Trip Reports

Gun Control (13-Feb-2002-22-00):
1O:00 PM local time, Wednesday, February 13 (1800 Feb 13 UTC) 16 56 N 054 00 E. Temp. 79, Humidity 61%, Cloud Cover 20%. Rafted up to Stitches Explorer, at a dock in Raysut, the port of Salalah, Oman.

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We arrived in Oman yesterday. After the rough stuff on the way things mellowed out and the last two days we had a beam reach in comfortable seas and sunshine. On the way, we passed the 58th meridian, meaning we have sailed one half of the way around the world, in longitude, from San Francisco and now are on our way home, although we've been saying that since the first day. To get here we have sailed 16326 nautical miles or 5442 nautical leagues. (There are statute leagues, just as there are statute miles.) Of the 335 days since we left, we've spent 135 underway, at sea, about four out of ten days. Some short day sails can be added to this total.

The harbor here is crowded with about twenty-five yachts, which is causing some stress for the local harbor master. It's a commercial and military port and the cruisers are really just in the way. The Omanis, nevertheless, have been friendly. We have to check in and out of a security gate and guardhouse, and get day passes to go to the nearby city of Salalah. Some Americans were told by the officers that issue the passes to "tell your American friends we are not a bunch of crazy Arabs and we wish them no harm. Muslims are peaceful people." Our driver, Saheed, explained that Islam teaches one to help, not to kill. And it just occurred to me yesterday that in all our travels, the only people who have not been the least bit shy about expressing hostile criticism of the US are Europeans. Muslims have been very sweet.

Yesterday there was a model boat regatta in the harbor. The rules were that the hulls were to be constructed out of no more than six beer cans. I questioned the organizers about other technical design rules, not wishing to risk disqualification, but that was it. We immediately repaired to a semi-distant bar that, in this Muslim country, is one of the few places that serves alcohol, and consumed the necessary quantity of beer to meet our construction requirements, making sure to order the larger cans of Foster's to maximize our waterline. Ship's Naval Architect Terry Shrode and the Captain produced a trimaran with four beer cans for a hull and one beer can each side for amas attached to with tongue depressors. We understood that, since the race was to be downwind, the main design issues for a successful campaign were sail area, initial stability, and directional stability. We used tongue depressors from the epoxy kit, taped together with duct tape, for a two-masted rig, each mast mounted with duct tape on the outboard side of the amas, and spinnaker cloth from the sail repair kit for a sail which flew between the two masts. On the aft end of the hull we taped two fin keels cut from a plastic paper plate and attached with duct tape. Standing rigging consisted of marline backstays and a marline forestay attached to a bowsprit made of yet another tongue depressor. We partially filled the aft beer can with a clever water ballast system, as we found in sea trials that our prodigious sail area tended to make the vessel pitch-pole. This problem solved, we dominated the first two races, and were ahead in the third when a very angry port captain demanded we quit, as we were creating a hazard to navigation in his harbor. We claimed our prize, Mr. Shrode exalting. The Captain was a little more reserved than his companion, given the realization that none of our competitors had passed their tenth birthday. But hey, we won fair and square. If their parents didn't like it, they should get a life.

Some organizing is going on of convoys to run the Yemeni and Somali coast where cruisers have been attacked by pirates. The threat here is a bit more serious than in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca. People who have given it the most thought feel the best idea is for perhaps five boats of similar speed to stay quite close together and if one is approached, the others will converge, but probably not do anything confrontational, and stand by to help after the fact. The fact that these people have given it a lot of thought means nothing, I'm afraid. There's really not much you can do, and by approaching you may increase your chances of being the next victim. As you may imagine, there are lots of thoughts and opinions on the subject, as everyone's dream is at stake. Ship's Chief of Intelligence Terry Shrode and the Captain are weighing their defensive options, but there is some prudence in the convoy and it is likely we will participate, if we can get our engine fixed in time to match up with a group.

This brings up a subject about which many have asked the Captain, which is whether we carry guns. I will give you the general thinking on this about which the vast majority of world cruisers, who are in general not sissies, agree, and this is based on a survey of the events that have occurred and not someone's fantasy. Very few acts of piracy against yachts have involved loss of life, or even injury. Boats have been shot up, people have been frightened, a debilitating amount of gear has been stolen. The perpetrators, at least the ones who attack yachts, are armed, but they are opportunistic, and mainly fishermen. (The real pros go after bigger targets.) They have no reason to kill you; they just want your stuff. It is quite unlikely that, in the event you don't bring out a gun, you will be seriously physically harmed; at the same time, it is quite unlikely that, if you do bring out a gun, you won't. They will almost certainly have deadlier arms aboard than you, and more of them. In the recent well-publicized piracy killing of Sir Peter Blake, my understanding is that there were 13 crew aboard the boat, and Peter Blake, the only one to attempt to defend himself with a gun, was the only casualty.

There is another problem, which is the consequences of being involved as an American in an act of violence against a citizen of Yemen or Somalia, and having the burden of proving in court in one of those countries that you were acting in self defense. Even in the case where you may successfully defend yourself in a gun battle, the court battle may land you in a very unpleasant prison.

So leaving out any moral issues, the calculation is, are all the Captain's future movie dates with Theresa and chats with his friends and hikes on Mount Tam worth less to him than some money, his binoculars, GPS, VHF radio, SSB, and computer? So we don't carry a gun.

Next report from this location: Intense Preparations

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