Honduras, Catarasca Lagoon: Single Handed Cruiser Loses Boat to Pirates

Cliff Vaughs of S/V Amistad, who has sailed Central American waters for 20 years, was boarded by pirates on July 30th, 2012, when in trouble at anchor in Catarasca Lagoon, Honduras.

Published 12 years ago, updated 6 years ago

Courtesy of the Cruisers Network Online

Cliff Vaughs of S/V Amistad, who has sailed Central American waters for 20 years, was boarded by pirates on July 30th when in trouble at anchor in Catarasca Lagoon, Honduras. The pirates took everything, including his boat. He was left near shore and had to swim, with no dinghy and then walk for many hours to a small town where he received help. Cliff is now safe in the US.

His report below about what happened serves as a warning to cruisers to avoid the east coast of Honduras and Nicaragua. The Gracias Adios area is the most remote area of Honduras and the entire area is under the control of drug traffickers.

There is no functional government or police in Honduras and sadly no word about Cliff’s boat.

Incident July 30, 2012, Catarasca Lagoon, Honduras

On July 27, 2012, I was at anchor on Varillas Bank, Honduras. The Fuerza Naval Honduras boarded my vessel, S/V Amistad ( U.S. Documented 63135) to examine my documents. I asked for assistance in obtaining a quantity of transmission fluid (ATF Type A). They had none on board their patrol boat but agreed to inquire of fishing boats in the area. The following day they returned to indicate that none of the boats in the area carried the transmission fluid I required… They advised me to go to Catarasca Lagoon where I would find a store to buy the fluid.

I broadcast a “Pawn” advisory concerning my intentions to enter Catarasca Lagoon. I arrived the evening of 29 July 2012 and not wanting to try the entrance in the darkness I anchored nearby. That night a squall occurred. High winds, stormy seas. I was blown off my anchor about five miles westward and deposited on a shoal bank.

I immediately broadcast a distress signal. “Mayday” giving my name, the name of my vessel and position. I continued broadcasting a distress signal each fifteen minutes. There was no response although I sighted three unidentified vessels nearby. Direct calls to the Fuerza Naval Honduras went unanswered.

A small open boat approached to offer assistance. The outboard he used for propulsion was insufficient to tow me off the shoal. He left and said he would contact the nearby authorities. He left aboard my boat a crewmember who manned the VHF and presumably was in contact with the Fuerza Naval Honduras or other authority. I could hear the conversation but was unable to actually translate under the circumstances.

A group of men boarded my vessel and began to disconnect the anchor rode. I restrained them and ordered them ashore.

In retrospect, they wanted to assure themselves that I was alone. They returned later in force, about fifteen men, bound me and began to remove everything from my boat. The identified “crewman” was with them. The man in the small boat also.

I went overboard to the beach with the clothes on my back. My two computers, three GPS units, cellular phone, four hundred dollars in US money, ship batteries, 150 gallons diesel fuel, sails, Compass, four anchors, clothing, three months provisions…the inventory is extensive…gone. I was told that the naval station was five miles away to the east. The beach ended at the jungle. I turned back in despair. A torrential rain began. I could see the “pirate” boat standing a bit offshore. Some of the men had come from there. The remainder had appeared out of “nowhere”.

As I returned to the scene I watched as load after load was removed from my boat and disappeared into the jungle. I was quite exhausted. I prevailed on them not to leave me to perish on this uninhabited beach. A young boy was chosen to lead me out through the jungle to a “house”. He sympathetic handed me a billfold, small, containing a life-saving Debit card and Passport.

Two hours through thick underbrush. Swampland. At times wading through chest-high water, we entered a clearing with several houses. I looked around and saw the contents of my boat strewn on the ground with a long line of bearers coming through the jungle loaded with more.

The owner of the settlement was the man who had arrived that morning to query me.

They gave me a glass of water and bade me wait on the raised porch of the main dwelling. Four hours later I was urged into a small boat for a two-hour journey to Lempira.

On the way to Lempira, we stopped at a station of the Fuerza Naval Honduras. They were conversant with each other. I saw no real possibility of appeal. Miles away a different world.

One curious aspect though. ..I was walking through the streets when a man called out “Capitan, Capitan” there’s a phone call for you. The pirates apparently being friends locally had used my cellular phone to call my Chief Mate in the States. It was her, tearfully looking for me. She had been given the number of my captor.

So they are all complicit in this matter.

Clifford A. Vaughs


S/V Amistad

6 August, 2012

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