Avast and beware, me hearties, Bainbridge be once again on the open seas.
William Bainbridge was born in Princeton in 1774, and entered the merchant marine when he turned 15. In 1798, he joined the Navy and was sent to the Caribbean. His first mission was a failure, when his schooner RETALIATION was captured by two larger French frigates. But he was promoted to captain, and in 1800, he was sent to protect American shipping in the Mediterranean. He commanded the US war ships GEORGE WASHINGTON and ESSEX. In 1803, his third ship, the PHILADELPHIA, ran aground off Tripoli, and he and his crew were taken captive by pirates. He would be held hostage until 1805.
But his fortunes turned in the War of 1812. Commanding America’s greatest military vessel, CONSTITUTION, Bainbridge encountered and engaged HMS JAVA. JAVA’s fire shattered CONSTITUTION’s helm, killed most of the helmsmen, and wounded Bainbridge. But Bainbridge would not surrender. He set up a block and tackle to control his rudder, brought CONSTITUTION about and destroyed JAVA. Before JAVA went to the bottom, Bainbridge boarded her, salvaged the helm, and used it to sail “Old Ironsides” back to Boston. (This helm remains aboard CONSTITUTION to this day.) Following this battle, the British admiralty ordered the British Navy to never again engage Americans in one-on-one actions.
Bainbridge then had his revenge on pirates. He oversaw the construction of INDEPENDENCE, the largest ship America had built to that time, and in 1815 sailed it into the Mediterranean. Throughout most of the next decade, Bainbridge cleared the region of pirate ships. He went on to become Commandant of the Boston and Philadelphia Naval Yards, and Commissioner of the Navy. Before his death in 1833, he had secured safe passage for American naval and commercial ships around the world.
But this past week, the threat of pirates brought him back. His namesake, destroyer USS BAINBRIDGE, was sent to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. On April 5, BAINBRIDGE performed a daring raid and rescued Richard Phillips, captain of the MAERSK ALABAMA, who had recently been taken captive by pirates. Three days later, while bringing Phillips to Kenya, the BAINBRIDGE assisted another US ship, MV LIBERTY SUN, to successfully repel another pirate attack. BAINBRIDGE arrived safely in Mombasa yesterday, the ship’s loudspeaker blaring, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Somalia remains unsafe, and the threat of piracy continues. But be warned, bilge rats, BAINBRIDGE will be there. Argh!