Windshifts: A Semi-Pirate Story - Sail Magazine

Windshifts: A Semi-Pirate Story

They didn’t hoist the Jolly Roger or fire a shot across my bow, but their intentions were worrisome. I was 80 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, on a rhumb line course from Panama to Key West. The seas were sloppy and felt more like Mother Maytag than Mother Ocean. My Spanish is bueno, and I had been trying to raise my visitors on the radio for 20 minutes. Surely the four hombres aboard the 70-foot rust museum weren’t blasting through these dreadful seas just to sell me a fish.
Author:
Publish date:
 Illustration by Tom Payne

Illustration by Tom Payne

They didn’t hoist the Jolly Roger or fire a shot across my bow, but their intentions were worrisome. I was 80 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, on a rhumb line course from Panama to Key West. The seas were sloppy and felt more like Mother Maytag than Mother Ocean. My Spanish is bueno, and I had been trying to raise my visitors on the radio for 20 minutes. Surely the four hombres aboard the 70-foot rust museum weren’t blasting through these dreadful seas just to sell me a fish.

When they were only 30 yards astern, I tacked away. Immediately they changed course and continued plowing directly toward me. My mood changed course, too—from curious to concerned. There had been an attack on a sailboat near here a year earlier that had left the skipper dead and his daughter traumatized. So my caution was justified.

Five minutes later, I tacked again and my visitors again followed suit. Now my concern quickly escalated into outright fear! Aventura’s usually reliable Yanmar diesel had seized up two days earlier, so I couldn’t just turn on the engine and try to outrun them. It was time to evaluate my “survival posture.”

For my first 25 years of cruising, my only weapons had been my flare gun, pepper spray and a spear gun. Recently, though, after pondering the state of the world, I upgraded to a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol. It was now a foot away from me in the chart table, although actually using it seemed inconceivable.

That’s because I consider the use of violence to be not just a tactical issue, but a philosophical one. Occasionally, in a waterfront bar, you might hear a sailor, awash in rum and machismo, claim that if he ever caught someone stealing his dinghy, he would “teach him some Smith and Wesson manners.” But I find this abhorrent. If my life or the safety of a loved one is at stake, I will shoot. But I would never kill someone for stealing something. I can buy another dinghy, but I can never purchase a clear conscience. 

I now anticipated three possible scenarios. The best was that the other crew just wanted to trade some fish for something they needed like water or diesel fuel. The next best was that they intended to board my boat, strip it of whatever they could easily take and not harm me. The third scenario was as grisly as it gets. They board the boat, steal whatever they could, kill me and sink my lovely Aventura.

Imagine my pounding heart and frenzied brain as I weighed these options without knowing the other crew’s true intentions. Should I fire off some warning shots to show I was not a “soft target?” If they were armed with more than machetes, it would probably be with automatic weapons that would make my Glock as useful as a banana in a knife fight. Then again, if I truly thought they intended to kill me, shouldn’t I hold my fire until they were at point blank range?

Suddenly it occurred to me that, judging by the way they were struggling through the miserable seas, they might be at full throttle. And although my engine was useless, I had considerably more sail power still available, as I was double-reefed with only about 60 percent of my jib out. 

Unfortunately, my reefing hardware is on the starboard side of my boom, which means it is dangerous to unleash the main when heeled way over on port tack—the tack I happened to be on. Worse yet, if I tacked back onto starboard, the distance between my pursuers and me would significantly decrease. Nonetheless, of all the tough decisions I’ve made in my life, this was one of the easiest. And when it came time to shake out those reefs, everything went perfectly! Once I was safely back in the cockpit, I trimmed the main and jib up to full power, and little Aventura, a San Francisco bred heavy-weather demon, leapt across the wash-cycle seas and steadily pulled away from our nemesis. Ten minutes later, they were headed east as I continued north.

In the year since this incident, I have only told this story to about ten friends. And never once did I tell it with bravado, as though I were some movie hero who outwitted a gang of pirates. That’s because I truly do not know whether I was in danger or not. One thing I do know is this: in real life, moments of true bravery are far more complex and quietly noble than they are in the movies.

Got a good story? We want to see it. Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

Ray-Jason-bio-pic---bw

For more from Ray Jason, follow his blog, where he regularly posts his “uncommon essays from the thoughtful warrior”

Related

daviscards

Davis Instruments: Quick Reference Cards

CHECK THESEIf you’re sailing with new crew this summer or your kids have suddenly and inexplicably started to look up from their phones and take an interest in the finer points of cruising, these Quick Reference Cards from Davis are a great way to further their boating education. ...read more

01-rbir18-596

Another Epic Round Britain Race

There are basically two kinds of offshore sailboat races out there: those that take place annually, like the Fastnet and Chicago-to-Mackinac races; and those that take place every other year, like the Transpac and Newport-Bermuda race, in part so the competitors have sufficient ...read more

01b_WALKING-KEDGE-OUT-cmykpromo

Getting More Use From Kedge Anchors

If you are cruising, you need at least two anchors on board for the simple reason that you must have a backup. Imagine having to slip your anchor on a stormy night with other boats dragging down on yours, or having your rope rode severed by some unseen underwater obstacle, ...read more

SailAwayCharter

How-to: Navigating on a Bareboat Charter

So you graduated from navigation class where you practiced dead reckoning, doubling the angle on the bow and maybe even celestial nav, and you now feel well prepared for your first charter trip. Well, you won’t be doing any of that on vacation—not past the first day, anyway.Most ...read more

04-Turtle-rescue

Turtle Rescue in the Vic-Maui

Strange and often wonderful things can happen in the course of an offshore sailboat race, and one of the strangest and most wonderful things we’ve heard of recently took place during the 2,300-mile 2018 Vic-Maui race, from Victoria, British Columbia, to Lahaina, Hawaii.It ...read more

dorcap-open-blue

ATN Inc: Dorcap

COOL SLEEPYou’re fast asleep in a snug anchorage, forehatch open to catch the breeze, when you’re rudely awakened by a sneaky rain squall. Now you’re not only awake and wet, you’re sweltering with the hatch closed. Sucks, right? That’s why ATN came up with the Dorcap, an ...read more

HIGH-RES-29312-Tahiti-GSP

Ask Sail: Who has the right-of-way

WHO HAS RIGHT-OF-WAY?Q: I sail in Narragansett Bay, which is a relatively narrow body of water that has upwind boats generally going south and downwind boats generally going north. When sailboats are racing, the starboard tack boat has the right-of-way over the port tack boat, so ...read more