To order, please email:

To order, please email:

Archive for November, 2008


Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Laurence Sunderland advised his 16 year old son Zac (LA Times “Adventure on the high seas” 11/9/08), who is sailing solo around the world, to load his pistol and shoot to kill if threatened by an approaching vessel.

This is seriously bad advice. Assuming the approaching vessel did contain pirates, there would be 20 or so automatic weapons and most probably a 50 caliber machine gun and a couple of RPG’s, all pointing in Zac’s direction. Firing at them would be the fastest way possible of committing suicide.

Fear of pirates can be a bigger problem than the pirates themselves. A solo sailor, asleep in an anchorage on the Venezuelan coast, woke to hear footsteps on his deck. He opened fire with an automatic weapon, and the people on deck returned fire. The boarders then identified themselves as Venezuelan Coast Guard, the sailor was arrested, and his now seriously leaking boat impounded.

The truth about pirates is that they make for great headlines, are a real danger to some vessels, but are not interested in small private yachts. Why should they bother when they can capture a small freighter or tanker with about the same effort, and gain a multi-million dollar return? There was a recent report of a French yacht boarded by pirates off the Somali coast. Research the details and you will find the yacht had a crew of 30, not your typical small sailboat.

I sailed around the world for six and a half years with my wife and son (8 when we left, 14 when we returned) in a small sailboat, traveling more than 40,000 miles and visiting 56 countries. We spent more than six months sailing in Indonesia, mostly in places very few yachts had visited. Not once did we feel threatened. Not once did we feel we had to chain our dinghy to the yacht, as we later had to in the “lock it or lose it” Caribbean. Our dinghy and outboard were left unsecured, simply pulled up in front of many a village, and were always there when we returned hours later. The fishing boats and small inter-island trading vessels often came close to us for a look and a cheerful wave of greeting.

The story was the same in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt, some of the poorest countries in the world, and all on the US government Advisory List of countries not to visit.

Pirate attacks are increasing around the world, but most occur in well defined areas, Nigeria, Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, Indonesia (Malacca Straits), and Bangladesh. Regardless of pirate preferences for larger vessels, sailing a yacht in those regions is not to be taken lightly.

The Malacca Straits, between Malaysia and Indonesia, has to be traversed to get from Singapore to Thailand, so we sailed through in company with another yacht, anchoring at night without lights and restricting radio communication. Knowing Socroto Island, in the Gulf of Aden at the bottom of the Red Sea, was a pirate source, we diverted from our direct route to sail no closer than 150 miles from it.

In common with most cruisers, we started out armed, in our case with a shotgun. Almost every country we visited required that we surrender the gun and all ammunition on entry to the country, returning it when we left. That meant most of the theoretical value of having a gun on board was negated. Any non-declared weapons or ammunition, even a single bullet, found during a Customs search, could result in immediate seizure of the yacht, and the certainty of severe penalties.

On arrival in the Cook Islands, when we declared our shotgun I asked if it could be sealed in a locker, instead of being taken off the boat. The Customs official agreed, but had no seals with him, so promised to return the next day. I saw him on the dock a couple of days later, and asked about the seals.

“Can’t find any,” he said. “Promise me you won’t shoot anyone and we will forget about it.”

He was alone in his tolerance in the 56 countries we visited. Soon after, we got rid of the shotgun.

We were not totally naïve about the possibility of personal attacks, so the boat was well stocked with pepper spray and equivalent non-lethal protective materials. I had my wife and very young son on board, so was not about to take any unnecessary chances, or expose them to dangers.

There may be lots of reasons for people not to go sailing around the world, or in parts of it, but the threat of pirates should not be one of them. As with all things, information, precautions and caution are very effective.


Copyright © 2008 Raymond Hill Publishing. All Rights Reserved. Site Design by monkeyCmedia

  • Home
  • Buy our Books
  • Excerpts
  • About the Authors
  • Seminars/Book Signings
  • Contact
  • Blog
  • Gallery

  • Chasing Sunsets is proudly powered by WordPress
    Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).