SAILING INTO DANGER: Pirates and Ice and Obama’s Big Chance

Berserk in Antarctica


I’m still up to my eyeballs in Miami. I’ve sailed three boats here over the past two days, and tomorrow I’m driving five hours to sail two more up in St. Augustine. But in between boats I have been following the news and thought I better throw in my two cents on the latest big rumpus in the cruising world.

Everyone and their mother now knows that Somali pirates have killed four American voyagers they took hostage off the coast of Oman. But I reckon fewer people are aware that Norwegian adventurer and madman Jarle Andhoey has gone missing off Antarctica on his 47-foot steel sloop Berserk.


I won’t insult your intelligence by restating the particulars in the pirate story. The best story online I’ve found so far, interestingly, was posted by the New York Daily News (or the Noise, as I used to call it when I lived in New York). They caught the all-important detail that Scott Adam, the bible-toting skipper of the 58-foot cutter Quest that was taken by pirates last Friday, was an ex-Hollywood director who once worked on such important TV shows as The Love Boat and The Dukes of Hazzard. But the more salient fact that really caught my attention was that Quest was being trailed by four American warships, including the aircraft carrier Enterprise, when the excrement hit the fan.

S/V Quest
Quest under sail/Courtesy
Crew of Quest
Crew of Quest (left to right): Scott and Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay, Bob Riggle/Courtesy of NY Daily News

As for Jarle Andhoey and Berserk, I refer you to this link from the Sydney Morning Herald. All that is known at this point is that Berserk‘s EPIRB went off Tuesday while she was in the Ross Sea. It is believed that Andhoey had previously put ashore two crew who were attempting to reach the South Pole and that two others were still on Berserk with him when the EPIRB was activated. Sometime Tuesday night the EPIRB ceased transmitting, and a New Zealand navy vessel that arrived on the scene earlier today found no trace of Berserk. The navy vessel has retreated due to truly atrocious weather, but two other vessels are now en route to continue the search.

Andhoey has been courting danger in high latitudes as far back as the late 1990s, when he first voyaged to Antarctica aboard his first Berserk, a 28-foot fiberglass Albin Vega sloop. To get a good idea of how truly crazed he is (or was), I urge you to read the book Berserk in the Antarctic, by David Mercy, an American backpacker who crewed with Andhoey on that first voyage. More recently, since acquiring a bigger boat, Andhoey has been running adventure-sailing charters and I gather has also been the subject of a film.

Berserk promo

Before inflicting my entirely irrelevant opinions on you, I should say first that my heart goes out to the families of Scott and Jean Adam, Phyllis Macay, and Bob Riggle, who were all killed aboard Quest. I also pray fervently that Andhoey and his crew will survive whatever ordeal they have encountered.

But the fact is all these people deliberately sailed into areas where they could reasonably expect to run into serious trouble. Their motives for doing so were entirely personal. They certainly deserve our sympathy, and I certainly admire their courage, but I’m not so sure we should expend enormous resources (e.g., aircraft carriers!) trying to pull their butts out of the fires they threw themselves into. When we do expend resources saving people like this, as I’ve said before, they should be charged for the trouble.

President Barack Obama (front)

I also have some advice for President Obama: this is your chance, big boy! Send some U.S. Marines into Puntland to shut down some Somali pirate havens, a la Tom Jefferson and the shores of Tripoli, and you’ll have much more cred with gun-toting Republicans who think you were born outside the U.S. and hate the fact you are beige instead of white.

UPDATE: Thursday 2/24. Turns out Jarle Andhoey is one of the two crew ashore trying to travel overland on ATVs to the South Pole. That figures, I guess. He and his companion, 18-year-old Samuel Massie, have phoned in and are now returning to Scott Base, where they were first put ashore. Weather has improved and the search for Berserk is continuing, but prospects for finding the vessel and the two Norwegians and one Brit aboard now seem poor. See this Sail-World story for details.

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5 Responses
  1. Richard_Gard

    I agree with you regarding Berserk in the high latitudes; that is adventuring and done at your own risk.

    But Quest is a different situation in that sailing from the Pacific to the Med is adventurous but closer to transportation. Commercial vessels travel the world as a matter of daily commerce, and anyone should expect to be able to do the same without being kidnapped.

    To avoid the Horn of Africa and Somalian pirates you must consider the alternative: a long trip around the Cape of Good Hope then fighting contrary currents and headwinds all the way up the west coast of Africa, with few ports for safe provisioning or rest. Obviously it makes financial sense to go the pirate route else all the commercial carriers would have switch already.

    Thanks for your wonderful writing, and congrats with your Exec Ed position at SAIL. They were smart to hire you.

  2. Charlie

    In response to Richard below: I don’t think anyone in a boat or ship within 1,000 miles of Somalia can expect not to be kidnapped at this point. The risks are well known and yachts have repeatedly been warned to stay out of the area. And there is an alternative to sailing around So. Africa if your goal is simply to get from the Pacific to the Med. There are airplane flights daily and they are very safe. Very glad you enjoy the writing and thanks for the conrats!

  3. Jeff

    Dumbass article with little understanding of politics and security. Obama’s not going to send troops into Somalia. Or don’t you remember Bush’s failure there? Protecting sailboats from pirates is pretty low on the priority list as far as national security goes. Commercial ships have implemented security measures and are being protected by a multi-nation force.

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