Tyrrel Bay on Carriacou in the Grenadines
Wallilabou Bay on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, which served as the backdrop for the pirate headquarters in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean", was the scene of a brutal pirate attack that is currently in the media around the world a few days ago. It sounds like irony, but unfortunately it is a bitter reality.
According to the Prime Minister of St. Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves, the attack occurred around 1:30 in the morning. The ship was boarded by two armed attackers, the skipper and a crew member were injured by gunshot wounds. A crew member died a little later from his wounds.
According to further, initial information from a victim's circle of friends, the attack must have happened very quickly: The intruders came on board and immediately shot at a crew member who was sleeping on deck. Two female crew members heard the shot and were about to storm on deck. When the first woman reached the bridge deck, she was hit on the head by the attacker, which caused the second crew member to barricade herself in her cabin. The skipper was shot too; only after the attack could he be looked after by the crew.
To the surprise of the crew, the attack was ignored by other anchor barges, and it took about half an hour until the police reached the crime scene from land and could be brought on board by the crew in their own dinghy. When the Prime Minister was switched on, an airplane was immediately available to fly the crew back to Germany. She was only allowed to enter the catamaran briefly once more to collect her personal belongings and to carry them off board in plastic bags. The crew is now back in Germany and neither knows where their belongings have gone nor what actually happened a few days ago in front of the Caribbean palm trees.
If you leaf through brochures about Caribbean vacations, you only see the beautiful pictures of lonely beaches and bays with crystal clear water. Pictures of the Tobago Cays, the wonderful waterfalls of Grenada or the rainforests on Dominica also dominate at boat shows or in charter catalogs. But the dangers are not mentioned.
At anchor close to the coast. Nice but dangerous
Even the Federal Foreign Office warns on its website:
Sailors should note that robberies on anchored or coastal ships or cases of piracy in the Eastern Caribbean occur sporadically and take appropriate measures (caution with spontaneous guests on board, self-protection at night). Emergency calls to the Police / Coast Guard using 911 (cellular phone) may be more reliable than emergency calls made using maritime mobile radio.
While the Caribbean was best known for theft, pirate attacks seem to be increasing too. Only in December there were two attacks on sailing yachts between Trinidad and Grenada, and in January one attack on a sailor off St. Croix. In January 2014, the case of two British people went around the world: They were attacked off St. Luci and the skipper was murdered. When we were on Grenad last year, I kept reading about a serial killer who ambushes tourists on the beach with a machete and kills them on a sun lounger from behind.
Reading all of these cases, the question arises whether it is worth the risk to sail to the Caribbean.
But it is not appropriate to speak of a trend at the moment. The Caribbean Safety and Security Net recently presented its statistics for 2015. It shows that there were a total of twelve cases of piracy (armed robbery) on sailors throughout the Caribbean, mainly at anchorage. Only one attack took place in the St. Vincent and Grenadines area. In recent years, however, there have been repeated attacks in well-known hotspots such as Venezuel and Trinidad, as well as in Central America, as recently the case of two German nature filmmakers who were attacked on their sailing boat in Bocas del Toro (near Panama) in September 2015. A statistic that initially suggests that the risk in the other Windward Islands is manageable.
If you ask long-distance sailors in the Caribbean for their personal impression, the answer sounds different. Many believe that it is getting worse and worse. Others say the crime rate is as high as it has always been, but media and Facebook robberies and thefts are becoming more widely known today than they used to be.
Fortunately, robberies like the one on St. Vincent last Friday are rare, but theft is more common. As for the latter, the statistics cannot be trusted, as many cases are not reported. For example, in April last year we met two Dutch sailors on Bequiin in the Grenadines, who were ambushed by locals on their way back from the internet café to the dinghy the next day, the backpack with the laptop and the external hard drive was stolen. It contains: all pictures of her three-year circumnavigation; a backup was not available.
Assaults and thefts often happen at dusk or at night. In order to make the anchorages a little safer, patrol boats are used at many hotspots, which make their laps at regular intervals. What sounds like a big plus in security looks rather sobering in reality: Most of them are former, worn-out fishing boats with rickety outboards and sprayed "Ranger" lettering on which locals with torn T-shirts drive around between the anchored boats. Personally, the sight of these boats didn't really calm us down.
Anchor field off Mustique in the Grenadines
When I arrived in Rodney Bay on St. Luci with my little "Maverick" in February 2006, then 20 years old, I met the local Ricky on the very first day. Exuberantly, I told him how happy I would be to finally reach the goal of my dreams and how great I would find the Caribbean. "This is your first time here?" He asked me and immediately added a few basic rules with a serious face: "When you sleep on board at night, always lock everything properly. And when you are on land, only have so much money with you, as you need. No wallet, just distribute the bills all over your body in various pockets. It's not without danger here."
At the time, of course, that surprised me a little, but not intimidated. I always felt safe there for two months. It wasn't until months later that I was in the US that I found out that shortly after my departure there had been an attack on a young Dutch couple in the middle of the Rodney Bay lagoon, where there was still an anchor field at the time. Today the marina jetties are there. The couple anchored their ten-meter-long boat and were ambushed at night. After everything valuable was collected, they handcuffed the skipper and raped his wife. When I did this in the USlas, a chill ran down my spine - it felt so safe in my two months at anchor there. I never thought that something like this could happen. Shortly afterwards, the Sailors and the Rodney Bay Marin merged and bought a patrol boat for the anchorage, I was told at the time.
As a newcomer, you get the usual tips from sailors who have been sailing in the Caribbean for many years: large, stable locks in front of the companionway and a stable locking mechanism from the inside. Many sailors have tailor-made brackets or grilles for companionways and deck hatches, because the standard plastic locks are easy to pry out. In addition: chain everything that is not screwed to the ship, not only the dinghy, but also the outboard and the tank. Never leave the dinghy in the water, but winch on deck every evening. Not only for reasons of theft, but also to give burglars less chance of getting on board.
Most of the night raids surprisingly happen from the water, swimming. When we reached Admiralty Bay last year, sailors advised us to anchor on the northern side of the large bay. "As far from the beach as possible so that you cannot be reached by swimming."
Free wifi. The Caribbean captivates with its simplicity
No matter how positive you go through life, you shouldn't ignore the warnings, robbery and theft stories, and a certain concern always sails with you. We felt very comfortable and safe in most places and anchorages. But the feeling can change quickly. Like something on Carriacou in the Grenadines. We were anchored far offshore, were ashore during the day, bought fresh vegetables from a farmer and talked to the locals. In the evening there was a party with reggae music in a beach bar, which we could still hear even at the anchorage. Cheerful locals had a lot of fun and sang along. Typical Caribbean feeling; we enjoyed being part of it from afar. At around 11 p.m. we went to the bunk and left the hatch over the forward bunk open to fall asleep in the warm trade winds.
When we woke up again three hours later to incredibly loud music, the mood on land had changed. The reggae music had given way to ganster rap, with lyrics in which various drugs were sung about. Locals were drunk or under the influence of drugs, yelled at each other aggressively and tossed things around. Our minds went: what if they got the idea to go on the water for a few dollars? Suddenly we didn't feel well at all, locked the deck hatch and even the smallest window.
On our trip north, Swiss friends even sailed 15 miles past the coast of St. Vincent because they had been told that there had been raids with speedboats.
We sailed by too - and are still a little annoyed about it today. Have we let the other sailors burden us with too many worries? The sight of the mountainous island at dusk was tremendous. Five miles offshore we could smell the rainforest and taste it in the heavy air and marvel at the clouds that nestled close to the mountains. Shortly before sunset we passed Wallilabou Bay, the scene of the most recent raid. I've always wanted to go there, but it was always too dangerous for me.
St. Vincent by Lake at dusk
Is it an exaggeration to keep such a large distance from dangerous areas? After all, the probability of being attacked is still relatively low, especially for us, with a small ship. In most cases charter yachts are robbed and in this way we miss a lot of experiences with the country and the people we are here for.
We love the Caribbean. Cati especially Union Island, I Grenada. Nevertheless, we have now discovered the Bahamas for ourselves and love it even more. This is not only due to the lonelier islands, but because they are much safer.
Why is that? I think, above all, that the gap between rich and poor is not as great as on the Windward Islands. There are big millionaire mansions here and there, but in the Bahamas the locals are much better off financially. Most have well-paid jobs and the crime rate is much lower.
The Caribbean island world still has a completely different, special flair - not least because of the unique nature. Even if the reports of piracy and theft sound so negative, I think the Caribbean is still worth the trip, and we will sail there again. But it is important to follow a few rules, to maintain a healthy level of skepticism and a little distance.
Above all: take precautionary measures, as Ricky advised me back then. For me, this includes: Avoid dark alleys and remote places on land, only carry as much money with you as necessary. Always anchor off the coast out of the reach of swimmers, with bolts in front of the hatches. Get the dinghy on deck at night. So you can sleep more peacefully.