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Unauthorized Guide to Sailing in Mexico

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a little word about risks - somali pirates

In conversation, on message boards, and in popular thought there are a few "risks" that people constantly bring up when it comes to sailing a boat around the globe. As a blanket statement, the commonality with which those risks are brought up is seriously out of sync with the frequency those risks actually occur. 

To a landlubber (not used pejoratively), it's simply an interesting quirk. But for the mariner intent on plowing the world's oceans these hyped up risks create a warped view of the situation and would have one losing focus of the true risks. Today we'll focus on one risk in particular.

Hyped-up risk: Somali Pirates

As a nation with a strong history in seafaring, it is no wonder that we are fascinated with pirates. One website catalogs over three hundred pirate movies (that's just English ones). We dress up as pirates for halloween, and one of the first prolonged sea campaigns the US Navy fought in was defeating pirates on the Barbary Coast between 1801-1805. Hell, we even fought pirates again in the somewhat-non-imaginatively named Second Barbary War in 1815. 

In short, piracy on the African coast is nothing new to America although it's fairly new to our time period. For all but the last few decades, the concept of being able to sail around the world with no risk of violence wherever you went would have been laughable. 

And other maritime risks still exist today. Sail your US (or pretty much any nation) flagged vessel up to North Korea and see what happens. Go to the Black Sea and hang out on the Russian coast and see just how much communism and corrupt officials are still present.

But beyond all of the dangers listed above, there lies one even greater that should be the core of your concerns: Somalia is roughly 10,000 nautical miles from San Diego. You'll need to cross the Pacific and Indian oceans, at their widest points, in order to get there. Quite frankly, consider yourself quite the mariner if find yourself in a position where you are seriously faced with the conundrum of how to transit the Arabian Sea.

To even get to that part of the globe, beyond spending roughly 85 days underway (three to four weeks of that consecutive crossing the Pacific), you'll have dodged at least one hurricane belt, navigated uncharted reefs, gone through numerous gales and squalls, and figured out how to repair your boat in far off and distant lands.

To make the situation even more clear over 17,000 vessels transited the Suez Canal during 2009. There were 324 attacks that same year, of which the vast majority were towards commercial shipping. Only two, yes two (as in the number 2) private yachts were seized. This yields a roughly 0.0004% chance.

To the two crews who were captured, I'm sure the low odds of it happening are a small condolence. But the fact remains that as a mariner you have to prepare your boat and crew for risks, in descending order, starting by that which can get you killed and happens most often.

Your landlubbing counterparts are not going to bring up the risk of dismasting due to an accidental gybe that also manages to deliver a severe concussion to someone on its way around. But both of those incidents happen with alarming frequency, but they don't make it onto the front page of CNN.

So to anyone drowning in a sea of "what if" scenarios, I humbly request that you simply spend more time at sea. You will be up to your ears in things to do that actually need to get done and you won't have as much time to sit around and dream up overstated risks when ones much nearer need to be addressed.

Reader Comments (3)

But the pirates! We'll have to bring guns. Big guns. AM I RITE?

December 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Somalia and the current situation in the Suez is a concern for me, and the one which makes me reticient to do a once around BUT ( and this is a big but) I do think there is a tendency over all for some salty types to hype the dangers. I think they do so in order to protect the "bad ass hard core' sailor image they've concocted for themselves. Somalia bears watching and having a plan in place but if I really get the itch to go once around, it wouldnt absolutely kill the deal. I mean, 12 year olds are circumnaivgating solo- right? ;)

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCIdnie


Very true. There's a great discussion (about 200 posts spanning 1 week or so) on Nordhavn Dreamers, a web forum, about the risks of piracy and the overwhelming conclusion is that the risk is overblown... and stay away from Somalia. Otherwise, the risk is tiny.

Anyways, nice blog. I hope you guys get off on your journey on schedule. I'll certainly be following. You may also want to check out Kosmos Travel Log ( for some info. They have lots of detail about getting ready for their 2 year circumnavigation.

I also just added you to the blogroll at Yacht Blogs so more readers can follow your travels.

Keep us updated :)


March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

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