Sunday, June 11, 2017

Guns and cruising

The recent increases in terrorism and migration have once again gotten cruisers thinking about whether they should be carrying weapons on board. I will lay out the reasons why I believe weapons are not a good idea for cruisers.

Guns aboard are a personal choice. But not for us. 
We had to transport our shotguns (we like skeet and trap shooting) in our boat when we moved from the US to Ireland via Canada as the container company would not transport any weapons. In Canada, we had to turn them over to the customs police, who came to our boat after we checked in and took possession. They checked our vessel for any contraband and were very nice about it all. Even admired our guns and told me the value of mine was far higher than I thought. When we were checking out, they drove half way across the country to return our guns to us (road trip!). They saw us off and wished us fair winds. Basically, they made sure we left as we said we were going to.

BTW, they were also the only ones in all the countries we visited who scanned our cat’s chip.
When we arrived in Ireland, we had to surrender our guns to the local gun merchant who handles licensing, which is very strict in Ireland. It took months to get them cleared and licensed. In many countries, if you are caught with weapons or even a bullet in your possession, you can be arrested and jailed. In every country I know, guns have to be declared and often turned over. They keep the weapons until you clear out, and your port of entry and port of clearance could be a long distance apart. It’s a hassle. Lying and hiding guns is a very risky proposition. No thanks. So in most places, you would only have access when underway. Funny, we did carry our old VHF radio with us to give away if we needed to.

We would never carry weapons aboard for protection even though we are both comfortable with shotguns. As a good friend who was an undercover officer and SWAT team member said, “The critical mistake civilians make is first saying, ‘Stop or I’ll shoot’. That gives the criminals the chance to shoot first.” If you can’t answer the question, “Will I be able to shoot another human being first?” then you shouldn’t carry a weapon. The micro decisions that have to be made in the split second are monumental. Not even the street police in Ireland or the UK carry guns.

Just think back to Sir Blake. Sir Peter Blake, KBE was a New Zealand yachtsman who won the 1989–90 Whitbread Round the World Race, held the Jules Verne Trophy from 1994 to 1997 by setting the fastest time around the world as co-skipper of ENZA New Zealand, and led his country to successive victories in the America's Cup. Blake was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in honor of his services to yachting in 1995. In 2000, he received an honorary doctorate from Auckland University of Technology.
Sir Peter Blake

In 1997, Blake became the Cousteau Society's head of expeditions and skipper of the Antarctic Explorer. He later purchased the vessel from the Society and renamed it Seamaster.  In 2001, Blake was named special envoy for the UN Environment Programme. He led expeditions to Antarctica and the Amazon aboard Seamaster, filming documentaries for blakexpeditions, a company he founded. I remember seeing Seamaster in Newport one year. It was a truly unusual expedition vessel. 

Blake was shot and killed by pirates while monitoring climate change on the Amazon River on 5 December 2001. He was 53 years old. The two-month expedition was anchored at the mouth of the Amazon delta, waiting to clear customs after a trip up the Amazon river. At about 9 pm a group of armed, masked robbers boarded the Seamaster. As one of the assailants held a gun to the head of a crew member, Blake emerged from the cabin with a rifle. He shot one of the assailants in the hand before his rifle malfunctioned. He was then fatally shot in the back. The pirates injured two other crew members with knives; the remaining seven were unhurt.

The only loot the attackers took from Seamaster was a 15 hp outboard engine and several watches. Authorities eventually captured the pirates and sentenced them to an average of 32 years in prison each. Prior to the attack, the yacht's crew had been very careful on the river, always posting crew members on watch. Only upon return to Macapa did they relax their guard. It's likely that the boarders would have left with their spoils without injury had he not fired.
Europeans believe that the US is one of the most dangerous places on Earth. Just compare the crime statistic USA vs. Europe. The Brady Campaign reports that 114,994 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention. Of those, 33,880 people die from gun violence each year. According to a study of multiple high income countries,  published as Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010 in the The American Journal of Medicine:


"The United States has an enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries. Americans are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a firearm compared with residents of these other high-income countries. In the United States, the firearm homicide rate is 25 times higher, the firearm suicide rate is 8 times higher, and the unintentional gun death rate is more than 6 times higher. Of all firearm deaths in all these countries, more than 80% occur in the United States."
So if you are going to worry about firearms anywhere in the world, the US is the place to start. In a year of cruising the Caribbean and Atlantic Islands, we never encountered violence and felt threatened only once. We did avoid noted hot spots and took care to secure our dinghy and engine and other valuables at anchor. Our friend had his laptop stolen after he had left his boat open at a dock while he was away from it. But those are common sense issues. When people are not very wealthy, they are tempted, and I can understand that. Traveling around Mexico, Belize, and Costa Rica, I always felt at ease and welcome. But we didn't go out looking for trouble at 2 am either. Alex did consider electrifying the lifelines but he never got around to it. I would have likely been the one fried as happened with the electric livestock fencing on our land. ;(
Lifting the dinghy with engine locked to it is a deterrent.
In places where there are cruise ship ports, we've felt uncomfortable and pressured to spend money, so we moved on. Basically, any place where the disparity between local and visitor is high is where the tensions mount. We were chased down an alley in St. Martin. I heard people walking behind us, getting closer and closer, say in French, "There's only two of them. We can take them." I yelled, "Run." They threw large rocks at us as we ran. Luckily at the crossroads a car came by and stopped, and they backed away. We walked right into the nearest restaurant at which there happened to be a table of off duty police officers. When they heard what happened they bought us a round of drinks and congratulated us on getting away. I must say, we were quite shaken and stirred that night. That same night a woman's purse was snatched by a bicyclist and a jewelry store was robbed near where we had been mugged. It was all very near to the marina with lots of people on the streets. Our mistake was taking a shortcut through an alley. We didn't attempt that again.

I grew up in inner city Philadelphia and New York. I lived in Newark and the Bronx. I acquired street smarts at an early age. Once, I was surrounded by thugs on the street in NY in the '80s when snatching gold jewelry from victims on the street was a big deal. I talked my way out. I've seen things. I've seen someone killed in front of our house. I've seen a woman beaten, and there was nothing I could do to help. My dog was poisoned when I was a young girl. All in the USA.

Would having a gun have helped in any of those circumstances? Absolutely not. I know I would not be the first to pull the trigger. Now if a grizzly or polar bear were eyeing me or my loved ones as dinner, I wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger, more than once. That's frankly the only place where guns have a place. But I'm not planning to head up that way again. Alex doesn't like the cold.

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