Letters from the Issue of March 21, 2002

The heartless sea claimed the Fantome and crew

All in the Family Feud

The fire department, like the nation, is strengthened by dissent: Regarding Mike Clary's article "Caution: Flammable Substance" (March 14), going against the status quo, especially after an act as despicable as September 11, always appears tasteless. Yet it is courage such as that expressed by Miami-Dade County firefighter Willie Latimore in going against the ruling elite's Pavlovian instinct to preserve the power structure that truly creates a path for a better way.

Opposition and patriotism are not contradictions in terms. There is room for all. We can all exist as one big happy family. You can't make me more American by forcing me to speak your language, but you can win my heart by forgetting that I speak a different one. In short, America is not a recipe, it just is.

I see that ugly monster raising its head again, and it sure ain't Willie Latimore.

Manny Losada


A Tragedy at Sea

The mighty ocean is indifferent to death: Thanks to Mike Clary for his very interesting article about Mike Burke, founder of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises ("One Last Cruise," March 14). I am writing because I now have a doubt as to the accuracy of some published facts -- to wit, approximately two years ago the Miami Herald published a lengthy and seemingly well researched story on the Fantome tragedy. In said article, it was stated (to the best of my recollection) that as Hurricane Mitch approached the Central American coast, slowly and erratically, the Fantome crew was instructed to enter into Puerto Cortés, Honduras, where the passengers and nonessential crew were disembarked (and were then taken to San Pedro de Sula, Honduras, to board a commercial flight to Miami), and where the Fantome took brief refuge from the rough weather. Then, when it became clearer that Hurricane Mitch was also headed for the Honduran mainland, the crew was instructed to put out to sea from Puerto Cortés in order to attempt going around the monster in a southeasterly direction. In Mr. Clary's article, he stated that these events unfolded in Belize, not Honduras. Which of the two articles is correct?

Also on the personal tragedy of Capt. Mike Burke, he is a gentleman who should not be so harshly judged. In fact, from an expert seaman's point of view, he took very sound decisions in the midst of a desperate situation. He disembarked his passengers; he disembarked his nonessential crew; he attempted to have his beautiful ship ride out the storm in a safe port; when this became impossible he instructed a very capable and well-paid crew to sail around the phenomenon. Furthermore, the ship's actual captain had the faculty to choose the ship's ultimate measures, had he judged Captain Burke's to have been unsound. He must have, therefore, felt all along that the best decisions were being taken. I have seen far smaller and weaker vessels successfully attempt the same maneuver undertaken by the Fantome.

Life-claiming tragedies have always occurred at sea and will continue to occur. Every sailor who has ever ventured just a few thousand yards away from shore knows that, feels that. When the inevitable happens again, everyone should be understanding and compassionate toward anyone linked with the tragedy. Mud-slinging and second-guessing are very easy temptations from the comfort of a living room, a bedroom, or a bar.

Hank Pagan


Mike Clary replies: Both the Herald and New Times published accurate accounts. On October 25, 1998, passengers completing a cruise aboard the Fantome disembarked at Omoa, Honduras, the usual beginning and ending point for the ship, as Hurricane Mitch approached. But 97 arriving passengers boarded and set sail for Belize, where it was thought they would be safer. From there they would be evacuated to Miami via air charters arranged by Windjammer. Those passengers arrived in Belize about noon on October 26. The ship, with 31 crew aboard, then left for the south in an effort to outrun the storm.

College Isn't Just for Eggheads

Think athletes have it easy? Go ahead, you try being a champion football player: After reading Kirk Nielsen's article about the cheating incident involving UM football player Andre Johnson, I say kudos to Professor Thomas Petersen and the University of Miami's Undergraduate Honor Council for upholding their end. However, Andre Johnson's case brings to the fore a more problematic issue than a simple case of academic dishonesty.

In short, it's time the elitists got over it. College is not only for smart people.

People generally go to college for two reasons: to become smarter and to increase their value in the job market. Andre Johnson and every other football player who is "sold this dream and duped into playing sports" is attempting to do the latter, just like every other student in his or her own field.

It's time to realize that college is a training ground, be it for business, sociology, or football. Mr. Johnson has chosen football. Until there is some other way of getting to the National Football League, you nerds need to get off your hallowed pedestals and realize that the university also serves as a vocational institution for many nonintellectual careers. Just because Mr. Johnson doesn't know the meaning of "euphemism" and "stigmatizing" doesn't mean he has no understanding of the vocabulary that will help him be successful in his chosen field. Do most sociology students know the definition of "crackback block" or "pulling guard"? Doubtful.

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