Stress in the Gulf of Aden
A couple traversing the Gulf of Aden who were friends of the recent pirate victims reflect on the stresses of life as they sail through these dangerous waters.
Below is a blog post from Lynn and Chuck Evans aboard the Island Packet 380 Cyan. This post was written for the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s next Commodores’ Bulletin, but the Evans’ have encouraged other publications that are interested in their story to post it. They are currently cruising in the Gulf of Aden, and were friends of the crew of Quest. We will be following the Evans’ travels here, or you can visit their website (www.starsonthesea.com).
Indian Ocean; February, 2011; Decisions and Emotions
S/V Cyan, Island Packet 380
I begin writing these comments at sunset, just as Cyan enters the patrolled corridor, in the Gulf of Aden, February 25, 2011.
In January, while finishing repairs in Phuket, Thailand, the original decision to cross the Indian Ocean and Red Sea wasn't difficult. Over 200 yachts had safely crossed the year before, and the pirates weren't attacking yachts anymore, apparently. We felt OK about leaving and planned a cruising stop in the Andaman Islands. That turned out to be a waste of time, money, and patience with bureaucracy. They closed the rights to anchor in the most interesting locations, and the average anchorage costs $10 a night, $60 a day for the marine park [and you have to be gone by night time], and we had to call and check in twice a day. Forget that. We'd been to much better places in the Pacific from where we have wonderful memories.
Then, in February when we arrived in the Maldives—Uligamu, actually—we found 22 cruising boats that were in somewhat of an uproar with differing opinions on future cruising. Apparently, the pirates had become more aggressive in January while we were en route, and there were more events happening in the middle of the Indian Ocean than along the coast. It seems the small pirate boats were working from a mothership that supplied guns and drugs and encouragement to bring in bounty and captives. Some cruisers had changed plans and were returning east, some arranged shipping for their vessels and many in the TTT (Thailand to Turkey) rally headed to Pakistan to follow the coast. While we were there, it came down to four vessels that wanted to go ahead with the rhumb line, heading straight for the Gulf of Aden. Then three more followed a few days later. Just two days before we arrived in the Maldives, six boats had departed the straight route, so there were a number of cruising boats out there. We understand that this first group from Uligamu stayed in visual contact with each other, and we did not hear them on the Flying Fish net in the AM.
There is a story in my family passed down over the years about a great, great...however many times... grandmother who was widowed in the early 1800s and received a land grant in Tennessee. She packed a wagon with her belongings, a mother-in-law and five children and traveled from east Georgia through the mountains to settle in her new land. This story and others were the topics Chuck and I shared while making the decision to voyage through the Indian Ocean. We talked of how Chuck felt the first time he landed his A7 jet on an aircraft carrier at night when he flew as a Navy pilot in the 70s. I mentioned the stress, during labor, of being told my first/only child might be severely malformed from the x-rays taken. We talked about the most stressful things we have encountered...and the list wasn't long. In 38 years of marriage we have been blessed and had only routine challenges in life. There runs a strong naval tradition in both of our families that affects us with determination and a love of the sea. Both our dads [USN retired] and three uncles fought in the Navy in the Pacific. My dad was at the flag hoisting at Iwo Jima. Other close relatives fought in Korea and Vietnam and, of course, Chuck spent seven years and two cruises flying off an aircraft carrier in the Med. We have always felt at home on the sea and planned and saved for our cruising life for 38 years. We felt a right to be able to travel the seas freely. We prayed about our decision and for God to help us consider, responsibly, all the alternatives. It came down to both of us agreeing to follow our plan right for the Red Sea and hope for the best.
I want to say that there was no right or wrong way to go for those of us making these important decisions. Each crew had to decide within their level of comfort and pocketbook, and according to their values. Many opinions were shared and it came down to each captaining their own vessel. As of today, we just heard that 14 boats are now being shipped to the Med from several places. I told Chuck that every time I had an anxiety attack on this voyage [as I am prone to do] about the present threat, to just say "$30,000" and it would change my attitude. We all have our own motivations.
The sailing has been much more enjoyable than we anticipated with steady winds 10-15 knots and flat seas. We only motored 40 hours in 14 days so far. We were handling the voyage carefully. The four boats that left together are checking in faithfully on the SSB morning and night with a few others calling in their locations, too. We give our location as a range and bearing to a predetermined waypoint. Then there was that dreadful morning net when we heard that our wonderful friends, Scott and Jean Adam and two of their friends on board s/v Quest, were taken captive in an area we all thought was relatively safe. Our anxiety level hit new highs, but we kept on our route NW. At this time any other decision just didn't make sense to us.
We were in an area about 500 miles off the horn of Africa [about halfway from the Maldives] before we began to see any shipping vessels since we had set out eight days earlier. On the SSB, we could only get connected to Winlink for email and weather about every other day and hadn't heard anything from the media or even received many emails since folks were writing on Sailmail, and we couldn't connect there. Then one midnight we got the CNN report from our son about the tragic outcome on Quest when all four crew were brutally murdered during negotiations. All kinds of feelings and thoughts went through our minds and we held each other a lot and cursed the savages and their criminal organizers with "typical sailors expletives." I never thought I would hear Chuck say, "Now, I'm scared!" Whew, now was the time for praying for strength, guidance, and stamina.