PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
On December 21 we woke up early. We had spent the night in West End, Roatan Island and had to return to Coxen Hole where Claudia, a friend visiting us, was expecting to flew back to Italy.
Once Claudia left, we completed the formalities to leave the country, made some provisioning and by 15h we were ready to set sail for Old Providence, our intermediate step towards Panama.
The forecast predicted light winds (around 10 knots) from east south / east for the next 3 days and for which the approximately 400 miles that separated us from our destination, appear to bed very slow: upwind and without large sail at the bow due to a problem with the job furler.
For the past two weeks in fact, a problem with the drum of the furler prevented us from using our big genoa and we only had our storm jib, a handkerchief of just 14 square meters.
Starting from Guatemala, the route to Panama presents some difficulties. The first 300 miles, along the costs of Honduras, are almost certainly to be done against the wind because of the trade wind that blows constantly from the east in its north or south components.
Moreover, the trade wind blows on average between 18 and 25 knots (real), that with the speed of our boat turn quickly in 25/35 knots of apparent! Not exactly a comfortable stretch.
Many prefer to avoid this route, sailing up to the Cayman Islands before falling back with a more favorable angle. All but lengthening the path of more than 400 miles (70%)!
But there are other reasons to avoid the direct route along the coast of Honduras. In fact left the Honduras costs you are sailing near the coast of Nicaragua, a country certainly not among the safest.
At our departure from Rio Dulce we were advised to go well off the coast of Nicaragua, because the fishermen of the area do not seem to have completely "given up" to the ancient pirate activities.
But the idea to stretch again to over 100 miles on our journey with the expecting wind conditions and without Genoa led me to underestimate the suggestion.
So I decided on a course of 90 ° with the idea to keep some thirty miles from the coast to the border between Honduras and Nicaragua and then break down to about 50 degrees and, through the Edinburg Channel ", take off again towards Old Providence.
As a precaution, we have decided to hold off the navigation lights at night and to maintain close surveillance radar six miles for all 24 hours.
For the first two days everything went fine, except that the fuel made in Guatemala before our departure proved to be contaminated and as the level of the same fell in the tanks, we began to experience power problems.
Dirty filters, feed pipes clogged and finally, engines off! I had to clean the entire fuel system and considered that Angelique II has four tanks positioned at bow and stern of each hull, you can imagine the amount of work.
Furthermore, most of the contaminated fuel was no longer usable, for which we put in some spare jerry cans with the intention of downloading in Old Providence.
So we were with little fuel, light wind and little "canvas" !!
Day 24 around 11 am we had just passed the Edimburg Channel and our position was 14 ° 11.947'N; 082 ° 16.289W.
Sunshine, wind from 125° at around 15 knots and us on a course of 163°, starboard tack.
From some time we had a boat on the radar, quite firm on its position, about 6 miles NE ahead of us. In the days before we had encountered some of them and no one had ever shown any hostile and even suspicious attitude.
Truly at 07:34h of the same day, I recorded on my logbook: "We passed the area of shallow water on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. The suggestions of those with whom we discussed the route to keep after Roatan, they said to keep on a route of 90 ° to 200 miles from the island due to the presence of fishermen / Pirates / traffickers. We have only met fishing boats engaged in their honest work. "
But arrived at about 3 miles away, the fishing boat began to move for a colliding route.
We noticed the fact, but we did not worried that much.
In the following minutes their course became increasingly colliding with our own. At that point an uneasy feeling grew in all the crew. It was not yet fear, just our sixth sense warning that something was wrong.
I thought the best move to make was to immediately change course route, tacking. A change of course that could also mean for those looking at us, the choice of a not colliding course, perhaps to facilitate navigation to those engaged in fishing operations and at the same time would force our fishermen friends to reveal their intentions. If they would continued on their course, there would be nothing to fear. If it were us the object of their interest, they would be forced to change course, stating clearly their hostile intentions.
At that point we began to observe them with our binoculars. It was a 60/70 foot boat in poor condition, with no fishing equipment, which instead we had noticed in all vessels sighted in the previous days.
It the meantime the distance between the 2 vessel decreased to about two miles.
Few minutes later our tack even the fishing boat was changing course of about 180 °, putting his bow to our stern.
We were sailing on port tack at an angle of about 35 degrees to the wind and, considering the little sail on the bow, we developed only 5 or 6 knots.
The boat, at this point openly pirate, would have reached us shortly.
I quickly realized that the only possible way out of such situation was developing speed.
I decided to tack again. Starboard tack then, but this time taking Angelique II to 90 ° angle to the wind. With this maneuver, I managed to cross the "ship" pirate course, now less than 200 meters from our stern, remaining ahead.
The entire crew was in the bow, around the quarterdeck and I think I also saw the hooks on shore, ready to be launched.
The starboard engine us pushing us but the port side engine was struggling as a result of the known contaminated fuel. However we were doinge 8 knots and the pirate ship seemed to not gain any further on our stern.
Completed the maneuver, I had to focus on speed.
I yelled at Ray "gennaker out", and in less than 30 seconds, the gennaker was ashore.
At that point, the log begun to score 9, 10, 11, 12, 14 knots. The pirate ship started to become smaller and smaller. The gloomy figures on the quarterdeck less distinguishable.
I started hearing noises, which became more and more distinguishable as the pirate ship pulled away. They were the voices of Vale and Ray.
After just a few minutes the pirates decided to "give up", changing route again. We decided to stay on a full speed course until we had put at least 10 miles of water between us and them.
I felt a deep sense of despair. It was not just the fear of the experience just lived, but also the feeling of having lost something.
Perhaps a romantic idea of the sea, where the dangers come from the nature and not from human being.
But the over the hours I realized that "romance" is not involved. Sea stories are full of pirates, which in many sense are also very "romantic" figures.
The real problem is that I have always experienced these stories in a narrative or fiction dimension.
This time, instead, it was a life experience, a lifetime experience!