Count me out of this mission, please

July 2008

By Dodge Morgan

I have been recruited for active duty in the war on terror by none other than Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. This assignment was announced by the secretary at the recent meeting of the National Marine Manufacturing Association in Washington, D.C. Chertoff pronounced that the federal government was enlisting the estimated 80 million pleasureboat people to man the on-water battle line, reporting any strange and threatening behavior to Homeland Security directly, or through, an anti-terrorist agent such as the United States Coast Guard or a presidential candidate. I am definitely one of those 80 million and stand apprehensively eager for my new challenge.

Unfortunately, I have determined it to be impossible for me to carry out this anti-terrorist duty in a politically-correct manner. I am therefore compelled to employ the politically incorrect technique of profiling to select the who and what should earn my attentions. (Have you wondered how airport security people can possibly do their job if they risk being sued by paying particular special attention to the guy in line wearing a turban and brass knuckles?)

Here are my watchful profiling guidelines: Guys carrying a martini glass. Any vessel flying a pirate’s flag or a pair of panties. All females (not because of terrorism risk, but they are simply more fun to watch.) Well-dressed fellows who keep yelling “starboard tack.” Vessels that are moving at more than eight knots speed. Individuals in the act of taping bundles to bridge frames.

What is frightening, however, is Chertoff’s evolving plan to employ vessel-identification systems to the 80 million vessels in his water force. He mentioned this in his speech. Does this mean the government will be watching me on board as I perform my patriotic duty?

Anything the government watches, the government wants to regulate. And my most frightening and deep-seated paranoia is that some government guy will sometime attempt to tell me when or how I can use my boat. I have role-played the occasion of a guy in uniform wearing a badge who confronts me as I am readying to cast off the mooring pennant on the old schooner Eagle. “Stop immediately. You are not allowed under way,” he tells me. “You are too old, and your boat is too old to be out in this deteriorating weather.” My planned reaction is to celebrate the second amendment by inflicting a flesh wound, throw a finger, magically call in a dense fog and disappear under sail forever.

I have absolutely no marine-related license, no official boat- or sea-related membership status – or at least I didn’t until Chertoff’s assignment for me. The very last place on earth where there are no organizational charts or official rules of order is at sea in a small boat. The very last place on earth where unfettered independence can be achieved is at sea in a small boat. The very last place on earth where one can act alone and be under full command of one’s own small world is at sea in a small boat.

So, Secretary Chertoff, pardon me if I don’t accept your mission assignment.

Dodge Morgan lives on Snow Island, Maine. He singlehanded American Promise around the world without stopping in 1986.