annapolis harbor
We typically look on Annapolis as being a quiet, peaceful town, where the worst thing to worry about is the increasing regularity of flooding downtown due to rising sea levels, or that the National Sailing Hall of Fame would be moving to our nemesis - Newport. That all changed on June 28, when the peace was shattered by the sickening news that five journalists at our local paper, The Capital, had been shot and killed while working at their desks by a lone gunman.

The Capital, known alternatively to locals as The Crab Wrapper or The Naptown News, is truly a local, small-town newspaper where we get updates on our sailorman mayor’s latest schemes, sailboat racing results, and who did what to whom and when. Now we have far more information than we really want on one deranged individual who had a long-standing conflict with some journalists and decided that June 28 was the day when he and his pump-action shotgun would put an end to it. This was no terrorist. This was no religious or political activist. This was simply someone who is mentally ill and who slipped through the cracks.

I have never been comfortable with guns, and I’m sure that sleeping with one under my pillow would cause a high degree of both physical and mental discomfort. I did have occasion once to fire a stainless steel boat shotgun at some flotsam while motoring down the west coast of Central America delivering a 65’ sailboat. It didn’t come naturally so I switched to a flare gun as being my weapon of choice, with that menacingly fat barrel and striking orange handle (stock?). Being a crew of just four, we were formulating a plan of action in case we encountered some bad guys as we paralleled the hostile shores of Guatemala and San Salvador. And encounter them we did …

As we motored along on a windless day about 10 miles offshore, a small outboard-powered skiff with two occupants materialized seemingly out of nowhere and pottered along with us. As the two guys made signs to us indicating that they had something to toke on if we felt so inclined, the shotgun, flare gun, and a handgun of some sort were secreted to the cockpit and made ready, just in case. The skiff moved off to a comfortable distance after a while, but it was disturbing to consider that we were 10 miles offshore and they were in an outboard powered boat with no substantial supply of fuel visible. There had to be a mother ship, we concluded.

After a considerable time the skiff dropped back and eventually fell out of sight. As the afternoon dragged on I climbed some way up the mast and looked astern where it was possible to just make out what looked to be a fishing vessel of some kind on the horizon. Seeing fishing boats at sea is of course not unusual, but over the course of the next few hours its menacing presence never budged, so we concluded that it was following us at a distance, probably waiting for nightfall.

When it finally got dark we put the hammer down and made a hard right turn to head directly offshore with all lights extinguished. We kept going until we were 50 miles out and then resumed course for Panama. The rest of the night was spent in a state of trepidation, with one pair of eyes looking forward and one pair aft, and the weaponry laid ready for action in the cockpit. Fortunately we never had to use the firepower, and we made our merry way south without further incident.

The tragic shooting of Sir Peter Blake on his boat in the Amazon in 2001 helped rekindle the ongoing debate as to whether it’s best to confront armed assailants with a weapon, or offer no resistance and hope for the best. Blake fired off one shot from his rifle while trying to protect his crew from the seven-member gang that had boarded his boat, hitting one of them in the hand. But then the rifle jammed and he was shot twice in the back, dying soon after.

The five Capital journalists had no choice, and no escape route either, as the rear door had been barricaded in advance by the gunman. Since the attack, the town of Annapolis has come together in a heartwarming show of solidarity and collective grief, and we at Coastal Climate Control wish to add our thoughts and condolences to the untold number already offered to those affected by the tragedy.

 

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