Most people have heard about piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia but few have heard of Piracy in the Caribbean … and no, I’m not talking about the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow and his desire to attack the English fleet.
Off the coast of Venezuela near Trinidad and Tobago, there has been an increase in illegal approaches and attempted boarding’s of yachts. Apparently these people just want to steal your possessions either to aid other illegal activities or to make money from sell the goods. Most of these boats come from of Venezuela, where there has been some serious economic and political unrest. For this reason, it was recommended that everyone making passages towards the Caribbean take extra precaution around the waters of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, which is exactly what we did.
The passage continued to be as bumpy and rocky as ever with the non-stop waves hitting the side of Catching Up. At this point, we had been at sea for about 12 days so it was getting slightly irritating being unable to walk in a straight line without bruising your hip against a counter. We were finally entering the “danger zone” as I like to call it. We sat down and decided that there was no point in going to Tobago or Trinidad and opted to enter at the top end of Grenada at its northerly island called Carriacou. Our new track pushed us North Westerly way above the original reported areas of pirates but it still meant we were about 100 miles off Trinidad and Tobago.
The passage up through the danger zone was very stressful. You are constantly on alert for any potential sign of a small boat and you judge every vessel as a potential threat. The issue is that the area is also heavily populated with fishermen in fishing boats similar to the ones the pirates would use. We had a few nervous calls with T-Top style fishing boats that would pass behind us, but it was usually fishermen on their way to find their next catch. We managed to pass through the danger zone with little drama and moved closer to our destination.
The morning of the 2nd of February, Catching Up was closing in on her destination of Cariacou, Grenada. I was on the helm doing my shift when Dantelle came outside saying there is a boat close behind us. Sure enough, a speedboat on was closing in our stern and started gaining speed. Dad sent off his message to his shore support saying we have a boat approaching and to wait for the all clear. The boat seemed to have two guys on-board and was large enough to have a bait tank and a long line winch. The boat came close up on our left side (port side) and one of the guys shouted if we had any cigarettes. We said no and they carried on off into the distance. The whole situation seemed dodgy, we felt uneasy but we downplayed it and carried on with our day. The sun began to set and the glow from Grenada and Cariacou was on the horizon. A large survey vessel towing a 7km cable passed by which took our minds off of the earlier events that day. We settled back to enjoy another evening excited to be getting closer to our destination.
We decided to time our arrival into Carriacou on the 3rd at first light, which meant we would need to slow down to about 4 knots for the evening sail. The main was dropped and we put out our headsail all ready for the evening. Midnight UTC arrived and I came on shift, I was told by Mum and Dantelle that they saw the glow of an island in the distance and only a few boats off in the distance. I decided to try making use of the time on watch by doing a few exercises to keep myself awake. Hopping back up on the helm at about 2am UTC I saw this red and white glow in the distance. I woke up Dantelle to have a look at it but it was still at a distance on the horizon so she saw no issue. I continued watching this light for a while and saw no change on its bearing to us. I became uneasy and decided to go wake up Dad. He came up and we took a few more bearings using our compass and radar. The data indicated it had changed course heading towards us and that their speed was increasing. We decided to take our first step and put the boat hard to starboard to show the light that we would be passing port to port. My mom and Werner had heard the commotion and were up on the deck too. Their boat was still getting closer and changed its course to yet again to line up with us. Now we could see red and green lights. We decided to try something else and put the boat over hard to port (left) to cross starboard to starboard but yet again the boat decided to turn right trying to cut us off. By now their boat was probably about 300 metres away. We decided to furl our headsail and put on our left engine. At this point, they put on red and blue flashing police lights. Having done enough research about how law enforcement would approach a boat I told dad to get the hell out of there. He put the engine to full RPM and got us up to 6 knots with their boat now right behind us matching our speed and was still flashing its lights behind us. We decided to turn our second engine on and push that one to maximum RPM.
Catching Up has gone through a bunch of tests and trials. We’ve pushed her hard and sailed her hard too. I have never been more happy in our Knysna 500SE than at this point. Our engines performed as they should and pumped out a whopping 11knots as we were going as fast as we could trying to get away from them, but they were giving chase. Slowly but surely, Catching Up pulled away from them increasing the gap between both vessels. No boat is meant to go dark, though for safety sake we decided to shut down every visible light inside all the cabins, decks and even on the mast. We were making a series of turns to change course and confuse whoever was chasing us. It was the longest 5hours of being chased by this unknown boat. Not once did they follow any of the normal procedures to indicate that it was a legitimate vessel. At no stage was any attempt made to communicate with Catching Up, there was nothing on the radio, no fog horn signals, loud hailer nor was their vessel showing their correct lights. Given our proximity to Grenada we never expected to have anything like this happen to us as we were already very far north from the possible danger area.
We are fortunate and grateful that that we managed to escape from whatever or whoever decided to attempt to approach and probably board our vessel. On arriving in Grenada, we reported the event to Customs officials and as well as to the Caribbean Safety and Security Net who has published a report on this matter.
After dropping anchor in Carriacou, we finally relaxed with a delicious cocktail in hand.