March 22, 2019
Noon Position: 54 41S 62 23W
Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 1
Wind(t/tws): SWxS 5
10ths Cloud Cover: 10
Bar(mb): 1009, rising very slowly
Cabin Temp(f): 50
Water Temp(f): 43
Relative Humidity(%): —
Sail: All sails down, drifting
Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 92
Miles since departure: 23,168
Avg. Miles/Day: 137
Leg North/Atlantic Days: 2
Leg North/Atlantic Miles: 209
Avg. Miles/Day: 105
The wind has abandoned the field these last two days. For a time yesterday when it wafted almost due west, I ran with all plain sail flying, main and #1 genoa out to port, #2 jib poled to starboard. On this plan we made what felt like a handy three and four knots. Today, wind is so light, all those same sails do is thrash. I put them out of their misery at noon and we drifted for a time.
If this had happened two weeks ago, I would have had a fit. We were on a mission to get around the Cape and out of harm’s way. Now I don’t care. The gray sky is flat and unthreatening, and the sea is as calm as the middle Pacific. It is illusory, this sense of safety. The screaming 50s can scream here as well as to windward of the Horn, but now we are headed north (albeit slowly), north and out.
I’ve often been asked by those unfamiliar with passage making how I deal with the threat of pirates. They have heard in the news of yachts being taken off the coast of Somalia or in the Phillipines and have generalized the very real danger there to any place offshore.
The question comes up so frequently that I’ve manufactured an entertaining (to me) response. I say, “I carry a Captain Phillips Kit.”
“Oh,” they say, “And what it that?”
“A water cannon that mounts on the bow. A bull horn for yelling very loudly at my pursuers. A grenade launcher…” I go on until they twig me.
From what I can tell, piracy is local to a very few, extremely poor countries and is, in all cases, a coastal issue. Mo and I are almost always well offshore, well beyond the range of a small, open boat with an outboard motor, and thus I haven’t given piracy as second thought.
Until yesterday at 11AM when I looked up and found that Mo was being chased.
Overnight we crossed the Burdwood Bank, a bean-shaped plateau between Isla de Los Estatos and the Falklands. We’ve crossed it twice before without encountering another vessel, but last night we cruised slowly past two large (200 and 300 foot) trawlers working around a hash mark on the chart noted only as an “obstruction.” I assumed this to be some kind of fish aggregation device.
We passed close enough that Mo’s AIS alarms began to sound, but by dawn, the two ships were far astern and forgotten, until late morning when I discovered one, the Echizen Maru, on a direct intercept and traveling at twice Mo’s speed. When I first spotted her on the scope, she was ten miles astern and below the horizon.
That a ship should pass close enough for worry is to be expected. It’s why we value AIS. But for all the times that alarm has sounded, I’ve never come to the chart plotter to find the other vessel in direct pursuit.
And for some reason, I immediately assumed the worst. The rationale went like this: the Echizen Maru, she must be a Japanese vessel on clandestine fishing maneuvers within Argentinian waters; overnight she saw Mo and knows Mo saw her; now she intends to take or sink Mo so that her position cannot be reported to the authorities.
Never mind that the other vessel with her overnight was clearly Argentinian (The San Vincente bound for Ushuaia). Never mind that we saw each other on AIS, a technology also used by Chilean and Argentinian authorities to keep track of local traffic. Never mind the most likely scenario, that she’s on her way to a new fishing spot that intersects our course, and she’s dropping by to have a look.
By now, the Echizen Maru was well above the horizon, a large, red vessel with a white house and clearly headed right for us.
I found I was quite afraid.
Quickly I dug through the navigation desk for the Piracy Defense Plan. None there. I did a mental inventory of weapons: a sailor’s knife; a bowie knife; a rusty machette, a spear gun, a flare pistol. No water cannon; no grenade launcher.
How about evasive action? Sure, maybe, but for how long? Besides, if she puts a launch over the side to board us…well, we can’t outrun that.
What if I call on the radio and ask, “Echizen Maru, what is your intention?” That’s how Captain Picard always began an engagement on Star Trek. Then he’d give the order, “Shields up!” I looked around the pilot house for someone to receive that order. There was no one.
In short, beyond calling my wife as action commenced or going on deck with a cell phone in to my ear to indicate I was “in touch with the authorities,” I had no defense. None at all.
So, I was greatly relived when, two miles off, the Echizen Maru slowed, turned, began to feed nets astern and made slow way in the opposite direction.