Saturday, February 26, 2011

Article to share

This was written as an article for the Seven Seas Cruising Association Commodore's Bulletin but it will be posted here and can be shared with any publication interested in our experience.

Indian Ocean, February, 2011, Decisions and Emotions
S/V CYAN, Island Packet 380, 4.7' draft

I begin writing these comments at sunset, just as CYAN enters the patrolled corridor, in the Gulf of Aden, February 25, 2011.

In January, while finishing repairs in Phuket. Thailand, the original decision to cross the Indian Ocean and Red Sea wasn't difficult. Over 200 yachts had safely crossed the year before and the pirates weren't attacking yachts anymore, apparently. We felt OK about leaving and planned a cruising stop in the Andamans. That turned out to be a waste of time, money and patience with bureaucracy. They closed the rights to anchor in the most interesting locations and the average anchorages costs $10 a night, $60 a day for the marine park [and you have to be gone by night time] and we had to call and check in twice a day. Forget that. We'd been to much better places in the Pacific from where we have wonderful memories.

Then, in February when we arrived in the Maldives, Uligan or Uligamu, actually, we found 22 cruising boats that were in somewhat of an uproar with differing opinions on future cruising. Apparently, the pirates had become more aggressive in January while we were en route, and there were more events happening in the middle of the Indian Ocean than along the coast. It seems the small pirate boats were working from a mothership that supplied guns and drugs and encouragement to bring in bounty and captives. Some cruisers had changed plans and were returning east, some arranged shipping for their vessels and many in the TTT convoy headed to Pakistan to follow the coast. While we were there, it came down to 4 vessels who wanted to go ahead with the rhumb line, heading straight for the Gulf of Aden. Then 3 more followed a few days later. Just 2 days before we arrived in the Maldives 6 boats had departed the straight route so there were a number of cruising boats out there. We understand that this first group from Uligan stayed in visual contact with each other and we did not hear them on the Flying Fish net in the AM.

There is a story in my family passed down over the years about a great, great...however many times... grandmother who was widowed in the early 1800's and received a land grant in Tennessee. She packed a wagon with her belongings, a mother-in-law and 5 children and traveled from east Georgia through the mountains to settle in her new land. This story and others were the topics Chuck and I shared while making the decision to voyage through the Indian Ocean. We talked of how Chuck felt the first time he landed his A7 jet on an aircraft carrier at night when he flew as a Navy pilot in the 70's. I mentioned the stress, during labor, of being told my first/only child might be severely malformed from the x-rays taken. We talked about the most stressful things we have encountered...and the list wasn't long. In 38 years of marriage we have been blessed and had only routine challenges in life. There runs a strong naval tradition in both of our families that affects us with determination and a love of the sea. Both our dads [USN retired] and 3 uncles fought in the Navy in the Pacific. My dad was at the flag hoisting at Iwo Jima. Other close relatives fought in Korea and Vietnam and, of course, Chuck spent 7 years and 2 cruises flying off an aircraft carrier in the Med. We have always felt at home on the sea and planned and saved for our cruising life for 38 years. We felt a right to be able to travel the seas freely. We prayed about our decision and for God to help us consider, responsibly, all the alternatives. It came down to both of us agreeing to follow our plan right for the Red Sea and hope for the best.

I want to say that there was no right or wrong way to go for those of us making these important decisions. Each crew had to decide within their level of comfort and pocketbook according to their values. Many opinions were shared and it came down to each captaining their own vessel. As of today, we just heard that 14 boats are now being shipped to the Med from several places. I told Chuck that every time I had an anxiety attack on this voyage [as I am prone to do] about the present threat, to just say "$30,000" and it would change my attitude. We all have our own motivations.

The sailing has been much more enjoyable that we anticipated with steady winds 10-15 knots and flat seas. We only motored 40 hours in 14 days so far. We were handling the voyage carefully. The 4 boats that left together are checking in faithfully on the SSB morning and night with a few others calling in their locations, too. We give our location as a range and bearing to a predetermined waypoint. Then there was that dreadful morning net when we heard that our wonderful friends, Scott and Jean Adam and 2 of their friends on board s/v Quest, were taken captive in an area we all thought was relatively safe. Our anxiety level hit new highs but we kept on our route NW. At this time any other decision just didn't make sense to us.

We were in an area about 500 miles off the horn of Africa [about halfway from the Maldives] before we began to see any shipping vessels since we had set out 8 days earlier. On the SSB, we could only get connected to Winlink for email and weather about every other day and hadn't heard anything from the media or even received many emails since folks were writing on Sailmail and we couldn't connect there. Then one midnight we got the CNN report from our son about the tragic outcome on Quest when all four crew were brutally murdered during negotiations. All kinds of feelings and thoughts went through our minds and we held each other a lot and cursed the savages and their criminal organizers with "typical sailors expletives". I never thought I would hear Chuck say,"Now, I'm scared!". Whew, now was the time for praying for strength, guidance and stamina.

Word was out that USA vessels were being targeted in retaliation for one pirate justly convicted in the USA. How irrational is this thinking? Some recommended we remove our flag. For us, there was no question about it. We were not going to remove our flag. It just wasn't in our values. We sailed with no lights or the emitting of an AIS signal, but we could still receive. We kept a US registered EPIRB ready to launch and told our son [our primary contact] that if an alarm was activated, it was due to an attack and send help immediately. We emailed our son, Geoff, that if we were captured we wanted the forces to take all aggressive measures even if it put us at risk. We still have an Australian EPIRB on board. We checked the radar often and also removed our reflector. Today we restored it. We did every reasonable thing we could think of to prepare. Actually, we do not consider ourselves in a safe zone yet. Finally, today, we are in a more patrolled zone with P3 airplanes overhead taking our ID info and hearing them talk to warships on the radio. They asked if we'd seen any suspicious activity and reminded us that channel 16 was being monitored.

On February 26th, as I finish this, we caught up with s/v Joseba of France and Chulupa of the USA and we plan to travel the corridor with them. They are 2 of the 3 other boats in our group. S/V Senang of The Netherlands has taken the coastal route to cruise with German speaking vessels. Eduardo, on Joseba, told us about an encounter they had just a few days ago when a 100 foot boat tried to get him to stop while he was sailing in an area about 100 miles off Suqutra Island and they were waving a USA flag by hand off the bow but did not contact him on radio. [we think they did not speak English.] He motored his boat erratically, winding all around, as well as he could and they finally gave up. We consider any vessel that does not use radio contact for permission, a threat in this situation, and would do the same. If we see guns, we set and pitch the EPIRB!

We are still coping with our grief and anger over the loss of our friends. This will take time. There were tears and cries of anger and frustration. We have only read part of a few relayed articles to know about what is being reported concerning this situation and how it is expressed in the media. We both know that this was one of the most stressful and emotional events we have ever dealt with. At this time, we hope that there are more enlightened minds making decisions that will put a stop to this needless cruelty and acts of crime on the high seas against the rest of the world.

Today, our goal is to refuel in Aden, 400 miles away and continue on as quickly as possible. We understand that the TTT rally has not reached Pakistan yet. We hope the coastal route will be safe for them. We sometimes wish we had weapons on board but they can be even more dangerous when outnumbered by pirates. We do wish we had bought a satellite phone.

We hope with all our hearts, that all the vessels arrive safely, both cruising boats and merchant ships. We hope some of the nice anchorages in the Red Sea allow us to recuperate and enjoy cruising our beloved sea again.

Presently, en route, just north of the safety corridor in Gulf of Aden....

Lynn Evans, Commodore, SSCA
along with Chuck Evans, Commodore, SSCA

Beaufort SC is CYAN's hailing port but our home base is Jacksonville, Florida.

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lin said...

I have been anxiously following your progress along with your fellow IPers. I wish you Godspeed and a safe journey.


Martha (Special Blend) said...

Jim and I are thinking of you and are anxious to hear you made it safe and sound.

alida.dup said...

Fair winds and safe sailing.
Alida du Preez

aj said...

It was good to read your article. I have done this trip twice. I understand what you are going through during this stressful journey. Since you have decided to go ahead I wish you much luck and a safe passage.
If you are not getting enough information on what's happening out there, know that the pirates don't care if you are American or any other nationality. Your request for rescue will mean you will exchange not only your life but perhaps those of your rescuers as well. Your epirb will only help for those to know what location you have been captured. Sailing in convoys will not help and are seen by the pirates as multiple winnings. They have the weaponry & manpower to overtake several yachts. No problem for them.
Unless there is a safe corridor established (like a no fly zone)where any vessel who crosses is exterminated, pirates will continue to operate. Since the rules of exchange by the forces are to capture and bring to trial these undeserving varmits these attacks and murders will not cease.

Anonymous said...

Godspeed Our prayers are with you.