Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay knew the perils of sailing through the pirate-infested seas off Oman.

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Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay knew the perils of sailing through the pirate-infested seas off Oman.

In 2009, the adventurous Seattle pair navigated those waters on Gaia, Riggle’s 35-foot yacht, as part of an around-the-world sailing odyssey.

Macay chronicled the passage through “dangerous waters” on her blog, For safety, Gaia traveled with a group of yachts bunched tightly and in frequent radio communication with a nearby French warship. At times, suspicious fishing dhows sped close, before veering away.

When the last yacht docked safely in Djibouti, the crews celebrated with cheers and rounds of beer.

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“It is a pleasurable experience when everyone is safe in the harbour after our most dangerous crossing to date,” Macay wrote.

The pair’s latest attempt to cross those waters ended Tuesday when they were among four Americans fatally shot after Somali pirates took them hostage.

Friends and family described Riggle and Macay as experienced sailors who’d sold many belongings in 2007 and set off to circumnavigate the globe.

“They did not let fear chart their life. They let themselves chart it and navigate it,” said Lee Stenson, commodore of the Seattle Singles Yacht Club, where Riggle and Macay met. The two had dated, but more recently were friends.

At the time of their abduction, they were sailing on Quest, a 58-foot yacht owned by Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif. The Adams, also killed, had been distributing Bibles to schools and churches around the world.

The Adams had been sailing the globe since 2004. But for reasons not clear Tuesday, the Quest reportedly had split from the flotilla of yachts known as the Blue Water Rally, before being taken by the pirates.

Macay, 59, was on leave from her job as a consultant to furniture retailers and had rented out her Judkins Park duplex.

“She was living her dream,” Macay’s niece, Nina Crossland, told reporters in San Francisco. “She enjoyed every port and every experience. … We love her, and we are devastated.”

Cindy Kirkham, of Seattle, called Macay a “free spirit” who moved to Seattle from San Francisco about 20 years ago. Macay didn’t marry and had no children. She was close to her family and friends.

“She was the bravest person I have ever known. She was not afraid of death; she had some sort of spiritual wisdom.” Kirkham said.

Riggle was a divorced father who grew up in Ballard and lived there most of his life, Stenson said. A retired veterinarian, Riggle, 67, filled in from time to time at the Seattle Animal Shelter’s spay and neuter clinic.

“He was a very kind and compassionate man,” shelter Director Don Jordan said.

Riggle was quiet and intelligent. “Bob was very meticulous, and he had a dry British sense of humor to him,” Stenson said.

After sailing together for about two years, Macay and Riggle separated for a time. Riggle had wanted a break, and Gaia was in need of repairs. He returned to Seattle for a few months.

Riggle and Macay wanted to continue their adventures. They were reunited on their final journey, joining the Adams as crew.

Even as they mourned, friends struggled to understand why the experienced sailors had risked leaving the larger group of yachts.

“It’s not Bob and Phyllis. I don’t know how that could happen,” Kirkham said.

The Blue Water Rally issued a statement noting the Adams had recently joined the yacht group for “added security” on their passage through the Gulf of Aden.

Despite warnings of piracy, the group called it “a hard decision” when the other alternatives are sailing back across the Pacific or heading to the rough seas off South Africa. “When one has set one’s heart on a circumnavigation, these choices are very difficult to make,” the group said.

The Associated Press and Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed. Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or

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