My hands clenched the steering wheel as the radio announcer’s voice broke news of the execution of Scott and Jean Adam, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay on Feb. 22 by Somali pirates about 100 miles south of the Yemeni coast.
The U.S. Navy had descended on the scene, trying to prevent Quest from approaching the Somali coast, where assistance would have been all but impossible. A scuffle, an act of desperation by the pirates, or maybe a last-ditch effort by the crew to repel the attackers, we will never know for sure.
A group of high school sophomores, eager to learn and to follow their own waypoints through life, gathered outside their first-period classroom as their English teacher wove through traffic, wiping back tears for the fallen voyagers and recalling with renewed horror a fateful day in March 2004 aboard his Cal 30 sloop Saltaire in the Gulf of Aden.
Fear is most poignant when you know it first hand. A jambiya, the traditional Arab knife, slicing the air in front of your nose is beautifully exotic when you see it in a movie.
A semiautomatic rifle blasting rounds through your rigging and over your head fills your imagination with fantasy and adventure. Heroic dreams of victory, fighting evil with the secure knowledge that you are, in the eyes of God and all things good, worthy of triumph. Until it really happens.
I try to imagine what must have been happening aboard Quest. Where were the Somalis from? Bosaso? Harardhere? Were any of my attackers involved in this mass murder? Would I recognize the faces of the two Somalis killed by Navy commandos? Synaptic firing of nerve cells in my cerebral cortex, traffic and weather after this brief message from our sponsor, the tension in my forearms and dull pain in my gut settled into feckless despair, silent dejection, a tinge of guilt.
Two couples had left the safety of a comfortable home on the West Coast to give away Bibles and bring hope to those who knew only poverty and helplessness. They had joined forces, dizzy with optimism and with the starry-eyed faith that people are basically good wherever you go. They were drawn to this belief like charities to a Ponzi scheme. Those without malice never see malice.
Lesser beings who live for the moment, substituting daring for courage, recklessness for faith, duplicity for honor, are perhaps destined to a longer life than the crew of Quest, but they are fools if they call themselves victorious.
Something about a spoiled Hollywood starlet posting bail for stealing a diamond bracelet squawked from the radio, and an angry finger mashed the off button. A security guard at the school gate waved and smiled as I drove through.
Students chatted happily, but I hear the sound of water slapping against Saltaire’s hull, and for a fleeting moment I see the ominous dot on the western horizon over the Gulf of Aden turning in my direction. The providence of probability — dumb luck — is the only reason I am here, alive today.
Scott, Jean, Phyllis and Bob, we crossed paths seven years apart, and some day our paths will cross again on a faraway ocean as we fly our headsails before a fair wind and a following sea.
Circumnavigator and author Bill Morris, a frequent contributor to Ocean Navigator, survived an attack by Somali pirates on March 5, 2004, while sailing solo on his 1966 Cal 30 sloop Saltaire on a leg of his circumnavigation (see “Anatomy of a Somali Pirate Attack,” in this issue).