A Nearly Fatal Misunderstanding

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As told by Pierre Pierce

The first time Pierre Pierce took out his machine gun it was almost the last thing he ever did.

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Back in the mid ’80s I was very involved in the Bahamas Billfish Championship. That tournament runs between different islands. Sometimes it’s in Bimini, sometimes it’s in Cat Cay—it’s a great business idea for the Bahamas, a wonderful promotion. I was running the Bertram factory demo boat, competing in the tourneys but also showing off the boat. [Editor’s note: the Bahamas Billfish Championship, now hosted in the Abacos, is owned by Active Intrest Media, the parent company of this magazine.]

So one year, one of the tournaments was at Chub Cay, which is 35 miles west of Nassau, and after that leg, the next one was in Bimini. So we were running back across the banks towards Cat Cay, which is on the way to Bimini. Now this was at a time when drug running in the Bahamas was very active. The Coast Guard had even gone so far as to issue an order not to respond to a Mayday in certain areas. That was because sometimes the drug runners would call in fake Mayday signals, and when you approached them they’d shoot you and kill you and take your boat and use it to deliver the drugs. Because the Coast Guard knew their boats, you know? They look for those sorta sketchy-looking go-fasts, but the theory was they wouldn’t be looking for a sportfisherman or a motoryacht, with all the fishing tournaments and such. That was the rumor anyway. 

But it was a scary time to be on the water. You’re way far out there all by yourself sometimes. We kept guns onboard to make ourselves feel a little bit safer. To give us a puncher’s chance if things went sideways.

This particular day we took off for Cat Cay about an hour before everyone else, so we were by ourselves. By “we” I mean my wife Anita and me, she was my mate back then. And on our way there, I noticed to the south a go-fast boat heading in the same direction as us, about 4 or 5 miles away. I kept my eye on him. I kind of knew it wasn’t just a recreational boater, because where he was, there’s nothing there except for the backside of Andros Island, which at the time was a known drug-transportation spot. So I’m watching him, and I know that the other tournament boats were behind me about 25 miles. All of a sudden the go-fast takes a turn and is on a course that would intercept us. More precisely, he was going to cut in behind me. We were running at about 31 or 32 knots, and in no time he is directly behind us about a mile or so. So I got on the radio and called on channel 16 and asked the boat to identify itself. But nobody responded. Dead silence. This was trouble.

I said to Anita, “I don’t know what’s going on here but I don’t like it.” So I went down below and got my stainless steel Ruger Mini-14. That gun is like an AK-47, with a folding stock to fit in your shoulder. Loud as hell. I had never had use for it before, but that day those 20-round .223 clips seemed like they might be needed. I brought the gun up on the bridge with me and my wife.

So now the boat is getting closer. I had called up the other tournament boats but they were still miles away. It was just us and the go-fast out there all alone. The ocean suddenly felt very, very big. At this point the boat is close enough that I can see the guys onboard, four or five Bahamian natives and one white guy, and they’re lined up behind the windshield, about 100 yards away. And this close up, I could see that there were absolutely no markings on the boat. That confirmed my worst suspicions. I held up my gun so they could see it. They saw the gun and started yelling and pointing and pulled out their own guns. They made a beeline for us.

They got up real close and we were all aiming at each other and yelling. I knew we were going to kill each other right there. Everybody had machine guns. There was going to be a hail of bullets, and then a bloodbath. It was an honest-to-God standoff. 

But then I noticed something. They were all wearing jumpsuits. 

And it dawned on me that they were members of the Bahamas Defense Force. So I put my gun down and slowed down the boat. The guys came onboard and start screaming at us like we were the criminals. Oh and the white guy was DEA! An American! They searched the boat, and didn’t find any drugs of course. I had called in a Mayday at this point and was receiving all sorts of calls from the other boats and the Bahamas Billfish Championship guys and the Coast Guard. And the guys hopped on the radio and gave the Coast Guard some military code that called off the Mayday.

In the end it turned out all they wanted to do was jump my wake. Can you believe it? I was livid. I was so mad. I called them a lot of names I won’t repeat. They had no ID on the boat in a dangerous area like that. It could have been really bad. I mean really bad. 

I could tell they didn’t like the way I was talking to them, but I didn’t care at the time. But a little later we started to worry that they were going to seek retribution. The next day we were planning on going back to Miami, and those guys are still mad, and back then those waters were still kind of lawless. They could get rid of us if they wanted to, you know? I mean, it’s still a big ocean whether you’re running drugs or not. So separately Anita and I wrote out what happened on pieces of paper, and when we got to Bimini we gave them to the manager of the Bimini Big Game Club so people would at least know what happened to us if something did happen. Fortunately we made it back to Miami the next day safely. I heard that those guys were relieved of their duty. That was the rumor anyway. But there were a lot of rumors in those days, and we’ll never know for sure. I just know that I was scared shitless.

Pierre Pierce is an artist living in St. Augustine, Florida. He was Bertram’s company captain, and is also an expert fisherman and is one of the pioneers of scuba diving. He’s happy he didn’t pull the trigger.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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