Paul and Rachel Chandler are severely testing the old saw about getting back on the horse. Kidnapped at sea three years ago and held for 388 days by Somali pirates, the British couple is setting sail again.
They depart this week on a six-month voyage to Brazil, aboard the same yacht that carried them into their nightmare. “I never stopped wanting to go out to sea,” Rachel told NBC News.
No one would blink if the Chandlers chose to be landlubbers for the rest of their lives. In October 2009, as they were en route from the Seychelles to Tanzania, armed pirates snuck onto their beloved vessel, the Lynn Rival, and took them hostage. Six days of confinement at sea turned into an additional 322 days of captivity in Somalia.
As a $7 million ransom stood between them and freedom, tensions between the pair and their captors skyrocketed when it became apparent the sum wasn’t forthcoming, according to news accounts. The kidnappers constantly threatened to sell them to al-Qaeda, NBC reported.
In January the brutality reached its apex. When Paul objected to being separated again from Rachel, the gang leader, Bugas, emerged with an AK-47, the Telegraph reported. Paul told him to shoot. Bugas pointed the gun at the two, then fired three or four times in the air. He then tore a root from a tree and whipped the Chandlers, also cracking Rachel in the face with the butt of his rifle.
“We were ready to die with dignity,” Paul told the Telegraph. “We had given up hope of rescue. [The Pirates’] expectations were so high, and we didn’t want them to have any money. We didn’t want them to have anybody’s money.”
As the days mounted and it became clear their confinement would be long-term, they did yoga and aerobics. “The pirates looked on bemused,” Chandler said to the Daily Mail. Paul said he even conducted a yoga class once with five of the pirates. Meanwhile, Rachel said she daydreamed of being rescued.
By June, family members raised $440,000, which the kidnappers agreed would be sufficient to free the Chandlers. Instead, they kept the Chandlers and the airlifted ransom, the Guardian reported.
Around five months later, a Somali taxi driver from east London raised a reported $200,000 more and dropped off the ransom himself, the Guardian wrote. On Nov. 14, 2010, the Chandlers were free.
Despite memories of being guarded by drug-addled criminals, bouts of solitary confinement and a diet of goat’s liver, rice and spaghetti, the Tunbridge Wells, England, couple is ready for the next adventure.
The government, which the Chandlers said did little during their ordeal, at least helped restore the vessel. It was docked at a marina in Devon, nearly ready for its return to the high seas, NBC said. Rachel, 58, and Paul, 61, said to the network that they needed to tidy up the boat and winnow down the spare electrical parts. Then their journey could begin.
The kidnapping, she said, “hasn’t changed my love of sailing of cruising and traveling.”
Added Paul: “It’s our life.”