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Piracy Remains Reality On High Seas

ROBERT SMITH, host:

All this summer we've been receiving communiques from Captain Fatty Goodlander, the editor-at-large of Cruising World magazine. He's continuing to sail his boat, known as the Wild Card, across the seas. Today, he tells us about a scary encounter.

Captain FATTY GOODLANDER: Pirates. That's right, pirates. Oh, how they fascinate us, those dashing sea rovers of yore, Jack Sparrow and crew. What a life upon the high seas. The sad reality is pirates are just thugs on water. They're seagoing cowards who prey on the defenseless. There's nothing romantic about pirates. They're the lowest of lowlifes. And sadly, there are more pirates today operating this very second in the oceans of the world than ever before in the history of mankind.

We've had two close encounters. The oddest was off Borneo in Islamic Indonesia. It was a perfectly calm day, and we were motoring along, just about to pass a drifting fishing boat, which was deploying its net, when that boat sped up and veered across the bow of our modest, 38-foot sloop Wild Card. At first I thought the captain was just an inattentive fool and hadn't seen us, until I saw his floating riprap. He hadn't deployed a fishing net but a semi-floating polypropylene device to entangle our prop. I gave Wild Card full throttle and veered sharply away to starboard. He curved with us, keeping the entangling semi-floating lines pressed against our hull. If our engines stop, he'd reel us in like a fish.

I heard they'd start it out by demanding payment for their damaged fishing gear and then watch where you hid your money. Then they'd make their decision to release you or continue to take everything you had to offer, plus. Luckily, our vessel Wild Card could turn both tighter and go slightly faster, and it was our one-tenth of a knot difference in boat speed which eventually carried us out of danger.

The other time was that same year in the Malacca Straits, when at night a large steel vessel kept attempting to come alongside of us. I never saw a single soul, just a large hull rushing out of the darkness, attempting to repeatedly come at our port side. I made two tight circles to starboard and another one to port. He could follow in my wake, but only in a wider circle. We were safe in the center. He could not press against us for long enough to transfer men. And he must have been monitoring his marine radio, because the instant we started screaming "Mayday, mayday, we're being boarded," he immediately took his vessel out of gear, stood motionless in the water for a few seconds, then turned on his running lights, oddly enough, and fled back toward Indonesia.

Does this mean the sea is unsafe? Not at all. I've lived aboard 47 years and only had these two occurrences, both within waters close to the South China Sea, an area which is still notorious for its pirates. But the fact is, I've been mugged, attacked, beat up and even shot at ashore, mostly in large Western cities. Yes, land is 500 times more dangerous than the sea, even with the odd pirate loose upon it. And the most astonishing thing about endlessly circumnavigating through the Third World isn't that some people want to kill you, but that 99.9 percent don't. And thus I sail, and sail, and sail.

SMITH: Weekend Edition's own swashbuckler, Captain Fatty Goodlander. You can track his progress on the Wild Card and hear more essays at our Web site, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.