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February 5, 2016

‘Pirate’ Attack in Western Carib

Isolated incident or new trouble spot? Colombia’s Isla Providencia lies 120 miles off the Nicaraguan coast. In the interest of keeping plenty of sea room off the lee shore of Nicaragua’s east coast, many mariners on north-south transits pass near Providencia and its sister island San Andreas. 

Google Earth
©2016Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Many Eastern Caribbean sailors were shocked in late December by reports of two separate incidents of modern-day piracy that took place off Trinidad. Last Wednesday, another attempted act of ‘piracy’ was reported, this time in the Western Caribbean off Nicaragua, near the Colombian island of Providencia.

According to the professional mariners’ website,, while en route from Colón, Panama, to Roatan, Honduras, the Nordlund 70 motoryacht Golden Eagle thwarted an attempted attack by outrunning her pursuers.

"We are all fortunately okay, but the 60-ft steel fishing vessel tried to ram and board us," Golden Eagle‘s owner Andrea Peterson explained. "A chase ensued, and we were able to outrun them going full speed at 14 knots. I think we lull[ed] ourselves into a false sense of security cruising the Caribbean Sea." The motoryacht’s crew included Peterson’s four-year-old son. US Coast Guard District 7 in Miami, FL, is investigating. 

Training Ship Used to Smuggle Drugs

Here on the West Coast, a great variety of high-volume smuggling attempts have been discovered — including open panga-style fishing boats with bales of pot piled higher than their gunwales and semi-submersible submarines carrying tons of cocaine. But a recent smuggling attempt on the East Coast took an entirely new approach: According to Reuters, Colombian smugglers paid $32,000 in bribes to two midshipmen aboard the Royal Spanish Navy’s 371-ft tall ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano for their role in bringing 17 lbs of coke and heroin from Cartagena, Colombia, to New York City.

The 3,673-ton Juan Sebastián de Elcano under sail. According to Wikipedia she has covered more distance than any other sailing vessel — more than 2,000,000 miles.

© 2016

Although the incident took place in 2014, the former midshipmen, Jorge Luis Hoayeck and Jorge Alberto Siado-Alvarez, were arrested late last month in Colombia and are expected to be extradited to the US soon. Seven other participants in the smuggling scheme were charged in 2014. Reuters reports that an additional 280 lbs of coke were recovered from the ship when it returned from New York to its Spanish homeport of San Fernando, Cádiz.

The third largest tall ship in the world, the Elcano was launched in 1928 and has logged more than two million ocean miles since — probably more than any other cadet-training vessel. Named after the captain who completed the first circumnavigation of the earth after Ferdinand Magellan died, the Elcano’s four-masted rig makes her one of the most stunningly beautiful sailing vessels in the world. Her plans were used to construct the Chilean Navy’s sistership Esmeralda in 1954.

Investigation in Megayacht Mishap

The bigger the boat, the bigger the ground tackle, and the bigger the ground tackle the bigger the potential for environmental damage. At least that seems to have been the case on January 14 when billionaire Paul Allen’s 303-ft yacht Tatoosh reportedly destroyed 14,000 square feet of "protected" coral reef in the Cayman Islands — an area a third the size of a football field. 

Tatoosh at anchor.

© 2016 Seastar357 / Wikimedia Commons

A statement from Allen’s Seattle-based company, Vulcan, explained that the yacht’s anchoring position was "explicitly directed" by local port personnel. His crew claims that they relocated the yacht immediately when alerted by a diver that Tatoosh’s chain was damaging coral. Allen’s people are said to be cooperating with local authorities as an investigation into the incident continues. One report claims that 80% of the coral in that section of the environmental preserve was damaged. 

The sad irony to this report is that just last year Allen pledged ongoing support to "stabilize and restore coral reefs" through Vulcan’s philanthropic efforts. It is unclear whether Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, was aboard at the time of the incident. Like many of the world’s most expensive yachts, Tatoosh is registered in the Cayman Islands.

If it’s February it must be seminar season. Some events of interest to Bay Area sailors include the following.
Initially it looked fine to our untrained eye. But after talking to Jim Drake, we looked closer and saw the sides of the belt were glazed — and bits of debris from it ended up on the bottom of our Yanmar diesel.