Cruisers listening to the Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, Cruisers Net (in English) heard the chaos on VHF channel 72 all night, Saturday, November 8. That day, two sailboats left Bahia Redonda and anchored at nearby Isla Borracha, in Bahia de Pozuelos, before heading west. As the sun set, Ken and Cathy Peters, aboard Chill, and Steve and Gloria Davis from I'Lean, were approached by three men in a piñero (pirogue) who asked for water, according to e-mails from the sailboat Salacia and a report on Noonsite. When the water was brought from below, the pirates fatally shot 55-year-old Ken with pistols and attempted to kill Steve. Apparently, Steve then shot at the pirates with a shotgun, killing one and injuring another.
Steve was shot in the thigh but was able to sail I'Lean back to the marina, carrying Ken's body. Meanwhile, Cathy, who had just returned from her mother's funeral in the United States, had to sail her boat with a friend's help and Guardia Costera escort.
The level of violence against cruisers has increased dramatically in the past two years on the coast of Venezuela. Noonsite has strongly discouraged visiting this otherwise perfect cruising ground, citing five shooting incidents this year. According to the Caribbean Safety and Security Net (CSSN), most crime in Venezuela is reported in the eastern mainlandd (Puerto La Cruz and to the east) and Margarita and the adjacent islands of Cubagua and Coche. Everywhere in Venezuela, though, reports of violent crime are on the rise. On www.doyleguides.com, cruising guide writer Chris Doyle details the Isla Borracha killing and reports an incident in September, where a 61-year-old French yachtsman, Philipe Arman Leudire, aboard Chrysalide, anchored his catamaran in front of Caraballeda Marina, near Caracas. Four guys swam to the boat and shot him while trying to rob the boat. His wife survived.
Melodye Pompa, of CSSN, has documented the trends in crimes against cruisers, as reported in the Los Angeles Times last June. "What is new in the last two to three years is an increase in the use of weapons," she said in the article.
Meanwhile, many cruisers are quickly making or accelerating departure plans from Puerto La Cruz, though security within the marinas remains at an acceptable level. The cruising community there is grief-stricken and in shock. It is horrifying and extremely sad for those of us who have so many happy memories of time well spent in Venezuela to contemplate cruising there in the future in fear for our lives. Our hearts go out to the many wonderful Venezuelans who worked on our boats, took us on tours, found or made the impossible boat parts, changed our dollars for Bs, fixed our computers, entertained and fed us, and then befriended us for life. Their livelihoods, already affected by politics and the world economy, will now be further hurt by the understandable exodus of visiting yachts.
In months to come, instead of chaos on Ch. 72, which broadcasts the cruiser's net, expect long periods of silence.
Rest in peace, Ken, you'll be missed.
This report is pieced together from communications from two cruisers at Marina Bahia Redonda and notices on Noonsite.com and doyleguides.com. The opinions are my own.
Ellen Sanpere is a longtime Caribbean cruiser. To join the discussion about the attack in the CW forums, click here.