My Father's SOS—From the Middle of the Sea
Richard Carr, a retired psychologist who had long dreamed of sailing around the world, was in the middle of the Pacific when he started sending frantic messages that said pirates were boarding his boat. Two thousand miles away in Los Angeles, his family woke up to a nightmare: he might be dying alone, and there was almost nothing they could do about it.
My father’s e-mail didn’t make much sense, but he seemed to be saying that pirates had boarded his boat. “Being kidnappedby filmcompany Deep south blackcult took over steering,” it read. “Ship disabled.”
He sent this to my mother, Martha Carr, at 4:30 a.m. Pacific time on May 28, 2017, a Sunday. She was at home in Los Angeles, asleep, and she wouldn’t see the message—and a couple more like it—until 8:30 a.m. For several hours, my dad, 71-year-old Richard Carr, must have thought they weren’t getting through.
Dad was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on his way from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to the Marquesas Islands, 26 days into a single-handed, 2,780-mile crossing that was to be the first major leg of a lifelong dream: sailing around the world. It was 3:30 A.M. where he was, near the equator, an hour behind Pacific time. He was 1,160 nautical miles from the Marquesas, 1,975 from Hawaii, and 1,553 from Mexico—about as far away from land, and help, as you can get.
His boat was a 36-foot Union Cutter called Celebration, built in 1985. It had a white hull, faded teak decks, brass portholes turning turquoise, and forest green sail covers that always reminded me of summer camp. Climbing into the cabin was like disappearing into a hobbit hole—a dark, welcoming space with oak cabinets and big cushions.
Just six hours before Dad sent the pirate alert, late in the evening on May 27, he had used his satellite text messager and tracking device to wish Mom a happy 39th wedding anniversary. He also wanted to ease her concerns that his boat was pointed the wrong way, something she’d noticed on a map that indicated his position based on the messages he sent.
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