It All Went So Wrong
Having sailed the fraught waters of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden just months before the crew of the U.S.-flagged Quest, the Cap'n reflects on pirates, murder, and good cruising folk.
And then, things happened fast. The kids (I mean, the pirates) panicked completely, I’d guess. I’m sure that Scott realized what was happening and attempted to calm things down, but there was no backing down. It only took a few seconds, but it must have felt like an eternity to Jean and Scott and Phyllis, and Bob.
They heard the rocket go off, a deafening sound. There was jostling. Screaming. Shouting. A gun went off in the confining, tiny space that was Quest’s cabin.
A body fell. Someone else opened fire. More bodies fell.
Two pirates and four hostages lay on the cabin sole. Bleeding. Dying. At least two of the hostages were alive and conscious for some time afterward. We can only imagine what must have been going through their minds—the stuff of nightmares.
The U.S. Navy did the best it could. On Sterett, they weren’t expecting anything savage precisely at that moment. It was early morning, and the two sides were talking. But barefoot boys with large weapons and lots of khat often do stupid things that make no sense. The U.S. Navy had just been fired upon by Quest with a rocket. A disorganized group of pirates came topside, raised their hands as if in surrender, and moved forward to the sailboat’s bow, just as, or just after, gunfire erupted from belowdecks aboard the yacht.
The U.S. Navy officers decided to board the yacht immediately to attempt to prevent further bloodshed. They rushed over and dashed below. One pirate was shot inside the cabin as they entered. It was chaos. People were crying, moaning, screaming, dying. A pirate lurched at one of the naval rescuers and, in the ensuing knife fight, was stabbed to death.
The story of the events aboard Quest are the definition of tragedy. Everyone lost. Four pirates were dead, and the rest will, I hope, rot forever in jail. Jean, Scott, Phyllis, and Bob are dead. The rescuers, who risked their lives and did a superb job under stressful, bloody conditions, will forever think of what could’ve been done differently.
The world and our community of cruisers have lost four wonderful people; Carolyn and I have lost two friends. They were sea gypsies who died doing what they were born to do and loved to do best. Don’t judge them; don’t second-guess their decision to roam the high seas. They had every right to be free, loving, and out upon the ocean, sailing through God’s own watery cathedral.
They were doing nothing wrong. It was the pirates who had evil in their hearts, not Jean or Scott or Phyllis or Bob.
The pirates are to blame, no one else.
Jean recently wrote on her blog, “We were so unhappy being ‘dirt dwellers’ during our time in the States that another floating abode had to be acquired.”
There was seawater and love and faith in their veins, and poetry too. Jean wrote of cruising in Fiji, “We’re going to open these islands like the petals of a flower.”
What soft, romantic imagery. What nice people. What a horrible, horrible thing—a completely pointless and stupid and cruel thing—to have happen to them.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander is the author of Red Sea Run, which chronicles a 2010 transit of the Gulf of Aden aboard a small yacht.