3 Things You Didn’t Know About Hemingway (And His Boat)

To celebrate Hemingway’s birthday on July 21, we’re taking a look at the 3 craziest things he ever did on his boat, Pilar.

hemingway on his boat

The writers at Esurance tend to be word nerds (many of us are former English majors), so it’s only natural that we’d celebrate one of our most heralded authors on the eve of what would have been his 113th birthday. Of course we’re talking about Ernest Hemingway.

You couldn’t find a more interesting subject than Hemingway. His biography reads like an extended Dos Equis ad. And few of his stories are more interesting than the ones that happened aboard his boat, Pilar. In fact, the germ-seed of The Old Man and the Sea finds its origins on that boat.

In the spirit of summer, summer reading, (and the boat insurance offered through Esurance) we thought we’d take a look at 3 of the strangest things that ever happened aboard Pilar — which, for reasons you’re about to learn, would be totally uninsurable by today’s standards.

Hemingway fought sharks

Like that other intrepid mariner Odysseus, Hemingway was known for physically strapping himself to his boat with a custom-built harness to resist the pull, not of sirens, but of half-ton marlins. Aside from being capable of breaking his back or pulling him overboard, those giant catches — which can take several hours to reel in — were also easy pickings for hungry sharks looking for a free meal.

To counter such thievery, Hemingway developed a habit of indiscriminately shooting sharks from the deck of Pilar as he reeled in his catch. His recent biographer Paul Hendrickson describes Hemingway “gunning sharks with a Thompson submachine gun, sputtering the waves, turning the foam red, trying to keep track of how many he killed.” Remember when I said the boat was uninsurable?

Hemingway accidentally shot himself

Hemingway’s nautical trigger-happiness eventually backfired on him (literally). On a deep-sea excursion in 1935, he accidentally hooked a particularly large and aggressive shark, which he then intended to bring aboard to retrieve the expensive hooks and leaders that the shark had claimed. (Because that makes sense, right?)

Bringing the giant predator aboard was difficult, so he turned to his trusty Colt .22 for assistance. He fired once. The bullet ricocheted off the side of the boat and split into fragments, 3 of which found their way to various parts of his legs.

Hemingway hunted German U-boats

During World War II the U.S. Government hired Hemingway to patrol the waters off Cuba, which were rife with German submarines looking to disrupt the supply line between the U.S. to its European allies. Loading Pilar full of concealed bazookas and machine guns, Hemingway and his cohorts patrolled the sea searching in earnest (pun intended) for submarines. Good thing Hemingway never actually encountered any U-boats, otherwise The Old Man and the Sea might have read a little bit more like Das Boot.

While Hemingway may have been a literary great, it’s clear that he needed a little help in the boating safety department. If you happen to be a boat owner, hopefully you’ll be more careful than old Hemingway and consider insuring your boat through Esurance.

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