What Would You Do?

Piracy is more and more perceived by yachts as a growing menace on the high seas. When you’re out on the sea and hundreds of miles from anywhere, too far away to see fishermen, what would YOU do if you saw this?
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..and then it became THIS:
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When this occurred several hunderd miles off the coast of India while crossing the Indian Ocean in November 2004, , we didn’t know what to think. With just two of us on board, our options were limited. We couldn’t outrun the boats, which had big diesel engines, and we had decided many years before never to carry weapons. So our reaction was purely intuitive – We attempted to behave normally, and not to look alarmed. We waved as naturally as possible, something casual and regal, like the Queen. I grabbed the camera and started taking photos. The skipper stayed on the wheel, casually glancing up at the sails and down at the instruments, always looking forward, and muttering “What are they doing now? What are they doing now?”

“Nothing, nothing” I kept replying, “I don’t know what they’re doing. They’re just sitting on our wake. Next I grabbed the satellite phone and started talking into it while staring at the boats. Was this overkill? Were we being hysterical? Paranoid? Who knows?

The boats kept pace with us for a while; sometimes coming so close we were worried the boats would collide. They didn’t smile, but half-heartedly waved when we waved. This was strange, and re-confirmed that they were certainly not fishermen, who are usually smiling and friendly to fellow sea travellers.

Then they pulled away a few metres and the two boats came together - they seemed to be having some kind of conference between the skippers. I kept talking on the telephone and stopping to take photos every now and then. The skipper kept up the best pace possible with both engine and sails, and kept up his muttering. When the boats veered towards us, we waved them away, pointing as innocently as possible to the danger of collision. The adrenaline was running high in our boat, but the two ‘pirate’ boats seemed languidly unconcerned that at the very least they were invading our comfort zone.

While they were keeping pace, some of the crew who were closest to us mimed the need for food/drinks and cigarettes. We shrugged and mimed back that we didn’t smoke, but Ted threw over a plastic bottle of water. They stayed apace with us without trouble with their powerful diesels, and were there for about eight minutes (felt like hours)

Then as suddenly as they appeared, as if the skippers’ conference had produced a decision, the boats drew away sharply and headed off into our wake.

Were they pirates? Did we deter them with a fear that help would be at hand for us? Did we honey them with our gift of water? Who knows – who will ever know?

A couple of months later, two boats Mahdi and Gandalf had what appeared like a close brush with death when they were attacked by gun toting – and firing – speedboats. This incident has become famous, or infamous, as the most serious reported attack on sailing boats in history.

More and more incidents like this are being reported on the high seas. Maybe, as far as sailing yachts are concerned, this could be the result of better communication. However, there’s no doubt that piracy of commercial shipping has increased in the last few years, with sometimes fatal results. Read on....