La Riposte

Published Works

Monday, October 14, 2013

Hoist High the Colors!

A Questionable Standard
In days of yore, it was often necessary for the seagoing scoundrel to be prepared to repel boarders, but today one is more likely to be obliged to welcome them...

This was the case a few days ago when I had the good fortune to bring aboard my first guests - my sister-in-law Anya and her mother, who was visiting from Ukraine.
To prepare for their visit, I spent the better part of the day engaged in running up the Jolly Roger, scrubbing the Gypsy Danger 'til she shined (or was at least presentable) installing a pair of tatami mats from Japan and a nice set of Persian rugs and pillows from Bahrain, obtaining the necessary victuals – rum, vodka, assorted mixers, strawberries, bananas, and a lovely pumpkin roll... The piratical ensign was a souvenir from the birthday cruise to the Bahamas, and a salute to my lovely guests' purpose in visiting my nautical abode enroute to a Pirate Festival on Tybee Island.
The visit was quite fabulous, and over all too quickly, but I do hope to entertain many more guests in the days to come, so if you're headed for the Lowcountry, be sure to drop me a line. On Sunday, as I sat finishing up a post for my general-purpose writing blog, I heard a tapping, gently rapping a'la Poe's Raven upon the side of my vessel. It was my new neighbor, Bill Kelly, a retired Coast Guardsman on his way South to the Bahamas inviting me over for drinks and conversation on the Sea Chantey, a 36-foot Sea Trader which he, his wife Tamara, and their son are sailing along the Great Loop.
During our conversation, I asked if it was considered bad form to fly a skull and crossbones on your vessel, and was informed that some folks did indeed consider it to be a bit outre; delving a little deeper into the subject, I discovered that there was indeed a range of thought on the matter – one digest of flag etiquette began its discourse with “Rule No. 1—There are no real rules. Customs observed in various foreign waters differ from each other...” In another forum, a fellow asking "Where would I fly a pirate flag if I wanted to do so with proper flag etiquette?" received answers ranging from “You wouldn't. Any member of a civilized society would have opened fire on a pirate ship and sunk it on sight.” to “I was always under the impression that pirates didn't pay much attention to etiquette of any sort...”
I'm rather leaning toward the latter sentiment, myself, and may perhaps compromise by flying the flag of the Swedish Pirate Party, as I am rather fond of Swedes, pirates, and parties in general - but it does raise an interesting subject about which I promise to wax philosophic in some greater detail at a later date. Piracy – is it a bad thing, or could it really be, in net terms, a good thing? Before you answer, consider that The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has grossed about 3.72 billion dollars to date, and that without historic piracy, not a penny of that would have been realized.
A military mna with piratical sympathies - shocking, no doubt, but there is a historical precedent - Major Stede Bonnet, "The Gentleman Pirate" was an unlikely, unlucky, and not entirely unsuccessful pirate... A one-time confederate of Edward Teach, the notorious Blackbeard, Bonnet was hoodwinked by the cannier, more ruthless Blackbeard and, having broken his pardon and returned to piracy, was captured after a hard-fought battle on the Cape Fear river, taken to Charleston in chains and eventually hanged.
Well, I shall look forward to a happier end than a long drop on a short rope, but back to the question at hand - is modern piracy (a term applied with equal opprobrium to nautical raids on merchant ships and downloads of electronic media) a global good, or a global ill?
It's estimated that modern piracy around the Horn of Africa cost 6 billion dollars in 2012 – but the majority of those “costs” were in fact payments to working folks in the security industry and extra pay for sailors traversing dangerous waters – thus, pirates are contributing to jobs and higher wages for blue-collar workers, which is a goal to which many of the world's governments might well aspire to!
But I'm all verklempt – discuss among yourselves!


  1. According to maritime law, flying the skull & crossbones flag gives anyone permission to board and seize your ship. I think that is less of an issue if you're not on international waters... ;) Also, amazing trivia about pirates: in the 1600s, the Bahamian pirates had disability for their crews while the sailors on the colonial powers' ships had nothing, most of the time they weren't even paid wages. Sometimes we can learn from those who live by their own rules.

  2. Hmmm! That is food for thought... I think I want to replace it with a Pirate Party flag, but they're not sold anywhere, it seems! I think I will have to make them and start selling them myself!

    Thanks for the note!