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'Guns & Goverments' Seminar at TrawlerFest, And The Story Behind It


Let me tell you how this seminar came about. Thirty years ago, I brought a gun on a cruise to Maine because someone told me the lobstermen were armed and hostile. What an innocent age, when cruising Maine would be compared to taking a covered wagon through “Injun Country!”

Well, the lobstermen were indeed armed, and sometimes even hostile. But in the rare cases when gunfire has erupted in Downeast waters, it has been fishermen shooting at one another over territory, not at the passing sailors. I quit taking my rifle when I noticed the barrel beginning to rust.

Since then I have traveled by boat down island to the Caribbean, up the Pacific Coast and in the waters of the Middle East and Africa from Oman to Djibouiti and through the Suez Canal. As a marine journalist, I have engaged in the eternal debate over the eternal question: “To carry or not to carry?” Usually, I would argue, not, but that’s not the point with this seminar.

About 15 years ago, I met the late Paul Ward, a convivial guy, who, like me, would take on occasional delivery work. He and another sailor were taking some lawyer’s boat from Florida to the Virgin Islands, when an incident happened that would change their lives for the next two years.

Ward and his partner were anchored in a little bay on the South Coast of Puerto Rico for the night, when a they awoke to the sound of boots on deck. A SWAT team of police—a veritable everything-bagle of law enforcement—had come to call. Unbeknownst to the pair of sailors, the scumbag lawyer had an AR-15, a handgun and a pile of ammo, hidden in a secret locker. The police who had no real reason to board the vessel had hit the jackpot.

The Yankees were arrested and charged under Puerto Rican law. They pled ignorance—to no immediate avail. They faced 25 years in prison each for violations of the island’s stringent gun law. The boat’s owner tried to weasel out, but finally relented and agreed to pay for the delivery captains’ legal defense. It took two years of return visits for hearings before a Puerto Rican judge figured out a contorted way to dismiss the charges against the obviously innocent men.

Fast-forward to my involvement in TrawlerFest today. One of our most successful seminars is presented by Attorney Todd Lochner about what cruisers need to know to avoid local tax traps as they transit the East Coast of the U.S. I always like to joke that his seminar is scarier than the ones we put on about heavy weather and medical emergencies.

I remember mentioning Paul Ward’s story to him. I remember musing out loud about how many Americans realize the trouble they can get into because of a gun in a place that is almost a state. Then it occurred to me that his multi-jurisdictional approach to tax law might be worth replicating vis-à-vis the hot-button topic of guns onboard. It took some convincing since he—and later his team—would have to take a lot of time away from billable hours to create this new seminar, which we call “Guns & Governments” for short. I am grateful he agreed to take it on.

What I have made clear from the get-go is that this is not a debate about whether to carry a gun. This is a seminar for cruisers who have already made up their minds or a close to it, and now need the strategic intelligence about the various gun laws along the East Coast, the Gulf Coast and the Caribbean basin. The legal research is being shared by Lochner and his associate Gregory Singer.

Lochner, whose Annapolis firm specializes in maritime law, also recruited a small-arms expert and all-around boat guy named Steve Ross to talk about some weapons choices and maintenance issues in a saltwater environment. I’ll be making a cameo appearance to discuss some tools available to evaluate the relative security of places down island.

Captain Steve Ross grew up sailing on the Chesapeake Bay before joining the Army in 2006. After several deployments, Ross left the Army to go to St. John's College Annapolis on the G.I. Bill. While at St. John's, he immersed himself in the world of sailing once again racing and crewing for Captain Tony of Classic Sail Charters. He received his 50-ton Master's license in January 2014 and started a general yacht services company, Three Sheets Yachting LLC. He is a sailmaker for Quantum Sails Annapolis and a Yacht Sales Professional at Annapolis SailYard.

Gregory Singer is an associate attorney with Lochner Law Firm, P.C. Prior to his legal career, Mr. Singer worked and cruised extensively on yachts and tall ships on the Atlantic Coast and the Caribbean, and spent several years as a liveaboard on his classic Cheoy Lee. Mr. Singer also served in the United States Coast Guard's legal division in Boston, where he was a Judge Advocate Emeritus.