1) How do you minimize the risk of such encounters, or do you consider them comparable to those found living on land and just accept them?
This is an issue about which we’ve thought a lot – as have most cruisers. First, in most parts of the world the risks are very low – certainly lower than the possbility of getting mugged in most big American cities. The unsettling part of the equation is knowing where to avoid. At home, you know where you should not be. However, there are more and more resources for cruisers with the Internet, e-mail, SSB and ham nets, so information gets spread efficiently.
Bottom line – we avoid the areas where we are going to have to be worrying all the time.
2) What would you have done if faced with the same situation?
This is a very tough question. Years ago, with the kids aboard, we were much more hard nosed. In 1980, when drug running problems were rampant in the Bahamas, we had a potential “incident” with an island boat, obviously bent on no good. At that point we were fully prepared – in terms of equipment and mental attitude – to deal with the problem at a distance. (This situation and this topic are covered in detail in Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia).
Had we had the kids aboard, and been in the same situation as the one mentioned off Venezuela, the odds are we’d have fought off the intruders – and kept them at a distance, where our more stable platform and superior firepower would probably have been decisive.
But without the kids aboard, the situation changes. One begins to look at a whole series of scenarios to do with starting a fight that may not be won, or that gets you into problems with the local authorities. And then weighing these against the likelyhood of losing more than a bit of gear and cash.
One of the issues in this sort of situation is the type of armament the “enemy” is likely to carry. If you are in the waters leading up to and surrounding the Red Sea, there is a good chance they wll be armed with significant fire power. But off Venezuela the odds are you are dealing with fishermen who are freelancing, in which case they are probably going to be lightly armed.
3) What are your thoughts on firearms aboard?
Another tough question. It depends on where you are, and your willingness to use them. If you have firearms, you must be prepared to use them, and you must be trained in their use. Also, maintenance must be kept up.
4) If they are positive, how do you deal with the various customs regulations around the world? Is this a major hassle? Any special approaches such as locked, sealable gun cabinet which customs can seal?
In many jurisdictions firearms are a pain – you have to leave them with customs or the local police. Having a locked, sealable gun locker helps as sometimes the local officials will allow you to keep your weapons as long as they are secured aboard.
It is usually the former British colonies that are the biggest pain in this regard. Check with cruiser information channels, and local consulates and/or embassies to get the latest data before you head out.
5) Any specific recommendations for what sort of weapons to carry?
There are lots of thoughts on this subject from various experts. Choice One is a semi-automatic shotgun. However, this is only good for close-in work. If you want to have your fight at a distance, you need something like a mini-14 (.221) or M-1. However, rifles are very difficult to use effectively from the deck of a small boat – unless conditions are calm.
Pistols are good for close-in work, but are the biggest hassle with local authorities.
And if you do not carry guns? Some flare pistols can be used with shotgun shells. There are various forms of non-lethal chemical sprays like Mace for close-in work. But then, if there is an intruder already on the boat it may be better to cooperate.