What does it take to be an American Badass? Well strikingly rugged good looks help (only because it attract strikingly good-looking ladies) but bravery, a keen intellect and an attitude of command are absolute prerequisites. A good character is also essential. Take our first nominee, Joe Hazlewood, who infamously commanded the Exxon Valdez. Yes Joe liked to drink (what badass doesn’t?), and the American public still hates him (Badass isn’t a popularity contest after all), but he garnered their hate by doing a badass thing… standing tall in front of the man and taking the blame for others mistakes.
So here is gCaptain’s list of Top 5 Modern American Maritime Badasses. Many more could have been mentioned but we limited the entries to candidates who live (after all, true badasses don’t die). That said, if you know of another maritime badass then write their names in the comments below. We’ll likely ignore them but it will give us a heads up when the true badasses we forgot hike to gCaptain HQ to kick our…
Honorable Mention: Joe Hazelwood
As if being born to a Marine Corps torpedo bomber pilot and spending his college years in the Bronx wasn’t enough Uncle Joe gains our admiration for becoming master of the Exxon Philadelphia a tanker that ended its career in the same way as Joe’s… in explosion. Just seven years later Captain Joe took the helm of the Exxon Chester and fearlessly ran her out of New York Harbor straight into a storm. High winds damaged the ship’s mast including radar and radio communications antennas and the crew prepared to abandon ship but Hazelwood rallied them guiding the ship to safety. On March 24, 1989 Captain Joe’s leadership was tried again when he gallantly battled an ominously named navigational hazard called Bligh Reef. Despite Bligh’s reputation for damaging previous ships, including Alaska Steamship Company’s Olympia in 1910, he foolishly trusted a junior mate to navigate past the hazard but regained his composure in time to battle national media, a major oil conglomerate and the United States Coast Guard. And Won! By taking lone blame for the grounding he won our admiration and, though vilified by the nation, he won his license back, fended off Exxon’s legal blame and thumbed his nose at every pitiless Captain who blames others for their mistakes.
5: Doug Pine
The crew of Deadliest Catch boats certainly earn the badass stamp of approval but not the top five list… no for that you need to do more than to battle big waves in a small boat. Fishing boats are fairly maneuverable, if the weather gets to bad they can heave-to the swell, but imaging battling the same conditions tied to a 10,000 ton lease? Well Doug Pine not only dreams this scenario but lived it. On June 26, 2011, the Tug Aries, under Doug’s command began listing in heavy sea over 100 miles from dry land. Did Doug break down and cry (like so many of us would)? No, instead he directed the crew to pull on their “leash”, a cable the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arms circa 1982, to pull in – and board – the barge they were towing. When his handheld radio proved too wimpy he broke into a super-sized pickup to hail a passing chopper on its CB radio. With the CB radio in one hand and his iPhone recording video in the other, he directed the rescue of all crew members aboard. If that wasn’t enough, on his earlier job he witnessed officers of the Korean fishing boat he commanded beating the crew… not acceptable behavior for an American Badass like Doug who threw the wheel over on the boat, landed on the beach of a nearby island, and marched the offenders into the arms of the Coast Guard. Badass indeed!
4: James S. Nolan
On a blustery october in 1985 San Francisco Bar pilot James S. Nolan boarded the tanker Puerto Rican which contained over 38,000 barrels of lubrication oil and bunkers. At 3:24 AM as he was disembarking outside San Francisco Bay Entrance Channel, the flammable cargo below him exploded, which blew flames several hundred feet into the air, knock Nolan and two crew members into the water, and folded back an immense section of the deck measuring nearly 100 feet square. An explosion of that magnitude would have caused most men to run home to their moms but not Nolan, he turned the tragedy into a passion for safety and soon joined the Navy SEAL teams in Little Creek Virginia, not to practice shooting large guns, no Nolan becoming the driving force behind model ships simulators. Yes small model ships which he jumps into, ignoring the basic principles of buoyancy, and toots around wind-swept lakes around the country all in the interest of teaching the mariners how to drive a ship.
3: Chief Engineer Mike Perry
Mike Perry knew his Captain, Richard Phillips had drawn a course line straight through unprotected waters, he knew the pirates were active and he knew his engines could not outrun pirate boats… but none of that stopped him from boarding the Maersk Alabama to depart for Mombasa, Kenya in April 2009. When the pirates attacked his ship, Mike Perry took matters into his own hands by initially directing the firing of flares at the pirates, and then by taking local control of the ship’s steering and swinging the ship’s rudder by hand to avoid the invaders. When that eventually failed, he rallied the crew in the bowels of the ship’s engine room and manually killed the ship’s power, rendering it useless to the intruders. Using the dark to his advantage, Chief Perry remained atop his massive engines lying in wait, knife in hand, for the pirates to visit his dark lair. Soon his pray, the pirate ringleader, emerged and Perry jumped down to fight his opponent in hand-to-hand combat. With the ringleader taken he negotiated for the exchange of his Captain but, when that failed, he escorted the pirates and Captain Phillips to the lifeboats, dropped them from his ship and called Seal Team 6. For his actions in saving the ship, and his crew without killing anyone, Mike is a true maritime bad-ass.
2) Max Hardberger
Max Hardberger claims to have successfully repossessed every single boat that he’s been commissioned to return, usually at the cost of about $100,000 a boat, and has apparently repossessed about 20 boats. His methods are creative, and usually, non-violent. Hardberger once repoed a freighter from the Russian Mafia in the ice-covered Baltic port of Vladivostok, Russia. One time he captured a ship in Central America by hiring a prostitute to flirt with the guards and give them shots of booze lined with Hardberger’s-homemade handy-dandy insta-sedatives. During the Haitian Revolution of 2004, Hardberger sailed into the battle-torn hive of destruction in the middle of a warzone, boarded a ship pretending to be a potential buyer, and got his men to distract the guards while he snuck off, repaired a damaged engine, and cut the anchor chains with a blowtorch. Another time in Haiti, he used a Voodoo witch doctor to freak out a crew of AK-47 slinging pirates and send them running from the ship. In Venezuela he straight-up convinced the guards that the fucking ship was sinking, and he did such a good job of it that the entire crew of bad guys all ran to the life boats and rowed back to shore, leaving Max and his buddies plenty of time to leisurely pull the ship out of dock. More recently, he’s hired a team of ex-Special Forces operatives to help him extract ships from Somali pirates armed with assault rifles and RPGs. Look for Clint Eastwood, or another Hollywood Badass, to play Max in the upcoming movie of his book Seized
Who is number 1 on the list? Well… you tell us! Nominations are open in the comments below.
Note: some of these stories have been exaggerated for dramatic effect but, the Baddasses mentioned are all the genuine article, guaranteed.