with long poles while whacking each other with those poles at the same time. Of course, it’s Davy Crockett and Mike Fink on their keel boats, which have about as much in common with Victory as a soap box derby car has with a Formula One racer.

Fink: %&$#G*! “Jones and Virginia!” WHACK!

Crockett *$&*!#& ” Worden and the Monitor!” WHOP!

The Boatswain reports to Admiral Nelson, “Two colonials discussing the relative merits of their respective ironclad ships, sir.” “Ironclads!” Nelson says dismissively. “I say, let us enlist our brother-in-arms …”

And again Nelson is interrupted, but this time by an impressive figure in the bow of a big three-master nearly the size of Victory, who, arm outstretched, is addressing the assembled fleet. “What’s that he’s saying there?” asks Nelson. “It’s the colonial, Jones, commanding Bonhomme Richard,” replies the Boatswain. “He’s saying that he has not yet begun to fight, sir.” “Well, advise us if he begins, and we’ll jolly well join in. Meanwhile …” and again Nelson was interrupted, but this time by a roar emanating from what at first seemed to be nothing but a vast plume of water spraying up from the blue Mediterranean water. “I say! What can that be?”

What it is, it turns out, is Sonny “Miami Vice” Crockett in his Scarab KV, roaring in from Florida, not wanting to miss out on the action. “C’mon, J.P.,” he yells over to Admiral Jones, waving a nifty little .45-millimeter he’s pulled out of his belt. “Let us begin to fight!” But no sooner has he delivered the line (which he rehearsed all the way across the Atlantic) than he has to swerve the cigarette boat hard to port to avoid a big shape that’s suddenly risen from the deeps in front of him: it’s Nautilus, and framed in the glass bow of the legendary submarine he sees Captain Nemo himself who, having interrupted Sonny, now bows to Admiral Nelson, giving him another opportunity to begin ordering the fleet.

Before Nelson can gather himself, he’s again cut short by a sudden lurch to starboard by Victory, which is attempting to avoid an imminent collision with a weathered little 32-foot fishing boat sporting the name, Minnow. Yep, that’s Gilligan, the Skipper, too; the millionaire and his wife; a movie star, the Professor and Mary Ann, somehow all finding their way into this odd corner of the Mediterranean. We hear a voice from onboard saying something about, “Look out, Little Buddy!” and then Gilligan, having just avoided a disaster against the hull of Victory cries out, “Holy Cow, Skipper! What’s THAT?!” “You mean TWO Holy Cows, Little Buddy. That’s the Ark — it’s Noah!”

Yes, out there at the edge of the knot of ships looms a vast bulk, more like a floating building than a boat, its sides rising vertically from the waterline. It has a unique shape, unlike anything ever seen, and, if truth were told, it also gives off a distinctive aroma, just as certainly unlike anything ever smelled — an immense floating zoo, occupied by animals of every description. The assembled fleet falls silent, humbled to be in the presence of this awesome sailor from the dawn of time. All is  silent until …

“I have not yet begun to fight!” rings out again from the Bonhomme Richard.

“Hyuck Hyuck Hyuck, I’d likes ter give that twerp a piece ‘er my mind,” says Popeye, homing into view aboard the Olive Oyl.

“Don’t trouble yourself, Cap’n. Me an’ the boys’ll go have a few words with him!” By golly, it’s Quinton McHale and the jolly crew of PT-73, just up from Taratupa. But before he and his gang get a chance to cut loose with any of the typical hijinks, they’re cut short by a big white shape steaming across their bow. It’s USS Colorado, Admiral Dewey at the helm, here to restore order and reason to what has clearly become a bit of a mess. He acts quickly, ordering the signal corps to bring up his flanking vessel, USS Mississippi with Commodore Perry in command. “Commodore Perry, we are prepared to assemble this flotilla into a fighting formation, if you would be so kind?”

“Excellent, Admiral,” following which, Perry orders a signal sent to Bonhomme Richard, requesting, “What is your status,” and the cry comes faintly over the waves of the middle ocean, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

“Bloody hell!” says Nelson, having had about all he can take of Colonial intervention in what is clearly his command. But just as he is preparing to issue his own order of sail, there is a shocking blow and Victory lurches over, nearly causing him to spill the cup of tea he’s holding. “What now?” he demands.

Again the Boatswain peers over the rail and discovers a weathered two-master, its sails in tatters, with a grizzled one-legged man on deck who asks, “Have ye seen the White Whale?”

Pequod, sir, out of Narragansett. Asking about a whale.”

“Bloody hell! What’s next?”

“I saw the white whale!” yells Leif Ericson, but no one seems to pay him any mind. Instead, their attention is drawn by another vessel arising from the deep in a fuming spray, not far from where Nautilus had recently submerged. And, in fact, it’s Nautilus‘s direct descendant, Seaview, commanded by Admiral Harriman Nelson. “Blimey, another Nelson,” moans the master of Victory.

Then, everyone is shocked by the swift appearance of a huge white vessel, slender and tall, graceful and sleek, larger than any of their ships expect the Ark, and faster than any of them can imagine sailing. It does a nifty reverse-engine tail-in boarding maneuver next to Victory and a man clad all in white leans down from the lofty bridge. And, sure enough, it’s Captain Merrill Stubing in command of Pacific Princess — the Love Boat! “Ahoy there,” he calls to Nelson. “We’re bound for Corfu, but are you in need of some assistance?”

Nelson glares, but cannot bring himself to speak to this interloper. “Thank you, Captain,” his First Mate responds. “All’s well. Carry on!” He turns to the Admiral and nods to indicate that it’s time.

And, finally, ready now to set the flotilla in order, Admiral Nelson considers the strength of the pirates they’re about to face, how sorely they’ll test the mettle of this rag-tag assembly of ships and crews, some armed only with knives or flintlocks, harpoons or swords. His spirits sink, surveying this conclave of egos and free spirits which includes not only the vessels and commanders already mentioned but also, hovering out on the edges of the flotilla, the Ancient Mariner on his ghostly ship, Arthur Gordon Pym aboard the Grampus, Themistocles and Xerxes till trying to settle their unfinished business at Salamis and, incredibly, Christopher Columbus and the tiny Santa Maria. But, resolute to the last, he tries to picture how he will be able to form this chaos into a fighting force when …

“Oh … Boyyyys! Hey there, guys!” A woman’s voice floats up from below Victory‘s deck. Nelson is dumfounded and looks at the Boatswain, who has already gone once again to the rail and reports:

“Cleopatra, sir, and her barge!”

“Hey! What are you doin’ here, you bums! There are pirates out there!”

She stands in the stern of the barge, dressed in white, more beautiful than even Elizabeth Taylor at her best (and that was really good), looking around at the seaworn and hardened hands on the ships around her. She nodded. “Some bunch of sailors you are. Anyone think to bring along any Exocet missiles or anything like that?”

Met with silence, she nods. “I didn’t think so. Well, I guess we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. Follow me!” And with a gesture to her oarsmen, she falls back upon the pillows beneath her pavilion, and the barge proceeds southwesterly, toward the Suez.

Silence reigs. From lowly cabin boy to experienced Captain, all are awestruck. Finally, Nelson’s First Mate turns to him, as does Dewey’s to him and Ericson’s and Jones’s and all the other officers of the decks. As one they ask, “Orders, sir?”

“Follow her!”

Pirates, BEWARE!

I’ve only left out a hundred or a thousand other famous ships and crews. Who else? Send a comment! Thanks.

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Responses

  1. The Caine Mutiny springs to mind, but I’m not sure Captain Queeg provides the sort of help the armada wants. Besides, I believe it’s no more than one Bogie reference per blog, ain’t it?

    Like

    • I’ll put him on the fringes with Pym and the other misfits.

      Like

  2. Smokin’! I love this blog. You got in every one of my personal favorites and then some. All I got here is maybe JFK could swing into the battle line in PT-109 alongside McHale and maybe there could be room for Bull Halsey. Harriman Nelson and the Seaview, you’re killing me.

    Like

    • Dang! I’m going to go back in and PUT JFK with McHale. Wish I’d thought of it.

      Like

  3. Man, my word processor won’t hack that language. Sam Clemens should probably ride along to sound the shallows.

    Like

  4. What a great story. You kept coming up with characters and more characters and more characters. I love it!

    Like


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