Halfway into his sailing trip around the world, Newport Beach's Mike Lawler nervously scanned the horizon for pirates.
Two days earlier, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers had killed three Somali pirates during a successful high seas rescue of an American captain taken hostage. Somali strongmen vowed to take revenge on any boats traveling through the Gulf of Aden.
As Lawler's 47-foot Traveler approached the narrow passage that connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, he and his girlfriend, Barbara Burdick of Manhattan Beach, knew this funnel was where the pirates liked to stage their attacks.
"I had Somalia to port, Yemen to the starboard and a bottleneck straight ahead," said Lawler, a 57-year-old attorney specializing in estate planning who returned this summer from his three-year voyage.
Sure enough, Lawler spied through his binoculars a fast-approaching fishing boat — called a ponga — with three men onboard. One gripped an AK-47 assault rifle.