Jacquelyn Bengfort’s “Sail Fast the Violent Violet Seas”

 

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY broke in through a cascade of Filipino Monkey! catcalls on the emergency channel.i We took down the latitude and longitude, already turning, spinning up helicopters and additional engines. The sun was sliding lazy like a drop of molten honey toward the horizon line by the time we found her,ii drifting and heavily laden, her men safe and sequestered in the engine room, her holds full of ever more potent chemistries.

We prescribed cigarettes and soda for the crew, confident only in the twin gods of Coca-Cola and Marlboro. Their captain seemed uncertain, still. Piratesiii do that to a man. He ordered a seaman to scrub the bloody footprints from the decks, another to repair the breach in the concertina wire.

“Sail fast the violent violet seas,”iv we advised. “Employ scarecrows armed with blackened broomsticks.v Beware unknowns on the horizon.”vi Then we returned to our warship with itsvii guns and sophisticated radars and sailed away.

We would have liked to provide a more consistent, respectable service, but the ocean is, frankly, far larger than you can likely appreciate.viii


i Filipino Monkey is the most common slur heard by mariners around the world on bridge-to-bridge radio channel 16.

ii Ships are one of the few inanimate objects that take a gendered pronoun in the English language, thus her.

iii International law draws a distinction between piracy, which by definition only occurs on the high seas, and armed robbery, in which the same or similar acts take place in territorial waters. Keep in mind, too, that pirates can be hard to identify. A pirate may have started the day as a fisherman. He may end it as one. He may not know himself what he is from moment to moment.

iv Not an exact transcription. International Maritime Organization MSC. 1 Circ. 1339, Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy: “One of the most effective ways to defeat a pirate attack is by using speed to try to outrun the attackers and/or make it difficult to board . . . Ships are recommended to proceed at Full Sea Speed, or at least 18 knots where they are capable of greater speed, throughout their transit of the High Risk Area.”

v Not an exact transcription. International Maritime Organization MSC. 1 Circ. 1339, Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy: “Well constructed dummies placed at strategic locations around the vessel can give an impression of greater numbers of people on watch.”

vi Not an exact transcription. International Maritime Organization MSC. 1 Circ. 1339, Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy: “Prior to entering the High Risk Area, it is recommended that preparations are made to support the requirements for increased vigilance by: [bulleted list] Providing additional lookouts for each Watch. Additional lookouts should be fully briefed. Considering a shorter rotation of the Watch period in order to maximize alertness of the lookouts. Ensuring that there are sufficient binoculars for the enhanced Bridge team, preferably anti glare. Considering use of night vision optics. Maintaining a careful Radar Watch.”

vii I never in my dozen Navy years called one of my ships she.

viii Some of this is true. Some of this is a conflation of separate events. Some I made up entirely. And some of it comes from the May 2014 issue of CropLife Magazine: ever more potent chemistries from the sidebar entitled “Trouble in the Sprayer?” to Lisa Heacox’s multi-page article “Changing Crop Protection Landscape Demands Drift Advances”; unknowns on the horizon from Eric Sfiligoj’s editorial “Taking A Hint . . . Too Far”; a more consistent, respectable service from a miscopied phrase in the inside front cover advertisement for the GVM AgriProbe. It actually read a more consistent, repeatable service, but the damage was already done.