Carry Firearms aboard cruising vessels

There have been several well publicized incidents of piracy towards
yachtsman recently, especially in the Arabian sea, and this has prompted quite
alot of discussion in the microcruising forum as to whether it is appropriate
to carry firearms aboard our tiny boats. In response I wrote about our
experiences while cruising in "Little Cruiser" when we were in a troubled area
of Andros.

Again, like in some earlier posts, I was thinking "what the heck does this have
to do with micro-cruising;" but then I thought back to our 2003 trip to the
Bahamas in "Little Cruiser" when we circumnavigated Andros Island. For some
reason I believed it would be exciting to circle this island because I had never
heard of any other cruisers doing it. Looking at my charts and reading guide
books did not show any particularly difficult body of water to cross; but closer
investigation did reveal some challenges when tackling the West coast. For
one, the West coast of Andros is very shallow almost everywhere, with large
areas of shoals extending quite a ways offshore. The place is pretty deserted
and there are no towns to re-provision along the entire 150 miles of coastline
except at Red Bays at the North end. More disturbing, however, is the fact that
visiting yachtsman are warned not to venture in this area because it is a known
jumping off point for drug smugglers leaving for U.S. waters. However, at the
time I convinced myself that since we were in a tiny boat we would draw little
attention from the "baddies" and our 9" draft would carry us safely across
almost any shoals.

Our plan was to start the circumnavigation from Morgan's Bluff in the North and
to travel down the East coast. Along the way we would ask the locals what they
knew first hand about traveling on the "forbidden" side. As it turned out, quite
a few people told us that the "activity" on the West coast had quieted down
significantly since 9-11 when the U.S. had stepped up it's efforts to prevent
people from entering Florida illegally. Therefore, once we got to the
Southern cape, we headed right for the West coast. Pretty much as soon as we got there,
though, things seemed very different then anywhere else in the Bahamas. There
was very little boat traffic as one would expect, and the few people we did see
were not seem happy to see us there. We did not receive the customary
waves or the friendly smiles we were used to seeing.

Our first real test came near the entrance to South Bight when a fast moving 25
foot skiff with a 55 gallon drum strapped to the center console came screaming
up towards us from behind for a closer inspection. The three men on board began
shouted at us and motioned us to come closer, but it didn't feel right so I
drove "Little Cruiser" towards the shoreline where I knew there was only a foot
of water. They definitely weren't acting friendly, and I was pretty sure that
they didn't want to come off plane and get their deep "v" hull craft stuck in
the mud. Luckily they just shadowed us for a short while offshore before
continuing northward at high speed.

In hindsight, I'm sure they would have tried to rob us had we stopped because a
little over a week later a cruiser we knew told us that 3 men in an identical boat had tried to
rob him in South Bight. They lured him to stop his 25 foot motor sailer by
saying that they needed gas, and then they boarded his boat and made demands
after he gave them fuel. When things got ugly, he ran down below and grabbed his
machete, waiting inside the companionway for them to enter. When the first guy
stuck his head through the hatch this old veteran sailor was ready to
decapitate him. The would-be intruder and his buddies then thought better of it,
and got off the boat and left. The terrified cruiser next pulled anchor, started
his engine and blew out of the bight before nightfall, heading back to the
safety of civilization as fast as his boat could carry him. I have to say at
this point that there have been very few known cases of piracy in the Bahamas
in recent times, and that the men we and the other solo sailor encountered were
probably just looking for an easy mark during lean times. Had this occurred off
Somalia or some other hostile place we most certainly would have been robbed,
ransomed or killed.

Now getting back to our trip up the West coast of Andros, I admit I was
concerned for our safety the whole time we were there. I figured that if we
happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, we probably would not make
it home. One night while we were anchored peacefully in a large creek, we were
startled by the loud rumble of several large and powerful outboard engines being
called into action upstream of us. We wasted no time pulling anchor and getting
out of the way, fearful that a collision with a fast boat on a midnight delivery would
be disasterous. Another time we unintentionally anchored near a fuel cache, and bright
and early the next morning a stern Bahamian was there to encourage us to move along.

Now I guess the real question is whether we would have felt or been safer if we
had carried a gun aboard our micro-cruiser. At one point I would have said yes
since I was really frightened that we would run into some real trouble sooner than
later. However, then I started thinking what the local authorities or even the
assailant's friends or family might have done to us had we injured or killed them
in their own country even if it was in self defense. I don't think we would
relish being in a foreign jail or being the target of an angry mob. In the end, I
guess we just had to have faith that our tiny boat would not generate too much
attention from the people who didn't want us to be there in the first place, and
we ultimately used our sharpie's shallow draft to stay out of harm's way as much
as possible. In conclusion, I guess the smartest thing to do is not to travel in
areas where you know that there is trouble brewing and to be alert enough to
move quickly away when it does arise.