Monday, July 13, 2015

A True, Modern Pirate Story

Pirates are known to inhabit just about anyplace there are boats. But the sea-robbers are most common where law-and-order is scant, where islands or uninhabited coastline provides convenient hiding places, and where unidentified people can come and go without arousing suspicion.

The Caribbean of the 18th century was just such a place, but many other parts of the earth also qualify. Today’s pirate story takes place in the South China Sea, a place that has been famous for its pirates almost from the dawn of recorded time.

We open in about 1974, when a woman named France Guillain, of mixed French and Malaysian decent,  took to sea in a 30-foot pirogue sailboat with her five children. She would remain on the boat, off-and-on, for nearly 14 years, experiencing life among sailors, natives and pirates. She wrote of her experiences in a feminist book titled Les Femmes d’abord . The book is available only in French, but this tale has been translated.

France was traveling from Hong Kong. She had held a course between Taiwan and China, and was now among the small, wild inlets northwest of the island of Luzon, largest island of the Philippines. This was an area that met all of the requirements for pirates, but France was not feeling particularly afraid, in spite of the fact that she had been warned.

“Do not,” she had been told, “go into any of the inlets. It is far better to spend the night in your boat on the open sea. The whole area is infested with the most dangerous of pirates, and they frequently spend their evenings in these private inlets. Stay away!”

But, while not a reckless woman – for she could not have been, and kept her family safe so far on her journey -  on this particular evening, France decided to ignore the warnings she had heard and pull into a sheltered cove for the night. Below her keel were rough coral reefs, and the tides and currents between them made ripping out the bottom of her fragile craft a real possibility.

She investigated such a cove during the late afternoon, and was encouraged to find two other pirogue boats already pulled up on the shore. She heaved a sigh of relief when she noticed children paying beside the craft. Women were in the early stages of preparing food, and a grandmotherly type watched over a sleeping infant. In all, there were nearly 30 people, whose interest was centered around their campfire, and the two cooking pots hung over it.

The group appeared to simply be traveling natives. When France beached her boat and approached the group, she was warmly greeted in English by a man who introduced himself and his wife, Linda.

Linda and France spoke no common language, but they were held together by the bonds of womanhood and motherhood, and were almost immediately friendly. Together they watched France’s girls play with the native children, and worked together to finish preparing the meal.

As evening fell, France noticed that the circling headlands  would hide the light of the group's fire from pirates upon the open sea. She felt even more safe with her new friends.

After eating, the young men of the group pulled out ukuleles , and sang while Linda danced. France recognized the tune, and felt that she was back in her home in Tahiti. She sang a song of her own, and the young men had no trouble picking up the tune. Then Linda showed her some dance steps, and they danced together under the stars.

France took her dozing children back to their boat to sleep, while Linda and her husband held some sort of serious discussion.  Overhead, the stars were bright. France felt secure in the safety of the surrounding cliffs and near the presence of the large group of peaceful islanders. Surely no pirates would dare attack her here.

Just as she was tucking in her sleepy girls, Linda’s husband approached her with something important to say. “You must never come to these coves again,” he said seriously. “It’s not safe.”

“Why?” France laughed in return. “Because of pirates?”

“Yes,” said the man. “They have no mercy. They kill everyone, even the children. Linda is afraid something bad will happen to you.”

“Is she afraid of pirates?”

“WE are the pirates!”  the man told her. Then he led here to one of his two boats, where France saw piles of electronics, nautical equipment – and machine guns.

Image result for somali boat full of guns

“Go now.” The man told her. “Don’t come back.”

Linda, her parents, and her children, were part of a tribe of hereditary pirates, born and bred to the trade. Was France saved because the pirates were already loaded with plunder? Because they didn’t want to foul the white sand of their hiding place with her blood? Or because she knew the same songs they did, and was not too shy to dance?

This story took place in 1974.
Piracy is still real.


  1. TS,

    Having come from the Philippines, this was something I had not known. There are many many islands so there are places to go hide. Glad this tale ended well.


  2. pirate are dangerous with guns.