When we talk about our adventures, especially with people who dream to do the same voyage themselves, we use to say that a circumnavigation along the tradewinds is relatively easy, and that the most difficult problem to solve is to organise things in such a way to be able to stay away from home for a long period of time.
Obviously, this is not entirely true, and sadly some recent events involving old friends have reminded us that there are dangers even in a leisurely, family-orientated cruise.
– THE SINKING OF “BACCUS”:
“Baccus” is a fine Sun Odissey 45.2 which was participating to the Blue Water Rally 2007/09 until due to a serious health problem its skipper and his wife had to leave the boat in Australia and fly back to the U.K. for urgent treatment.
Thankfully, the medical treatment was successful so after some months our friends returned to their boat to resume their voyage with the idea of leisurely sailing through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to then join the next Blue Water Rally in Phucket for the return trip through the dangerous waters of the Gulf of Aden.
Later, they decided to join the “Vasco da Gama” rally leaving from Cochin, India, with destination Marmaris in Turkey. So last January “Baccus” set sail from Thailand with the skipper and two crew with destination Cochin by way of Sri Lanka; roughly the same route and the same timing of our own passage two years before, when we were gently pushed all the way through by the North-Eastern monsoon.
Unfortunately this time the weather was much less benign; maybe in connection with a strong tropical depression that caused serious floods in the southern hemisphere, or because of the “La Niña”, Baccus was met head-on by a severe storm blowing from the SW with winds in eccess of 60 knots.
After two days fighting the weather, trying to find shelter downwind of the Sri Lanka island, with water leaking into the boat and steering problems, the crew of “Baccus” placed a satphone call to the U.K. Coastguard, asking for medical consultation to assist the skipper who had hurt his arm. After a while, another call was placed asking to be evacuated from the boat; soon the Rescue Center was able to divert a merchant ship which went alongside “Baccus” to provide some shelter from the wind, and the crew was transferred with an hair-raising procedure.
After the event, “Baccus”‘s skipper sent few photos and a movie which were shot by the ship’s crew during the rescue operation, where some damage to the boat’s infrastructure can be seen, but what is really scary is the 10-minute movie showing the yacht beside the ship, rolling like mad and banging heavily against the ship’s side while the crew tries to jump on the netting laid on the ship’s side. Very dangerous, especially for the aging – and supposedly hurt – skipper; luckily, all went well and the 3 crew managed to board the ship.
People have died in similar situations, falling from the yacht and being crushed against the ship! I suspect that the yacht skipper had been planning to transfer using the yacht’s dinghy as a shuttle (in preparation, the dinghy had been put in the water at the back of the yacht) and probably it was the ship captain’s decision to put the yacht directly beside the ship.
Too bad for “Baccus”, which may still be drifting somewhere in the Indian Ocean, but at least the crew is safe and sound.
The crew of “Quest” was not as lucky:
– THE HIJACKING OF “QUEST”:
After several years sailing around the world and distributing bibles to communities in remote locations, the skipper of “Quest” decided to join the Blue Water Rally in Phucket, to sail in company during the dangerous transit of the Gulf of Aden.
Bob and Phyllis, two old friends who had sailed-along with us in the Blue Water Rally 2007/09 on their yacht “Gaia”, had decided to “relive the experience” by crewing on several of the 2009/11 BWR yachts, and in Phucket they joined “Quest”.
“Quest” sailed with the Rally until in Mumbay, an unplanned stopover that was decided in order to sail towards Salalah in Oman hugging to the coast in order to stay out of the ever-expanding area of pirate activity in the Arabian Gulf.
We will probably never know why, but in Mumbay the skipper of “Quest” decided to sail towards Salalah on its own, instead of sailing in formation with other BWR yachts, and taking the direct route which was several hundred miles within the area of pirate activity.
Maybe the skipper grew impatient of group discipline, or under-estimated the danger of a pirate attack to a yacht, albeit large and US-flagged.
We will never know, and we will also probably never know what happened exactly on board “Quest”, fact is that 300 miles before reaching Salalah they were boarded by an unusually large group of pirates (19 people, quite uncommon) and were detoured towards Somalia, while an US warship quickly came near them to monitor the situation.
When “Quest” was few hours from the Somalian coast, disaster struck: two pirates, invited to come aboard the warship for “negotiation” were detained (an euphemism for “arrested”) and the pirates remaining on the yacht, apparently after a gunfight between themselves, where two of them were killed, decided to shoot the hostages in retaliation.
A SEAL party soon boarded the yacht, killing two more pirates in the process, but the hostages had been wounded lethally and died shortly thereafter.
Besided the doubts on the official version of the events, this sad story reconfirms how limited are the options once the pirates have successfully boarded a vessel, and also how ruthless the latest generation of pirates have become: they killed the hostages just to make the point that attacks on an hijacked vessel would cause the death of the prisoners.
… and unfortunately this also reconfirms that lately yachts have become fair game for the pirates who previously were focusing only on ships, while attacks on yachts were mainly high-seas robberies, not followed by an hijacking.
Obviously, these sad events have been particularly felt by those who had an opportunity to meet Bob and Phyllis, to cheerful and life-loving people who met their fate at the end of an ordeal that we can only vaguely imagine.
We do not sail the seas to take this kind of risks.