FIRST PERSON: Evildoers in my wake?

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I’d just gotten back from Boston, where I'd been working on a 65 Viking Princess. I hadn’t had a chance to sit in my shop and have a day to goof off and drink beer when the phone rang.

It was my client with the other 65 Princess. "Can you go to Nassau and bring the boat back for service?" he asked. I told him I had just gotten off a plane from Logan, but sure, I could leave in the morning. His secretary booked me on the noon flight to Nassau.

When I got there the boat had been filled up, the new jet ski was taken off, everything was ready to go. I got on board, did all my checks, and by 3 o’clock I was on my way back to Florida. The wind was light out of the southwest. I was able to make a solid 25 knots. I got to northwest passage near Chub Cay. Once I am up on the banks I like to stop and take a walk around the boat to make sure there’s nothing going on and everything is secure. From there it’s about 60 miles across the banks to Bimini.

By the time I got there it had just gotten dark. The GPS has a radar overlay. You can see the chart, but it also shows the radar targets. I could see a couple of ships out in the straits, and there was a small target right along the deep water drop-off near Bimini. I thought it was probably a dive boat doing a night dive.

When I got close I could tell one of the ships was going to cross very close behind me. I decided I would change course a little and duck behind it. Once I was back on my course I noticed that what I thought was the dive boat had fallen in behind me.

There’s no flybridge on the Princess, so you steer from inside. The saloon has a big sliding door at the back of the helm station. There’s a curtain that constantly works itself closed while under way, so I have to get up and pull it back to see what’s behind me. This is no easy feat with the deck jumping around and, like most motoryachts, few handholds. I walked back and looked into the dark; there was nothing there. I went back and looked on the radar, and there it was. Someone was following me with their lights off.

I’ve been hearing from other captains about evildoers trying to board boats under way while in the Bahamas. They come up blacked out behind a yacht, board and rob them before you know they’re there.

It was almost midnight, and there’s a whole lot of nothing between Bimini and Florida. And I was by myself. The seas were a little rough, but I was still able to make 25 knots and not slam around too badly. Anyone trying to board at that speed would be very bold.

I went a few miles and looked back — there was nothing there. I looked on the radar, and the target was slowly closing. I went about 20 miles, and it was still back there. I figured that if they are evildoers and I call the Coast Guard at Port Everglades they will hear me and break off the chase.

I looked at the radar, and they were getting really close. I decided to call the Coast Guard on the VHF but walked back to look out one last time. Just as I drew the curtain back, running lights come on. And there was a blue light flashing.

I pulled back power to an idle. I got on the radio and said, “U.S. Coast Guard, this is Deja Vous outbound from Nassau to Port Everglades, I am so glad to see that blue light. I’ve been watching you on radar and thought you might be some kind of evildoers.”

We went through the normal stopping procedure. They wanted the name of the boat, registration numbers, last port and destination, and then my personal information. There’s usually a few seconds between questions while they check the records.

Finally they asked how many were on board. “Just me,” I tell them. I give them my name and spell it phonetically. They asked for my date of birth. “Today, 1955,” I said.

“Would you say again?”

“Yes, July 26, 1955. I am a USCG-licensed captain. I have a customs local boaters number also, if you need that.” They said they didn’t need the number.

There was a long pause. Usually at this point they announce they are going to board and search the vessel. I went 20 years without being boarded, but in the last few years it seems like it happens every other trip.

The Coasties came back on the air and said. “Captain, you have a good trip the rest of the way to Florida and enjoy your birthday.”

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Well, well, well. I wonder if they gave me a break because it was my birthday or that they’ve stopped me enough now that they’re comfortable they know who I am.

I made it back to Fort Lauderdale without incident and was home in bed by 2 a.m.

Gray Harker is a Fort Lauderdale-based delivery captain who makes his way up and down the Eastern Seaboard about a dozen times a year. When he’s not at the helm of sailboats and motoryachts, he runs a late-1950s runabout (above) that he restored.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Soundings technical editor Tom Neale had an experience similar to Harker’s that he writes about in the September issue of Soundings.

Click here for Peter Swanson’s “Loose Cannon” blog post about his recent Coast Guard boarding experience.

For more about Harker, click here for Soundings editor-in-chief Bill Sisson’s “A View From Here” blog.

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