September 22, 2011

The Last of the Circumnavigators?

Pirate activity 2011
There is one conversation that has been coming up again and again lately with cruising sailors—pirates. And how the heck are we going to get home...

If you’ve missed the news, piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden (GoA) has increased dramatically this year (attacks are up some 90% from 2010 to 2011). As the pirates have hijacked larger vessels they have been able to range further a field with these mother ships. And they now operate in a region consisting of 2.6 million square miles of sea—an area that includes much of the Northern Indian Ocean.

It used to be cruising yachts joined convoys to get through the GoA—thinking there was safety in numbers. But sailors who used to run these convoys say that as commercial vessels have added sophisticated security systems, including armed guards, their capture rate has decreased dramatically—making slow moving, undefended yachts a more attractive option (the current estimated capture rate of yachts is 1 in 20). And with large mother ships near by—the possibility of attacking several boats in a convoy at once is now a real risk.
the expanding range of pirates
 For the past couple of years the safer alternative has been rounding the Cape of Good Hope. But considering the increasing range of pirate mother ships which have attacked vessels as far south as Mauritius and Madagascar, the only remaining safe route is far offshore, avoiding the Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar—islands that break up the long journey and let small boats choose safe weather windows. The problem is this offshore route is notoriously stormy—not to mention a huge detour of several thousand miles when you’re trying for the Med.

So the options are narrowing for those who are circumnavigating (or simply trying to get home to Europe as many French families are). We can ship our boats for USD 30,000+, or remain in the South Pacific or SE Asia indefinitely in the hopes the situation will eventually resolve.

But for now it seems the pirates have won—and 115 years after Joshua Slocum first set off on a solo-circumnavigation (inspiring so many of us) it seems that the era of sailing around the world, just for the heck of it, is coming to a close.


RLW said...

Since you brought up Joshua Slocum it would be good to remember that he did not circumnavigate using canals. His voyages can be seen on this map (

So the good news is that we can all still circumnavigate just like Joshua did...

Diane, Evan and Maia said...

I think if you overlay his route with the expanded area the pirates are operating in you'd still need to dip lower than his route. And honestly most cruising sailors are no where near the seaman he was--the dude was hardcore--he even skipped Fiji: “Finding a rough sea, I swung her off free and sailed north of Fiji instead of south, as I had intended, and coasted down the west side of the archipelago. Thence I sailed direct for New South Wales, passing south of New Caledonia, and arrived at Newcastle after a passage of forty-two days, mostly of storms and gales.”

Elizabeth said...

I have been lurking on your site for a few weeks now and have enjoyed your blog so much. I have also been reading Laura Dekkers's blog and she is headed into the Indian Ocean. I have no idea what her route is as she is keeping it secret, but after reading this post it concerns me so much more for her safety. Praying for all the sailors out there and for a safer world to sail in. So sad that not even our oceans are a safe place to be. Blessings to you and your family !! Elizabeth

Diane, Evan and Maia said...

Thanks Elizabeth--the strategy for crossing is to keep your electronics off (including nav lights) and keep your route secret. Boats will keep doing it and many will stay safe--but at this point we can't see making that choice for Maia.