A Show of Respect

Teresa Carey Words 21 Comments

When 16 year old Abby Sunderland attempted to sail solo around the world and was dismasted in the Southern Ocean, I received a flood of emails asking my opinion about the appropriateness of a teenager sailing solo. I mostly evaded the question because I had no strong opinions either way. At that time, what matters only is that she survived, learned, and has become stronger because of it.

Recently four American sailors were killed at the hands of Somali pirates when they attempted to sail into dangerous waters that were known to be populated by pirates. Some opinions on the web are critical of their decision, saying that they were stupid to attempt that route.

There were four sailors aboard Quest. They had been traveling extensively in their sailboat to enjoy their retirement years, deliver bibles, and do missionary work in different parts of the world. The sailors were aware of the danger they were facing as they attempted to sail near Somalia.

I wonder if we can show respect to their lives by considering them brave instead of stupid, lucky instead of unfortunate.

Brave, perhaps, for taking such a large risk in order to fulfill their calling, and lucky to be called so strongly to do something that they were willing to risk everything. Imagine an existence so dynamic. Isn’t it that passion and verve that brings us to life?

Comments 21

  1. michael

    i love your attitude! following a calling, daring the difficult make life worth living rather than something we just go through day to day.

    1. Brad Smith

      I believe in adventure and have taken chances since I was 13. What concerns me is that people do things with the idea that someone will come to the rescue. Working with USCG Auxillary I see people have this expectation of someone saving them. I don’t believe that life savers, like those that died in the storm that took the Andrea Gail, should lose their lives. There needs to be an understanding that the weather needs to improve before search teams take flight. Personal responsibility comes with just that, RESPONSIBILITY. Choose, but choose wisely.

  2. Tucker Bradford

    Nicely put! People try to get me to weigh in on these issues too. It drives me nuts, mostly because I don’t really feel that I need to have an opinion at all about people I’ve never met. If I had to have one though, it would mirror yours. Thank you for putting it so succinctly.

  3. Rëa Gabriella

    If the world worked where in a system where any righteous, morality, sane thoughts equal reward and not negative criticism, then i believe your words would be greatly applauded my the judges. They are fair and pure and ever so…right, just right.
    I love reading the pieces of your thoughts you share on your weblog and i will continue reading them as long as you write. Every log is as cool as a spring shower. Speaking of which, the cherry tree outside my window is blooming pink and white buds. Spring it shaking her last drops of dew and waking up…!
    How ever north you be I hope you see the coming of spring

  4. Rob

    Mmmmm! I understood that it was a bungled special forces rescue attempt that caused their deaths (Maybe I`m wrong, but I understood that the captors stated that they would kinnthem if a rescue attempt was carried out?)

    I do think that they were negligent to venture into such a situation knowing that it was risky, and by doing so cause others to risk their lives trying to rescue them. For me I would carry grenades, set the radar to warn me of any untoward approach and wake me up, and pull a pin or two as they came along side, sure I would need a few wooden bungs to plug the holes! above the water line ( steel boat) after, but my choice! alternatively the countries from which those people came from should, attack and destroy any vessel involved in the Kidnapping! if those who are irrisponsible enough to get themselves caught up with the Kidnappers, get killed? they do so because they believed in what they were doing! and if handing out Bibles to muslims in or around muslim waters is what you chose to do? Hey! who am I to object ! but should your vessel and the pirates get zapped by the same cruise missile Tough! They don`t Take french vessels anymore! and they wouldn`t touch any others, if the situation meant certain death for them . Just my humble opinion! colateral damage? thats another can of worms! Why the fuss, more people get killed on the roads than by Pirates, thats collateral damage too, the joys of the motor car!

  5. Jean-Marc

    I say stupid. That said some of my most memorable experiences where the result of stupid decisions, good and bad.

    I logged 27000 miles with my pops as a boy. My pops was an ex military and 27 year pilot he was “Mr. triple redundancy” . The question always came up “do you have firearms on board?, what about pirates?” His answer was always the same “by the time you realize you need it, its too late, and you’l probably end up shooting someone in an anchorage somewhere who came to borrow a wrench” though there was basically nowhere in the boat where there wasn’t some sort of club, knife or zip ties velcroed to a bulkhead, inside a cabinet door or under a table just in case. In those days it was drug runners that where all the rage not terrorists looking for ransom. They would kill you, use your boat for a while then sink it, or supposedly anyway. So we avoided “known dangerous waters” & probably some pretty cool places too.

    Though, I like your opinion better than my own, its more fair and respectful.
    Some people out there with not much to lose will “kick you in the head when your down”. They should be avoided.

  6. Merry O

    At the last Annapolis boat show, I came upon a creative vendor selling this giant light.

    The light came on and pointed itself properly at a million lumens blasting out–on an automatic basis when it sensed movement (other boats approaching) by an impressive amount of yards.

    Therefore, it appeared that you and your crew were really, really alert and ready for anything even in the sleepy hours of a watch.

    I guess the light also could blind the pirates it was so bright. The vendor said that this could possibly deter completely–sort of the theory of “let’s go bother someone else who won’t put up as much of a fight.” Like when you think you are going to get attacked in a parking garage and you start acting crazy and screaming like a loon. Same idea I suppose.

    I thought it was pretty smart!

  7. Gwen

    Q: “I wonder if we can show respect to their lives by considering them brave instead of stupid, lucky instead of unfortunate.”

    A: We should, can, and shall. I was so sorry to read about this terrible act, but they died fulfilling their lives’ purposes. May they rest in pace.

  8. Chris S.

    Well said, Teresa. If we were to avoid the most dangerous sea lanes of the world, the most dangerous highways, the most dangerous urban neighborhoods, then we might as well barricade ourselves in our living rooms and never venture into the world.

    That being said, I don’t think I would travel into that part of the world without some sort of large capacity firearm on board. True, fighting pirates that way might get me killed, but there is a pretty good chance they’ll kill you in the first place. I’d rather go down swinging…

    They died fulfilling their life’s mission though, and that is all any of us could hope for in the end…even if it had to be at the hands of petty, murderous thieves.

  9. maggie

    I echo the sentiment that your words were well chosen, and your perspective on the situation beautiful. I don’t have an answer. The family was following their calling, they were also putting others in danger on their behalf. And what about the pirates? Its so easy to see them as deplorable demons that should be exterminated. And maybe they should be. But if you grew up in Somalia, hopeless, hungry, without law or morality would you be capable of actions different from that of the pirates? The self grasping that leads to such violent acts is present in all of humanity. Maybe if we see them as human beings in need of help things would improve. Or maybe we would get killed like this family did. I hope they died in peace.

  10. Douglas

    I grew up in a neighborhood where people would pass through who didn’t live there and they usually walked out in one piece. I say usually because sometimes they didn’t. The country of Somalia is rechedly poor and the leaders in charge don’t care for anything except remaining in power and downing rivals. My old neighborhood was the same. They claimed that they were protecting the area from people who would come in and cause trouble, but they usually just picked on anyone alone or with something obviously of value. The overall idea was that if they could take it, they had the right to do so. Sometimes fighting back could drive them off if the cost was high enough, sometimes it just made them angry and increased the damage they would do. Same with the pirates. Some would turn away if there was dangerous opposition, others would just break out the AK-47s and RPGs and make you an object lesson to others who might try resistance.
    I believe that people should do what their hearts lead them to do, but they should do so with a measure of common sense. If your need is to sail into dangerous waters, you take whatever precautions you can and hope for the best. You should not, however, expect others to share your risk who don’t share your purpose. Sailing into pirate infested waters carrying bibles into a muslum country on a small boat is akin to walking into an Okland neighborhood at midnight, wearing a white robe and hood carying a torch. I admire your conviction, but question your sanity if you do this.

    1. Post

      Douglas. You have a good point, although I doubt the sailors were displaying their bibles in a way like a person “walking into an Okland neighborhood at midnight, wearing a white robe and hood carrying a torch.” (directly quoted from Douglas’ comment)

      I heard that the sailors did take some precautions to try to sail by unnoticed. Unfortunately, however, they were noticed and died because of the risk they chose. I do hope that the government continues to push for peace in these waters in the best way that they can.


      1. Douglas

        I hope so too and I hope that things settle down in the troubled waters around the world. Too many good people are getting hurt.

  11. Brandon

    True blue water sailing is “taking chances”. The calculated odds make it dangerous but not stupid.

    And it often, but not always, involves bravery.

    Sailing into pirate infested waters is about the same as swimming into shark infested waters. Both predators are committed and likely better at reaching their goals.

    It is “taking chances” in the same way as playing Russian Roulette is “taking chances”.

    It often, but not always, involves stupidity or willful denial of reality which is a polite way of saying stupidity.

    I am sorry they died and wish I could help do something about the folks who decide to persue aggressive solutions to their own misery but I question showing respect for those 4 lives; they clearly did not respect them, themselves.

  12. Sharon

    As a family of 5 about to leave the US sailing, I came to this website hoping to receive sound advice for this adventure in which we are about to embark. But Theresa’s blog about the Americans killed in Somalian waters, and her reply to the comment posted by Douglas has made me reconsider her judgement skills. With that said, I would also like to state that I have no respect for these 4 non-secular sailors who died. How could someone honor those who engage in reckless actions?

    1. Post

      Just to be clear, I merely wanted to show some respect for people in order to counter the flood of bad media attention they were receiving. I find that heavy negativity to be very upsetting and not necessary, especially since we can never know the full story with only the ‘news’ as our source. They had just passed away and their families were mourning. I don’t know the reasons they ventured that direction, however I never recommend sailing into dangerous waters, and I personally would avoid traveling there at this time when pirates are known to populate the area. I wonder, however, could the choice to sail toward Somalia have been the best choice for them given their circumstances? I guess I will never know exactly what was going on aboard that boat and therefore I can’t understand their decision and can’t place judgment on them.

      1. Sharon


        Thank you for your reply. I appreciate your comment and I agree with you wholeheartedly.

        I guess I placed a strong emphasis in what I understand is the meaning for the word RESPECT: “high level of esteem and honour gained by impressive development or achievement”.

        Now that I understand the true message of your blog’s request, I would like to retract my words about your judgement skills and continue to support your endeavors!

        1. Post

          Thanks for responding! Without speaking in person, there is always room for interpretation and misunderstandings happen. Disagreements also happen, and that is OK too. I hope your sail with your family goes well. Please keep us posted.

  13. Mike

    These people were doing what was important to them with out any attempt at harming anyone else. Isn’t that what siling is all about? Live your dream!! Find what is important to you and do it. I wouldn’t feel the same if they were arms runners or dope smugglers who were attacked by pirates. These people sacraficed themselves in an attempt to bring something to a people that was better than what they previously had. It’s not a question of religion or even right or wrong. These people were trying to make the world a better place in a non-threatening way. For that I have respect. Were they stupid or reckless? Look, if you have never done something that others would consider stupid or reckless to achieve something that is important to you, then you have never had something that was that important to you. I hate that thier lives were taken but it was a good and honorable end. I hold people like that in high regard. Just my oppinion. Live your dream. Remove or bypass obstacles or die trying.

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