If I had $1 for every time I’ve been asked “So, do you carry guns?”, let’s just say I wouldn’t need to work when we arrive on Australian shores. Seriously, I’ve been asked this question a lot over the past years. And never, ever did the relevance sink in until recently.
Since leaving Seattle Delos has witnessed nothing but safe and hospitable locals. In Mexico we enjoyed the warm friendly smiles of the coastal towns and villages, never mind the drug related beheadings that plague the border towns. When we left the boat sometimes we’d close and lock the companionway door. We lifted our dinghy out of the water at night to ward off would be engine thieves. And we slept soundly.
In French Polynesia we felt so safe that we never locked Delos. We never even bothered to close the door. The deck was often littered with drying dive gear and the cockpit full of our I-pods. Computers were left out and when we got a little lazy we wouldn’t lift up the dinghy. We’d just tie on a second line to prevent it from “floating away.” We slept soundly.
It was the same in the Cook Islands, Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, and Vanuatu. Although in New Zealand you had to keep your beer close or some thirsty Kiwi might “accidently” think it was theirs and guzzle it down. We slept soundly.
And then we get to the Solomon Islands. We heard the stories from other cruisers about the rough characters here. About ethnic tension between neighboring islands, namely Guadalcanal and Maliata. After all there were a few slight problems (ok huge problems) in the country in 2000 where rival militias battled it out with stolen guns and full-on ethnic cleansing occurred. The government was overthrown and this had a serious impact on tourists coming to the island nation. They basically stopped coming altogether. The economy was destroyed and their currency was devalued. In fact someone told me yesterday that the Solomon’s only received about 3,500 tourists last year! The Solomon’s are the second largest island nation in the Pacific. Only Papua New Guinea is larger. That’s 27,556 square km of land, 5,313 km of coastline, and 922 islands that get in total 3,500 visitors a year. I think there are hotels in Vegas that hold more people than that.
The stories only served to excite us more. Sounded like our kind of non-touristy place. Plus, the diving is out of this world since some of the largest naval battles of WWII were fought right here. You have Guadalcanal, The Slot, Iron Bottom Sound, and even the island where JFK swam to after his PT-109 was sunk. Yep, there is a PT-109 bar and we plan to go there. Ever read “The South Pacific” by James Michener or the seen the musical it inspired ? It’s all right here. How can you pass that up?
So we rocked into Honiara and parked right in front of the Point Cruz Yacht Club. That night we heard stories from a boat recently returned from Tulagi Harbor in the Florida Islands (about 25 NM from Honiara). They were the only boat there and it’s a husband and wife team. They recounted a harrowing tale of being woken up in the middle of the night by men on their boat armed with machetes. The men were on deck and not planning to leave anytime soon. Our cruiser couple yelled and screamed out of the hatches and were rewarded with a machete stuck into the open hatch. They were verbally threatened as the men attempted to kick in their companionway door. This went on and on. At some point our cruising couple turned on the deck lights and used their VHF radio loud speaker in siren mode to ward off the men. Unfortunately the speaker was disabled with a machete blow in short order, and the lights only served to show the pirates the loot stored on deck. At some point a few hours later the men got bored andor sobered up and a rather traumatized but physically unharmed couple emerged from their boat to survey the damage. Scary stuff right?
We heard other stories of petty theft in the area too. Right in front of the yacht club with half a dozen other boats around. We were warned to put everything away and to lock the boat up. There was a large ketch anchored next to us, Infinity, that was doing night watches around the clock. So we prepared Delos and made sure all our stealables were stored safely below or in a deck locker. We closed and locked our companionway hatch for the first time in ages and headed to bed.
About 4:30AM I was sleeping peacefully when a noise woke me up. I heard a rustling and jolted out of bed, sticking my head through the hatch above my bunk. I was greeted with the shadows of 4 men. 1 was actually on our boat and 3 more were in a small fiberglass boat pulled alongside. “Get the F**K off my boat mother F**CKER!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. The intruder on Delos reacted by diving head first into the water. SPLASH!!! His buddies had the engine started and were roaring off before he had fully clambered into the dinghy.
I stood there confused and shocked wondering what the hell had just happened. I was even more shocked when instants later I saw a second fiber tear around our bow and head off into the night chasing the other boat. By this time everyone on Delos was up and I was trying to explain what happened. A few minutes later the second fiber returned. It was our buddies from Infinity next door. They had seen something suspicious and came over to investigate. Their Captain, Clemence, pulled a bunch of hoses from the bottom of their fiber and put them on their deck. “I think these regulators are yours.” he said matter of factly. I was blown away when I recognized the colors of our dive gear. Three regulators with dive computers and all, valued just under US$2,000 were laying there on the deck. They then recounted the tale of their chase and ensuing high seas battle with the thieves. Oars were used as weapons and punches were thrown and landed. One of the bad guys got a broken nose. The thieves attempted to lure our friends in but they got the better of them and retrieved our gear. It turns out the thieves had gotten into our stern deck locker and robbed us! Shame on me for locking up the inside of the boat but completely forgetting about the deck lockers. I had to search for and figure out how to lockup since we’ve never, ever needed to lock down the deck until now. I don’t even know if my lock is secure enough. I might have to call up locksmith Scarborough and see if it needs replacing with tighter security or not.
This story has a happy ending, namely nobody was hurt with their heroics and the only thing we lost was Brady’s Oceanic BC. But we could still dive and were glad it wasn’t worse. The next day over beers we briefly considered leaving and heading straight to Australia. Who wants to deal with this? Sit up all night and keep pirate watch? Sounds like crap. But then I thought about how many times my car had been broken into in the US, and how my office had been robbed twice. About all the terrible things you hear on the news that happen every day. I didn’t leave Seattle or the country, but I was more careful where I parked my car. And I installed a security system so that next time my office was robbed I could at least watch it on video. Why let a few bad seeds ruin all our plans?
So we decided to stay and implement the following things, which we’re now referring to as Delos Defensive Procedures (DDP).
1) Lock em up boat! Yes, even the hatches and deck lockers. All the time, no exceptions.
2) Fly your American colors! Unlike most of the world everyone loves American’s here because of WWII. Many a times the roughest looking local burst into a beetle-nut stained smile when he finds out you’re from the US of A.
3) Night Watch. Dread of all dreads now you have to do watch at night, even when your not sailing?!?!?
Now night watch takes some getting used to. Luckily with 4 people on board it’s not such a big deal. And we are prepared with weapons! Not guns, but there is lot’s of cool stuff on a sailboat.
First Line of Defense- 400,000 candle power spotlight. If you see someone lurking in a dugout canoe or a fishing boat with mysterious “engine trouble” light them up! Let them know you’re there, awake, and give them a good bout of night-blindness. In fact, every 15 minutes just randomly shine the light somewhere. Light up everything. Birds, fishermen, random waves, it doesn’t matter. That will keep them on their toes, and hopefully let them know you’re not an easy target.
Second Line of Defense- If the spotlight doesn’t warn them off and they still get closer or have snuck inside your perimeter blow the air horn. Wake everyone up on the boat and prepare for battle.
Third Line of Defense- By now your would be thieves are closing in or possibly have already boarded your boat. They are not easily spooked and mean business. So shoot them with the flare gun, aka the ending of Dead Calm where Billy Zane gets tagged with a flare. For really close combat we also have the fishing gaff, a 6 foot long pole with a huge rusty metal hook. If we can pull in a monster tuna I’m sure we could hook a pirate.
Fourth and Last Resort Weapons- Blast them in the face with the fire extinguisher. Not sure what this would do but I’m betting it would be unpleasant and surprising. Then we have rusty machetes that not only inflict a serious wound but also hopefully a case of Tetanus. And if all else fails we have the Rambo Knife, complete with compass and emergency fishing kit built into the handle. That way if you need to get away in a hurry and go dark after your encounter you can at least find your way and fish.
Since implementing DDP our strategy seems to be working with all suspicious bogies being repelled by the First Line of Defense. So is it worth the trouble to be here? Would we do it all over again? YES and YES! Without a doubt. The cruising and diving is really that good and the people in the outer islands are absolutely amazing.
Take John from Roderick Bay for example. When we went to the Florida Islands (yes I know what you’re thinking but there are like 60 wrecks in one harbor alone) he and his sons were our personal security guards. While anchored in front of his village he insisted on paddling his canoe around our boat all night long, him and his sons taking two hour stints just so we could sleep peacefully. Then he cooked us a huge feast for dinner. Thanks John!
John our self-appointed security guard.
The thing about weapons onboard a sailboat is they are useless unless you are prepared to use them, and if you do use them then there’s another whole set of consequences you have to consider. Like explaining to the local officials (probably from a dirty, dark jail cell) why you lied about having weapons in the first place. So no, we’ll never carry guns onboard. But we will continue to sit around and hatch over the top scenarios about defending our boat from would be pirates and hope that sharpening our machete’s in full daylight on the bow works in our favor.
We’re in the Western Province now, about 220 miles NW of Honiara. We’ve only seen two boats the past month, the diving is out of this world, and the people are as friendly and safe as can be. We’re still locking up Delos at night but we are sleeping peacefully once again!