Cruising

Circumnavigation, Interrupted Page 2

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Chay advises that pirate attacks, mapped out, “cover almost the entire Arabian Sea as far south as Madagascar and the Gulf of Aden, even as far east as the Maldives and India. The Maldivian Coast Guard holds 39 pirate prisoners.”

Chay had sent ’round a missive headed, Giving Up the Dream, so over a Skype connection to Mal, I asked Chay about the disappointment level.

“Very high,”

Was the answer.

“Jamie is pretty angry at not being able to do the circumnavigation whole.”

The skipper of Imagine sailed to Oman with family, hugging the coast of Pakistan. But from the capital of Oman, Muscat, he put his family on a plane to fly out and continued on with new crew. (If nothing else, these people will have unique adventures to look back upon, though not of the sunset-with-a daiquiri variety.)

The prospects seemed happier in December, when cruiser kids from Imagine and Tin Soldier joined Esprit for Christmas dinner. Jamie and friends . . .

Jamie, btw, was three years old when mom and pop bought Esprit, six years old when I met him in Baja in 2003, with more of Mexico and all of the Pacific yet to come. Picturing Chay and now-teenage Jamie in the cockpit, each with a long knife at the belt and knowing where to reach for the shotgun, flare gun, spear gun, well, they’ve lived the dream, but that ain’t it.

At sailingesprit.com, Chay puts things this way:

“It used to be that we were very concerned about freighters when we were at sea. Because the freighters usually didn’t keep a good watch, we had to be worried about being run down. Now the watch is all about looking for pirates. The freighters keep an excellent watch and are worried when they see us (a small boat) because we might be a pirate. We used to not have a second thought about a fishing boat except for how to stay out of his nets. Now our first thought is, could that be a pirate mother ship.”

I repeat, Esprit left Cochin for Salalah knowing that Quest had been taken and yet willing to assume some risk for the sake of that guiding light, the circumnavigation. This was the general outlook in the cruising fleet. But updates advised Esprit to double previous estimates of a likely opponent’s strength:

“We received intelligence that the pirates were now using two skiffs instead of one and could place as many as 19 pirates on the attack. News reports were also stating that the pirates were torturing their hostages, something we had not previously heard about.”

And then:

“On February 23, 8:30 am, after fighting light head winds for four days and having realized that we had damaged our prop in Cochin [and could motor only at reduced speed] we heard the news of the deaths of our friends, Scott & Jean Adam, with whom we had cruised in Tonga and New Zealand.”

“At this point, we had the densest area of previous pirate attacks ahead. As a family, we made the difficult but important decision to turn around. There were reports of pirates on our path back to India, but the risks were less. Two days later the Danish s/v ING [ING had been a dockmate of Esprit while passing through Asia, with seven aboard including three teenagers] was pirated in the very position where we would have been, had we continued on course.”

The crew of ING was still in captivity at last report.

Chay adds, “People used to ask, ‘Don’t you get scared?” Even one of the captains on a freighter we talked to in the Gulf of Bengal asked us this question. Our answer has always been ‘no.’ That has changed.”

Returning to Cochin and then moving on to the Maldives, they had their own full-alert hour, a false alarm as it turned out, but did I mention, full alert?

Esprit—the three-people component of Esprit, not the boat part—will all too soon be off to Boulder City, Nevada, to turn the lights back on at the small engineering company owned by Chay and Katie. Esprit faces the prospect of someday completing a circumnavigation-minus-1,500 miles. No one will hold the asterisk against them. But it becomes clear that a historically-brief, bright moment in long distance voyaging has darkened.


Esprit’s anti-piracy tip of the day: Greasing toe rails and lifelines will make it harder for someone to board your vessel.

Including yourself, later.

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