Pirate at Fifteen by Charles Brennan
Once upon a time, there were two highly inept lounge club owners with the twin liabilities of reputed mob connections and a failing business. The mob could not believe they were merely incredibly lame businessmen, and assumed they must be skimming from the mob’s cut. In an effort to bolster profits, the two Booze-Bozos got the bright idea to go to the Bahamas in their cabin cruiser and buy untaxed booze to sell in their lounge (besides, their regular supplier had cut them off for credit problems). They had doctored up a pretty fair approximation of a cashier’s check and were going to stiff the Bahamian booze vendors, knowing they couldn’t go complain to their own government about selling untaxed booze to Americans.
The FBI were wiretapping the Mafiosos and learned of the attempt to smuggle in un-taxed booze and alerted ATF agents. They also learned in subsequent wiretaps, that the mob had had enough of these bozos, were going to hit the two on their own boat, hijack all their booze, and burn their boat to the waterline as a warning to some of their other south Florida partners.
Interstate Crime! Hijacking! Murder! Headlines! So the FBI decided they, too, wanted to join the party.
All the women in our family get severe cramps, once a month, get them all at the same time, and always on a weekend. So it was simply understood as a Force Of Nature, while growing up, that one weekend a month, my dad and me went out on the boat for the whole weekend; and it mattered not, what the weather was, we went out and we STAYED out. No storm on the Atlantic could match the storms at home, if we stayed.
Many times, with the uninformed youthful enthusiasm of a 15-year-old, I thought, “We’ve GOT to catch some fish, we’re the ONLY guys out here!” I was too dumb at the time, to appreciate the significance of 6-8 foot seas and why there might not be other boaters out there.
It was just such a miserable, drizzling, and kicked up weekend that these jokers decided to make their move. They filled their cruiser from top to bottom with booze. Being even more incompetent in basic seamanship, as they were in business, they failed to allow for the hull being so much lower in the water, having more weight and therefore requiring more fuel to push the hull.
Yup. They promptly ran out of gas, about 5 or 6 miles outside of Bakers Haulover Cut in Miami.
They were observed by radar on the way back from the Bahamas by alert FBI and ATF agents aboard a commandeered Coast Guard cutter which was now watching events transpire from 25,000 yards back.
Meanwhile, my dad and I are bouncing around out there and we see a boat rolling very badly, broaching in the waves and nearly rolling over (did I mention all that booze made the cabin cruiser top-heavy?), so we immediately went to their assistance, as required of all good seamen (by law, as well as by moral imperative). We made as good a speed as we could (a few knots at best) in those poor conditions, watching the whole time to see if the boat was going to capsize before we could get there. It made for a very tense 30 minutes or so.
We get there and the boat’s owner says, “We’re out of gas. Can you help us?”
My dad says, “Well, all we have is 2-cycle fuel. It’ll get you back to port, but it’ll run real smoky. It will probably foul your plugs, but also it’ll probably get you back home.”
The owner replied, “I’ll give you $100.00 for all the fuel you can spare.” That was a hefty sum for fuel, in the mid 60’s. A buck would buy 4 gallons, back then!
My dad said, “Oh no, we couldn’t accept any money to help out a fellow boater.”
The owner then offered him a case of St. Pauli Girl by way of gratitude, and well, THAT was a different story!
Our boat always ran out of bait, occasionally ran out of fuel, but NEVER ran out of beer! So dad had me hop aboard (me being the more agile one in our family, whenever there were badly rolling seas) with a 5-gallon jerry can of fuel and a funnel (and also made sure to hand back to him the case of imported beer). I had to go through the cabin to get to the fuel inlet on the other side of the boat, and I saw all these cases of booze stacked floor to ceiling. The boat owner’s partner, in between bouts of severe seasickness, warned me, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ have ya, kid?”
“Seen what, Sir?” I replied alertly, having noticed the preponderance of firearms about the vessel. We got their boat fueled and started up, and sure enough, it ran very smoky, indeed.
The federal agents, seeing the big blip on the radar (their boat), joined by a smaller blip on the radar (our boat) and suddenly seeing thick black clouds of smoke on the horizon, immediately jumped to the conclusion, that the hit men had rendezvoused with the boat, killed both men, hijacked the booze and were now burning all traces of their heinous crimes. So they came rushing in, in Full Keystone Kops Mode, with sirens blazing, lights flashing, and firing shots from their carbines across the bow, all to our astonished bewilderment.
They put one bad guy at the front of the cutter, my dad at the stern, the other bad guy down in the engine room, and handcuffed me to a rough weather stanchion bar in the wheelhouse. They found the case of beer in our boat, and decided they had gotten there just in time, and charged us with: Piracy On The High Seas, Conspiracy, Attempted Murder, Illegal Tax Evasion of Controlled Revenue Materials, Attempted Unlawful Flight (I think that was the part where our boat drifted away from the cutter while we were being arrested) and several other charges I didn’t even understand at the time. (Too much Latin!)
Age 15, and already a Pirate! I couldn’t believe it!
So, all our vessels got towed back to port by the cutter, and we got dragged (in cuffs) to the Federal building in downtown Miami and held for questioning, until the owners of the booze-boat told them, “No those guys didn’t have anything to do with us, they were just helping us out with gas.” When the collective stories all checked out, they finally let us go, and we had to call my mom to take us from there, to the Miami Beach Coast Guard Station, where they had towed our boats.
Now, if you recall the reason we were banging around out there in the first place on that weekend, you can imagine my mom’s reaction at having to go downtown to the FBI, to take her husband and son, who were apparently no longer in control of their boat, over to a Coast Guard Base fetch it home. It was the first time I had ever felt pity for my Father. It was quite the quiet car ride.
The FBI told us nothing of the two men we had helped, and we had to piece the story together later on, as best we could, from the newspaper accounts. The papers got almost none of the facts about what happened at sea correctly.
So you guys can “ARGGHH!” all you want, but I’m probably the ONLY guy on the TSBB, who has actually been charged with piracy!
True Story. Charles Brennan
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