Ernest Hemingway had a plan. He and his friends would locate a U-Boat, get in close, then throw grenades into open hatches. Luckily for future lovers of literature, his plan was never attempted. Sparing a miracle, he would not have lasted five minutes against the Kriegsmarine. Nevertheless, in 1942-1943 the author actively patrolled Caribbean waters, hunting U-Boats and German spies.
Hemingway made his quixotic patrols on his 38 foot wooden fishing boat, named El Pilar. With his crew of friends and ample alcohol, he stalked the waters near Cuba. Hemingway never made a confirmed U-Boat sighting, but he did claim one possibly sighting. It disappeared before he could see it for certain. El Pilar was one of many civilian boats taking it upon themselves to patrol for U-Boats during WWII. Hemingway called them the Hooligan Navy.
In 2009, Terry Mort authored a book on Hemingway’s Caribbean patrols, describing both Hemingway’s time on El Pilar and its effect on his relationship with his wife, Martha Gellhorn. Despite the paramilitary justification for the patrols, Mort argues that, for Hemingway, it was more about “the quest, the adventure, the serious purpose, the voluntary service, the fun, the satisfaction of command and comradeship, the joy of being at sea, the craft of seamanship and navigation, the possibility of danger, and the piquancy of not knowing whether it will come, the reality and the metaphor of an unseen enemy suddenly rising”. I would be happy to live half the life of Hemingway.
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