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The Caribbean Classic
March 18, 1950…MOBILE BAY, ALABAMA
The fire engine red twenty-seven foot C and C sail boat sat tied to a Mobile Bay
pier like a sleeping dog, motionless except for the small rolling waves lapping
against its side. Standing on the pier Morris Hornsby, an ex- Army Ranger now a
professional sail boat racer, gazed at the boat, squinting in the early morning
sun. “And how is Madame Gallant this fine morning?” he asked smiling. The
Gallant was the name painted on the stern, but Morris always referred to it as a
lady, like most sailors.
His deck shoe squeaked as he stepped onto the polished teak deck. He had jumped
when he heard about the race from Mobile to Venezuela, after going the route
twice, and didn’t have a doubt about winning. After opening the hatch Morris
placed the duffel bag and cooler he was holding on the table. “Let’s see, six
forty. Race starts at eight,” he said out loud. He returned to the deck and
began untying the mooring lines. After the lines were untied Morris uncovered
the helm, started the small motor, and pulled away from the dock. Once he’d
cleared the harbor he raised the sails. They instantly caught the wind, carrying
the small boat out of the bay into the Gulf of Mexico, where the race would
start. Speeding down the bay at ten knots (eleven miles per hour) the wind
whipped across Morris’ face; he liked it. The heavy winds were stirring up giant
swells that broke over the bow and sent sheets of salt water into the cockpit.
Nearing the starting point, Morris noticed the waves had flooded the cockpit.
Wasting no time he slid below and came up holding a plastic water pump. After
only a minute of pumping the cockpit was bone dry and Morris replaced the pump
were he’d found it. He tied The Gallant up to a small pier and strode over to a
colorful tent with a sign that said The Caribbean Classic.
Once inside the tent Morris approached the registration desk, where an old man
with gray hair sat. “Hi. I need to register for the race,” Morris explained.
“You’re number twelve. Just sign your name and your boat’s name here,” the man
said pointing at a line on the paper.
Morris did as he was told. “Is that all?”
“Here’s your registration number,” he said. “Hang it on your boom.
Morris left the tent and walked back to The Gallant. Just like the man had said,
hung the number on his boom vang. There were fifteen boats lined up. The race
would start in ten minutes. Morris had expected more contestants, until had he
read about a man who was shot by a pirate in last year’s Caribbean Classic. He
was hoping the same wouldn’t happen to him, which is why he’d brought a pistol
and a box of carpet tacks with his gear. The other fourteen racers probably
brought the same.
Cracks sounding like gun shots echoed over the water as Morris raised the gold
sails and the wind beat against them. Minutes later a real gun shot sounded,
seagulls took off from the water and the fifteen racers took off like brightly
colored bullets over the water. A thirty-eight foot Classic Cutter was in the
lead, but seconds later the sleek red hull of The Gallant passed the Cutter and
Morris was in the lead. As he passed the Cutter he threw a wave and the Cutter’s
skipper waved back. Morris saw he was tall, handsome, and wore sunglasses over
his eyes. Checking his speedometer he saw he was going thirteen knots (14.3
miles per hour).
An hour later no other boats were within sight of The Gallant; which relieved
Morris. After setting his homemade automatic steering system he took a break
from the hot sun by retiring to the shelter of the cabin, where he downed a
Coca-Cola and took a short nap.
Thirty minutes later Morris returned to the cockpit, shirtless, showing off his
six-pack abdomen and massive biceps. The muscles were one of the two major
things he’d gotten out of the Army Rangers. The other was a Congressional Medal
of Honor for service above and beyond the call of duty at the raid on Point Du
Hoc during the second world war. Morris looked at his leather band watch, “Six
o’clock.” Taking the helm once again, he rode the waves due south. The sun was
low on the horizon and getting lower every minute. It would be dark soon.
At eight o’clock in the evening Morris once again attached the automatic
steering and went below. After eating a quick dinner he unrolled his sleeping
bag on one of the bunks. He was asleep within minutes.
The Gallant shuddered, shaking Morris awake, he sat bolt upright on the bunk.
Reaching into his duffel bag he pulled out a small cardboard box and a leather
case. With a click the case popped open and out slid a large automatic pistol.
Inside the cardboard box were three hundred carpet tacks with tiny razor sharp
points. Morris ejected the magazine from the pistol, loaded it back in, and
tucked it into his belt. Grabbing the tack box he noiselessly slid open the
hatch and peered out.
The moon was full and reflecting off the water making
three dark, barefoot, and heavily armed figures visible moving from the bow
toward the stern silently. “They’re pirates,” Morris said to himself after
examining their dirty clothes and sub-machine guns. After prying open the box,
he tossed handfuls of tacks onto the deck. Luckily they made no noise on impact.
Seconds later Morris could hear the pirates howling in pain as the tacks’ small
points stuck in their feet. They all scrambled over the side into the water to escape the minefield of razor sharp needles.
Morris began laughing and to scare the pirates even more he fired the pistol
twice into the water on the other side of the boat.
Discarding their weapons and cursing in Spanish they climbed into their little
aluminum boat, started the engine and took off over the water. Leveling the
pistol on the boat’s engine Morris fired another shot. The small outboard engine
coughed, sputtered and quit, and the aluminum craft came to a stop. Morris stood
up in plain view with the moonlight illuminating him and shouted, “Do come again
The next morning the wind had all but died, making the tropic summer heat almost
unbearable. Morris was upset that his beautiful racing boat was doing only two
knots (2.2 miles per hour). Sitting in the cockpit scanning the horizon with his
binoculars he saw big ripples on the water moving towards him, fast. He set the
sails in position for a broad reach, the wind was coming. With a crack the wind
filled the stiff sails and The Gallant accelerated from two to eleven knots
(12.1 miles per hour) in less than ten seconds. At that rate he’d finish the
race before dark.
By midday the wind had shifted from the west to the north, this forced Morris to
adjust his sails. He chose the “wing and wing” tactic for maximum speed. Going
“wing and wing” with the wind at her back The Gallant had increased speed by two
more knots and it was a much smoother ride.
Figuring he was still in the lead, Morris decided to take a swim in the warm
Caribbean water. He hung a small ladder over the side and dove in head first.
The water was very warm and relaxing, but he’d have to watch out for sharks.
After diving underwater again he surfaced, but instead of looking up into the
sun, he found himself staring down the barrel of a sub-machine gun.
“Good afternoon, amigo!” a gruff voice said menacingly.
Morris looked past the gun to see one of the pirates who had boarded The Gallant
the previous night. “Good afternoon,” he replied
The pirate reached up and cocked the gun, but before he could pull back the
slide Morris grabbed the barrel and yanked the gun along with the pirate into
the water. Another pirate rushed forward to where his friend had been, gun in
hand. “Drop it!” a strong voice commanded. “And have your amigo do the same!”
The pirate turned around and told his other friend to drop his gun. “Now if you
would be so kind as to step onboard my boat, hands on your head!” They both did
as they were told. Next the third pirate climbed up the ladder followed by
Morris. He went below and came up holding his pistol and a roll of duct tape.
After binding and gagging the three Morris stashed them in the head (bathroom).
An hour later the Venezuelan coast line appeared on the horizon. Another race
boat was shooting over the wave, gaining on The Gallant. It was the blue Classic
Cutter. Morris trimmed his sails to get better speed. The two beautiful boats
were neck and neck and the finish line rope was drawing nearer. Which ever boat
touched the rope first would win. The Gallant was too heavy to keep up with the
sleek Cutter. Morris scrambled below, fixed life vests onto his three prisoners
and dumped them over the side. That did it. The Gallant was taking the lead. The
angry skipper of the Cutter threw his helm hard to port and sent it hurling
toward The Gallant like a torpedo. As an evasive move, Morris let go of the
sheet lines, dumping the wind from the sails. That brought The Gallant almost to
a complete stop.
The Cutter shot across the bow missing it by a hair. Morris
grabbed the sheet line and
pulled it tight sending The Gallant straight at the cutter. There was a terrible
shriek as the heavier C and C rammed the other boat, snapping its mast off the
deck. Seconds later The Gallant’s keel sliced the Cutter cleanly in half.
Cursing and shaking his fist, the Cutter’s skipper jumped into the water,
swimming after Morris. With a snap the finish rope broke in half as The Gallant
crossed the finish line. The Gallant won first place.
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