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Photo of Day

March 18 - Tenacatita Bay, Mexico

Today's Photo of the Day, courtesy of the motoryacht Amiga, is not a pretty one, but it illustrates a lesson. The shot is of Paloma, a Pacific Seacraft 37, on the beach at Tenacatita Bay, Mexico. It ended up there because the skipper reportedly put the boat on autopilot, went below, and somehow became so distracted that he didn't come back on deck until the boat was already on the beach. It's just another case of human error. Because we're all human, we're all subject to them. Fortunately, the boat was saved.

Cruisers Apparently Kill Attacking Pirates off Yemen

March 16 - San Francisco Bay

The following report by Rodney J. Nowlin, USN Retired, of the cruising vessel Mahdi, has been forwarded to us by many readers. It was written on March 11:

"On March 8, 2005, two sailing yachts, Mahdi and Gandalf, were moving southwest 30 miles off the coast of Yemen proceeding to the port of Aden from Salalah, Oman. At about 0900, two outboard-powered boats, both about 25 feet long with three aboard, passed off our stern moving south at about 25 knots. An hour or two later they returned, one coming quite close and looking us over carefully. The second boat passed our bows, but quite a ways away. These boats were obviously not engaged in a normal activity such as fishing, etc. At that time we were south of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The area around Al Mukalla is well documented as being a piracy problem area, so we started watching carefully for anything out of the ordinary.

"At about 1600, we observed two different boats approaching us head-on from the southwest. These boats were 25-30 feet long, had higher freeboard than the others, and were diesel powered. They were coming directly at us very quickly, and there were four men in each boat. The boats separated at about 200 yards, one boat ahead of the other, coming down Mahdi's port side and firing into the
cockpit. The other boat fired an automatic weapon at both Gandalf and Mahdi, but mostly at Gandalf, from ahead. These guys were shooting directly at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us.

"The first boat then swung around behind Mahdi's stern to come up and board us. At that point I, Rod Nowlin, aboard Mahdi and armed with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, started shooting into their boat. I forced them to keep their heads down so that they could not shoot at us. I'm not sure that I hit anyone at that point, although I could see the driver of the boat crouched down behind a steering console. After firing three shots at them, their engine started to smoke, so I swung around to shoot at the boat ahead.

"At that point, I saw Jay Barry on Gandalf ram the boat amidships, almost cutting it in two, and turning it almost completely over. I turned back around to shoot again at the boat behind Mahdi, and that is when they turned away from Mahdi and were heading toward the stern of Gandalf. Gandalf was beside us, about 100 feet away. The bow of the pirate's boat came right up against Gandalf's stern, and two men stood up on the bow to board Gandalf. That was a serious and probably fateful error on their part, as I shot both of them. The boat then veered away, and I shot the driver - although I'm not sure of the outcome because they were further away and my shot hadn't knocked him over like the other two.

"Mahdi and Gandalf then kept going at full speed to put as much distance between the pirates and us as possible. As soon as we were out of rifle range, we looked back and saw that both boats were drifting and appeared to be disabled.

"If Jay on Gandalf had not had the presence of mind to veer over into the one boat and ram it, the outcome of this attack would have been totally different, for all the pirates needed to do was stand off a ways and shoot us to pieces with their automatic weapons. We were extremely lucky.

"We broadcast Mayday calls on all VHF and HF radio frequencies, including two HF emergency frequencies supplied by the U.S. Coast Guard a few days before. The Coalition Forces in the area were supposed to be monitoring these frequencies. There was no response except from a commercial ship in the area, which approached and observed the disabled pirates for a bit. They then motored alongside us for two to four hours until dark to make sure we would be all right.

"The pirates were well organized and well armed. There were at least four boats involved. They had set up a picket line out from the Yemen coast, probably for at least 50-75 miles, so if you transited the area during the day they wouldn't miss you. The two boats that attacked us appeared to have come from the south.
There has been speculation in the past that this ongoing piracy problem off the Yemen coast was being carried out by Somali pirates. Given the number, type of boats involved, and the direction the spotter boats came from, this does not appear to be correct in this case. The pirate problem has been getting worse and pirate attacks have been getting deadly. One could only expect that the Yemen government would take more direct action. At the very least, allow yachts to group in Salalah, Oman, and at some point on the northwest Yemen coast to request an escort.

Click to view larger map

Map Courtesy University of Texas Library

"We - Rod, Becky, and Jamee - just wanted to let you know that we are all fine, although a little traumatized. It's just a reminder that the cruising life is a thrill a minute! We have some damage to the boat from bullets, but nothing that can't be repaired."

We regret we don't have more information - full names of all the crews, the boat types, and boat hailing ports - on Madhi and Gandalf.

This area has always been active with pirates, but the level and sophistication of the activity seems to have picked up dramatically. We received another email which reported that cruising boats were transiting the area in convoys of six or more boats for safety, but even that wasn't enough. Heavily armed pirates have apparently been weeding out one boat at a time and taking their money and electronics. Be aware, however, our information is very, very sketchy, so we have no idea about the true extent of it. We'll try to find out more.

TransPac Entries Flying In at a Record Pace

March 18 - Los Angeles

About four TransPacs ago the clergy was almost called in to give last rites to the venerable 2,225 mile race from L.A. to Hawaii. It was that ill. How things have changed! The 2003 event was a big one, but this year's 43rd running may be the biggest of them all. With the last day for entries not until June 3, the TransPac has already received a startling 68 paid entries. It's going to be a great fleet, too, with both MaxZ86s Pyewacket and Morning Glory, plus a lot of other big boats, and at least 14 Cal 40s. Philippe Kahn of Santa Cruz was first to finish in the last two TransPacs. This year his big race will be to see if Goetz will be able to get his new TransPac 52 built in time for the start.

Gary Jobson to Speak at Corinthian YC Wednesday Night

March 18 - Tiburon

Gary Jobson, world class sailor, Emmy Award-winning ESPN television commentator, author, and goodwill ambassador for sailing, will be speaking in person at the Corinthian YC on Wednesday, March 23 at 7pm. A former collegiate All-American sailor, he was tactician for Ted Turner when he won the America's Cup in 1977. Jobson's America's Cup coverage for ESPN has been brilliant, and as sailing analyst for ESPN and Editor-at-Large for Sailing World and Cruising World, Gary occupies a unique position from which to observe and influence the world of sailing.

There's a buffet dinner and no host bar starting at 6 p.m. For reservations phone (415) 435-4771 or visit www.cyc.org.

Sausalito Shipwrights Ball Is Saturday Night

The shipwrights are having a ball Saturday night at the Sausalito Cruising Club in order to "keep the waterfront alive in Sausalito." It starts at 5pm and there will be a barbecue, silent auction, live music, and cash bar. Because it's a shipwrights' ball, black tie is optional and costumes are encouraged. The fee is $20. For more info, call or fax (415) 332-6608.

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