Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Dark Side of Cruising

You have watched another beautiful sunset with a sundowner in hand.  Dined on freshly caught maui maui, and now you are either watching a movie from your DVD library or enjoying a good book.  Suddenly, you are in a fight for your life against a machete wielding youth that boarded your boat.  I did not sign up for this part of the cruising lifestyle.

Incidents like these are rare, but not rare enough.  One site that tracks these incident is the Caribbean Security and Safety Net (CSSN), see:  Two recent incidents are posted there:

Bloody Bay, Tobago – Armed boarding, assault and robbery
September 26, 2013         
From the Grenada Cruisers Facebook page: Four men boarded a cruising catamaran at 1 am. An elderly female crew was restrained and threatened with a pistol while the male skipper, attempting to repel the boarders, was struck on the head with his own machete. Luckily it was the flat of the blade, rather than the sharp edge. Another female, the only other cruiser in that secluded bay, was fired at twice as she attempted to approach in her dinghy. Both cruising boats immediately hauled anchor and proceeded to Store Bay. A mask and cap belonging to the boarders have been recovered. Money was demanded but, as the crew had only $30 TT, the men quickly departed “in a panic” in their boat after firing at the approaching dinghy. Police have interviewed the skipper.

Union Island, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) – Armed Boarding/Assault
October 3, 2013
At approximately 20:45, a cruising sailboat anchored off Frigate Island, adjacent to Union Island, SVG, was boarded by machete wielding men. The two crew were able to fend off the attack, but only after serious injuries were sustained.  The yacht called for emergency assistance on VHF and was then assisted by several individuals in Grenada who heard the call via the channel 66 repeater. The yacht proceeded to Carriacou for additional medical assistance and treatment.

The incident in Tobago influenced our decision not to go to Trinidad/Tobago for a haul out and bottom paint.  Instead, we are having the work done here in Grenada.

The Union Island incident hit much closer to home.  We have visited Union Island several times.  We have seen the s/v Rainbow in our travels and may have met the cruising couple.  And, we listened to the emergency response by Rescue 1 out of Prickly Bay Marina, Grenada on our VHF radio.  The next day, I wrote the following letter to the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and Grenadines:

Cruiser Attacked

Honorable Dr. Ralph Gonsalves,

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Last night my wife and I listened in horror to an unfolding incident on the VHF radio.  Cruisers aboard the sailing vessel Rainbow, anchored off Frigate Island near Union Island were attacked by a machete wielding assailant.  Reports indicate the assailant entered the interior of the boat without warning and severely mutilated the female occupant’s face.  The male occupant grabbed a kitchen knife and successfully fought off the assailant while receiving injuries.  After providing the female occupant initial first aid, the male occupant contacted Grenada Rescue One, pulled anchor and proceeded to Carriacou where officials and medical personnel were waiting dockside. 

Mr. Prime Minister you have a problem.  Yes, crime occurs everywhere.  However, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has earned the reputation within the cruiser community as being unsafe.  For example see:  Because of these reports, my wife and I avoid St. Vincent, stopping only in Bequia, Mustique, and Union Island.  On our last stop at Union Island we felt intimidated, and therefore have vowed to avoid it in the future.  Due to this latest incident, we will reconsider our cruising plans for St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole.

Cruisers network – extensively.  Last night’s incident was the main topic on this morning’s Grenada Cruiser’s radio net (Channel 66 int on VHF) Monday through Saturday beginning at 0730.  There is already postings on Grenada Cruisers Facebook page, see:  There will certainly be a mention in the Caribbean Compass, see:  And, tonight the incident will probably be the main topic of conversation at the Nutmeg Restaurant where cruisers are gathering to support their grand reopening.  I will also be posting an article on my blog ( about the incident titled, “The Dark Side of Cruising.”

Cruisers have an economic impact on islands, see:  Cruisers’ also have a tendency to vote with their keel; we simply avoid areas that are unsafe.  Additionally, most of us carry insurance.  When a country or area becomes too unsafe insurance companies make that country an exclusion, i.e., I am not insured in Venezuelan and Haitian waters.  That is a list no country wants to be on.

As previously stated, all countries have crime, but now yours has exceeded the acceptable threshold for myself and other cruisers.  For the economic and moral future of your country it is imperative that security for cruisers be addressed immediately. Should you wish to discuss this issue further, please do not hesitate to contact me. 


Maurice Howland




Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ministry of Tourism

Ministry of National Security

The results of the attack

Unfortunately, at this time I have not received a response from the Government of SVG.  The response from the cruising community and others has been quite the opposite.  After posting the letter on the Grenada Cruisers Facebook page I received numerous comments and they are still flowing in.  The Financial Time, a London based newspaper asked me for an interview for an article they were doing on the financial downturn in the Caribbean and associated crime.  The St. Vincent and Grenadines I-Witness News (see: contacted me for clarification on a few issues.  Grenada Board of Tourism has have stepped up and offered services and assistance from its members.  At a recent cruisers dinner at the Nutmeg Restaurant, St. George’s, Grenada, money was raised to help offset some of their expenses.  Most importantly, Tina Curtin, the most severely injured victim thanked me for my “immediate” letter to the SVG Prime Minister.

Rainbow’s salon

Where do we go from here?  I think the first step is that we continue to pressure local governments to make genuine efforts to ensure cruisers security if they want our business.  We need to remind them that cruisers’ have their own network and are aware of crimes against cruisers.  Cruisers do not rely on the “massaged” crime statistics.  Apathy and excuses by authorities is not an appropriate response. 

 Martin, a PAYS member

At Prince Rupert Bay in Dominique, one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean, PAYS (Portsmouth Association of Yacht Security) was formed.  The local business and river guided realized that crimes against cruisers were not a formula for long term success.  PAYS members greet you when you enter the harbor offering their services and moorings (optional).  At night the harbor is patrolled by PAYS members.  Once a week, PAYS organizes a cruiser BBQ as a fund raiser to support their efforts.  Their efforts are working and the locals have found that it pays (pun intended).   

How to punch a hatch

Local authorities and organizations like PAYS cannot be everywhere, so cruisers must employ measures to ensure their own security.  Most yacht hatches are no match for determined assailants.  Unfortunately, in the tropics many hatches are left open for ventilation purposes.  There are methods to mitigate this issue.  Motivator uses an alarm system designed to alert prior to the assailant reaching the hatches.

Pollie with a flare gun in the “safe room”

Contingencies for the worst case scenario should be considered and exercised.  Motivator now has a safe room, aka., the engine room.  The existing fire door’s lock was reengineered to allow us to lock ourselves in.  From there we can control many of the boat’s systems rendering it useless to pirates while we use a handheld radio to solicit help.  When we emerge, the boat maybe trashed, but we will not be.

Maurice & Captain Ron at Island Water World

Communication is essential.  Would be assailants are counting on being able to strike and escape without being detected.  The crew of Motivator is guilty like many cruisers of turning off the VHF so as not to be disturbed at night.  That policy has changed.  We will be keeping a handheld next to our bed, and we plan on asking other cruisers in the anchorage to monitor their radios.

We must keep this in perspective.  We were not immune from crime before we started cruising.  However, most of the islands we visit have small populations so therefore the expectation is for less crime.  Also, we must consider the severity of what we are talking about.  I have see incidents like the ones mentioned above categorized simply as a “yacht boarding” or “attempted burglary.”  On land it would be called “home invasion” and at sea it should be called what it is – piracy.

 Tina Curtin

Hopefully, as Tina has stated, something good will come out of this horrific incident.  Anchorages are for cruisers, not criminals; let’s take them back.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the update and your efforts on behalf of all cruisers. Our prayers are with Tina and her husband and the woman who tried to help.

    SV Changes