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.

The escalation in pirate activity in the Arabian Sea

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.

Hurrah! An excuse to include a picture of Johnny Depp in my blog!

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.

I don't want to meet this dude.

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.

Stealth Purple

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.

Kayaking in Sydney Harbour this morning. Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

Other Stuff:

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.

24 Comments

  • Sedna Solo Purple looks great! Wonderful choice. Thanks to this blog I now have a visual of Johnny Depp with his Keith Richards swagger and thick purple eye liner.

    Good call on the plan modifications, Roz. We know you’ll be safe.

  • I guess you can’t be too safe, but don’t you think any pirate savvy enough to track your position through your website would also be smart enough to know you’re not worth a king’s ransom?

    • Unfortunately, British, Americans and Europeans are regarded as good targets. The pirates know that family and friends will sell assets and houses to raise the cash for loved ones taken hostage.

  • Just thinking about this a little more… What about publicly showing a false coordinate, but one that still gives an indication of the distance you’ve traveled and have left to travel? That way people could keep track of your progress (nobody would be the wiser), but any pirates who went out to find you would be wasting their time. Seems the best of both worlds.

  • Roz – I went to sponsor a mile or two using the ‘Donate’ button, but couldn’t see how to sponsor specific ‘mile marker’ ones. Is there a way of doing this that I’ve missed, or a list somewhere? (Sorry, I’ve been AWOL for a while, so might have overlooked a post where you say how to do this.)

    Very, very good idea to keep your location secret. (Even though, for me, that was part of the fun of following along.) So please don’t even THINK of breathing a word.

    Love the new colour scheme – Sedna looks wonderful (and very stealthy!) Shame all pirates aren’t as fun/good-looking/magnificent as Johnny Depp …

  • //Really sad to consider the pirate situation getting worse. Your’re being strong to avoid “magical” thinking about pirates. KUDOS // New subject : as to the kayak photo of you in above posting, it’s usual to keep your hands no higher than your shoulder while paddling.

  • Helpful Suggestions:
    1) Paint Sedna purple so as to blend in with the background (backwater?)- Done.
    2) Turn off SeeMe (except when asleep).
    3) Report deceptively inaccurate daily locations.
    4) Replace red duster with skull & crossbones, tie stuffed parrot to grab-bar and wear eye-patch (See! I’m a pirate just like you!)
    5) And, as a last resort, pretend you were looking for them for donations.

  • Good call Roz. Being safe has to be your priority – and I think you’re doing a great job of balancing publicity and safety for this trip. Getiing ready to dash over and sponser a mile or two.

  • Roz, thanks for sharing what you can about your next leg–safety first!!…will miss the mapping feature, but your words will remain a prime focus…

    Your “new” boat looks great…for some reason finally locked onto your boat’s name, “Sedna”…spent some time searching for your decision to so name along with your former name of “Brocade”…was already aware of Sedna’s place in Inuit stories and spirituality from my own studies of the Arctic peoples…finally found your comments on this site where you briefly describe the name’s background…also found another interesting article in my search this evening that further enhances and speaks most appropriately to your partner, Sedna, as a healing force on the oceans and in our world..here is the website for folks to read if they choose..http://www.rainewalker.com/sedna.htm

    Smooth sailing as your are no doubt intensifying your prep for departure.

  • I agree, Sedna looks beautiful, Roz. It will be strange not being able to track you, however I understand the need for safety – have to keep Mum happy too (as long as Rita knows where you are, that’s all that counts!)
    Happy belated birhtday to June.
    Hugs,
    Pippa

  • John Kay’s comments 4 and 5 remind me of the saying, “if you can’t fight ’em, join ’em.”

    In fact, I think Roz may already be an ally, fighting to build awareness of the environmental issues of the oceans which are the root causes why the pirates are pirates.

    I would not encourage Roz rushing up and giving them a big hug, but believe acknowledging Somalia’s plight would be “natural” — being aligned with your causes. It seems to me that the yacht Quest represented the “enemy” whereas Roz and Sedna represent a “friend” with common objectives of encouraging sustainability and stemming pollution in the world’s oceans.

    Wikipedia summarizes: “… illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters by foreign vessels that have, according to Somali fishermen, severely constrained the ability of locals to earn a living and forced many to turn to piracy instead.” See http://bit.ly/WikiPiracy … and, coincidentally, footnotes [4] and [5] .

    In http://bit.ly/AmysInterview with Mohamed Abshir Waldo, a Kenyan consultant, analyst and author, Mr. Waldo says “When the marine resources of Somalia was pillaged, when the waters were poisoned, when the fish was stolen, and in a poverty situation in the whole country, the fishermen felt that they had no other possibilities or other recourse but to fight ….”

    As you made the issues in Kiribati and Malaysia your own and supported their struggles, please find a way to make Somalia’s issues a central part of this mission.

    Row diplomatically, Roz
    UncaDoug

  • As always, ALOHA FROM OREGON… have been sending you
    lots of love and energy… MAHALO for keeping in touch as much
    as you can… will be with you in spirit and heart… CT

  • This is stupid… (that is being kind)

    So in a logical sense I will explain myself.

    First point:
    Sedna stealth qualities are gone.
    While Sedna was painted Silver she retained her basic stealth qualities. But not anymore She is now a bright purple against the blue, aqua, and silverish sea.
    Which might was well be a “pepto bismol” pink. So now your sticking out like a sore thumb.

    Second point:
    You will probably be found because they are looking for people to pirate.
    Container Ships are HUGH, like the 3 widths the Sears Tower in Chicago and you can pretty much see where ever they are.
    They found and caught a 50 foot SAILBOAT. Meaning they were looking for something to catch.

    So what does this mean really. Sailboats because of there make up have a VERY small radar signature if any at all. And granted, they are much smaller when you put them against a container ship. So they are supremely hard to find on radar and in some cases hard to see. And your speed on the Ocean is about the pace of a bobbing cork. (sorry)

    Third Point:
    If you caught your done… End of story.
    The reason why pirates are doing this is to obtain money from the people and contents that they capture. It is quite simply a BUSINESS, a ruthless nasty BUSINESS.
    Since you quite litterly have no funds they will most likely, downsize you.

    To a point I understand what you do, but not this time.
    I apologize to the folks that support Roz but I will call a spade a spade.

    This is really, really DUMB.

    Please note, I could have simply sent this to Roz, but I felt it was important enough to post.

    I am sure I am totally out of place for saying this but darn it… It needs to be said.

    Ok, I am shutting up now.

    Sorry Roz.

    • I complety agree with David. And you know what – when you have no money for randsom they starve you!! Those who love you will have to raise some quite significant amount for you to be returned – the majority of hostages are from third world countries but they are still considered worth holding, some for up to a year. Of course all the pirates look like depp and are not drugged and drunk – they will behave like gentlemen and look after you………NOT.

  • Two comments, and one suggestion. Comment #1: People don’t like uncertainty. They’d much rather believe any-old-thing, rather than not have something to believe in, or wrestle with not-knowing. Comment #2: Life is increasingly becoming like a video game for most people, with a need for graphics and charts and maps, even if they don’t tell us very much. Proof of this can be found in any nightly television weather report, which tells us nothing, but dazzles us with graphics and charts. My suggestion: Why don’t you combine these two premises, and “invent” a journey for your readers/viewers, complete with charts and graphics. For example, according to Google, the journey from Honolulu to New York is close to 5000 miles. Why don’t you just plot that out on a pretty map, and then we can follow along as you simulate going from Honolulu to New York? In reality, you then can go wherever you want to go with Sedna, while you’ve got us distracted with the Honolulu to New York routing. And of course, you could pick any other 5000 miles stretch that appeals to you. I’m only using the Honolulu – New York routing as an example, and because it lets you end up where the 2012 journey is supposed to begin. And as I’m sure you realize, “part of me” is just being silly with this suggestion, but then again …. why not do a simulated journey?

  • Truely I am afraid for you with the trash out there on the water.
    I wish I could hire a couple of mercenaries to shadow you to protect you. It is a terrible part of the world you are passing through.
    I will wish you the best.

  • Unfortunately, this year has already seen a steep rise in the incidence of torture and, in lesser cases, beating, rape, and severe physical abuse of seafarers taken hostage by Indian Ocean pirates. British, American and other Europeans are good targets so are not always released at the same time as other members of crews. More and more hostages are being shot for no discernible purpose. Most get taken to Somalia. The pirate attacks are over a wide area now, as the many commercial vessels they have hijacked are now operating as ‘motherships’ for the dhows and high-speed skiffs. The risk of an encounter is incredibly high. The situation has changed completely since Sarah Outen did the row – the attacks are spread all over the north Indian, right down to Madagascar, and as much off the Indian as Somali coast.

  • If your not showing you position by AIS and as I know radar will find it very difficuly to pick you up what will you do to avoid being run over by a VLCC or container ship or any other type of merchant traffic out there. Some ships have a very limited visibility range due to their size, both big and small. Radars often find it hard to pick up fishing boats bigger then you until about a mile or 2 even in slightest of conditions. this is not enough time for them to alter to avoid hitting you never mind getting the wake away from you and prevent damaging your boat or injuring you. I’m sure you are being careful not to end up infront of any ships but there is always a huge danger that you could end up infront of one. AIS is very usful and will alert an OOW to your pressance way before he could see you.

  • Wish you the very best and safe trip. Hope that you never see a pirate. This may be the most dangerous adventure that you have taken on. May the currents and winds be in your favor.

  • well goodness i was wondering! indian ocean a mess! by the way every time i look at your nice boat i think about all the plastic i am using to build mine. especially making bulkheads; vacuum bagging? you heard of it? anyway, i am wondering if there might be a way around vacuum bagging. it draws the resin(epoxy) into the holes of the foam and makes a strong bind that is necessary for a bulkhead. some use bagging all over the whole surface. !! maybe larger holes in foam? or something? i’m not an engineer but i’ll look around.

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