Seven Deadly Sailing Destinations

Travellers everywhere love to take pics of the beautiful places they find. But what about the places that are so dangerous the authorities won’t let you go there? Maybe the animals or humans will kill you? Or maybe you’ll get poisoned? These are seven places where, even if you have a boat, you should think twice about sailing to. And we suggest alternative destinations to each one.

1. SPRATLEY & PARACEL ISLANDS

Right now we’re in Sarawak on Borneo. Two years ago when Liz began researching our passage east to Japan she came across these amazing looking atolls in the South China Sea, lying west of the Philippines.

She had never heard of the Spratley or Paracel Islands, but the satellite images showed intense jewels in deep blue water, surrounded by coral reefs and beaches, similar to the Maldives and Anambas archipelagos. We knew of no other cruisers who had been there but they looked stunning.

A little more digging revealed why these groups of reefs, banks, cays and atolls are not visited by cruising yachts. Their sovereignty is being fought over by China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Add US naval vessels into the mix, asserting the right to freedom of navigation within international waters, and you have an explosive situation.

Subi Reef, Spratley Islands, complete with naval ships

Still, at least with the lack of human presence, the turtles, nesting seabirds and marine life should be flourishing! As long as all those navies don’t dump their crap in the water and start blowing each other up…

FTB Alternative: The Anambas Islands, also remote in the South China Sea and with many uninhabited islands, are probably not too dissimilar. Or how about the Calamian Archipelago, north of Palawan in the Philippines?

2. MIYAKE-JIMA, JAPAN

Ever since we announced our plan to sail to Japan people have warned us about the radiation leaking into the sea from Fukushima. It depends on which bits of the internet you read to know how much of this is true, but Fukushima is unlikely to be on our destination list.

Miyake-jima, on the other hand, is not known for its radiation poisoning. Instead Mount Oyama, which dominates the island, erupts regularly, last time from 2000 to 2004. It’s a pretty place, with around 3000 people living there now, it even has a tourist office. OK, so it has an active volcano, but there are lots of volcanoes on Japan’s 6800+ islands, and inevitably we’ll be sailing near some of them.

But what makes Miyake-jima really special is that its residents and visitors are required to carry a gas mask at all times because the volcano constantly leaks poisonous gas. Respiratory problems persist. And if the levels of sulphur rise too much sirens sound off across the island to tell you to pop on your mask.

FTB Alternative: Miyako-jima (subtle difference there in the name 😉) is a stunning island known for its coral reefs. We’ll be passing this island as we head from the port of Ishikagi to Okinawa.

Miyako-jima’s beautiful beaches

3. ILHA DA QUEIMADA GRANDE (SNAKE ISLAND)

With more than 4000 of the deadliest snake in the world resident here, Ilha da Queimada Grande (aka Snake Island) sits off the coast of Brazil.

The venom of the Golden Lancehead Viper (or Bothrops insularis) can eat through flesh and if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten by one you’ll be dead in an hour.

Bothrops insularis

Liz quite like snakes, she finds them scarily compelling. But 4000 of them on one small island? Nah. Even if we wanted to go there we couldn’t because the Brazilian government has prohibited any visitors from setting foot on the island. Occasionally scientists are given permission to study them. Brave people!

FTB Alternative: Pretty much any of the Thai islands, they all have snakes on them. Or Langkawi, where we saw a cobra. For destinations closer to Snake Island, try Ilhabela in State of São Paulo, 80nm north. Or Ilha Grande, Rio De Janeiro, 150nm away.

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4. HEARD ISLAND VOLCANO, AUSTRALIA

OK, this is another volcano. We like volcanoes. Anchoring inside the original caldera of Krakatoa was like no other experience we have had. But it’s not just a volcano, it’s also “the tallest mountain in Australian-owned territory excluding Antarctica”. And it’s called Big Ben.

Lying approximately two thirds of the way between Madagascar and Antarctica, the island is one of the most remote spots in the world, and it’s a two week sail in any direction to another land mass across the most unforgiving of oceans.

Other reasons it may put you off:

  • It is constantly spewing lava flows and glaciers into the sea
  • It’s blanketed in ice.
  • The weather on the island is notoriously terrible, with hurricane force winds and low temperatures.

Heard Island, Australia

Even if being in one of the most dangerous and hardest places in the world to access is still not putting you off, the Australian authorities will. No-one is allowed there, except a handful of scientists on expeditions now and then.

FTB Alternative: If bracing winds and isolation are your thing, try the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. With the Atlantic on one side and the North Sea on the other, a nice drop of whisky and a warm fire are good to cosy around in the inhabited bits.

Shetland

5. ADEN, YEMEN

Yemen has been a no-go area since the civil war broke out in 2015, but it was a dangerous place before this. It’s a bleak place now, and the UK Forieign and Commonwealth Office has been advising against all travel to Yemen since 2011.”

This is what they say:

“…[We] advise against all travel to Yemen. This includes the mainland and all islands. If you’re in Yemen, you should leave immediately… There are no evacuation procedures in place…Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Yemen. There is a very high threat of kidnap and unlawful detention from militia groups, armed tribes, criminals and terrorists such as Al-Qaida… and Daesh…”

You may wonder why anyone would want to go here?

Aden in happier times

We spent a few weeks there on SY Esper and we loved it. In 2010, during our passage from Turkey to India, we anchored first in Aden and then Al Mukalla. The welcome we received was warm and open. And Selim, our driver and guide, who adopted us and refused any payment, is one of the nicest people we’ve ever met in 16 years of cruising.

FTB Alternative: There are few places like Yemen, but if you want to go to the Middle East, one of the nicest countries we’ve visited on land is Jordan; we’ve been told that the Royal Jordanian Yacht Club is lovely! And right next door to Yemen is Oman, with some of the finest stretches of sand and some really good cultural sites. At the time of writing it is a safe place to visit.

6. NORTH SENTINEL ISLAND

Lying west of the Andaman Islands, North Sentinel Island is off-limits to anyone with any sense, as John Allen Chau, a 27 year old from the US, found out in 2018 when they killed him with arrows as he stepped onto their beach.

Numbering between 50 and 150 individuals (no-one really knows) the endangered Sentinelese have lived there for around 60,000 years, and are protected by the Indian government. They choose to live in isolation from the world and have successfully resisted anthropologists, authorities and tourists. And, to be honest, who can blame them?

N Sentinel Island and islanders

But it’s not just North Sentinel Island which is off-limits, unless you’re an Indian National you are not permitted to visit the Nicobar Islands either, which are patrolled by the Indian Navy.

FTB Alternative: The Andamans, providing you are prepared to go through the complications and tedium of Indian Bureaucracy.

Another alternative: We didn’t go to the Andamans because we had already spent three years in India and loved it. Instead we sailed the western coast of Sumatra from Pulau Weh through the Mentawais to Enggano. It’s a cruiser’s dream.

Click here for our passage from Thailand to Krakatoa along the western islands of Sumatra.

7. SOMALIA

When we sailed through the Gulf of Aden in 2010 piracy was at its height. In fact, we heard attacks over the VHF (which you can listen to in our podcast series on the blog). It’s still an unstable and dangerous place today and we would advise against sailing there.

This is what the FCO website says:
“There is a high threat of maritime crime in the territorial and international waters off Somalia and attack remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom.”

Somali Pirates

But, the north-east African coastline is still one of our favourite sailing grounds, and if it ever became safe we’d love the chance to sail the coast of Somalia and spend time at anchor there. The coral in the Red Sea and Gulf is untainted by tourism, with no resorts or many settlements, is in fantastic shape. The marine life was the richest we’ve seen anywhere: sharks, whales, dolphins, turtles, dugongs, all kinds of reef fish…

FTB Alternative: How about sailing the Eritrean coast, just north of Somalia? The desolate and pristine Sadla Island off southern Eritrea is indelibly inked into our brains.
Remember: If you’d like to head to this part of the world, please keep up to date with political and safety conditions and do your due diligence before making any decisions.

Click image for Sadla Island blog post

This is not a definitive list, what would you add? Have you sailed to any of these places? We would love to hear your suggestions and tales in the comments.

Thanks for joining our adventure and supporting us on the blog. ❤️

Peace and fair winds
Liz, Jamie and Millie

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