Windshifts: a Semi Pirate Story

They didn’t hoist the Jolly Roger or fire a shot across my bow, but their intentions were worrisome.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

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? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

For more from Ray Jason, follow his blog:

theseagypsyphilosopher.blogspot.com,

where he regularly posts his “uncommon

essays from the thoughtful warrior”

Related

Shelly-forward-last-day

Charter Advice for First-Timers

Never chartered? No worries. A vacation under sail can be the most memorable time of your life. That said, it also pays to be prepared by doing some reading, building your skills and listening to what the experts say. First and foremost, not all charter grounds are created ...read more

HugoBoss

Video: Vendeé Update

Last week Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) led the fleet across the equator. As one of the class' top sailors who's been on the Vendeé Podium twice, it seemed possible that Thomson was going to grab an early lead and hold on to it all the way around the world. But early on Saturday, he ...read more

AdobeStock_229409051

Chartering Again for the First Time

It’s been a rocky road of late for the charter industry, especially here in the Western Hemisphere. First came hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean followed by Dorian in the Bahamas. There has also, of course, been the coronavirus, which burst into global prominence ...read more

01 LEAD cedaryachtclub_onedesign18_hike

An Interview with Ayme Sinclair

In recent months, US Sailing, like many organizations, has been taking a closer look at diversity to ensure it’s doing the best job it can of introducing people from all backgrounds and ethnicities to the sport. As part of this effort, this past summer it organized an online ...read more

125768940_10222759720523627_5373654001582879638_n

US Sailing Presents Adaptive Sailing Panel

On Tuesday, November 24, US Sailing’s Leadership Forum will present the latest panel discussion in their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion series. This event will focus on adaptive sailing and provide practical recommendations for organizations looking to expand their adaptive ...read more

02-IMG_5971

A Carbon Neutral Circumnav with Jimmy Cornell

Historic anniversaries have always held a special fascination for me, especially if they mark a significant nautical achievement. In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ would-be voyage to India, I organized a transatlantic rally that followed the historic route of the ...read more

DJI_0068

SAIL Podcast: Jimmy Cornell’s Carbon-free Circumnav

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with bestselling author and pioneering bluewater sailor Jimmy Cornell, who set out November 19 on yet another circumnavigation aboard a newly designed, carbon-neutral Outremer 4Zero catamaran. The voyage, which ...read more

emirates-600x

Emirates Team New Zealand Splashes the last of the AC75s

Emirates Team New Zealand unveiled its second-generation AC75 yesterday, joining the other three America's Cup teams with boats in the water. In just over 100 days, this boat will attempt to defend the Cup for the Kiwis, but there's plenty of racing between now and then, with ...read more