A large percentage of our lives seems to involve trying not to irritate the wrong people. For some, this means being careful what they say to their wives or husbands, their bosses, and their mechanics. For adolescents, it’s mostly about being discreet around teachers and parents. Everyone, no matter how old or rich, tries to keep from getting on the wrong side of their plumber and garbage collectors.
But there are certain lines of work where not making the wrong people mad is pretty much the most important thing in life. If you’re, say, a professional skydiver, you probably want to be especially friendly with the guy who packs your parachute. If you’re a lion tamer, it’s a good idea to be on good terms with whoever feeds the lions before your act. And if you’re an underwater welder, you need to buy a box of cigars for the guy who fills your air tanks now and then.
Pirates should probably be more concerned with this sort of thing than most. For example, if you’re a pirate, your goal is probably to look for boats that are smaller and slower than yours, that have fewer crewmembers than you do, and hopefully have less firepower than your vessel. That’s who most of us would probably try to attack, in the normal conduct of our day to day, garden variety piratage.
So when I saw the headline of a recent msn article, my first thought was, “Boy, those guys really picked on the wrong boat.” The headline said, “Pirates held after mistakenly targeting warship.” The key word there, I think, is ‘mistakenly.’
The picture, however, is the best part of the story. It shows a small boat, maybe fifteen feet long, with peeling paint and a little outboard motor on it, sitting in the water under a powerful spotlight at night. In the boat are five guys, all of them skinny and poorly dressed, standing in the boat with their arms held straight up in the air. The camera angle indicates that the picture was taken from a somewhat higher elevation than sea level. The pirates are Somali, and the picture was taken off the coast of Somalia.
These guys, bless their hearts, just don’t look like pirates. At least not what I think of when someone mentions pirates. They look homeless, and they may very well have been, before they became guests of their current captors. If you were out yachting or ketching or whatever boating people do, and you saw this boatful of ragged scarecrows bobbing along in the water, your first thought would not be to batten your hatches and hoist the mizzen. Your first thought would be, “How come they haven’t sunk yet?”
It seems our intrepid denizens of the main mistook a warship for a merchant vessel and attacked with Kalashnikovs, expending quite a lot of ammo without hitting anyone, before they realized their faux pas. They were in the company of a boatful of their compatriots, who escaped, while this bunch evidently couldn’t coax enough power from their ancient Evinrude to get away.
But the real kicker, the ultimate humiliation for these poor fellows, is that the boat they attacked, and were captured by, was French. If you can’t scare a boatful of frogs, even when you’re spraying their decks with automatic weapons, you’re definitely going to get kicked out of Pirates Local 403.
Not only that, but the ship the pirates attacked, and which caught up with and apprehended them, was the La Somme, a 3800-ton refueling ship. It would be bad enough to be caught by a French man-o-war, or cutter, or battleship. But to be outrun and nabbed by a French oiler is just . . . sad.
In a recent column I mentioned some ‘pirates’ in West Virginia who were caught taking people on trips down a river without a license. I said I had thought at first they might be sort of junior varsity pirates, gaining OJT in the rivers of West Virginia before graduating to coastline piratage, and then maybe going all the way up to high seas depredation. I think these Somali pirates probably should have started out that way, instead of getting out there with the big boys right off the bat.
This reminds me of the story of the fellow who walked into a gun store, pulled out a pistol, and announced his intent to rob the place. The owner, several patrons, and a uniformed policeman who was standing at the counter, all pulled guns and started shooting the guy. He ended up with something like 47 brand new perforations.
The moral here, I guess, is that we should all be careful who we choose to irritate in the normal course of daily events. Plus it might not be a good idea to choose a violent and illegal profession unless you have some aptitude for it. And, especially, if at first you don’t succeed, against the French, it’s probably time to throw in the Jolly Roger . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker whose canoe has never been boarded by the French Navy. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org