I Survived: Robbed by Pirates

A Canadian couple thought a weeklong cruising vacation would be a relaxing way to learn to sail. They were wrong.

Apr 29 2015, 4:07pm

All photos by Andy Wasinger

Most pirate attacks in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico are petty burglaries involving private yachts. The maritime information website Noonsite.com reports 29 pirate incidents in the Caribbean region in 2014, and 11 incidents so far this year. Outboard motors, electronics, and wallets are the most common items stolen.

Loretta Reinholdt, 54, and her husband Andy Wasinger, 46, from Calgary, Alberta, thought that the personal instruction and hands-on experience of a weeklong cruise would be a fun way to learn how to sail. The plan was to help move a 55-foot yacht, with an American captain at the helm, from Belize to Roatan Island, Honduras, and then spend a few days vacationing in the area. Thirty-six hours into the trip, on March 28, their vacation went south.

As told to Will Grant:

"We left Belize at 5:30 in the morning, and it happened to us at about 5 o'clock in the evening the next day. We were looking for an anchor site because there was a storm coming in. The boat was about two miles off, at least that's what the captain told me. He spotted it first. Our first concern was to stay out of its way. Then it started heading really quickly toward us, and it was coming so quickly that we thought it was odd.

When it got close, my husband and the captain told me to go down below and to stay there. They [the pirates] came, and they asked for gasoline. My husband kept saying, "No, no, we have no gasoline." Within minutes they were boarding the boat. There were four of them. They had two guns, a spear gun, and a knife. The leader had scars all over his face. I was below, and once I heard those heavy footsteps above, I was terrified.

The first thing they did is sit the men in the cockpit and asked how many people were on board. They saw me and immediately told me to come up. They were agitated, very much in a hurry. I have a feeling they thought I was calling for VHS radio help. I didn't do that; I don't even know how to do that.

They went below and asked me to come down first. Of course, I was petrified. They asked for my wallet, and I gave it to them immediately. They found about $200 and seemed a little satisfied. Then they put a pistol to my husband's temple. They asked him for his wallet and he gave it to them. They went into the captain's quarters and completely demolished it. They didn't find any money. They took me by my hair and put a knife to my throat and demanded money. Well the captain went down immediately and found his passport that had some money in it. They actually left him with his passport.

They came back upstairs, and they kept demanding more money, more money, more money. They were tearing the place apart. They took everything of value onto their boat. They stole every single thing they could with a power cord. They stole a lot of things that we didn't even know were on the boat, but they did not take our food.

When they gave up on the money, they took control of the boat and went as fast as they could with the motor into a hidden bay. It was a very small opening, and there were mountains around it on the sides. They grounded the boat. It was bad weather, really big waves coming in. They cut our lines to the main sail so we couldn't use it. They cut our GPS and threw all our drinking water overboard. I was thinking they were going to shoot one of the guys and take me away, but after about half an hour, they finally told us to get below, and they took off. After five minutes, it was quiet.

We started wondering why they left us. Why did they ground the boat and leave us? Why didn't they steal the boat? We started panicking because we thought, they're coming back for us. We thought they might even come back with more people and take us away. I started collecting everything we'd need while the captain was trying to get the boat out, but it wasn't moving anywhere.

We loaded everything into the dingy and got it on shore. The motor didn't work, and we flipped it in the waves. We brought all the emergency supplies into the mangroves to hide them in case they came back. I stayed on the beach to watch for the pirates, and the men tried for hours to get the boat out.

It poured rain that night. It was cold, and we all hugged. We spooned. Basically we spent the next three days searching the area and conserving our food. We had enough food for a week, but we rationed it. Every night we were soaking wet. Nights were rough. On the third day we followed a trail to the other side of the peninsula. We could see a town about a two-day walk away, but there was a water crossing. We would have had to swim. We didn't know if there was beach or cliffs with waves crashing on them on the other side. We decided to stay with the boat, and we made an SOS sign on the trail with arrows pointing in our direction.

The next day somebody came. All of the sudden, we look to our right and there are six or seven young men coming toward us. We didn't know if they were pirates so my husband and I ran like mad men toward the jungle. Unfortunately for the captain there was no chance he could get away.

We were in the mountains, and we could see them take him away. We couldn't make out if it was friendly, and we thought, we're not coming out. After an hour another fishing boat came. We could hear the captain calling our name, but we didn't trust it. We thought they probably had a gun to his head. A gentleman in the boat that spoke almost perfect English started to talk to us. He had a really friendly voice. You have to trust someone. So my husband and I decided to go for it and ran to the boat. After that, we were safe.

This didn't change our mind about adventuring, but changed our mind about cruising. I'll go back to Honduras, but not with a boat."

Update: As of this week, more than a month after the incident, the boat remains in the sand where the pirates grounded it. Looters have stripped the boat clean of everything of value, including the mast. The Honduran Coast Guard, unable to move the boat, appears to have abandoned its recovery efforts.