It is a little surreal that my overriding worry for the upcoming Eat-Pray-Row should be pirates. The idea seems so sixteenth century. They should long ago have been relegated to history, along with lacy ruffs and codpieces. But piracy is alive and kicking and dominating the Arabian Sea. The issue even merits its own entry in Wikipedia.
I started my investigations last week, after hearing about the tragic shooting of four Americans on board the yacht Quest, and the subsequent cancellation of this year’s Blue Water Rally. Since then there have been further incidents involving a Dutch couple and a Danish family.
So what to do? My challenge is to ensure that I respond appropriately to the threat. Not over-react, but at the same time not to tempt fate.
I’ve been exchanging emails with various experts in the field. I was surprised to find out how many piracy consultants there are, both in independent consultancies and in departments associated with big companies like Shell Oil and Maersk Shipping. I was also surprised, and horrified, to find out the scale of the problem. It is estimated that over 700 people are currently being held hostage by pirates. I had already been aware of pirate activity in the Indian Ocean, but the situation seems to be escalating rapidly.
You might think that pirates would not be interested in a tiny ocean rowboat. But they might form the mistaken impression that I might be worth a ransom. You and I know otherwise, but they might not. And unfortunately these pirates are not Johnny Depp, aka Captain Jack Sparrow. They are ruthless and desperate.
The most extreme advice I received suggested that I abandon my plans for the Indian Ocean altogether, or at least postpone indefinitely. My feeling is that the situation is unlikely to improve over the coming few years, and may worsen, so if I am to do the Indian Ocean it should be sooner rather than later.
But my original destination of Mumbai is now out of the question. In order to line myself up for that port, I would have to loop a long way west to make allowance for the westerly winds in the Arabian Sea. That would take me within a few hundred miles of the Somali coast, right through the centre of pirate territory. Not a good idea.
There are a number of alternative destinations, but I don’t want to list them here. And this brings me to my intended strategy. Stealth mode.
Stealth has two aspects: actual and virtual.
Actual stealth is eminently possible. My boat is very small, and can easily be hidden amongst the waves. The waves also help with radar stealth – they create interference on the radar screen that can effectively shield me from detection. When the Royal Navy tried to deliver a card to me on Valentine’s Day, 2006, they were unable to see me (see my blog entry on “Stealth Sedna”). Despite having been notified of my last known position, and having a boat bristling with antennae, I was concealed by the waves, and in fact I spotted them (the old fashioned way, with eyeballs) before they saw me.
As to virtual stealth, this is a new area for me. In past years I have been keen to maximise my online presence, all the better to spread the good green word that we have to take better care of our planet. This year things will need to be different.
I am sorry to say this, but for safety reasons I will not be broadcasting my position online this year. For safety reasons, I will still have a GPS transponder relaying my coordinates, but the information will be available only to my mother and my weatherman, and possibly a maritime monitoring organisation.
I will, however, be posting daily blogs, and will keep you updated on how things are going in general terms. As veterans of this website will know, most of my ocean blogs are not really about the rowing anyway, so I’ll have plenty to talk about without giving away my location.
One way that you can obtain more information as to my progress would be to sponsor a mile. I will still be giving shout-outs and thank yous to people as I row the mile that they have sponsored. This is safe, because only they, my mother and I know which miles they have sponsored. So if you want some insider knowledge as to how I am progressing, you could, say, sponsor miles 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000. Then, when you get your first thank-you-by-blog, you’ll know that I am 1000 miles from Fremantle. And also, of course, I will be extremely grateful for the sponsorship.
This is all a bit of a pain, and I rather resent having my freedom restricted in this way. But it seems better than the alternative. The ocean itself is challenging enough, but I’d take my chances with Mother Nature any day rather than face a AK47-toting pirate.
Thanks for the amazing response to my request for volunteers to help organise my blog archive. Within 24 hours I had 10 volunteers, and another 9 names on my reserves list. The instructions and work allocations have been sent out, and my amazing team are hard at work tagging and categorising. You’ll see that the tag cloud is already looking much more interesting than it used to. Huge thanks to my trusty volunteer workforce!
A special shout-out to the Surfrider chapter of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. It was great to meet you all on Wednesday night, and hope to see a few of you again at tomorrow’s Clean Up Australia Day in Manly.