Scary things that can happen at sea

Let’s face it – it’s far more exciting to talk about what can go wrong at sea, than say, what we plan to eat, and whether we have a composting toilet. Newsmakers know this. That’s why you don’t see a lot of happy news in the papers.

When learning about our trip, and the possibility of circumnavigation, family and friends tend to ask us questions that sound like this:

“Will you be carrying a gun?”
“What about pirates?”
“Aren’t you afraid of storms?”
“What happens if your boat tips over?”
“What happens if you get a hole in the hull?”
“Do you think you could get seasick?”

As with any activity that strays beyond the living room couch, there are risks to be managed. Below I attempt to address fears – yours and mine.


Guns and ammo
We won’t be carrying guns. And, for the record, I grew up around guns and hunting big game in Canada’s far north, in both the North West Territories, and the Yukon. I fired a shotgun at a tin can at the age of seven. But, we have four children. And, a gun wouldn’t leave us feeling empowered; we assume that we would be outnumbered in terms of ammo.

In fact, we heard one sad story where a couple were being ambushed while sailing, and the wife fired on the pirates. They shot her dead, looted the boat and left her husband to sail off with her body. In that situation, the gun didn’t help anyone.

We had one circumnavigator tell us that he had a gun on board his boat, and was ready to use it. Now living in the suburbs, he has been left with a very xenophobic outlook following his encounters with pirates. A gun didn’t seem to help him either.

We will be doing our best to avoid known pirate areas. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center there have been 37 pirate boardings this year, as of March 3, 2015. You can see from the IMB’s Live Piracy Map that many of these boardings occur on large tanker ships.

However, potential pirates – that look like people selling fish – get a lot of bad press. I should point out that when I was cycling solo off the beaten track in California, I had some scary encounters with transients, on a near daily basis. But, I was aware of my vulnerability and tended to be sharply on my guard. In those situations, I didn’t emanate fear. In fact, I tended to be tall and nasty. On one occasion, I was overly friendly and polite to purposely throw off a potential mugger from their intimidation game, but that was the exception not the norm.

As Behan Gifford writes in her recent blog post, Passage to the Maldives, “Don’t underestimate the importance of attitude.” Gifford advises that you not assume that everyone is out to raid your boat. And, she knows what she is speaking about as she and her family are sailing in pirate territory at the moment.

Yes, we will watch the weather and avoid storms as much as we can help it.

Boat tipping over
It is very rare for a catamaran to tip over. That said, we’ve considered painting the bottom of our St Francis 50 catamaran a bright colour so as to attract attention from air traffic, if need be.

Hole in the hull
Our catamaran is designed to minimize damage if we took on water with a hole in the hull. The hull of our boat is compartmentalized – bilges, keel, and water storage areas are all held in separate areas, sealed off from the other parts of the boat. So, if a hole would not necessarily be catastrophic, in the sense that our boat would sink. And, we don’t plan on getting a hole in the boat.

With all of those other problems being discussed, seasickness seems like small potatoes. We hope not to be affected by sea sickness. But, there are six of us in our family. So, the odds are fairly high that someone will be affected. We’ve read of other families – like the Stuemer’s for example – that battled with seasickness and eventually grew to get used to the motion.

I’m sure I’ll revisit these subjects again, and again. In the short term, I’m really looking forward to testing out the steel of my stomach in Antigua. I will be learning to sail in late April – only three more weeks to go before I leave for my trip.

This post was originally posted on March 30, 2015. At the same time, a Calgary couple was stranded in the jungle, after encountering pirates in the Honduras. As Clara Ho of the Calgary Herald writes:

 Loretta Reinholdt, 54, and Andy Wasinger, 46, of Calgary, are happy to be alive after they were held up on March 28, 2015, by pirates armed with guns and knives while on a sailing trip in Honduras, and stranded for four days in a jungle with nothing but peanut butter and cheese to eat and rain water to drink.

For more about this story see, “Calgary couple ‘happy to be alive’ after surviving pirate attack in Honduras(Calgary Herald, April 9, 2015, Clara Ho.)

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