21 deg. 52 min. North Latitude 116 deg. 33 min. East Longitude
64 Miles South-Southwest of Chia-Tzo Chiao, China
Frederique's words swirl around in my head, pulling me out of a deep exhausted sleep. I feel the cutter's leisurely roll as we glide along down wind. So peaceful and quiet. Boat...following. Boat following? I snap awake. Damn!
I scramble up the companionway into the cockpit. The South China Sea is a calm, deep open ocean blue. Fluffy white clouds loaf along in the clear sky. Freddy stands at the teak-rimmed steering wheel, an electric blue bathing suit snug over her petite, shapely body in the golden, early morning sunlight. The sails soar aloft, white and gleaming, barely filled with the light wind. Still groggy, I almost come out with, "What a lovely day." Not at all the right thing to say when being attacked by pirates.
A huge, black ugly motorized Junk is bearing down on us, its bow foam scarcely 100 meters astern. It shimmers with cut-out clarity in the crisp morning air: all 70 feet of cluttered lines, filth layered gunwales, chaotic fishing gear and 30 young, mean looking Chinese. A stocky man in a black shirt stands on the bow with a coiled line and grappling hook. They look as though they intend to ram us, at the very least.
The utter hopelessness of our position floods my sleepy mind with adrenaline. Unfortunately, since there is no possibility of running, this has the effect of total paralysis. My eyes lock onto the coiled line attached to the grapnel. Slowly, my mind catches up with what my eyes keep trying to show me. The line is old, sun-rotted quarter inch polypropylene. It won't hold us for a second.
"Freddy, hold your course! Smile and wave!."
"Smile and wave?" she gawks at me as I emerge from the aft cabin, dancing up and down, grinning like an idiot, yelling, "Hi! Hey there, Old Buddy!" at the horrifying spectacle of black marauding tonnage bearing down on us. Freddy, eyes filled with doubt, reluctantly waves and wiggles a few curves.
This seems to defer the ramming plan, and the Junk shudders, slows, and turns off on a parallel course about 100 feet away. They've got us. We smile and wave and I yell, "Hi! We'll be right alongside! Yes, Sir! Just a minute, we'll be right alongside! Here, I'll get a rope for you so you can capture us!"
"Freddy, keep shouting nice things to them, anything. They probably don't understand English anyway."
The gang of pirates scream at us. Some big meaty paws gesture for us to come alongside while other ham-like fists bash the air.
I swing down the forward companionway and flip the engine switches. My hand trembles and sweat pours out of me. "Go go go," I chant to encourage myself. I grab a coil of brand new, thick nylon dock line from the sail locker and streak back on deck.
They are right on top of us, still shouting threats and shaking their fists despite Freddy's friendly waving and smiling. I show them the new, hefty nylon line with my left hand and hit the ignition switch with my right. "Go! Go! Go!" The diesel coughs, catches and grumbles to life. A few quick words to Freddy and I dash forward with the rope.
On the foredeck, the Junk towers above me as it closes with us. I hand signal and shout for them to slow down and stop, then unlimber the rope to throw it. The character with the black shirt and the grapnel looks nicely confused. He wants to snag us with the grapnel but I am clearly about to heave him a much better line. The shouting and fist waving stops. The anger and hate in their faces fades as we smile and laugh like fools. The helmsman cuts power and drifts closer. He steps out of the wheel house to watch. Blackshirt hesitantly puts down the grapnel to catch my line. A ripe, putrid fish stench washes over me. I throw the line and yell, "OKAY Freddy!"
She spins the wheel hard to port, snaps the diesel into forward and rams the throttle wide open. I stop the line about a foot short of Blackshirt's fingers and a dozen muscular Chinese arms grasp at thin air. I give them a big grin, shake my head and point at Freddy. I yell, "We're coming around! We're coming around!" and make appropriate wide circling gestures with my hand, hoping, really praying, they will think we actually are circling around for another try. I gesture for them to stay there, two hands palm down, calming, now a big circle with the arm, two hands held palm towards them... "Stay there, we're coming around" I smile at their vacant expressions and scamper back into the cockpit to grab the wheel.
"Sheet her in!" Freddy hauls in the sheet line for the main and then for the headsail. With the wind on the beam and the engine full ahead we race off at 8 knots. I glance back. The black fishing junk is still dead in the water with all hands standing on the port side watching us. Our phony smiles are gone and I sweat and shake like a leaf. Gradually, it dawns on me I am still chanting "Go, Go, Go, Go." I stop, take a deep breath, and try to relax.
The pirates stay put an unbelievably long time. Five minutes, six, seven, eight.
"I can't believe this!" I say to Freddy, "Do you think they are still waiting for us to circle back?"
"Maybe they're all laughing at the guy in the black shirt because he fell for our trick, or more likely they are simply confused." she chuckles nervously, looking back at them.
Moira races on, the engine screaming, the whole stern vibrating, the sails sheeted in tight.
With a great belch of black smoke, they are after us. Another boat comes into view on the port side and still another on the starboard side. We are all on a collision course. When I see the other boats, I remember radio babble in the background when we were alongside the junk. "I hope there are no members of the fleet ahead of us." I push the throttle lever harder against the full bore stop.
We crawl across the ocean. The junks are big, slow fishing boats, but if the wind fails..... I check the compass. Due south.
Some maiden voyage. Almost savaged the first time out. A great way to start an expedition. I look back at the boats. No change. Still coming. This is the first time I have ever been hunted by humans. It is not a good feeling.
No wonder every form of wildlife on the Planet runs from us. Nothing in nature is worse than being hunted by a band of human beings. I feel their awareness, their concentration, their power. Am I in Red Chinese waters? Are they Red Chinese boats? Vietnamese? From Hong Kong? Taiwanese?
I get out the sextant, take a sun shot, and go below to work out our position: 21º 42' North 116º 33' East. I enter this in the log book and sit looking at all the blank pages in Moira's log. This is only the third entry. The last was when we left Taiwan. The first was written almost two months ago, before we got to Taiwan to pick up the Moira.
We were aboard the Oriental Esmeralda: a 600 foot long passenger-freighter bound from San Diego to Kao-shiung, Taiwan. It was night and the ship had stopped in mid ocean because oysters fouled the heat exchangers and her engines were overheating. I sat at the small desk in our cabin and, by candle-light, wrote:
In the light of day, with three pirate boats hot on our ass, the first log entry seems a trifle irrelevant. In fact, the first destination is Hong Kong to finish outfitting the 44' Peterson Cutter. Assuming we outrun the pirates and resume our westerly heading toward Hong Kong. For the moment nothing is happening, all of us are racing along like giant oceanic water snails.
"What are you doing down there?" yells Freddy over the sound of the screaming engine.
"Coming." I close the logbook, go up on deck. The tableau has not changed although the pirates are a bit further back. Moira heals over about 15º, moving smoothly, quickly south. A jet aircraft comes out of the north. A Chinese fighter. It appears, flashes by 200 meters overhead, lifts into the blue sky and curves back the way it came all in seconds.
"I guess the fishing boats are Red Chinese after all." I mumble, looking after the jet. In Taiwan, a young Chinese man told us all red Chinese fishing boats were official coast guard vessels which could (and did) capture yachts that violated their territorial waters. It's likely the jet is part of the chase although there isn't much it could do other than blast us out of the water. I look back and watch the boats. They plod along with utter determination. It gives me cause to think about fate again: about Moira and the Moirae.
I had two more visitations from the
The first visit was when the Moirae first showed me this boat. The second was when they told me where we would be going with her.
"Looks like we've made it," Freddy smiles.
I look astern and see an empty horizon. It is 1430 hours. Over the past couple of hours the junks dwindled smaller and smaller. Now they have broken off the chase. Of course, they might suspect we will head west again and may be angling to cut us off. So we continue south at top speed.
What were they after? They flew no flag. It's possible the Red Chinese might capture us if we got too close to the mainland. They would tow us in, question us, and let us go unharmed. Or so one story went. But, we were never close to the mainland. I try to visualize the huge black junk with its hoard of angry men towing us 64 miles to port. Fat chance. No fisherman would quit fishing and tow a boat 64 miles just so some official could ask us some questions.
Of course, we only hear about people who are released. What about yachts that don't get released? If they had caught us 64 miles at sea and we vanished, who would know? If anyone had been expecting us in Hong Kong (and nobody was) they would have assumed we went somewhere else. Folks back in the U.S. might begin to wonder what happened to us after a while, but by the time months passed, what could they discover?
At 1700 we again vector in towards Hong Kong. About twenty minutes go by and a boat appears off the starboard beam. And a boat to port. There is one ahead, too. I can just see the top of its superstructure. I take bearings on them and wait. After 30 minutes, the bearings are unchanged. Collision courses.
"Oh, you're just paranoid," Freddy looks more worried than she sounds.
"Right," I swing the wheel and do a full speed 180 degree turn. We are now well over 100 miles offshore. 30 minutes later I take new bearings on the boats. No change. They have turned, too. Binoculars show the two flanking boats are speeding to head us off.
I look at the sun melting into the horizon. There is no wind. We are at full power. The enemy is closing in. These boats are faster than junks. I judge they will intercept our course about four miles ahead. But it is getting dark. "Come on dark!" I shout.
"Come on dark!" Freddy shouts, too.
The instant it is dark enough so I can no longer see the flanking boats, I shut down the engine and stop. I can hear their motors racing in the dusk.
"If they don't have radar, we've got it made. Still think I'm just paranoid?" I ask Freddy.
"Yes, but I am too," she gets up and starts below. "Hungry?"
"Starved." We eat in the black sea night, listening to the motor of a boat, as it searches back and forth. Silence. They've stopped, too. No moon, no lights. We eat quietly.
We finish eating and Freddy takes the dishes below. I feel a premonition of immediate danger. "Come on, we've got to get out of here. There's just enough wind." Quietly, we hoist the main, unfurl the headsail, and ghost silently back towards Hong Kong.
"What if we run into one of them?" Freddy whispers as though they are just ahead with their lights out, listening for any sound. Which, of course, they might be.
"I think we are already past them," I whisper back. A spotlight flares to life about three miles astern.
"Lets crank up the iron Genoa and get out of here," I hit the ignition switch. And we do.
At dawn the Hong Kong Peninsula drifts out of a misty sea. It is a Chinese painting: the hills poke out of the swirling gray mists like dragons teeth. Soft pastel colors, the brown sails of the junks, the sea calm and reflective. I steer the Moira towards the sea buoy leading into the maze of small, peaked isles.
We round the outer island and face a stream of boats of every description headed out of the harbor into the early morning China Sea. In places, the channel between the entrance islands is narrow and we crowd over to the edge to avoid the onrush of traffic. We make the cape of the island of Hong Kong and enter Hong Kong Harbor. Boats fill the harbor, moving in every possible direction. A hydrofoil skims along at 40 knots. A 100 ton sailing junk plods along being rowed by 20-foot long sweeps. The steep mountain walls forming the harbor are encrusted with concrete and glass and festooned with neon colors.
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Frederique and I are now living in Noumea, New Caledonia. You might wish to visit Frederique's Hand Painted Silk Scarves website to find a gift for your own mermaid..
If you are interested in sailing the pacific here are some good sites to visit. If you are just looking for a place to spend your vacation in the pacific, click here. And if you want to visit Noumea, New Caledonia, check out these sites
If you go to New Caledonia get a copy of the Tourism Guide to New Caledonia This is also available in French at Ile de Nouvelle Caledonie with information on everything you need to know about visiting New Caledonia from renting a car in Noumea, or anywhere in New Caledonia. Noumea Location Voiture, to where to find a good dentist in Noumea. And of course the guide has complete information about Noumea Hotels and Resorts, and in fact, everything you need to know about hotels, resorts, camping and other accommodation throughout all of New Caledonia.
Or, if you plan on going to Vanuatu by yacht be sure to download a copy of the cruising guide to Vanuatu and, while you are at it, you can also download a copy of the cruising guide to New Caledonia because you will want to cruise both areas in the same cruising season.
The best way to explore the New Caledonia Lagoon is to come to New Caledonia on a Superyacht with the guiddance of Noumea Supery Yacht Agent Noumea Ocean. And the best dentist by far in Noumea is Dr. Janin.