Atlantic Ocean: N of Cape Verdes – Suspicious Pursuit

Published 13 years ago, updated 4 years ago

Posted on 2009-12-20

December 5 – Atlantic Ocean 23°55’N 23°28’W

Most sailors who cross the Atlantic will tell you that after the first day, you don’t see another boat or ship until you’re closing in on the Caribbean. That was the case for s/y Marano… until last night.

It was very dark last evening around 19h30 when Nick and Robbie noticed white lights in the distance, on their port side. It had to be a boat of some kind (they were at this point some 300 to 400 miles north of Cape Verde), but couldn’t tell as the boat was running without any navigational lights. They watched it as it made its way towards them. Robbie tried over and over again to contact them by radio. To no avail. The boat kept getting closer. By this time it was only 2 to 4 miles away, keeping to their port side.

At this point, Nick and Robbie decided to take evasive action. They changed their course; the unidentified boat changed its course. They changed it again; the pursuers did the same. And again. They turned off their nav lights and increased their speed by starting the engines trying to put some distance between them. The boat was catching up to them; it was now less than 2 miles from Marano. Not having been able to raise anyone on the VHF or SSB, having failed in shaking the unidentified boat off their tail, and with the boat getting closer, Nick and Robbie decided to hit the DSC button. Apparently, the ever vigilant Israelis were the first to pick up the distress signal, transmitted it to NOAA in the US who in turn alerted the Canadian Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax. Within minutes, Halifax called me. After I gave Marano’s satellite phone number and last known position to the Halifax center, they reached Nick. The unidentified boat was still on their tail, between 2 to 4 miles away at this point. Halifax continued monitoring the situation by calling Nick every 15 to 20 minutes. They also called the rescue team in Spain to alert them and hand over the file. The Spanish rescue team were in touch with Nick to assess the situation and stand ready to assist. It was agreed that, if the unidentified boat were to come closer and if Nick and Robbie were to feel increasingly threatened, they were to activate the boat’s EPIRB. That would be the signal for the Spanish to send in the troops.

By 21h30, the unidentified boat had fallen back to about 5 miles off Marano’s port. By 23h00, it had disappeared from sight. Nick and Robbie took turns sleeping and watching through the night. Not letting down their guard, just in case.

The next morning, as daylight was breaking (around 7h30), all was calm. No boats in sight. It would be a day of rest.

Those who know Nick also know that he does not scare easily. Nor does Robbie. They genuinely felt in clear and present danger. What that boat was, who was on board, what their intentions were, why they abandoned the pursuit? That will remain a mystery. And that’s a good thing…

The Spanish officials called them later in the day to check up on things. Since everything seemed back to normal, they were retransferring the file to the Canadian Rescue Center in Halifax. After wishing Nick and Robbie a good sail to the Caribbean, they signed off.

Our thanks to Ginette Cloutier for passing on this information.

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