Pirates are making the news on a regular basis these days. In 2005, Jay Barry and Carol Martini of Gloucester, Massachusetts, lived to tell about their encounter with pirates in the treacherous waters that separate Africa from the Middle East. They also won the distinction of having thwarted the ambush, mostly because Jay swung the steel-hulled sloop around and rammed one of the two boats, crushing it, while Rod Nowlin, skipper of the 45-foot steel cutter Mahdi, sailing alongside, opened up with a pump shotgun. Nowlin killed two, perhaps three, of the pirates.
People have told their story countless times but somehow it endures. It continues to take shape as pirate attacks escalate worldwide, especially off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, and throughout Indonesia. Cruising sailors have listened carefully to such tales, hoping to adopt strategies to keep themselves safe.
These people were expert sailors and seamen. They had teamed up with a boat from southern California, which were constantly asking for assistance, and slowing the personal itinerary of Jay and Carol. The southern California boat was ill-equipped to handle this type of sailing, and simply couldn’t keep up. The boat owners had not maintained the equipment or engine, so it was one problem after another.
The plan for crossing the Gulf of Aden was to sail at night, instrument lights taped over, observing VHF radio silence and sailing fast as possible. The weather window was adequate, the moon in a dark phase. Unfortunately, The Needies required Rod’s attention one more time, which delayed the departure of Gandalf and Mahdi.
On March 8, 2005, three days out of Salalah, Oman, and 18 miles off the coast of Yemen, Carol spotted two wooden fishing boats approaching. It was 9 a.m. The three men in each boat were pirate scouts. The most obvious telltale: no fishing gear aboard. Carol woke Jay and called over to Rod, his wife Rebecca, and niece Jamee, suggesting all keep an eye on the horizon. The stalkers veered off after taking a hard look. They looked like easy pickings for aggressive pirates.
By sunset, 30 miles off Yemen, two 30-foot boats with powerful inboard diesels were screaming toward them head on. Gandalf and Mahdi closed ranks. The pirate boats, using the blinding sun as a shield, immediately opened fire with automatic weapons. Fifteen bullets slammed into Gandalf, five through the dodger, others piercing the mast, boom, and stanchions. The pirates were obviously trying to kill them.
Carol went below to send out a mayday and send e-mails to friends in Aden saying that they were under attack. Jay later commented that he should have activated the EPIRB. Gandalf’s boom had been slacked to port, allowing Jay to swing her hard around and ram the nearest boat. Rod, ex-Navy, was blasting away with his shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, knocking out the engine of the boat closest to Mahdi and making sure the pirates kept their heads down. By that time, Jay had crushed the other pirate boat and reversed gear for fear the wreckage would damage his rudder. With Rod shooting, the pirates decided not to engage the Mahdi any more, so they headed straight for the Gandalf instead. The attackers nudged the bow against Gandalf’s stern and began climbing aboard, but Rod, still on the Mahdi, shot them dead to protect his friends. Certainly, the outcome for Gandalf and Mahdi is unique, chalking one up for the good guys. Their story might have ended tragically had Rod been unarmed and Jay less aggressive. Having a firearm in dangerous territory certainly helped these folks in an otherwise hopeless situation.
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