Jimmy Buffett was a people person; an easy breeze in any social setting. You go sailing in the southern climes and it’s not hard to find similar smooth souls with quick smiles, good memories and coiled springs of go-go. They are fun people. They are adventurers, compatriots and those that introduce you to the persons whose faces still raid your morning sleep with sea dappled memories of youth, sun and starboard rails.
That Buffett was also an artist is what separated him from the rest of the fleet. And I get, like a novice to a tube of 3M 5200, the ‘artist’ label is always too liberally applied. But true artists can’t help themselves. Buffett couldn’t stop writing lyrics, jamming live sets, recording video moments, piloting skyward, penning books, building boats (check out his m/y Last Mango) and stoking the coals of a brand that made him (literally) a billion dollars.
What distinguishes the artist from the hack is the affliction to affect. I wasn’t ever stoked that he commercialized the Key West generation, but Buffett couldn’t help himself. I never had to forgive him because I understood.
Maybe a love of the sea is geographic fortuity arising from the happenstance of a coastal birthplace (Mother, mother ocean, I’ve heard your call. Wanted to sail upon your waters, since I was three feet tall), a military stint or a beach vacation virus you brought home and haven’t ever shaken. Whatever the case, Buffett came by his admiralty adoration honestly in that his paternal line of relatives were ship captains. I love his songs for their sea strewn references that so easily float the flotsam of my prior voyages. And his lyrics, snatched here and there from a lifetime of effort, gives this admiralty lawyer an opportunity to riff about the maritime law.
Take for instance, the line “I am a pirate two hundred years too late” in the song “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” That’s a nice sentiment, but holy hell, U.S. federal law has seriously painful penalties for the would-be pirate! Hop into Chapter 18 of the U.S. Code and you’ll find a conviction for outright piracy (including mutiny) lands you a lifetime imprisonment, while “participating” in a piracy tags you with at least a decade behind bars. Maybe you’re simply “confederating” with some pirates (they’re just a few friends, you say), well don’t get seen because that sort of chummery buys you three years imprisonment. The takeaway is if the choice is between wasting away and piratical behavior – take the former!
“The Son of a Son of Sailor’s” lyrics: “Where it all ends I can’t fathom, my friends. If I knew, I might toss out my anchor” raises the specter of all that can go wrong in an anchorage. Anchoring is fraught with legal pratfalls. For instance, if you’re first to an anchorage you can generally pick the spot to drop your Danforth, lay out such scope as you want and relax with a Margarita. But any boats angling to anchor after you, must keep clear of your vessel. And if your vessel drags anchor and collides into another craft, U.S. law presumes you’re at fault and it’s a pretty high bar (like second spreaders height) to show you weren’t in the wrong!
In the song “Barometer Soup,” Buffett bays a line “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see,” which should have you thinking about the Inland and International Rules of the Road. Keep a copy aboard whether you’re etching lines in Narragansett Bay or making the Thornless Passage to Windward (glasses raised to the cruising commodore, Bruce Van Sant!). If pressed for mental bandwidth, at least keep Rule 8 titled “Action to Avoid Collision” top of mind. This rule dispels the misplaced understanding of so many recreational sailing skippers that hold course with the indignant confidence of Judge Elihu Smails aboard his sloop Flying Wasp (Caddyshack, Warner Bros., 1980). Rule 8 requires every vessel take action to avoid collision. And like how I taught my 16 year-old daughter (she’s already sailed across the Atlantic), don’t be making “a succession of small alterations of course.” Go big. Make your course change readily apparent.
Buffett’s “School Boy Heart” is an underrated gem with lyrics that strike close to the bone. When midway past the third chorus Jimmy speculates he died in some “cosmic shipwreck,” the maritime lawyer thinks salvage! The law of salvage is such a misunderstood concept that only gets more so when you add ice and shake twice. The skinny is the law of salvage encourages the saving of vessels and their property from loss to the sea and to the salvor goes a salvage award. The salvage award isn’t based on time and materials and where a salvor embraces big dangers to save a vessel, they can expect a big salvage award. The International Convention on Salvage (IMO 1989) is a good resource to understand when salvage rights arise and the factors to consider in determining a salvage award.
I’m not a Jimmy Buffett fanboy. I liked his music alright because he was good observer of life’s moments. But I wonder if maybe Jimmy and his reported billion-dollar estate missed that ‘ol Thornton Wilder quote: “Money is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.”
Underway and making way. ■
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or email@example.com, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.