By Captain John
Today we had an interesting encounter that was a bit out of the norm. It was mid afternoon and I had just settled into the comfy pilothouse Stidd chair to begin my watch. It was a beautiful day out on the water. We had calm winds, flat seas, and not a cloud in the sky. I didn’t expect much activity on the radar due to the fact the closest point of land was the coast of Columbia, 275 NM southeast of our current position. While scanning the horizon, next thing I know I have a small vessel directly off our bow at a range of a mile or so. My initial reaction was surprise, how can a small vessel be out this far from land? It appeared the vessel was drifting and disabled, with two person waving their arms in the air.
Now at this point as Captain, many different scenarios began to play out in my mind at the same time. Are we going to have to bring these persons aboard warbird? Will they need a tow back to port? Are they hurt? As these thoughts race through my mind, the vessel out of nowhere starts its engines and is underway heading towards us. This immediately put me into a defensive mode. Why would a disabled vessel all of a sudden start heading right for us???
We had limited time, but mustered the crew and made a game plan. We decided when the vessel approached the crew would stay inside except for Captain Bob, (fluent in Spanish) who would confront the men. If things took a turn for the worst we would fire the flare gun and perform defensive maneuvering of “Warbird.” Armed with a flare gun, “Cowboy Bob” stood by on bridge wing as they pulled alongside our bow. I can now see this is a 30ft completely open cockpit panga style boat. Two men were onboard surrounded by large crates covered in black plastic. Nothing else was in the boat. The boat was old, but had two brand new large Yamaha outboards.
Bob was friendly but stern when he greeted the vessel. He made a point to show he was armed with a flare gun, but not in an aggressive manner. The men immediately got the hint and had their hands in the air. Captain Bob began to question them on their intentions and overall situation. He learned they we lost at sea because the hand held GPS they were using for navigation had dead batteries. They were trying to find the coast of Columbia, and they were out of food and water. There is really no other reason for them to be out here except for running drugs. We figured they made a drop of in Coast Rica and are now returning. Keep in mild we are almost 300 miles offshore!
Bob kept an eye on the men as I manned the helm. The crew put together a bag with some food, drinks, and batteries. Once the transfer of these items was complete, the men thanked us and asked us to point them in the direction of the Columbian coast. They then turned around, waved good-bye, and motored off into the abyss. This boat did not have fishing gear, or anything else aboard that would explain how they ended up there. I can’t imagine how long it took them to get back to the coast, or if they even made it. After it was all over and the crew stood down I began replaying the events in my head. There were many different ways this could have ended up. The way it did was best case. I found it interesting how I immediately assumed they were potential Pirates and went into a defensive mode. As much as I would like to help anybody that might be in distress, my responsibility lies with my ship and crew. In this situation something didn’t feel right, but the situation ended up OK because we kept our cool. We will never know the real reason these men where so far from land, or if they made it back. We can only wonder.
Over the years I have learned every day is a new adventure out on the water and today was no different I am glad to put the “Pirates” behind us and open sea ahead!