Pirate Attack! (Not really)

20:44.1N 022:26.1W
1200 UTC Tues, 17 Jan
 
So an hour after signing off on the blog last night we were happily sitting down to gnocchi a la gorgonzola.  At about 19.20 there is a ping on the AIS (electronic system for identifying other vessels in the area).  We can see a blip within 8nm but no ship information.  Hmmm, what could that be?  Can’t see anything on the horizon, but there is a swell running so a bit tricky.  Shortly after, the blip disappears from the AIS.    Perhaps a surfacing submarine we joke.
 
2000 the blip reappears.  Now much closer, only about 5nm away.  Its growing dark, we can’t see any lights.  Still no ship information, but we can tell that it is moving straight towards us at about 7.5knts (pretty fast).  What type of vessel would be moving fast at night, with no lights and displaying no identifying data?  This does not look good.  We start to get concerned.  Its rapidly approaching.
 
Blip disappears for a second time.  This does not look good.  Why would they turn on their AIS broadcast?  Do they not want to be seen?  What fast moving vessel would be out here?  And what is it coming towards us?
 
2010 Decide to get into full safety gear. Bungles is on deck searching for any signs of lights.  Mum turns off all the cabin lights and get into stealth mode.  I am tracking the AIS position.  Blip reappears, now less than 3nm to our stern.  Dad makes DSC call to the vessel (like a direct radio call, it sets off an hard-to-ignore alarm on the receiving radio) – no answer, no answer on VHF Ch16.  Still no data, no lights.  Starting to get really really worried.  Now 2nm to stern, moving at 8kts.  We should be able to get a visual by now. 
 
Dad decides the situation is serious.  We need to let someone know what is happening.  Dad calls Falmouth Coast Guard – unknown vessel in pursuit, unknown intentions, gives them our position.  They ask some questions, and give some advice.  As Dad is speaking to Falmouth, the ships ID pops up on the AIS.  Now 0.8nm to stern.  Relay this to Falmouth – they say that they will check it out and call us back in 5min.  Still can’t raise the vessel on VHF.  Pull in Genoa, start second engine, get ready for the unknown.
 
Increase our speed and alter our position a little.  Try to get some distance between us.  The other vessel also increases its speed and alters course to match ours.  Getting really scary now.  Finally can see some lights between the swell.  The boat is very close, 0.4nm.  We maintain course and increase speed.  Get ready for evasive manoeuvres. 
 
Falmouth call back.  It is a registered boat, French, sail boat.  Ok, that is good news, doesn’t sound like a hostile boat.  But immediately raises the concern of collision – why have they not responded to radio, why are they so close, is anyone on watch?
 
Move out of their path, the vessel passes to stern and maintains it’s course away from us to port.  We keep moving and try to create more distance.  Still no radio contact – did they not see us?  They were less than 200m away!  Why did they not see us, why are they not answering radio calls?
 
Loose visual with the boat, but see on AIS that it is moving away.  Everyone gives big sign of relief.  Thank goodness for calm heads of Dad and Bungles.  Thank goodness for Falmouth.  Thank goodness for AIS.  Phew.