OK, I am already bracing for the assassins bullet, but this topic has to be broached. I belong to a number of Facebook groups that are all about sailing and living aboard and going cruising; you get the picture. Lately there has been an ongoing thread on many of the sites and they raise what I guess is a good question and that is should one carry a gun on board when going offshore? I have two words on this subject: Peter Blake.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know where I stand on the subject of guns on boats. Peter Blake should be enough to give you a clue but in case you don’t know who Peter Blake was let me give you a quick recap. Blakey, as many liked to call him, was one of the best, if not the best sailor, that lived. Lived being in the past tense because Peter Blake is now dead. He skippered the maxi yacht Steinlager and won the ’89/90 Whitbread Race and was the driving force behind the 1995 Americas Cup where, with Black Magic, they won the Auld Mug with a clean sweep beating Dennis Connor 5-0. You may remember that it was his lucky ‘red socks’ that gave them the edge.
Blake and his team successfully defended the Cup five years later after which he stepped down as syndicate boss to pursue other interests including environmental issues. He became the Cousteau Society’s head of expeditions and led expeditions to Antarctica and the Amazon aboard his yacht Seamaster. It was while aboard Seamaster in the Amazon that Peter Bake was shot and killed. The boat was anchored off Macapá in Brazil near the mouth of the Amazon River waiting to clear customs after a trip up the river. At around nine-o-clock at night a group of six armed robbers wearing balaclavas and crash helmets boarded the Seamaster. As one of the robbers held a gun to the head of a crew member, Blake sprang from the cabin wielding a rifle. He shot one of the assailants in the hand before the rifle malfunctioned. He was then fatally shot in the back by assailant Ricardo Colares Tavares and died at the bottom of the companionway steps.
After his death there were many who claimed that wielding a gun had nothing to do with the fact that he was shot and killed. That’s a little like the logic that a good friend of mine still uses when she adamantly claims that her husband’s lung cancer was not caused by 30 years of chain smoking, but I digress. My feeling is that Peter Blake would still be alive had he not rushed for the gun, but of course that’s just my opinion. The six armed robbers that boarded Seamaster were nothing more than a bunch of petty criminals that had no intention of murdering anyone, but when confronted by Blake brandishing a gun they had no alternative than to shoot, and the rest is history.
I am not naive enough to think that there are not dangerous places to sail and that modern day piracy doesn’t exist. I know that it does and I have read stories of sailors who have been murdered, but that does not change my mind when it comes to guns. I was talking to my friend Richie Wilson the other day, he of two-times Vendee Globe fame. Over a decade ago he was preparing to sail his trimaran through the South China sea, an area known for piracy. Richie sought advice on the subject of whether or not to carry a gun onboard. A local expert asked him if he had training in “the escalation of a gun battle.” I know Rich well enough to know what the look on his face must have been like. Being trained in the escalation of a gun battle was not something that a New England liberal would have dabbled in and suffice is to say that he did not carry a weapon on board. It’s also suffice to say that he had no issues. Instead of a gun Richie carried a far more potent weapon; common sense. We are all capable of being stupid and the really dumb among us feel sure that they will be able to shoot themselves out of their stupidity. I am just suggesting that there may be other ways to skin this cat.
How about we all take a leaf out of Joshua Slocum’s book. Slocum, as you may remember, was the first person to sail single-handed around the world. He was aboard his yacht Spray in the Strait of Magellan close to an area suggestively named Thief’s Bay. In his book he wrote, “I sprinkled the deck with tacks and saw to it that a few of them stood ‘business end’ up as it’s well known that one cannot stand on a tack without saying something about it.” He continued, “I was asleep in the cabin, where the savages thought they ‘had me’ sloop and all, but changed their minds when they stepped on deck, for then they thought that I, or somebody else, had them. I had no need of a dog; they howled like a pack of hounds.”
So there you go. Some common sense and a box of carpet tacks are all you need. Leave the guns at home and enjoy the feeling you get when you liberate yourself from the shackles of modern life, guns and all.