Dumb as a Brick?
- getting to the Med at any cost.

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(This story has also been posted in the Blog section, on March 1, 2011)

Image source www.nytimes.com

- Why did they have to go cruising in that area, when everybody knows it is dangerous?

- They are wasting taxpayers’ money!"

- You must be dumb as a brick if you are sailing there!"

We aboard Scorpio were on our way between SE Asia and the Mediterranean via the Red Sea. However, at the end of January 2011, when we reached the Maldives, 1600 nm out of Thailand, we decided to abort the plan because of the escalation of pirate activity in the Arabian Sea.

We didn't think it was prudent to continue under the circumstances - the unrest that is spreading in the Arab nations in the region helped making the decision. We will return to Thailand to finish some boat projects and make a new try next year - either through the Red Sea if conditions improve, or, around the Cape of Good Hope, if necessary.

After we made our decision, two yachts have been captured by pirates, and four cruisers have been killed, while 7 more have been taken hostage. Three of them are children.

I have been reading readers' comments to the tragedies on the web, and some of the comments are quite disturbing.

OK, at first thought it may appear strange, when someone deliberately takes the obvious risk to be captured by pirates. However, most of the 150 yachts (my estimate) that are heading towards the Red Sea during the month of February are not there at a whim. They are not simply "cruising" there either because they are overjoyed by it. Most of us Europeans out here are simply on our way HOME after a long journey which in our case has lasted for more than a decade.

Our final destination is in the Mediterranean, where we planned to sell the yacht and buy a house instead. By postponing our return home ad infinitum, we are in reality making new plans for the rest of our lives.

If I was an American or Canadian heading back home, I would, in light of the changed situation definitely take the South African way; it wouldn't make the trip dramatically longer. The same logic applies to Scandinavian yachts. Once you’ve cleared the Cape of Good Hope, the route north in the South Atlantic and then via the Caribbean back to Northern Europe should have favourable winds and currents all the way.

But the point is; if your destination is in the Eastern Mediterranean, the route through the Red Sea (from the Maldives) is maybe 3,000 nm compared to roughly 15,000 nm going around Africa. The route between Mauritius and the coast of South Africa is also one of the more dangerous during a whole circumnavigation and, in addition, there will be a lot of wear on your sails and other equipment during 12,000 nm of "extra" sailing.

So, I don't think comments like "dumb as a brick" are justified. What would people on land say if they call 911 when they are robbed on their home street, and get the advice to move to a safer neighbourhood, "why did you get there in the first place?" Or, "don't call us, get yourself a body guard"! And, if your only way home one night would be using the underground in NYC, would you be dumb as a brick for doing it?

Having said all this, I must admit that I'm surprised that so many yachts decided to take the risk, some even took the rhumb (strait) line, which many regard as the most dangerous. We considered the risk to be captured by pirates as microscopic, but the consequences, if the shit would hit the fan, so dire, that it was impossible for us to continue.

The last thing I wished for was for these seizures of yachts, the American and the Danish, to happen, so I could say: we made the right decision. But the fact remains, we did!

This absurd situation, with Somali pirates winning the war against the naval forces of the rest of the planet, can only get worse until the politicians and governments of the free world have the courage to stop it.

But dumb as a brick? Hardly. These unlucky cruisers took a calculated risk, which they thought they could live with, a decision they will regret for the rest of their lives. Some of them have paid with their lives already.

Unfortunately, the cruisers of one of the yachts also made the decision on behalf of their children, putting their lives at stake as well. We don't know the pros and cons they took into consideration (lack of money or time etc), but sailing on this route with children at this time is in my opinion irresponsible and unacceptable.

We know of people on other yachts with children, who decided to take the risk, but they put the children (and the mothers) on an airplane instead, while the men are sailing the yachts across the troubled waters. We also know of other yachts, who went with their children and were just fine; they may not share my opinion.

It is very easy to judge people in your secure armchair on the other side of the world, but I don't believe anybody, who hasn't gone through the mental process of making the decision in the subject matter, will be able to fully understand what it is about.

I’m not defending the decision to sail to the Mediterranean at any cost, on the contrary, but I’m disgusted that this farce is allowed to go on and it appears to be getting out of hand completely.

NYT: Pirates Brutally End Yachting Dream
BBC: Somali pirates seize Danish children in Indian Ocean

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