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Take me to the big ship

When going ashore, I developed a useful set of skills and practices over the years that were instrumental in my survival. There are three things you should always learn how to say in the local language: first and foremost - “Don’t Shoot! “This one is very important. In many places in the world, the machine gun toting cops are only four feet tall, and when confronted by seemingly giant western drunken sailors, they tend to shoot first and ask questions later.

It is my belief, that shooting an American is career enhancing for many of these foreign law enforcement officers. It is worth noting, that as I travelled the world asking people how to say “Don’t Shoot” in their native tongue, they universally and without fail state the phrase and hold both hands up palms out. Apparently there is a universal international hand signal that means ‘keep your bullets to yourself’. The other two phrases crucial to survival are “Take me to the big boat” and “Cold Beer Please.” I have uttered these words in over 30 languages and they have saved my ass or slaked my thirst dozens of times.

I also believe that arresting Merchant Mariners is considered a for-profit enterprise in many lands. It is literally part of a Chief Mates job description to round up jailed crewmen prior to leaving port. The fines paid in green cash are likely a great source of revenue for these underpaid public servants. That is why I would always make or modify my own belts and hide a handcuff key in a small hidden pouch at the very back of the belt, accessible by a man with his hands unjustly cuffed behind his back.

Another important accessory for any traveler is the small gold coin. Gold is money everywhere on earth. You could be lost in the Amazon or the deepest jungles of Borneo and stumble across some lost primitive tribe adorned in loin cloths, with jewelry fashioned from the bones of their enemies. Even a tribe that has never been exposed to the modern world, and though you hold none of the beads, bone fragments or goat meat that serves as currency in their economy, a gold coin will buy you your way out of there.

Utter your memorized “Take me to the big boat” in the local patois, offer up the precious metal, and be they Basque, Arab, Mandarin Chinese, Bostonian, African Pygmy or Dirty Frenchman, the gold pays the fare home. That is the root of the traditional gold earring of Maritime lore, and

while many a Merchant Marine still sports a gold hoop, I found it prudent to keep my gold less public. In the third world the average annual pay is about $300-$500 per year… they will kill you for your boots, and that gold earring looks like a bull’s-eye to them.

This is also why I always carried both the local currency, as well as some standard American green, which is nearly as universal a currency as gold. I kept little bits and stashes of cash and coin all over my body. A C-note tucked in my boot, gold coin and handcuff key in the secret compartment of my belt, a few bills in each pocket, a money belt under the clothes. Even the most thorough search by the most skilled local cops or criminals was likely to miss something and leave me just enough to get back to the ship.


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