Weird Things Happen at Sea

26 Sep

Weird things sometimes happen at sea. They always seem to happen at night too. Far and away our strangest encounter at sea came about three days out from the Canary Islands en route to the Caribbean. We left about two days behind the ARC fleet so didn't expect to run into anybody out there, but as you can see that didn't really pan out.

What are your thoughts as to what the story behind this run-in could have been? Do you have any weird stories to tell? Leave us a comment and let us know.


atlantic ocean crossing:

You know the movie Duel, about the guy driving his car through the desert while being harassed by a big semi for hundreds of miles? We've got the modern day version of that movie all worked out now.

One night we're out sailing along in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when a boat suddenly appears and cuts right in front of us with no running lights on. He freaks us out a little but then continues off to the horizon.

Two nights later we are having a beautiful night of sailing with just the screecher out in twelve knots of wind from behind. Around seven p.m. we have one last look around, before the sun goes down, and there is nothing but ocean in every direction.

Atlantic Ocean Sunset

Four hours later, Ali wakes me up to tell me there is a sailboat right behind us with no lights on. Sure enough, in those four hours a boat has closed from somewhere over the horizon to within a couple of hundred yards of us. Ali shines a spotlight on him and he gives a quick flash back. I go back to sleep.

Now at one a.m. the wind has climbed to around twenty knots. Ali goes to bed while I sit up to watch the sailboat that hasn't moved from his spot behind us. Seems a bit strange that in four hours he covered all those miles to get behind us but then in the next three, he couldn't manage to pass us.

An hour later the moon sets and the sky goes pitch black. Now I am really annoyed because this guy can see us, but we have no idea where he is, and therefore have to rely on him to avoid hitting us. I wait a while and then flash the spotlight across the horizon behind us. I get nothing in return. I do this a few more times over the next hour before he finally gives a quick flash from a bit off our port side. That's better, I think, at least now he is passing us.

Around four a.m. I see a whole bunch of lights flashing around on the dark boat before a faint red one (not a running light, which would have been green on that side) is finally left on. I switch with Ali and go to bed.

Thirty minutes pass before Ali wakes me and says they seem to be getting closer again. I have a look and tell her they must have tacked, but not to worry about it. I try to call them on the VHF but they haven't answered all night. Fifteen minutes later she calls me outside again in a panic and shines the spotlight to show me why. The boat is just fifty yards in front of us now, and angling slowly across our bow. We light the boat up and yell for them to turn a light on and to get the hell away from us. I then turn us twenty degrees to port to tack away from them.

Two minutes later Ali is standing on the other side of the boat screaming. The other boat has done a one-eighty and is now charging straight at us. At the last second I crank the boat hard over to starboard as they pass across our bow a mere fifty feet in front of us! It's absolutely insane. We are five hundred miles from shore in the Atlantic Ocean and are struggling to avoid hitting some maniac in an unlit boat. When I cranked the boat to the right we spun around up into the wind and were just sort of sitting still. The other boat had done the same as they passed us and were now sitting alongside of us just thirty yards away.

We were finally able to have a good look at the boat. It was flying a French flag and looked like a normal cruising boat, about forty-five feet long, though we couldn't see a name on it. In the cockpit there was one guy at the wheel and another guy scrambling around. At this point Ali and I were both absolutely screaming at them as they just stared at us, not saying a word. If we had been in cars on the highway, this is the point I would have been dragging them out through their car windows and beating them senseless on the side of the road. Fortunately, I guess, we were on boats, so instead we turned on our engines, spun around, and took off as quickly as we could.

The other boat then did the same, and also turned on all of their lights. The boat lit up, which ruled out our earlier thought that maybe they had lost all of their power in a lightning strike or something. We were both galloping through the waves at six knots, with them just a hundred yards or so behind us. Then just like that, they went dark again. Our radar, which is really only useful for spotting ships, wasn't picking them up either. We altered course a bit and kept the motor on to try and put some distance between us. It was now five a.m.

A little after six the sun finally started to rise. We couldn't see the other boat so I went back to bed. As the sky continued to brighten Ali spotted them, and again they were right behind us, a mile back. This time we'd had enough and just wanted to get as far away from them as we could. We tacked way off course and cruised along for an hour and a half at a ninety degree angle to them. They kept their course and were soon out of sight.

That was easily the most bizarre incident we've ever had. At this point neither one of us can comprehend any possible reason for what happened. Our first thought had been that they were just idiots who didn't think it was a big deal to cross that close to another boat in the dark, unlit, far out at sea. If so, and if they don't understand English, then maybe they thought we were yelling for help or something. But if they had been coming back to help us I don't think they would have come roaring back across our bow, cutting us off under full sails. So that doesn’t make much sense. Aside from that, we've really got no idea.

For the movie script we thought maybe they would just keep doing this sort of thing every night for a couple of weeks, depriving us of sleep until we went completely insane and jumped off the boat together, where a school of hungry sharks would quickly devour us. Something like that.

Seriously though, if these guys come back again tonight we're going to have a big problem.

excerpt from november 2006 logs of


  1. Jake

    Hey, we are planning to do a trip across the Pacific in the next year or two (my wife and I, maybe with the kids). We really appreciate this post as a source of reference for what to look out for…even in incredibly open waters. And we got a laugh out of it too!

    Thanks and safe sailing!

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