Attacked by Pirates
Guns, Escorts, and the Choice of Routes
The pirate attack on Mahdi and Gandalf off Yemen last March sparked widespread discussion in the world cruising community about several key issues, particularly on the topic of whether sailors were wise to carry guns aboard when transiting such dangerous areas as the Gulf of Aden.
Talk of military escorts for cruisers also arose, and not surprisingly, ex-U.S. Navy sailor Rod Nowlin, Mahdi's skipper, was a major proponent of naval support for organized convoys of the approximately 200 sailing vessels that make the passage to the Red Sea every year. As an aside, debate also surfaced regarding the inherent dangers of pirates along the route to the Red Sea versus the rigors of the Cape of Good Hope when leaving the Indian Ocean.
The question of whether guns belong aboard is a difficult and divisive one. If Nowlin hadn't been armed, one can only imagine what might have occurred. "As for the whole issue of guns on board, the heated discussions will continue," Jay Barry of Gandalf said. "As much trouble as they are, in some circumstances, they can help. That's why we're alive." Barry added that in the future, were he to sail through waters known for piracy, he'd arm himself with a shotgun "or two."
And apart from man-made threats, when sailors cruise in the Arctic, for instance, high-powered rifles are carried to defend against polar-bear attacks.
But not all are convinced that packing heat is necessary to cruise in safety. "As to my own, personal views on guns, even after this latest incident, I'd rather try avoiding known piracy areas than carry them," Jimmy Cornell, author of "World Cruising Essentials," told Cruising World. In that book, he related an instance that occurred in March 2002 while he was singlehanding from Panama to Ecuador. At that time, a large whaler-type boat with three menacing looking men aboard approached his boat at high speed. It turned out they were trying to warn him about their longlines.
"Had I been armed, I should have had my gun ready to fire before they got too close," Cornell wrote. "What turned out to be an entirely innocent incident could have had tragic consequences."