Peter Olander off the coast in the East End (Photograph by Jeannie Olander)
A master sailor who steered ships through war zones and had a reputation as “the fiercest captain in the Persian Gulf” he was a natural master who shared his skills with many of the island’s charter boat captains.
Peter Olander’s seafaring life was so colorful that some compared him to “a swashbuckler from the 17th century,” said his wife, Jeannie. The Royal Gazette.
An expert fisherman and two-time winner of the Billfish World Cup Tournament, Mr. Olander was known on the island for his business, Albatross Charters & Fisheries.
But his globe-trotting career, which took him through conflicts in Vietnam and Somalia as well as the Persian Gulf, included firing on the Somali capital of Mogadishu and being followed by hostile Soviets off Norway during the Cold War.
Captaining fuel tankers in the Gulf during both Gulf Wars posed great personal risk, and Mr. Olander’s security clearance with the US government was so high that he had access to shore in the strictly restricted British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, where the Americans kept a fleet stationed.
A world map on the wall of his home in St. David’s, where Mr. Olander marked his travels, eventually became so complicated that he no longer recorded them.
However, he kept meticulous navigation records.
His wife said: “He was respected, and a lot of people thought he was really tough and tough, but inside he really wasn’t.”
Although he was at home by the sea, Mr. Olander loved spending time with his family, indulging in household chores as a way to relax and enjoying raising animals such as geese and goats.
Mr. Olander, of Swedish descent, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He came to Bermuda at the age of two and began fishing and working on charter boats at age 11.
His father, Edward, was stationed at the US Naval Operating Base at Morgan’s Point in Southampton, and his mother, Mary, worked as a nurse.
As soon as he could, young Mr. Olander left the family home in Flatts for fishing boats from St George’s.
He also worked as a teenager on the US base, but his wife said he was “destined to go to sea”.
“He loved it, even though he was dizzy at first,” he added. “I would rather be in the ocean than on land. She was at home in the ocean.”
Bermuda’s strategic prominence during the Cold War made the island a hotspot for Soviet submarines, and meant that the US wanted to map the ocean floor using sonar equipment.
Mr. Olander’s opportunity to take on more ambitious maritime assignments came when he was working for Sofar Station at the East End base.
The name comes from “fix and measure sound”, and it was Columbia University’s geophysical field station from 1949 until the 1970s.
Mr. Olander signed on as an ordinary seaman aboard the RV Sir Horace Lamb, a scientific vessel, and began to rise through the ranks.
Tracked assignments in the USNS Roberto D. Conradanother ship scanning the seabed for the US Navy.
In 1975, he earned his captain’s license as an Officer in the United States Merchant Marine.
Mr. Olander had joined the Merchant Marine as an alternative to being drafted for the Vietnam War, although Vietnam was his first assignment.
His accounts included the tremendous fires on land during the First Gulf War and the difficulties of getting a converted tanker close to shore for loading, where the vessel would turn on its side to refuel.
During US military operations in Somalia in the early 1990s, Olander was aboard a ship anchored offshore that was hit several times by rocket-propelled grenades.
His son, Hans, said: “Fortunately for them, the role-playing games turned out to be a flop.”
Mr Olander captained ships during a different boating culture, his son said: Many sailors were “rough” and Mr Olander “fired a lot of people” as a result.
But those who feared Mr. Olander’s wrath never knew his other side, which included doting on Abdul, a Persian cat he brought to Bermuda from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
His wife said that some of his stories were so colorful that people had a hard time believing them.
The couple met in their teens at the former St George’s Grammar School and married in 1963.
They had two children, Hans and Louise, and three grandchildren: Luisa, Pansy, and Eliza.
Ms Olander said her husband was often at sea for long periods, but “you got used to it, that’s how it was.”
She was able to accompany him on a few long trips, including one to the West Indies on a ship towing a variety of equipment.
“The office forgot to send us a memo telling us not to go there, that there was a NATO training submarine below where we were,” he recalled.
“They told us very quickly that maybe we should go somewhere else.”
His charter fishing career began when he was barely out of boyhood, and Mr. Olander owned a series of boats called Albatross.
He obtained a commercial fishing license and embarked on his charter business from the early 1990s, although he continued to sail for the Merchant Navy.
Hans Olander said, “He was a good teacher and enjoyed teaching – there were several charter boat captains he instructed to help them get their sailing licence.”
His granddaughter Luisa said that his knowledge of the Bermuda waters was formidable.
“My husband and I went out on a boat last summer, and we called him when we got there.
“From the shore, he explained the route: he knew every channel, exactly where to turn.”
• James Peter Olander, Captain in the Merchant Navy, was born on June 27, 1942. He died in November 2022, aged 80.