6692 Pisces the Sailfish

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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Curse, Coincidence or Creator?
by
Don Darkes
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Createspace Edition
Copyright 2012 Don Darkes
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Copyright © 2012 Author Name
All rights reserved.
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Dedication.
This book is dedicated to my family and especially to
Anne Merryfield, my Knight in shining armour, without whom
this book would not have been possible.
You are Family indeed!
FIGURE 1 BILL, L UNA, DON, M ORGAN, DIANNE AND ANNE.
(L UNA WAS BORN AFTER THE EVENTS IN THIS STORY )
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Table of Contents
Dedication................................................................................................. ii
Table of Contents .................................................................................... iii
Why? A note from the author ................................................................ 1
Chapter 1. Revenge................................................................................. 3
Chapter 2. Jamais vu .............................................................................. 4
Chapter 3. No Time to Change .............................................................. 5
Chapter 4. Pisces Casts her Spell .......................................................... 9
Chapter 5. E.T. and Tortoise ................................................................ 12
Chapter 6. Theresa’s Justice ................................................................ 14
Chapter 7. Manning Up ....................................................................... 16
Chapter 8. Diver down ......................................................................... 20
Chapter 9. Heads Up ............................................................................ 23
Chapter 10. Wednesday Legs............................................................... 30
Chapter 11. Puppet on a String ........................................................... 33
Chapter 12. The Tok-tokkie ................................................................. 45
Chapter 13. Revenge of the Sandblaster............................................. 48
Chapter 14. Golden Ivory .................................................................... 51
Chapter 15. Tortoise meets Sailfish and the Duck. ............................ 55
Chapter 16. Saggy Party ...................................................................... 60
Don Darkes
Chapter 17. Red Sky in the Morning .................................................. 62
Chapter 18. Necklacing at Granny Dawns ......................................... 64
Chapter 19. Mouths of Babes .............................................................. 68
Chapter 20. The End of Mankind ....................................................... 70
Chapter 21. Pisces Stirs ........................................................................ 73
Chapter 22. Up the Creek .................................................................... 74
Chapter 23. Bucket Brigade ................................................................ 76
Chapter 24. Chicken Pops ................................................................... 78
Chapter 25. The Walruses Sing ........................................................... 81
Chapter 26. Teacher Munro’s riddle................................................... 86
Chapter 27. Sinking Feeling ................................................................ 91
Chapter 28. Bitter Pills......................................................................... 93
Chapter 29. Spicy Runaways ............................................................. 104
Chapter 30. Green Mambas Crossing .............................................. 113
Chapter 31. 52092 Unexpected Guests ............................................. 117
Chapter 32. Pisces Warns .................................................................. 119
Chapter 33. Landfall .......................................................................... 123
Chapter 34. Dawn Ritual ................................................................... 124
Chapter 35. Pied Piper ....................................................................... 127
Chapter 36. Watch Lemur ................................................................. 130
Chapter 37. No-Name Island. ............................................................ 134
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 38. The Gold Magnet ........................................................... 137
Chapter 39. A New Leaf ..................................................................... 151
Chapter 40. Garden of Paradise ........................................................ 159
Chapter 41. 6692. Pisces Day ............................................................. 163
Chapter 42. Bowled Over ................................................................... 165
Chapter 43. Plat du Jour .................................................................... 168
Chapter 44. A Stitch in Time .............................................................. 172
Chapter 45. Pisces Returns ................................................................ 176
Chapter 46. The Book of Gnomes ..................................................... 182
Chapter 47. The Frogman Arrives .................................................... 184
Chapter 48. Childs Play ..................................................................... 187
Chapter 49. Vigil ................................................................................. 189
Chapter 50. Déjà vu ............................................................................ 191
Chapter 51. Bread sans Fish .............................................................. 193
Chapter 52. Avenue of Baobabs ......................................................... 197
Chapter 53. The Prophesy.................................................................. 200
Chapter 55. Postscript. Killer Prawns. ............................................. 203
Author Biography ............................................................................... 209
v
Don Darkes
FIGURE 2 THIS SIGN STANDS AT THE NORTHERN TIP OF
M ADAGASCAR NEAR TO WHERE THE WW 2 INVASION FLEET LANDED
AND NEAR TO WHERE I BEGAN ANOTHER ADVENTURE FOLLOWING THE
EVENTS IN THIS BOOK . T HIS STORY IS TOLD IN THE SEQUEL, 2ND. TIME
L UCKY
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Why? A note from the author
Why 6692? It is a date. June sixth, nineteen-ninety two.
That was the day I discovered that the only possessions of value
are Love and Family. Somehow, every June sixth since then, I
have experienced something that has given me pause for reflection
or reminded me how easily I could have lost my Family due to my
own selfishness and the misguided belief that money and prestige
were more important than their love and respect.
Why Pisces the Sailfish? My boat was one of thirteen
vessels, all built by the same yard. Each one was named for a
horoscope or star sign. She was named Pisces when she was
launched and later gained a history and a reputation that I did not
care for. I decided to change her name but was told that it is bad
luck to rename a boat. I prefer to err on the side of caution. That is
why I effectively renamed her by painting a Sailfish outline over
her name, symbolically transforming her from a Star Sign into a
Fish and effectively renaming the boat. Although I claim not to be
superstitious, I cannot ignore the uncanny coincidences that some
would regard as a curse or a jinx. I choose to see these events as
the results of my prayers being answered in Profound and
Mysterious ways.
Why Curse, Coincidence or Creator? Please read this true
story and then decide for yourself.
Why did I wait for twenty years to write this book? Despite
encouragement from family, friends and from complete strangers, I
refused to tell my entire story while I waited for someone that I
hated, someone that I tried to murder; to die. During all that time
our poisonous secret remained trapped inside me like the key log
that holds its fellows prisoner inside a logjam.
Ten years prior to the writing of this book, after a short
story, based on one of the opening chapters, reached the finals in a
daily newspaper's annual True Short Story competition; I was
inundated by requests from its readers for the rest of the tale. An
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Don Darkes
informal survey of their motivations revealed that many feel
trapped in lives that they hate and fantasise about sailing away
from it all. Others dream of travelling or experiencing adventure,
but most lack the courage to act. I believed them when they told
me that they would enjoy my book and perhaps draw caution or
inspiration from it. Nevertheless, I could not write about it.
On June 6th. 2012, almost twenty years after a traumatic
event described in this book, I read a long awaited obituary and the
dam was breached. It released this story and other pent-up books
from the overflowing well within my soul and I began to write.
My incredible wife believes that women will relate to our
tale simply because it is a true family story. If she is correct I hope
they also identify with its multifaceted heroine, a strong woman
who is simultaneously a partner, a best friend, a mother, a lover
and our family anchor.
Although this adventure will perhaps resonate more with
those who experienced the final years of Apartheid in South
Africa, it should also be of interest to readers in other countries
who would like to learn a little about Africa's amazing people and
cultures. Similarly, although it is an adventure story, this tale does
not dwell upon aspects of sailing that are meaningless to the
average person and especially so to me, who is branded a heretic
by many sailors when I tell them; Sailing is the price I reluctantly
pay for the time I enjoy safely at anchor in a new port.
Although I vowed at the time that I would never own
another boat, I currently find myself, together with my now grownup family, building another one. We have yet to set sail,
nevertheless our voyage has already begun. Our new adventures
and those of the fascinating fellow travellers who share our
journey, are recounted a sequel to this book, 2nd Time Lucky.
.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 1. Revenge
June sixth 2012.
How do I begin to explain how and why I have waited
impatiently to write the final chapters to this story? While I
often fantasised about revenge and what I could or should have
done, it is only recently that I realised that I should have
forgiven and forgotten and released my pent up hatred a long,
long time ago. Nevertheless I have to admit, when I joyfully
read the news of his dreadful and humiliating demise recently,
I experienced intense pleasure and a sweet release in being
able to enjoy with relish, the truth in one of my favourite old
saws;
Revenge is a dish best eaten cold and there is no sweeter
revenge than outliving your enemies!
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Chapter 2. Jamais vu
Jamais vu (from French, meaning "never seen") is a term
in psychology which is used to describe any familiar situation
which is not recognized by the observer. Often described as the
opposite of déjà vu, jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and
the observer's impression of seeing the situation for the first
time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the
situation before. (Wikipedia)
June 7th 1992.
When the first rays of sunlight began to peel away the
darkness at dawn on June seventh I could see that it was low
tide and that the pounding waves were crashing some way off
from where I sat huddled with my shivering family. A silver
flash of reflected sunlight summoned me to where a
shimmering object lay within the expanse of sand exposed by
the receding ocean.
“Wait here” I ordered as I stood up and stepped sleepily
onto the glistening beach, ignoring the protests from the hardy
villagers who had shared our all-night vigil. At first I did not
notice how my footsteps filled up and sank before vanishing
behind me as I single-mindedly drew each foot from the
sucking white sand and staggered doggedly forward to stand
exhausted above my glinting steel objective. Puzzled and
perplexed I scratched my head, wincing absent-mindedly as
warm blood oozed afresh from the wound on my aching skull
as I struggled to recognise at what I was looking. As I sank up
to my hips in the cloying muck, I recognised with dismay, the
all too familiar shape sticking out of the quicksand in front of
me.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 3. No Time to Change
June 6th. 1989.
Basil, my business partner, pulled the trigger on the
loaded revolver he held pressed hard against my temple and
laughed tauntingly as the hammer snapped down harmlessly
on an empty chamber with a loud click. He was, like every
other Friday afternoon, angry, maudlin; and drunk.
“Hey Lanie. You have the luck of the devil. The live round
is sitting here in my gun at five to twelve! It would be midnight
for you and this bullet would be in your brain right now if I had
pulled the trigger just one more time.” Basil staggered a little
as he cocked the pistol and carefully extracted the solitary
copper tipped bullet and held it up in front of my eyes before
pressing it tightly into the palm of my hand.
“Here is a small souvenir for you to remember me by.”
Basil usually called me Lanie behind my back. When he called
me that to my face, he did it as a reminder that despite the fact
that we were (albeit illegally) business partners and spent
most of our waking hours working together, we would never
be friends nor could we associate as equals. This was because I
was white and he was coloured. The Apartheid government
and its cronies in the church, had jointly decreed that the
different colours of our skin meant that we could not publicly
socialise nor could we legally own a business together.
According to the race classification system implemented by our
betters and masters, a coloured person was someone who had
a white parent and a black parent and therefore was neither
black nor white. This doomed them to an existence in limbo
where they were accepted by neither race and were regarded
by both as pariahs since they were living proof of the crime of
miscegenation that the Nazis and the Jews so abhorred. Lanie
was the sardonic name that coloured people used amongst
themselves to refer to the ruling class whites during the
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Don Darkes
apartheid era in South Africa. A bastardisation of larney it
referred disparagingly to the airs and graces and hypocrisy
displayed by the white upper class in a strictly hierarchical
society where skin colour determined race and social standing.
“I am not a racist,” was Basil’s favourite saying. “I just
hate everyone who is not exactly like me.” The reasons for
Basil holding his gun to my head that Friday evening were
many and complicated. For me it was the final straw in a litany
of hurts, betrayals and disappointments that included being
defrauded and lied to by my business partners, my employees
and most of all by my own half-brother with whom they were
in league. I have long since forgiven them all. In fact in many
ways, perhaps I owe them a vote of thanks for opening up my
eyes so that I could set myself free.
As I drove home afterwards, numbly listening to the car
radio, Tracey Chapman seemed to be speaking directly to me
as she crooned in her sobbing voice:
If you knew that you would die today,
Saw the face of God and love,
Would you change?
Would you change?
By the time I got home, like every other evening when I
eventually returned from work, our four year old son Bill and
three year old daughter Morgan were already fast asleep. After
dismissing the servants I lingered, still suffering from shock, at
the door to the children’s nursery. As I stood there watching
them sleep, Basil's bullet clenched tightly in my fist, I
understood that my children were complete strangers both to
me and to my wife Dianne. We had been too busy chasing
money in order to impress others, to have any time to watch
them growing up. When Basil pulled the trigger, time for me
had moved very slowly, but unlike the promises made by
books and in movies, I did not see my life flash before my eyes.
Instead I saw only the empty outlines of my children. I could
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
not see their faces. Instead that space was completely blank. It
had taken a single bullet to make me see how worthless and
how artificial was the life I had chosen and how I was trapped
inside it like a mindless hamster running on a wheel that
would always outpace me, no matter how long or how fast I
ran.
That Friday night, I gave Basil’s bullet to Dianne who
said nothing as she carefully stored it away as a reminder of
my lucky escape. Then, like every other night when the need
for a fix overcame me, I succumbed, switched on the television
and flicked impatiently through the channels until I was
sufficiently drugged to fall into a fitful sleep. Here I was visited
by my favourite recurrent dream where airborne salt spray
stung my face as a hissing green wave burst over the deck and
washed foaming over my bare feet. Spinning the helm I braced
to meet the next wave, feeling the warm sun on my bare
shoulders and hearing the rush of the sea surging past the hull
and the staccato pinging of halyards slapping against the mast.
The following morning I stood under the shower,
depressed at the prospect of running yet another treadmill day
inside the cage of my self-made prison and so I daydreamed.
What if I won the lottery? What would I do with the
money? When the answer came I thought to myself, In that
case, why do I have to win the lottery to escape?
"Hurry up or we'll be late,” cried Dianne. Reluctantly, I
turned off the shower and attempted to concentrate on the
work day ahead. Dressing quickly, I grabbed my briefcase,
furtively slipping the latest Sailing magazine inside while
yelling,
"Come on, kids, or you'll be late again for nursery
school!"
While standing under the shower that morning, I
resolved to escape the prison of my self-inflicted hamster run
and to literally sail away from it all. As we drove to the office,
Dianne, my amazing wife, lover, mother of our children and my
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Don Darkes
best friend, first listened to my insane idea and then in her
inimitable style, removed her large white rimmed glasses to
better flash her sapphire blue eyes at me. They lit up her eversmiling face, as she asked without the slightest hesitation;
“So, how long do I have to pack?”
Although Dianne is terrified of the ocean, and indifferent
to sailing, she loves meeting new people, visiting new places
and earning new experiences. Before purchasing the yacht we
had discussed at length how we wanted to travel, explore the
world and find people and places that stimulated us and even
perhaps find somewhere that the treadmill did not operate. We
did not consider packaged tours, faceless hotels or sanitised
and canned tourist options, since long experience of these
proved that we invariably only ended up meeting other wouldbe travellers and not the indigenous people in the countries we
were visiting. We chose to seek the path less travelled. We
briefly considered backpacking or perhaps cycling but Dianne’s
bad knee, shattered in a nursing accident and a young family
made this difficult and impractical. Although initially, a caravan
proved to be an attractive option, we soon realised that this
would limit us to a single continent, limiting our choices should
we wish to leave a place we did not like or one that did not like
us. Visiting remote places and unusual destinations would also
be impossible. The overwhelming attraction of a yacht was that
it literally made the world our playground because it enabled
us to explore exotic places and when we grew tired or felt
uncomfortable then we could almost instantly retreat into
familiar surroundings to enjoy home comforts. Another
advantage of the yacht was that it enabled us to carry some of
our sentimental things with us wherever we went and allowed
us to take our life savings without the unwanted interference
of the fleas and ticks that seek to regulate our lives and tie us to
the grindstone. In balance the risks and terrors of the open
ocean were worth the rewards.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 4. Pisces Casts her Spell
A boat is a hole in the water in which to pour money.
The bleached-blonde yacht broker was spitefully
nicknamed Dustbin Kim by the locals, due (perhaps not
entirely) to her badly retouched photographs plastered upon
waste-bin adverts dotted around Durban’s yacht marina. As
she steered us back to the Point Yacht Club jetty the rolling
motion of her bouncing rubber duck vied with the bitter taste
of my disillusionment and the sour smell of stale curry to make
me want to vomit.
Where were the dreamboats from the back pages of
Sailing Magazine? I asked myself in despair as I stared forlornly
at the rows of moored yachts. As if in reply three tarnished
brass portholes winked dully at me from the stern of one of
them, her twin masts, long bowsprit and voluptuous lines
reminded me of a traditional sailing ship from days gone by.
"What about the one that looks like a pirate ship?” I
shouted above the engine with renewed enthusiasm.
"That’s Pisces,” grunted Kim dismissively, as if her reply
should be self-evident even to an up-country bumpkin. I
sometimes wonder if I would nevertheless have bought Pisces
had I known then about her curse.
When we climbed up the ladder and stepped on board,
Dianne and I exchanged glances as we both felt a link with the
vessel stimulating the connection that we have always shared.
Although we tried to ask intelligent questions to make the
decision to buy the boat appear scientific or at least well
thought out, it was clear that it was our first impressions which
swayed our decision to purchase the boat later that day.
Pisces had classic lines enhanced by brass portholes,
varnished teak and her magnificent burgundy coloured sails
that graced her two masts and voluptuously shaped hull. She
was a Schooner, Forty-five foot long or about three times the
length of the Tortoise, our family caravan. Her long bowsprit,
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Don Darkes
like a sailfish’s spear, was enclosed by a stout stainless steel
railing and was long enough for all four of us to stand upon.
Later, as we experienced the challenges of manoeuvring
Pisces in tight spaces we renamed the bowsprit Finger of God
because it seemed to have a will of its own and sometimes
destroyed whatever it was pointed at. The yacht had a centre
cockpit with a wooden ship’s wheel set inside it, like an olden
day sailing ship. We adored her teak decks despite the years of
bird droppings and the filthy grey grime of neglect that had
deterred so many other would-be purchasers.
There were two entrances or companionways protected
from the elements by sliding teak hatches at either end of the
cockpit. The forward hatch led down a polished teak ladder
into the chartroom containing a hinged table that folded up to
reveal a voluminous freezer beneath. This cabin was arrayed
with radios, dials, instruments and rows of toggle switches
overlooking a long seat that also served as a sleeping bunk.
Moving toward the stern a compact galley held a double sink
and a gimballed stainless steel gas stove.
There were plenty of cupboards. The largest cabin was
in the stern and this had a gigantic double bed surrounded by
brass portholes, gleaming teak cupboards and shelves
decorated with wooden railings that we later learnt were
called fiddles. A generous table surrounded on three sides by
fold-up bench seats that could easily seat six completed this,
our favourite cabin. A door leading off from the main cabin led
to a shower, heads or loo and a wash hand basin complete with
a gas geyser.
Moving forward from the chartroom was a double cabin
with a bunk bed that immediately delighted the children as
they set eyes on it. As we lifted Morgan into the top bunk, Kim
stepped forward to demonstrate something she called a ‘Leecloth’ This was a blue canvas sheet permanently attached to
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
the stout teak side rail of the bunk that could be fixed to the
cabin roof by a set of hooks.
“This is to make sure you don’t fall out of bed when the
boat rocks.” She said showing it to Morgan who was so
delighted that she refused to leave her snug berth for the
remainder of our tour. Later, as we enjoyed a hearty breakfast
ashore and we all struggled to recall the name of the ingenious
cloth, Morgan decided, according to our family custom of
renaming things of which we were fond to rechristen it.
“This is my Falling-fing, she lisped.
Opposite the children’s cabin was another heads and
wash basin. A third double cabin, illuminated by a large hatch
and brass portholes occupied the bows or vee-berth of the
boat. There was storage aplenty and I could see Dianne
mentally redecorating the interior as she planned how she
would transform it into our new home.
“The donk is in here,” announced Kim, politely hinting
that I should take more of an interest in the mechanical parts of
the craft.
“Huh? I mean excuse me?” I replied completely
flabbergasted.
“The Donkey, the engine, a hundred horsepower,
marinised, Ford diesel,” Kim explained as she opened the
trapdoor that led down into the evil smelling bilges that were
later to become my domain. By the time we completed the tour
Dianne and I had already decided that this was to become our
new, albeit mobile, home.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 5. E.T. and Tortoise
Our once-comfortable home sadly echoed the hollow
space as our furniture and possessions were sold off and taken
away by excited bargain hunters one by one. I am still
surprised at how difficult it was to part with the first of our
hard won belongings and then elated as I discovered that it felt
as if a heavy rock was being lifted from my chest each time an
item was removed. Only then did I begin to understand that I
did not own my goods- they owned me! Nevertheless going
cold-turkey was not easy, so, in an effort to escape the reality
of transition we huddled together on an island of blankets in an
empty bedroom, to be anaesthetised by reality television. Like
a drug junkie I still needed my fix of canned reality to continue
to be a voyeur of someone else’s life so that I could experience
living without risk.
Our family loves to rename things and the Tortoise, our
caravan and mobile home, was no exception, although the
reason for her name is somewhat obvious, not so our beloved
all-white, all male, Volkswagen Kombi, with dark charcoal
coloured seats and carpets, that we used to tow the Tortoise.
He was named E.T. Not after the movie starring a cute extraterrestrial, but rather after Eugène Terre'Blanche, the infamous
leader of the Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (Afrikaner
Resistance Movement), a notorious white supremacist group
similar to America’s Ku Klux Klan. If anybody asked why we
chose to name our kombi after this brigand we would reply,
“Because he is white on the outside and black on the
inside!” before laughing gleefully at the shocked reaction.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
The Tortoise groaned under the weight of the few
remaining assets that had escaped our orgy of dematerialisation. The last thing to be disconnected from the
mains power and loaded into our trusty caravan was the
portable television set. There was little to distinguish this flight
down the highway to the coastal city of Durban from any other
family holiday, other than this time we were carrying
everything we owned and this time we had no home to which
we could return. As I faced the enormity of what I had done,
fear and doubt overcome me. I needed a fix -and badly! We
camped for the night in the mist at a truck stop at the top of
Van Reenen’s Pass, at the edge of the escarpment. There we
witnessed the live birth of CNN via the television in the
Tortoise that flickered live images of the outbreak of the first
Gulf War until I was sufficiently anaesthetised to fall sleep. The
following t day we continued on our way to Queensborough
Caravan Park in Durban, where we had decided to set up a
temporary base until we could move aboard our yacht, Pisces.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 6. Theresa’s Justice
The Tortoise became home to my wife Dianne and me,
together with four-year-old son Bill, our three-year-old
daughter Morgan and our friend Theresa, while it stood under
the leafy branches of a gnarled mango tree in the caravan park.
Raven haired Theresa had volunteered to act as au-pair to the
children while Dianne and I spent our days preparing Pisces
for the family to move aboard her. The caravan park was too
far from the ocean and too unfashionable for up-country
holidaymakers so it had become home to a rag-tag community
of semi-permanent residents, each with their own tale of
escape and new found sanctuary. This was perhaps epitomised
by the middle-aged park manager and his wife, who had
succeeded in creating a haven for themselves and for their
adult son, James, who being ‘slow’ had made them outcasts in
fashionable suburbia.
Sexy and voluptuous Theresa fascinated dim-witted
James who found any pretext to be near her, staring vacantly
with his mouth agape as he dumbly followed her every move.
Theresa in turn was terrified of him and she soon began to find
ways to hide from him to avoid his unwanted attentions. This
merely encouraged him to redouble his efforts. One evening
Theresa returned from the ladies showers with her long and
curly, wet dark hair wrapped in a towel. She was agitated and
out of breath as she cursed in her Portuguese-accented, broken
English.
“I feex him! I feex him good!” She hissed at the curious
group that had gathered to investigate the commotion. Theresa
flashed her Mediterranean-green eyes at all the males and she
wagged her finger cautioning them that they would suffer the
same fate if they tried to take liberties with her.
“What happened Theresa?” Dianne tried to calm her
down.
“He climb ladder and he make noise. I hear heem”
Theresa spluttered indignantly.
“And then?” Prompted Dianne.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“Then I am seeing him fingers inside holding window
open” Teresa stamped her foot indignantly. Dianne raised her
eyebrows and waited expectantly for her to explain.
“Then I am see him eyes looking me” Theresa stuttered.
“Who was watching you?” Dianne asked gently.
“Thet peeg James! He watch me fru the baffroom window
when I am shower naked!” She puffed angrily. “But I feex him
good!” Theresa shook her fist and glared at the males in the
audience in case they were considering peeping at her in the
altogether also.
“How did you fix him Theresa?” Dianne asked curiously.
“I am breaking window on hees head and fingers” She
crowed, triumphantly brandishing her bloodied towel as her
trophy while she marched determinedly to the manager’s
office followed by her retinue of amused and scandalised
onlookers. Theresa confronted the park manager’s wife who
was adamant that her retarded son James had been with her,
watching television, at the time. Theresa snorted with disgust,
packed her belongings and returned to Johannesburg in a huff.
I doubt Theresa would have been mollified and stayed to help
us had she waited until the next day and seen the manager
himself nursing several broken fingers and a bandaged head. It
seems that his retarded son James was innocent after all.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 7. Manning Up
The time we spent in the caravan park enabled us to
bond as a family and especially to get used to doing without
servants and the facilities like private toilets that we had taken
for granted for so long. The caravan park ablutions in
particular helped to wrench us out from our comfort zones and
required a massive adjustment to our routine, not to mention
our body functions. Dianne and I were used to showering
together whenever possible and we enjoyed the privacy of our
own bathroom where we could disrobe entirely, completely at
ease with each other’s naked bodies. Of course the public
facilities meant that this was out of the question. In addition
we soon learnt the rhythms of our fellow inmate’s habits so
that we could time our visits to the showers or the loos in
order to spare ourselves some of the more appalling sights,
smells and sounds. An unexpected benefit of the all-male
toilets was the opportunity it provided for Bill and me to bond
closer together as I conducted his first lessons in how he
should handle himself in the world of public testosterone. This
began quite innocently as I took my son into the toilets for the
first time and watched his reaction while he carefully observed
other men using the urinal. It was made entirely of stainless
steel, occupied an entire wall and could comfortably
accommodate eight or ten men standing side by side. A
constant stream of water drizzled down its curved surface and
gurgled through the trough into grated drains that lay at either
end. Every other day a pile of white chemical deodorisers,
resembling mothballs would be placed in the gutter. I could see
him mentally digesting every facet of this strange new world
and assessing the different stances and attitudes of each of the
men while he formulated his own approach to manhood. I was
unprepared for the endless questions and did not always have
a ready answer, especially when others were listening.
“Dad, why do they give us peppermints to pee on?” And
“Dad, why are they peeing on that silver wall and not sitting
down in the loo like we do?” He would ask me loudly;
16
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
unmindful of whomever else might be listening, as he always
did whenever anything perplexed him. I watched the backs of a
line of otherwise absorbed men stiffening as they suppressed
the urge to laugh before I answered him. By the time Bill was
ready to attempt the ritual himself he had sized up the
situation thoroughly. It is difficult to describe the pride I felt as
we stood shoulder to shoulder together facing the everflushing silver wall, sharing an intimate father and son moment
as I inducted him into the world of men. My heart contracted
with love as he looked up at me with his pale blue eyes
showing the gap in his two front teeth as he smiled. It is also
difficult to describe my feeling when he was distracted
midstream by one of the men at the washbasin behind us.
“Hey Dad!” he said simultaneously excited and
perplexed, “Why is that man taking out his teeth?” as he turned
to point he thoroughly drenched the leg and bare feet of the
innocent man standing urinating beside him.
The daily appearance of a cheerful, gregarious Jack
Russell terrier, that Bill immediately named Loopy, also helped
us to adjust. Since pets were not permitted in the caravan park,
we assumed that Loopy was someone’s pet from the adjacent
suburb that had taken it upon himself to adopt the Park’s
orphans as he entered it each day and spent time with each of
us according to his own timetable. Bill and Morgan were
always delighted to see him, often coaxing him into their beds
and hiding him beneath their blankets, enticing him to stay
longer until we discovered the hard way why he was also
known in the Park as ‘Flea-taxi’.
17
Don Darkes
FIGURE 3 THE AUTHOR, MORGAN AND LOOPY THE FLEA TAXI
In the park, the close proximity to our neighbours and
the lack of high walls and fences meant that we had to quickly
shed our carefully fabricated big city persona, especially the
ability to pretend that neighbours simply did not exist. Besides,
we would have been hard-pressed to ignore anyone within the
close confines of the Park that left very little room for privacy
(or unselfconscious relief from flatulence). In Johannesburg we
would never have condescended to even speak with our closest
neighbours and certainly not Sasolburg émigrés, Hennie and
Marie who were living their dream of an endless holiday by
retiring “to the seaside.” They permanently wore the uniform
of their church. Tall, lanky and skinny, Hennie with his broken
bifocal glasses held together in the middle by silver duct tape,
sported a tartan cloth cap, short-sleeved khaki shirt, matching
shorts and knee-high brown socks with well-worn veldskoens.
18
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Rosy-cheeked, ever-smiling, short and plump Marie, always
wore an ankle-length bulging pale blue faded Crimpalene dress
winched in at the waist by her narrow black belt. Her wispy
grey hair was trapped in a hairnet bun topped by a blue faux
silk pillbox hat that she habitually held down with her thumb
and fingers as if she were forming a question mark with her
arm. Inseparable, Hennie and Marie went everywhere hand-inhand and never failed to bring a fond smile to my face as they
set off for Bible study each day with a roar! Marie hands on hat,
Hennie deadpan behind the wheel of their bizarre choice of
vehicle, a spluttering red beach buggy.
FIGURE 4 THE BEACH BUGGY WAS AN ALL FIBREGLASS BODY
UPON A VW B EETLE CHASSIS . A " HIPPIE " VEHICLE AND NOT USUALLY
ASSOCIATED WITH ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE PIOUS CHURCHGOING
BRETHREN
19
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 8. Diver down
Theresa’s untimely exodus left Dianne and me with a
dilemma. We had grown used to having the children looked
after during their waking hours by our servants. Now that we
had decided to change our lives and do so without hired help
we did not know how to entertain our own children or indeed
even how to relate to them. Theresa, an ex-nursery school
teacher had volunteered to help for a few months, assisting us
to adjust without having to go cold-turkey during the key
transition period, by acting as a friend come babysitter. But as
it turned out, we need not have been concerned. Like Loopy
the Flea-taxi, the inhabitants of the caravan park were
sensitive to the needs of our tiny community and rallied
around to help.
Blonde haired, blue eyed, Bill and Morgan easily made
new friends and acquaintances whenever holiday makers
arrived, invariably bringing with them hordes of their own
laughing children who would mingle and play happily,
unmindful of the artificial barriers that lay mute between the
adults. During the off-season the older park inhabitants
especially, would vie to act as foster grandparents in order to
spend time with our two children. But then another unlikely
babysitter arrived from an improbable source, a young couple
who camped beside us when they moved in semi-permanently,
as they strove to make a new beginning in the humid coastal
city. Although they had no children it was clear that they
longed to start a family of their own. Bruce and Christine had
left the city of Pretoria, and were working hard to establish
their business as scuba diving instructors. They used the park
as a temporary headquarters while they travelled to dive sites
around the coast servicing the needs of their growing customer
base. Before meeting him, I had already decided that I did not
like Bruce, when I was forced to listen to his choice of music,
the heavy breathing, twisted Latin mass, inappropriate
Gregorian chants and arcane words of the rock Group Enigma,
who had just released their first Album. (Although I have to
20
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
admit it sounds somehow better now.) Bruce would arrive in a
cloud of dust with the car radio blaring ‘The Principles of Lust’
and then deftly snap it out of his cassette player in the car and
whip it into his caravan stereo with scarcely a skipped beat.
“That is evil music!” I hissed to Dianne as it blared out
over the placid park grounds and looked across to scandalised
Hennie and Marie for support, who both nodded emphatically.
When I met Bruce for the first time, we automatically
sized each other up, as bulls do, grunting and pawing the
ground as we sought to determine who was the dominant
beast.
“So you are a PADI instructor” I said baiting him. “Do
you know the acronym stands for Pay Another Dollar In?” I
chortled at my own joke as I pawed my turf.
“I can see from your scuba tanks that you certified with
NAUI” he replied equally contemptuous. “That stands for Not
Another Underwater Idiot!” He teased and snorted as he
inflated his chest and stood up to his full height.
“My diving school was so tough” I continued circling
him, waiting for an opening, “Our motto was No Muff Too
Tough, We Dive at Five!” I snorted and pawed the turf between
us then moved in for the kill as he hesitated momentarily. “I
certified the same year you left primary school sonny” I
bragged, establishing my seniority, then zoomed in for the kill
with “What does PADI teach you to do when you see a shark?” I
jeered and sneered as he timidly formed the divers hand sign
for a shark. “Rubbish!” I growled. “When you see a shark stab
your buddy!” I mock-knifed him in the chest breaking the
tension between us as we both laughed out loud.
One humid afternoon as Dianne and I returned a little
earlier than usual from the boatyard, Bill was nowhere to be
found. Morgan was fast asleep, sucking noisily at her thumb, a
legacy of her premature birth, as she lay on a blanket at the
feet of Hennie and Marie as they sat hypnotised by a gospel
program dripping from their tiny television set. Neither Dianne
21
Don Darkes
nor I was particularly concerned as we began a round of his
favourite haunts in search of him. We eliminated his usual
spots one by one and both became a little worried.
“We better split up; we can cover more ground that way.
You check out the swings and the jungle gym in the playground
and I will go to the tennis courts and the pool.” I shouted over
my shoulder as we each went our separate ways.
When I arrived at the swimming pool my heart sank.
There, shimmering through the ripples in the murky overchlorinated water at the bottom of the deep end, lay the inert
body of my son. I took a breath and tensed myself to dive in,
then stopped at the last moment as I realised that there was
another body, lying six feet below the surface, right next to Bill.
I watched amazed as the larger body passed a diver’s
mouthpiece to Bill, who calmly put it in his mouth, took a
breath and gave it back again with a silver cascade of exhaled
air bubbles. It was Bruce and he was sharing a scuba tank that
lay between them as he taught Bill the art of buddy-breathing.
“What the hell do you think you are doing with my son?”
I yelled in temper as they surfaced ten minutes later. “Do you
realise that Bill is only four and a half years old?” I was ready to
strange the swine for risking my son’s life.
“What are you so pissed off about?” Challenged Bruce
with a wide grin “If I am supposed to believe what you told me
about your dive qualifications, then I figure you must have
been about Bill’s age when you passed your exams!”
22
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 9. Heads Up
Since we had virtually no experience of sailing, beyond
joyrides on the muddy duck ponds of Johannesburg, we
decided to store the Tortoise at the caravan park and live,
albeit illicitly, aboard Pisces as she lay at anchor in the harbour
so that we could gain an understanding of daily living aboard a
yacht. During the day we spent our time at classes ashore
learning basic seamanship, navigation and radio procedure.
Our initiation to living on board began through our
noses. Pisces had been lying sealed up and neglected on her
moorings for some time. The confined and unventilated space
below decks heated by the sun fermented pungent and
complex odours. The peeling varnish on the once-bright
woodwork of the teak deck-hatch was grey with neglect and
resisted being slid back on its brass runners as I struggled to
open it. Climbing down the companionway ladder into the
gloom of the main cabin, my nose was overwhelmed by a
combination of the acrid smell of urine, dried vomit and the
chemical tang of silicone glue and stale diesel mixed with the
mildewed odour of damp carpets. Since then I have learnt that
every yacht has a unique aroma and this stench was soon
forgotten in the excitement of exploring our new home, until a
new pong alerted me to the children’s fascination with the
“heads” where a freshly built steaming brown pyramid bore
mute testimony to their combined efforts. Their new
playground resembled a stainless-steel aircraft toilet complete
with a hinged plastic lid. A silver handle, similar to a car-gear
lever, protruded from a rubber boot attached to the hull,
flanked on either side by tarnished bronze valves. Reasoning
that a few thrusts would activate the flushing mechanism, I
stroked the handle vigorously but no influx of water appeared.
The foul pile remained where it was deposited. Applying more
force succeeded only in tearing the perished rubber boot,
releasing a foetid pool of stagnant seawater onto the already
23
Don Darkes
sodden foam carpet. I was embarrassed to admit to the family
that I had not the slightest idea of how to flush the toilet.
Like a youth purchasing condoms, I waited for any
witnesses to leave before approaching the least-threatening
counter-hand at the yacht chandler that stood across the road
from the marina. I was rewarded with a quick lesson and sold
the replacement parts for the toilet. A day and a half later a
new rubber boot adorned the foot of the pump handle. Buoyed
by new confidence and some insights gleaned from an
examination of the workings of the pump, I opened one of the
valves and operated the pump handle, while explaining to my
fascinated family how the bronze sea-cock opened and closed
an opening in the hull, allowing sea water to be drawn into the
bowl by the pump when the valve was opened. My captive
audience clapped appreciatively as green seawater jetted in,
toppling their pyramid and filling the bowl to the brim.
“Don’t you think you should stop pumping?” said Dianne
as a surge from a passing vessel rocked Pisces on her moorings
slopping some of its foul contents over the sides of the bowl
and onto the carpet below. It seemed that I had only absorbed
one part of the lesson.
Yet another trip to the chandlers revealed how closing
the inlet valve and opening the outlet valve, alternating in turn
with pumping the handle should empty the stainless-steel
bowl. Unfortunately this did not work either and made the
stench below decks almost unbearable as the sun beat down
and fermented the added ingredients. I went back to the
chandler where the handbooks pinpointed the probable cause.
It outlined the steps to be followed should a sea creature
residing on the miniature reef that was growing on the
neglected hull decide to make their lair inside the seaward
opening of the toilet valve and block it. It was clear that there
was no alternative other than donning a pair of swim goggles
and diving over the side, into the sea, to evict the offending
creature with a bent piece of wire. The result was spectacular
as the pent up pressure released the foul contents of the toilet
24
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
into my face with a whoosh, triggering a feeding frenzy
amongst the tiny fish. As I rose to the surface gasping for air
little Morgan standing on the deck above me excitedly clapped
her hands and cried out.
“Yay! Daddy has made friends with all the little fishies!”
Once mastered, operating the heads pumps enabled Bill
and Morgan to invent a new game. Early one morning as we
were standing on our deck introducing ourselves to our port
side neighbour, Olaf, a dignified grey haired man of at least
seventy, Bill appeared on deck with a mischievous expression
on his face. Then he stood to attention, saluted and shouted,
“Fire all torpedoes!” Whereupon Morgan, the “gunner” down
below, pumped the toilet handle unleashing a foul broadside at
Olaf’s yacht lying alongside ours. Dianne cringed with
embarrassment and started to apologise. Then to our great
amusement, Olaf grinned broadly and with a twinkle in his eye
dashed down below into the bowels of his own vessel, -and
returned fire!
Pisces lay in deep water, together with some of the
larger yachts, moored far out in the bay, isolated like an island
and virtually inaccessible except by boat. Our new home was
private and unreachable to outsiders. We were self-sufficient
with gas stove, fridge and freezer and soon adapted to the
limits set by our fresh water storage tanks. Limited but
renewable electricity was created by an array of giant batteries
charged by solar panels and a powerful wind-generator, that
buzzed like a swarm of angry bees whenever the wind blew
hard enough to drive its whirling propeller. Since I was still
unable to give up my addiction entirely, we had intermittent
television reception that flickered from the tiny black and
white set in the main cabin, allowing me to continue to dilute
my reality, on demand.
25
Don Darkes
Although we told ourselves we were living like real
sailors, the glittering shops and attractions of down-town
Durban, all within easy walking distance of the yacht basin,
enabled us to enjoy the adventure of rowing ashore in our tiny
yacht tender or summoning the ferry like a water taxi. We
would dress appropriately for the beach, a visit to the library, a
trip to the movies or, laden with bulging sail-bags, the weekly
pilgrimage to the Fenton Street Laundry. We loved to
transform from stylish citizens into “grotty-yachties” and back
again as we thrived aboard our floating home.
We discovered a leak in Pisces’ diesel tank, -the hard
way as the smell of diesel mingling with our vomit as she
pitched and rolled in the swell left me in no doubt that we had
a problem. The main batteries had been leaking acid onto the
mild-steel roof of the diesel tank, corroding several holes into
it. I was determined to repair the container myself although I
had never even held a welding mask before. A trip to the
Library and a half-hour long chat with the experts at the local
Plant Hire shop bolstered my confidence. But a little voice
inside me warned that I had, once again, overlooked something
obvious, and critical, so I decided to ask for expert advice. I
gleaned the name of a local shipwright from the yacht club
notice board.
Terry, an expatriate Englishman and professional boat
builder, lived at Wilsons Boatyard aboard the beached hull of a
catamaran he was perpetually building for himself in-between
taking on carpentry assignments and evading South African
emigration officials seeking to withdraw his resident’s permit.
Resembling a young Richard Burton, albeit with the stub of a
red carpenters pencil that remained perpetually tucked behind
his right ear.
26
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Terry shared the same dry wit and cultured English
accent as my favourite actor. I was beginning to learn the
boatyard customs so I knocked timidly on the hull of Terry’s
catamaran, where he was applying epoxy to a bulkhead. After
inviting me aboard he listened intently as I explained my
problem and how I intended to repair the damaged tank by
welding a new metal panel over the hole. Since he was unable
to face me or to pause in his task I could not see the bemused
expression on his face as he casually remarked.
“In that case I assume that you understand that diesel
explodes when heated sufficiently?” Terry paused his painting
and turned to look at me with a twinkle in his eye. I gulped as a
graphic image of an explosion flashed through my mind.
“I shall drain the diesel out first!” I retorted
embarrassed.
“What about the traces of diesel and any volatile vapour
left inside?” he asked quizzically, raising his bushy grey
eyebrows before turning back to his work. The interview was
ended. I had been dismissed like a schoolboy to go away and
think it out again. I was embarrassed, humbled and grateful all
at once, as I considered what could have happened had I
blindly started welding without obtaining advice or thinking
the problem through properly.
27
Don Darkes
FIGURE 5 MY MENTOR, TERRY BROWN , APPLYING EPOXY TAR
TO A HULL
The “brains trust”, holding up the bar in the smoke-filled
Point Yacht Club that afternoon, felt that the answer lay in
cutting the roof off the diesel tank and replacing it with a
fibreglass one. I had little enthusiasm for this plan since cutting
the lid from the damaged steel tank would also create heat and
sparks which would lead inevitably to disaster.
The experts behind the counter at the yacht chandlers
suggested a special rubber fuel bag that would fit inside the
damaged tank. This was an elegant but prohibitively expensive
solution which did not solve the problem of cutting off the
damaged lid. Nevertheless, it was clear that there was no
28
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
option but to have the yacht lifted out of the water and placed
onto dry land, where I could begin not only to solve the
problem but also to tackle a number of other pressing repair
and maintenance tasks.
We compiled a list of chores and tasks that could best
be done “on the hard” and were appalled when the list ran into
several pages. I discovered that some discoloured and soft
spots in the teak deck planking were in fact the first signs of a
serious rot problem and realised with dismay that I would
have to unscrew hundreds of soft brass screws, one-by-one, in
order to replace the rotten sections of teak. When I removed
one of the strips by way of an experiment, I discovered that the
material underneath the teak was also putrid and would have
to be cut out and carefully replaced. Naturally the previous
owner of the yacht denied any knowledge of the problem and
the yacht surveyor was nowhere to be found. We came to the
conclusion that he had performed his examination of the vessel
via a pair of binoculars from his favourite haunt, the bar of the
famous revolving restaurant that overlooked the yacht marina
from its perch on one of the tallest buildings in the area. We
promptly renamed the establishment The Revolting
Restaurant and pretended to retch every time we mentioned
it.
29
Don Darkes
Chapter 10. Wednesday Legs
“Sign here!” Belched the crane-driver wafting a reek of
last night’s cheap wine intermingled with his breakfast of beer
and peppermints into my face as his greasy finger stabbed
impatiently at the bottom of his dog-eared clipboard.
“Foggin pollution,” he grumbled beating at his chest with
the inside of his fist like a penitent at Sunday mass. A passing
dredger seemed to give a double whoop of triumph as I
reluctantly signed away my rights.
“Sling her boys!” Cried the crane driver triumphantly,
brandishing my legal waiver above his head as he made his
way to a long steel ladder and ascended it to the monster
crane’s control cabin, suspended several stories high above our
heads. He whistled sharply and four burly Zulu workmen
appeared from the depths of the boatyard’s gigantic
corrugated-iron workshop pushing a huge wire basket on
clattering wheels filled with ropes and shackles that they
manhandled to the jetty where Pisces was tied up.
“Permission to come aboard sir?” Smirked the rigger,
wiping his greasy hands on his overalls and flashing a toothless
grin as he sniggered at my pristine white-soled deck shoes. I
nodded dumbly and opened the catch on the guardrail to admit
him. Ignoring the entrance I had made, he swung himself over
the railing instead and landed with a crash on the freshly
scrubbed teak deck with his greasy hobnail boots. Judging by
the start I knew I was going to need all my patience in the next
few weeks. Fascinated I watched one of the riggers colleagues
pass him one end of a long canvas belt, the width and thickness
of my hand, which he pulled beneath the stern of Pisces before
attaching both ends to a massive hook that had been lowered
from the gigantic crane towering above us. He repeated the
exercise in the bows before speaking to the crane driver via his
two-way radio to take up the slack.
30
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“Do you want to hang around?” Guffawing at his own
weak joke the rigger twirled his right hand in an upward
gesture. Enormous electric motors whirred as the colossal
crane effortlessly plucked our eighteen-ton yacht dripping
from the harbour, like a child’s bathtub toy. Then it turned a
hundred and eighty degrees to hold the yacht suspended over a
pair of V shaped steel brackets. There a team of hard-hat clad
men waited with sledgehammers and wooden chocks to wedge
her slime covered hull firmly into place. As we stood holding
our hands over our ears, two workmen wrestled a hissing highpressure hose to blast a writhing mass of sea creatures from
the homes they had built for themselves on Pisces’ slimy hull.
Once the undersides had been scoured clean by the powerful
jet of water, a team of men with sharp spades attacked the
remaining barnacles, sponges and oysters clinging doggedly to
the keel, hacking them free and throwing them onto a
squirming pile to be squabbled over by marauding seagulls
screaming excitedly over their windfall.
Once the hull had been cleaned, the sweating men
placed wooden poles between the hull and the concrete apron
below and hammered wooden wedges into place to secure
them tightly.
“Wednesday Legs.” I mumbled absent-mindedly to
myself as I looked at the flimsy wooden struts that were all
that prevented Pisces’ eighteen ton mass from toppling over
and crashing to the cement below. Our boat resembled the
bowl of a wine glass balanced precariously upon a few
toothpicks.
“Yes definitely Wednesday legs!” I repeated to myself.
“Isn’t that what you say about fat girls with skinny legs
teetering on high heels?” giggled Dianne.
“Yes.” “When’s dey gonna break!” we chorused and
laughed uproariously at our lame joke.
31
Don Darkes
FIGURE 6 THE TWENTY TON BOAT PROPPED UP ON SPINDLY
WOODEN SUPPORTS . HERE PISCES WAS BEING PREPARED FOR RE LAUNCH
32
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 11. Puppet on a String
The piercing wail of a factory siren signalled the end of
the working day. The mechanical din of the shipyard was
magically replaced by the shrill cries of excited seagulls
swooping and squabbling over the shattered barnacles
writhing on the sun baked concrete. As the breeze picked up,
the staccato metallic sound of ropes tinkling against hollow
masts became more urgent.
One of the most challenging and also the most
rewarding aspects of travel is being accepted by the cliques,
groups or communities that one encounters along the way.
Neither Dianne nor I realised how different the yachting
community was from any other group that we had
encountered until now. We made the mistake of assuming that
because we owned a boat they would automatically welcome
and accept us as kindred spirits and therefore spontaneously
allow us to become part of their unique world. We could never
have been more wrong. The denizens of the caravan park, the
yachting community at the boat yard and the cruising group
who were on the water, each had their own unique etiquette,
rites, rituals and unwritten rules. Sometimes we had to face
subtle tests before being accepted. Perhaps we should not have
been surprised since we took this for granted within the
society we had left behind in the big cities of Johannesburg and
Pretoria. Dianne told me how she grew up in a working class
suburb, populated by teachers and civil servants who knew
how to stretch a rand and was not obsessed with keeping up
with the Joneses. They looked out for each other, mixed easily
with each other and often created their own entertainment.
Strong friendships and family bonds kept them together.
Newcomers and outsiders were not easily welcomed nor
tolerated. This contrasted with the upmarket and materialistic
Johannesburg set that judged you by what you purported to
own. Neighbours were to be tolerated but kept at a distance
and the line between politeness and friendship was seldom
33
Don Darkes
ever crossed. The constant competition for more money and
more useless possessions was a never ending hamster-wheel
that could never be outpaced or bested. As we attuned to life
aboard we had to adjust to life without servants and become
self-reliant, we also had to learn how to stretch our budget,
make do with less and realise how unimportant are the
opinions of others. As we encountered each unique community
we had first to learn how to find their portals, then pass their
tests and endure their rites of passage. Only then could we
appreciate how they had each created their unique worldview
and lived within their own version of reality and in so doing we
not only earned their respect but we were able to relate to
them when we were accepted as equals into their intimate
circle.
Dianne and I were keenly aware that we were seen as
outsiders and we knew that we needed to do something in
order to be accepted into the tight knit “yachtie” community.
This had proved difficult to achieve since our yacht was
moored far out in the bay, out of contact with most of the other
boats and also due partially to our young children. The fact that
we did not frequent the bar where the yachting community
socialised and bonded added to our isolation.
“Sweetheart, these guys know that I am not a sailor,
besides they regard me as a Zululand Queer.” I complained.
“How so?” Dianne responded shocked.
“They found out that I prefer women to rugby!” I
laughed.
“Perhaps you need to take a leaf out of a woman’s book
and fake it, if you want to make new friends,” she observed
shrewdly.
Eager to explore our new surroundings Dianne and I
decided to break the ice by introducing ourselves to the other
yachties in the boat yard. We noticed a number of them drifting
back from the hot showers at the “Whites-only” ablution block,
their bodies freshly scrubbed at the end of the working day.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
They were oblivious to the black labourers forced to share a
single cold tap and a slimy green brick of carbolic soap before
being obliged to leave the premises. It was clear that the
yachties were looking forward to quenching their thirst as they
communed around a smoky braaivleis. Also known as a braai,
this open flamed charcoal-fuelled barbecue so appropriately
named by the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch-Huguenot, Boers or
farmers, can literally be translated as “scorched flesh.” As
Dianne and I stood dejectedly alone and ignored on the outside
of this lively gathering I could not help thinking how this rite
was essentially as much part of South Africa as it’s brown veldt
and sparkling blue skies. This ritual seemed to parallel the
original justification of Apartheid or “apartness” that
sanctioned Church and State to force every group to be
separated from each other in order, they said, that each
community could develop their own unique culture without
being influenced by the others.
The braai is a traditional South African activity almost
exclusively performed by white males who congregate
together peering through clouds of greasy smoke as they prod
and worry bloody chunks of charred meat, dripping fat into the
leaping flames. The women are relegated to preparing salads
and side dishes while standing apart in their own groups and
holding a completely different conversation from that of the
men. Naturally these groups segregated themselves not only
into their whites-only male and female bands, but they also
polarised themselves into English and Afrikaans speaking
groups as well. In contrast to the adults, Bill and Morgan made
friends easily. They were able to ignore the artificial
boundaries created by sex, skin colour and language as they
wandered off to play hide-and-seek with all the other children
beneath the suspended keels of the yachts. Dianne and I felt
out of place with our soft white hands, neatly pressed clothes
and new deck shoes. We contrasted with the ragged shorts,
rumpled T shirts and grubby slip slops worn by the sun burnt
men and women in this tight knit group who spoke of epoxy
and rigging, sacrificial anodes and ballast.
35
Don Darkes
As we stood awkwardly watching the various groups, a
snatch of raucous husky laughter and banter drifted over from
the Afrikaans all-male laager. Unconsciously this was
parodying the encircled ox wagons, festooned with acacia
thorns, that their ancestors had deployed against the
onslaughts of Zulu warriors and British redcoats. Now they
stood shoulder to shoulder, clutching beers instead of Mausers
and deliberating their religion, (rugby) while they defied their
enemies.
“Mooi gedoen! n’ boer maak n’ plan!” (Well done! A
settler makes a plan –A farmer comes up with a solution.) I
chuckled at the inevitable retort from the English square, each
bearing gin and tonics as they chorused,
“Ja! Vra n’ Engelsman!” (Yes! Ask an Englishman!) and
they erupted into a chorus of derisive laughter.
“Ja Souties. Moes ons julle Rooinekke al weer leer skiet?”
(Yes Salty’s, must we teach you rednecks to shoot properly
once again?) Was the angry response from the Afrikaans
enclave referring disparagingly to the nickname they used for
the hated English with their sunburnt necks, their reputation
as a nation of seafarers and the fact that the Boer snipers
humiliated the British soldiers with their superior
marksmanship.
“Hey, can any of you rockspiders tell us the Afrikaans
word for genius?” The English responded with the sardonic
nickname, sometimes shortened to rocks that referred to the
Boer tactic of hiding behind boulders while they sniped at the
English soldiers.”
“Of course, it’s Genie.” Responded the Boers hesitantly
following a whispered discussion amongst themselves.
“No, that is an Anglicisation” responded the Redcoats.
“There is no single Afrikaans word for one,” replied the
Boers falling into the English camps trap.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“That is because the Boers have never needed the
word!” Chorused the English triumphantly and broke into
disparaging laughter and jeers.
“Gaan huis toe Soutpiele!” (Go home salt penises) Was
the bitter response from the Boer camp. I smiled enjoying the
delicious ability of the Afrikaans language to graphically
convey spite and insults. This last one was particularly
malicious, almost defying direct translation as it built on the
Soutie (Salty) epithet but made it all the more sardonic by
taunting British expats as it portrayed them standing with one
leg in England and one leg in South Africa with their dicks
hanging down in the oceans in-between.
“Here comes trouble!” I whispered uneasily to Dianne
and prepared to withdraw.
“Don’t panic Woodpecker, they always do this” laughed
Terry Brown as he appeared by my side holding a green bottle
of Amstel beer.
“Have you solved your diesel tank problem?” He
smirked, knowing full well that I had not. I shook my head. As
Dianne and I stood alone, trying to decide how to introduce
ourselves the breeze began to freshen, causing Dianne to tug
self-consciously at her billowing skirt and increasing the tempo
of the slatting halyards that made a rattling sound like a
hundred demented drummers. Instinctively the assembled
yachties looked up at the sky gauging the speed and direction
of the wind before they each slipped away to tighten guy ropes
and tap the timber wedges that held their own vessels tightly
upright in their cradles. We followed suit nervously walking
around Pisces, feeling the power of the wind as the vibration
travelled down the masts and into the hull making the whole
boat tremble. As I climbed up the scaffolding to stand on the
quivering deck suspended more than three metres above the
paint-spattered concrete apron below, a slapping sound
alerted me to the wind tugging mischievously at the corner of
the Genoa. This is a massive triangular sail that ran from the
top of the mast to the tip of the bowsprit. An ingenious
arrangement controlled by a single rope, which I learned was
named a sheet, that allowed this sail to be easily furled and
37
Don Darkes
unfurled by simply rolling or unrolling it around an aluminium
tube. Without warning, the wind teased the Genoa sheet loose
from its fastening and opened the huge burgundy-coloured sail
with a loud crack! A knot at the tail end of the sheet snagged in
the deck cleat, billowing the gigantic canvas and threatening to
pull Pisces off her quivering cradle and smash her onto the
unyielding concrete below. With the strength of desperation I
managed to yank the knot clear of its fastening, freeing the
rope from its anchor point and robbing the sail of its power by
allowing the sheet to flap free in the wind. Although the
immediate danger was past, the flailing sail continued to pull at
the boat as it flicked the knot across the yard like a giant whip,
lashing at everything in its path.
“If we don’t deal with this sail quickly the wind will pull
our boat off its cradle!” Shouted Dianne who had climbed up
the scaffolding and was struggling to make herself heard above
the roar of the rising wind and the crackling of the flogging sail.
I untied the halyard, a special rope used to raise and lower the
sail but it did not budge. The rope was jammed in its bracket at
the top of the mast.
“The halyard is stuck so we have to find another way to
drop the sail. It is either that or we shall have to cut the fabric
and then tear it down before it pulls the yacht over! To make
matters worse, since the bearing at the top of the mast is
jammed you won’t be strong enough to winch me up to the top
of the mast so that I can to free the sail.” I yelled to Dianne over
the shrieking of the wind.
“You will be strong enough to winch me up though.
There is no time to lose and we don’t know anyone here who
will help us,” shouted Dianne, a determined set to her jaw as
she struggled, to the great amusement of the all-male crowd
gathered on the concrete far below our feet, to control her
billowing dress in the gusting wind. She had the men gawping
as she flashed her long legs while tucking her skirt into her
panties and tying up her long blonde hair before stepping into
the bosun’s chair. This is a canvas webbing harness tied onto a
38
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
halyard, connected in turn to a winch. As she wrapped her bare
legs around the mast she called out gaily,
“Beam me up Scotty!” Dianne was flushed with
excitement as a cheeky grin lit up her lovely face. The
freshening wind seemed to delight in buffeting her head
against the aluminium mast with resounding clangs as I ground
the winch handle, slowly inching her to the top of the mast.
There she released the frozen latch with a few well aimed
blows of a hammer, dropping the whipping sail to the deck.
Spontaneous applause erupted from the men watching her
every move from the ground far below.
“The pair of you are either very brave or very stupid!”
Shouted Terry Brown who was waiting at the bottom of the
scaffolding as we clambered down. “Either way, I want to buy
you both a drink.” Turning on his heel he led the way to where
the separate groups, assembled around the braai,
spontaneously reserved a space for each of us.
Dianne had broken the ice and proved that we were one
of them. The beer flowed and the braai smoked. It was well
after midnight before the impromptu party broke up and we
were able to leave our new friends and climb shakily and
somewhat inebriated, up the scaffolding to our trembling
cabin, perched like a bird’s nest high above the ground. There
we lay in each other’s arms comparing notes and reviewing the
events of the day.
“Do you know the origin of the saying ‘three sheets in
the wind’? Dianne asked playfully.
“Sure, it means someone is very drunk like we are right
now.” I replied drowsily.
“That is correct but Terry told me that it originated in
the British Navy and it refers to the situation we had today
when the wind whipped the sheet away from us and flailed the
sail dangerously. So if you have three sheets in the wind you
would be completely out of control.” She added triumphantly.
“In retrospect I don’t think the risk I made you take
today was such a good idea” I commented, still in awe of my
39
Don Darkes
wife’s fearlessness. “Do you realise that you were hanging on a
thread several stories off the ground on an incredibly unstable
structure and that your weight could easily have acted like a
powerful lever to bring the whole thing crashing down?”
“You may be right, but I don’t think we could have found
a better way of making new friends. Besides, I didn’t relish the
prospect of having to sew the Genoa together again!” Dianne
laughed.
“Were you not terribly afraid when I kept you dangling
on a string so far above the ground?” I joked, attempting to
regain the upper hand.
“Not really, I took my glasses off beforehand so I
couldn’t see a thing! …Besides, you once frightened me far, far
more.”
“When was that?” I frowned puzzled in the darkness.
“When you arrived twenty minutes late on our wedding
day” She spluttered with a giggle and then showed me tenderly
once again why I love her so much.
40
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
FIGURE 7
A SNAPSHOT TAKEN FROM ATOP THE LOWER MAST
SHOWS THE HEIGHT THAT DIANNE CLIMBED . DIANNE IS AT THE STERN
AND BILL IS LOOKING UP FROM THE CENTRE HATCH.
41
Don Darkes
Early the next morning, while we were below deck
planning our day, we heard a knock on the hull.
Permission to come aboard?” It was Terry, holding up a
bottle of water, squinting up at me highlighted against the sun
on the deck above him.
“Have you figured it out yet Woodpecker?” he asked, as I
looked at him helplessly, knowing that if I said too much he
would tantalise me for a day or two longer. He smiled,
relenting, as he saw my agonised expression. “Let us go and
take another look at your problem,” he said, clambering easily
up the scaffolding and down the cockpit ladder into the cabin
below. The cabin sole (floor) was cut open, exposing the
corroded top of the empty fuel tank. Terry looked at me and
said,
“Fill it!” shaking the bottle of water that he held it up to
my face. He nodded encouragingly as realisation dawned on
me. Of course! Fill the diesel tank with water to displace the
diesel vapours and make it perfectly safe to weld!
Our acceptance into the community had a number of
unexpected benefits. Later that week, as I was tapping
patiently with a hammer and chisel, carefully cutting away
pieces of rotten deck, a monotonous task that had occupied me
for almost a fortnight, I heard a familiar voice hailing me from
below.
“Hey Woodpecker? I have been listening to you pecking
at your deck for the last two weeks and I can’t take it anymore.
Your incessant and irritating tapping is making so much noise
no one can hear themselves think. So I have been asked by the
boys to show you how to use this!” He popped his head above
the deck, adjusted the pencils behind his ears and then held up
a green Bosch cutter with a long saw-tooth blade designed for
trimming hedges. He looked at me questioningly for
permission and receiving it, to my shocked surprise, laid it on
the deck where I had been working, and cut a huge section of
the rot clean away in a matter of seconds.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“If you don’t stop fart arsing around and get on with the
job you are never going to get out of here!” He was right. By the
end of the afternoon I had completed a tedious task that could
otherwise have taken months.
“Well done!” He applauded as I clambered down the
ladder to wash the sawdust from my body. Now I shall have to
find a new name for you as I can no longer call you
Woodpecker!”
I was to have the last laugh. At that moment Bill
appeared underneath the boat with Morgan giggling behind
him. Dianne and I cringed with embarrassment as we saw what
he was up to.
“Hey look at me! I’m Terry Brown,” He said as he stuck a
pair of red carpenters pencils behind his ears and minced and
strutted across the boatyard, pompously mimicking Terry’s
bow-legged gait. Since then, our family has fondly named red
carpenters pencils “Terry Browns”.
“Come on kids; let me make you some real toys.” Terry
dropped his stern façade and laughed. They dutifully followed
him to his catamaran where I watched him lovingly carve a
miniature toy rifle for each of them from a discarded piece of
brown teak. Then he fashioned a pair of worn-out sanding
belts into hats which he fitted onto each of the children’s heads
before setting them to marching up and down between the
yachts like soldiers on parade.
Terry grew increasingly close to both children to the
point that we often had to fetch them from wherever he was
sitting reading a story or playing a game with them instead of
working at his trade as a shipwright and carpenter.
43
Don Darkes
FIGURE 8 THE PIRATES OF ELGIN COMPLETE WITH
WOODEN RIFLES AND SANDING BELT HATS
44
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 12. The Tok-tokkie
“Wake up sleepy head! The Tok-tokkie is on his way!”
Dianne slid the teak deck-hatch back on its brass runners. The
early morning sunshine streamed like lasers though the holes
in the green canvas awning into the gloomy cabin below. She
used the rotund Zulu night watchman as her alarm clock due to
his habit of making his rounds punctually at six. She nicknamed
the roly-poly figure due for his custom of double-tapping the
wooden blocks wedging the yachts tightly into their cradles
with his knobkerrie. This was his lovingly carved, stout
hardwood staff, with its skull shaped tip. It was his badge of
rank and office. He also used to help him carry out his duties by
using the sound it made in response to his tapping, to warn
him if any wedges had worked loose during the night. He also
wielded it effectively as a weapon to dissuade or chastise any
strays (of the four or the two-legged kind) that wandered into
the boatyard seeking easy pickings. There was no faulting
Dianne’s sense of humour in comparing him to the Tok-tokkie
or tap-tapper, an African black beetle famed for its habit of
scurrying about then suddenly halting at irregular intervals to
double-tap the hard earth with its abdomen. This signalled
potential mates or rivals before he scurried on his way again.
The beetle also lent its name to the popular children’s game of
knocking on a door and then running away before the irate
inhabitant come to answer it. A suburban variant of this game,
involved filling a brown paper bag with fresh dog droppings,
placing it in front of the victims door and then setting the bag
alight before knocking and then running away to laughingly
watch their victims frantically stamp out the blaze and of
course get covered in faeces. Nevertheless Dianne was totally
unfazed that her Tok-tokkie was a powerful and dignified Zulu
man, who would probably take offence at being compared to a
lowly black beetle.
I was surprised when Tok-tokkie discreetly approached
me. It was the first time I had met with him face to face. He
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Don Darkes
wore traditional car-tyre sandals, izimbadada, which he had
made himself, from a mini-taxi’s worn out white-wall tyre. The
sole was fashioned from the tyre tread and curled slightly
upwards in the front. The straps were fashioned from the
tyre's white-wall sides lovingly decorated with an intricate
saw-tooth pattern. His black head-ring denoting he had earned
the right to be married and be respected, encircled his
peppercorn hair and was framed by a pair of fist sized, disk
shaped, circular shoe polish tins that were wedged inside his
pierced and overstretched elongated earlobes. Taking a pinch
of snuff from his left ‘ear-tin’ he politely offered me some
before sniffing it up from the back of his fist and sneezing
violently, setting the empty elongated earlobe hanging limply
down his cheek, wriggling like a black earthworm. I still
wonder what he kept in the other earlobe container. With the
ritual complete he began to address me in the Zulu language. I
was forced to interrupt him by holding up my hand while
calling out to Terry to join us and act as translator.
“These are Nathi ’s parents.” Terry was referring to a
young Zulu man whom I had employed to help me with the
yacht repairs, who had disappeared, without any explanation, a
fortnight previously.
“They have come to collect his pay.” Terry explained.
“Was this something to do with the curse?” I wondered.
Nathi had been adamant when I employed him that he took no
notice of such things even though the other men in the
boatyard refused point blank to work on Pisces and had
warned him to do the same.
Tok-tokkie motioned for an elderly couple standing
expectantly nearby, to come closer. I was introduced to Nathi ’s
father who approached me, his eyes lowered respectfully and
with his arms extended with one hand supporting the other
reverently offering me something, deferentially, Zulu fashion. It
was Nathi’s tattered and blood-stained dompas. (Dumb-pass.)
This passport-like document was the hated identity document
that every person of colour had to carry, on pain of instant
arrest and incarceration if they were caught without it.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“It seems that Nathi will not be coming back.” Terry said
and looked meaningfully at me. It took me a few seconds
before I realised that he was trying to tell me that Nathi was
dead.
Surely this is a coincidence. It cannot be the result of the
curse. I thought.
FIGURE 9 A TOK-TOKKIE BEETLE
FIGURE 10 IZIMBADADA TRADITIONAL Z ULU CAR TYRE
SANDALS
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Don Darkes
Chapter 13. Revenge of the Sandblaster
The giant crane arrived to hoist a sleek racing yacht that
had been berthed on our starboard side and return it to the
ocean. We relished the extra space next to us until a few days
later, when the crane lowered a gigantic canvas bag filled with
sharp grey grit onto the concrete apron. We watched as
workmen unrolled a thick black rubber hose, snaking it
between the suspended yachts to where a huge yellow diesel
powered air compressor hissed and bellowed. Later that day
the crane delivered the first of many rusty steel beams,
swinging them over the forest of masts and landing them deftly
in the open space like invading aircraft. Terry arrived and
smiled mischievously
“You are about to make acquaintance with the
sandblaster!”
Soon the Sandblaster himself arrived to inspect his new
domain. He was a squat and powerfully built Zulu man wearing
thick blue denim, overalls. He attached a fitting to the hose,
resembling a misshapen paint-ball gun and filled the
cylindrical container on its breech with some of the sharp grit.
He gave a signal and the compressor bellowed making the fat
black hose come alive and writhe across the boatyard like a
mamba as it filled with high-pressure air. The atmosphere was
filled by a deafening hissing sound and choking red dust as he
began to blast the steel beams scouring the rust from the steel
structures with deafening blasts and gouts of air. The noise
alone made it difficult to think clearly and impossible to speak
or to work. There was no question of applying paint or varnish
while the hurricane of rust and grit covered everything in
seconds. As a result we took to working inside our vessels
whenever he appeared. We all detested the noise and dust
generated by the sandblaster but we also knew that, according
to the rules of the boatyard there was nothing we could do but
work around it. That evening, as we stood enjoying a few well
48
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
deserved cold beers around the communal braai, Donald,
another of the boat owners remarked.
“I have a lot of painting and varnishing to do. In-between
ducking the weather and that damned sandblaster I am way
behind schedule. The weather forecast is favourable for the
next few days so I am going to find a way to get my painting
done while I can.”
“So what are you going to do? Terry asked curiously.
“Wait and see” Donald replied mysteriously. Bill and I
watched Donald sneak over to the sandblaster’s station early
the next morning, remove the hoses metal tip and bury it deep
inside the giant bag of grit. Thankfully we were standing on our
yacht’s deck as the compressed air supply to the hose was
switched on. The black pipe took off like a demonic snake
thrashing its headless body around the yard, almost punching a
few expensive holes in a sleek racing yacht that lay directly in
its path. Donald rubbed his hands with glee and began mixing
a fresh batch of expensive epoxy paint as the sandblaster ran to
disconnect the air supply before searching frantically for the
missing hose fitting.
Donald had just completed his epoxy application when
the sandblaster started up again. Within seconds all Donald’s
hard work was undone as the airborne dust and grit stuck to
the wet epoxy glue. Thankfully, Donald was so busy that he did
not see Bill take up the game of hide-and-seek to reveal the
location of the missing gun to the Sandblaster.
“Next time I shall bribe the Sandblaster to work
somewhere else until my paint dries,” said Donald as we stood
around the braai that evening. Others nodded assent as they
each mentioned tasks requiring a respite from the devastating
dust and grit. Donald passed an empty bucket around for each
of us to contribute some cash to a fund for negotiating a
temporary cease-fire with the Sandblaster.
“Mission accomplished,” rejoiced Donald ,victoriously
returning from his mission. “I think the fifty bucks convinced
him to work somewhere else tomorrow and the following day
so that we can complete our painting tasks. Funny bloke
49
Don Darkes
though? He never said a word. He merely nodded at
everything I said, although he grinned from ear to ear when I
slipped him the cash.”
The following day a deafening roar shocked us as the
sandblaster started up in the midst of our various painting
operations.
“I thought the sandblaster agreed to work elsewhere?”
shouted Terry furiously as he tried fruitlessly to cover his
work.
“He did agree. I have no idea what happened to change
his mind. But I am not standing for this. I am going to confront
the swine,” shouted Donald competing with the roar and hiss
of the sandblaster as he set off determinedly to confront him.
We watched him return a short while later muttering under his
breath.
“I found out why the Sandblaster reneged on our deal!”
He spat dejectedly.
“Why is that? Asked Terry puzzled.
“The bastard is stone deaf!” Groaned Donald, slapping
his forehead.
50
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 14. Golden Ivory
“Tell me, where can I buy some crack injection epoxy?” I
asked Terry as he prepared to fasten a bolt on a winch that he
was installing.
“Good grief. Have you been talking to Kim Skoenmaker
the yacht Broker?” Terry laughed.
“Why do you ask?”
“When Kim speaks about crack injection epoxy it is
Yacht Brokers code for a job which needs to be covered with a
coat of paint before being dumped on some upcountry sucker.
Don’t tell me….?” He trailed off as he realised why I was looking
so upset. “Why do you think you need epoxy anyway?”
Embarrassed he tried to change the subject.
“I need to glue the plywood decks into place and seal
them. Ordinary water based white wood glue certainly won’t
be strong or durable enough for the job. I remember Kim
saying when she was showing us some boats that we needed to
get a couple of buckets of crack injection epoxy for Pisces and
so I thought that should be what I should get.”
“What you need is some two part epoxy. Let me
introduce you to the guys at Ivory. Their factory is located in
Jacobs the industrial area near the harbour.”
Terry was as good as his word. Later that afternoon I
was back on board Pisces ready to lay my first epoxy glue.
There were two tins, one resin and another of hardener. The
resin tin was white, twice as large as the hardener, which was
black. Each tin bore bold lettering that said RATIO 2:1 in large
black type below the manufacturer’s name, Ivory, with an
image of a trumpeting elephant next to it.
“I am holding solid gold in these two tins. At this price
they better cure cancer” I grumbled while prising the lid from
each tin with a flat-bladed screwdriver before looking down
into the contents inside.
“Bloody hell! The tins are not even completely full” I
complained disgusted.
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Don Darkes
“Remember Terry said you should carefully measure out
the components into a plastic mixing bowl and not to make up
too much at a time.” Dianne reminded me gently.
“”Yes, Yes. I heard him too. But look at the space I need
to cover.” Crossly I pointed at the huge expanse of deck that
needed to be sealed. “Terry also said I can brush it on just like
paint and even use a roller. So I intend to mix the whole five
litres right now and get the job done or else I will be here
forever -just like him” I snapped irritably. Dianne pursed her
lips. She knew better than to gainsay me when I had the bit
between my teeth.
“Then can I mix it for you? I will start with 100ml as a
test and if it goes well I will mix more as you need it.” Dianne
was trying her second option at making me see sense which
was to offer to help me. This tactic sometimes worked and
prevented me from embarrassing myself too often.
“Thanks all the same sweetheart. But its already late
afternoon and I don’t have time to fart-arse around” I snapped.
“Besides Terry told us not to start too late or too early in the
day or the epoxy won’t cure if it gets too cold or too damp.”
Dianne just nodded, knowing that I would lose my temper if
she persevered.
“This piddling little dish will be too small” I said. “It
doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that is the reason why the
tins are not full. They want you to add the small tin to the large
tin and voila!” I said triumphantly. Dianne just nodded and said
nothing as I poured the hardener into to the contents of the tin
of resin and began to stir.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“There look at that. It’s changing colour already. Hmm,
it’s even getting warm, just like Terry said it would. This
boatbuilding thing is not so difficult. I don’t know why they
make such a fuss” I said, stirring the glutinous compound
which resembled thick clear varnish.
“Sweetheart is it supposed to smoke like that?” asked
Dianne anxiously.
“Of course, silly, it’s a chemical reaction, although I must
confess the smell is making me feel a little odd.” I watched with
alarm as my skin instantly developed a rash, resembling
measles.
“Terry said we should wear a mask and mix it in a wellventilated place” Dianne suggested timidly.
“He is just being cautious and besides the wind is
pumping outside. It will knock it right out of our hands. No.
Working here in the chartroom will be just fine until it’s ready
to use.” I cut her off again. As I stirred the compound with a
wooden paddle, I become aware that the tin was smoking and
becoming very, very hot. At that moment Terry stuck his head
in the doorway.
“Knock knock. How’s it going?” Then as he took in the
situation his eyes grew big and without warning he grabbed
the tin of epoxy and threw it over the side to land with a clang
on the concrete below.
“What did you do that for? You are going to pay for that
you ...” But I did not get to finish my sentence as the tin
exploded with a wet pop and burst into flame. I gulped as I
realised that Terry had probably saved us from serious injury.
53
Don Darkes
FIGURE 11 THE AUTHOR, TINS OF IVORY EPOXY ON THE CABIN
ROOF TO HIS LEFT
54
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 15. Tortoise meets Sailfish and the Duck.
We decided to relocate our caravan to the boatyard,
bringing Pisces and Tortoise together for the first time. This
would enable us to spend more time completing the repairs
since we would not need to commute between the yard and the
park every day. I looked forward to resuming sailing
instruction once more as the welding, easily completed,
buoyed me with optimism when we prepared to re-launch the
yacht. We had been dissuaded by the superstitious yachting
community to avoid renaming our yacht since it was regarded
as extremely unlucky. Instead, we had a sign writer integrate
the letters of her name, Pisces, into the body of a sailfish. This
was painted on either side of the bows, and in so doing
removed the connotation of a horoscope or birth-sign but
effectively this renamed her just the same.
“I thought you said you were not superstitious?” said
Terry.
“I am not, I just couldn’t be bothered to do all the
paperwork that goes with renaming a boat,” I lied
unconvincingly.
“Nevertheless, it might not do you any harm to have a
Sangoma spread some muthi over the boat. Just to be sure,”
Terry suggested, with a strange expression on his face.
“Come on Terry, I would have expected you to propose a
priest and some holy water perhaps, but a Zulu witchdoctor
and magic potions? Surely you can’t be serious?” I said
Terry hesitated, almost as if he was trying to tell me
something, then turned on his heel and strode away.
Dianne and I were sitting inside the Tortoise celebrating
with a frosty quart bottle of Lion Ale and admiring our
handiwork, overjoyed that Pisces was ready to be launched
once more. We had developed a taste for the bitter beer after
she had discovered that it helped her to relieve the painful
muscle cramps that she experienced as a result of the stifling
heat and energy sapping humidity.
55
Don Darkes
“I think it replaces the lost salts and nutrients” she said
taking a long sip.
“That’s a good story and you stick to it” Terry winked at
me and raised his glass in salute to Dianne. We were excited
because the diesel tanks were repaired and a host of other
tasks that had taken more than five months to complete were
finally behind us. I had been particularly dreading having to
paint the hull below the waterline with the special, poisonous,
red-brown, antifoul paint that discourages marine growth from
attaching itself to the hull.
“He hates painting and somehow he always manages to
get more paint on himself and everything else except whatever
he is supposed to be painting” Dianne teased.
“Here is to you and to Terry.” I toasted. Earlier that day
Terry and Dianne conspired to send me on an errand that kept
me away from the boatyard for most of the day. By the time I
returned Dianne had finished painting the antifoul paint over
the entire boat all by herself.
“Where did you get the paint?” I asked suspiciously.
“Terry had Tok-tokkie go down to the dry dock where
they completed anti-fouling a huge commercial vessel. He
bought twenty litres of their left over commercial grade antifoul paint from the contractors, for a fraction of the price we
would normally have had to pay” Dianne explained.
“That’s another one we owe you Terry,” I said gratefully.
The crane was booked for the following afternoon to coincide
with the high tide and the deep water we needed to
accommodate our tall draft.
It was calm and windless the following morning when
Dianne and I set off to do some last-minute shopping. We
planned to varnish the tinned food cans and pack the bulky dry
provisions while Pisces was out of the water. This would save
us the tedious task of ferrying it, one load at a time to the
mooring once she was afloat. Bill and Morgan were content to
wait in the boatyard under Terry’s watchful eye playing as
usual with their toys on a blanket that we always spread out on
the concrete apron in the shade beneath Pisces hull.
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“Don’t worry; I shall keep a beady eye on them.”
Promised Terry who took every opportunity to spend time
with the children who had grown extremely fond of him too.
By the time we completed our purchases, the southwesterly wind had picked up, whipping up white horses on the
waves crashing outside the breakwater protecting the harbour.
The wind was beginning to howl and whistle as it gusted
powerfully while we waited for the boatyard gate to be opened
to allow us to enter. I was alarmed to see how much our masts
were swaying when the powerful gusts shook Pisces on her
trestles.
“Nooooo!” Dianne screamed as we saw one of the timber
supports bracing the hull vibrate and begin to slip. We looked
on, powerless as one by one, the others splintered and
shattered under the strain. Pisces tottered, faltered, and fell
swiftly sideways before inexplicably stopping halfway. The
steel rigging wire connecting the tops of the masts caught
against the rigging wire of the yacht standing beside her
suspending the entire weight of our boat, trembling in mid-air.
The cables began to creak and groan as the strain increased
inexorably. The other boat began to lean sideways, threatening
to set off a domino effect as they knocked each other over in
turn, like falling cards. Dianne screamed again as the wire on
Pisces masts began to fray and split, parting with a twang and a
shock that snapped both Pisces’ masts, releasing her to smash
down alone onto the earth below with a sickening thump and a
cloud of dust, like a felled tree.
Within minutes word spread throughout the close knit
community bringing them running from every direction. A
number of husky men walked up to me and took my hand
wordlessly shaking their heads to hide the tears in their eyes. A
number of women, including Dianne were sobbing openly as
they hugged and consoled each other.
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I was numb with shock as I asked myself.
If we had not gone shopping would we have been able to
prevent the accident? Why did this happen now after she had
withstood much more powerful winds during the months that we
had worked and slept aboard her?
The crane driver’s gap-toothed smile did little to
reassure me as I handed him the signed indemnity form and
smelt his breakfast liquor on his breath. The crane’s electric
motor whined as it took up the slack on the wide webbing
straps straining to lift our stricken yacht upright. The rigger
spoke urgently into his two-way radio as the wind gusted,
pushing hard against Pisces’ hull and swinging her long
bowsprit around like a compass needle. Two burly men
stationed fore and aft, manhandling long ropes, struggled to
hold her steady as she turned relentlessly into the wind and
began to oscillate uncontrollably. With a crunching sound, the
Finger of God smashed against the side of the parked caravan,
ripping a jagged hole through our beloved Tortoise’s side
before exploding through her roof with a shower of sparks.
Like a wild stallion maddened by reckless destruction
she grudgingly allowed the struggling men to regain control.
Eventually the crane was able to lift her upright and hold her
there while the workers built new timber supports to hold her
smashed hull upright once more. Dianne gasped and burst into
tears.
“Where are the children?” she cried distraught as she
pointed to an indentation in the earth where the frenzied
vessel had crashed heavily to ground.
At that moment Terry walked up, hand in hand with Bill
and Morgan.
“Thank Heaven you are safe!” Dianne cried as she
rushed over, fell to her knees and hugged them both. I looked
wordlessly at Terry who met my gaze without blinking. I could
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see by his expression and the set of his shoulders that he
believed the curse had struck again. He shook his head, turned
on his heel and walked away without saying a word.
With Pisces safe on her trestles once more, we began
assessing the damage. Besides the broken masts, the port side
had been smashed like an egg. The experts huddled, declaring
that we would be set back at least a year or more. Demoralised,
we dragged the crippled Tortoise back to the Caravan Park.
With a heavy heart I covered the gaping rents with plastic and
duct tape before consigning her to the weekender’s parking.
Living on board the crippled Pisces, we worked singlemindedly repairing the damage, determined to prove the
experts wrong. Then, just as we thought the worst was behind
us, the ships radio crackled into life.
“Durban Harbour Radio calling Pisces!”
The short-range radio allowed communication between
the Port Control and yachts, coordinating harbour traffic and
providing a telephone-to-radio relay. The Caravan Park
Manager was on the line. Idly I wondered if his fingers had
healed by now.
“I have some bad news,” he said. “An inflatable ski boat
we were moving into storage today broke free from its tow,
rolled backwards down the slope and crashed into your
caravan. I’m afraid its engines have torn a hole into the back of
your caravan and smashed it up pretty badly.”
I wondered what my insurers would say when I told
them that the front of my caravan had been impaled by a fortyfive foot long, eighteen ton sailing yacht and then attacked by a
runaway rubber boat had finished her off by smashing her rear
and that both attacks took place on dry land.
Dianne had the last word. “I think you should be honest
and tell them that our Tortoise was attacked, first by a Sailfish
and then finished off by a rubber duck.”
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Chapter 16. Saggy Party
Despite the dire predictions of the boatyard pundits we
managed to complete the repairs within four months. Both
masts had snapped and had to be repaired. A sleeve was
riveted inside and we took the opportunity to remove all the
stainless steel fittings, which was a blessing in disguise as we
discovered and repaired gaping holes where the dissimilar
metals had reacted and corroded. We were particularly elated
when the masts lay on their trestles, glistening in a gleaming
coat of white paint and I took out the tape to check their
measurements for new halyards.
“How long is it?” Asked Dianne as I unfurled the long
reel of surveyors measuring tape.
“Its fifteen and a half metres long.” I replied as I polished
the bright stainless steel masthead cap that was riveted onto
the very top. “The masts get stepped tomorrow and I don’t
think I shall be seeing this shiny chunk of steel again in a hurry.
“We must not forget to put a coin under the mast
tomorrow -for good luck!” Dianne said, teasing me about yet
another sailor’s superstition.
The re-launch was cause for a joyous celebration and we
decided to have a party to celebrate. Since it was December
and the launch date coincided with my birthday, Dianne had
also noticed that a disproportionate number of the yachties
shared the same birth sign with me so she suggested that we
have a theme party.
“I promise it will be a Sagittarius party to remember!”
She vowed. I was not allowed to take part in the preparations
other than to mix a devastating rum punch in a large green
plastic bucket that we usually used to rinse our smalls on the
deck. I should have known that she was up to something when
she spent most of the morning painting a banner that I was not
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allowed to see until the guests were about to arrive. The
marina ferry had been commandeered for the entire evening
and Thabo the driver had been warned that he would be on
duty ferrying passengers back and forth from Pisces to the
shore until the early hours.
“Tell me darling, what is the sailors custom of dressingship?” Dianne asked innocently with a mischievous sparkle in
her eyes that should have warned me she was up to something.
“I am not sure how the custom originated, but I do know
that today, when a celebration is in the air, it is customary to
dress ship. This is done by stringing all the signal flags in a
colourful display from the bow to the top of the mast and down
to the stern.” Dianne slyly changed the subject before I became
curious.
When the first passengers arrived Dianne unveiled her
banner which proclaimed in bold red letters on a white cotton
background; Saggy Party. Dianne has never been known for
her spelling so I decided to keep silent and not mention that it
should have read Sagi Party. Then. as the ferry delivered our
guests to the yacht, Dianne, dressed only in a Hawaiian grass
skirt with a colourful scarf tied around her best points, stood at
the entrance to ensure that no one was allowed on board
unless they came appropriately dressed, or rather undressed,
she said, in keeping with the theme of the party. The first
arrivals were a little confused when she pointed to the sign,
told them that it was not a misprint and then informed them
that they must enter into the spirit of the evening. The later
arrivals got the message more easily as they saw the yachts
rigging strung from end to end with a colourful assortment of
bras, panties and men’s underwear. Dianne had dressed ship in
her own inimitable style and made certain that everyone was
indeed, for the rest of the evening, decidedly saggy!
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Chapter 17. Red Sky in the Morning
As we became accustomed to life on board we
developed a daily routine that was linked to the rhythm of the
harbour and its inhabitants. We would be woken before
sunrise each morning when our comfortable double bed was
rocked by the wake created by the tug leaving its berth and
crossing the bay. Then we would climb up the ladder, slide
back the hatch and sit on the deck to watch the sun extinguish
the twinkling lights of the city as it coloured the sky. If the
sunrise was particularly ruddy we would take delight in
confirming its ability to forecast the weather.
“Red sky in the morning sailors take warning” Dianne or
I would begin.
“Red sky at night sailor’s delight!” Bill and Morgan
would reply in chorus.
“There’s Manuel” Morgan would cry as the Portuguese
owner of the café, that stood at the entrance to the marina,
arrived to open his shop for business.
“Here comes the bread truck and the newspaper truck.
But the milk truck is late again today.” Bill had an eye for detail
that always amazed me, especially in a four year old boy. We
would have breakfast and plan our day as we greeted the other
inhabitants when they made their way to shore or returned to
their boats. Most evenings we would sit on the deck watching
the sunset, enjoying a sun downer, and discussing what we had
learnt or achieved that day. Later we would read a story to the
delighted children before we tucked them into bed. Invariably
Morgan would insist that we fasten her Falling fing before we
kissed her goodnight.
As we began to learn more about the tiny community,
we become part of it too. Day by day, we grew closer to each
other and also to our children as they shared our discussions
and were included in the decisions we made. Together we
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learnt which boats were merely braai-platforms and which
were used just for status, weekend getaways and which were
used for furtive late afternoon assignations. Other boats
stayed closed up for months on end waiting like pensioners in
an old age home for their up country visitors to visit and bring
them back to life. Saddest of all were the boats we named the
‘widows’ and ‘orphans’. Time and again we would watch,
excited, as a boat would arrive on a gigantic truck and trailer
accompanied by a happy couple who had invariably spent
many years building the yacht in the back yard. The dreamboat
would be launched and taken out over the sandbar into the
open ocean beyond. The swell off Durban harbour is seldom
less than two metres and very soon a very green and
disillusioned couple would return to their mooring with their
dream in tatters. Within a few days we would watch dismayed
as either one or both owners would leave the marina never to
return. These were the orphans that would be pounced upon
by yacht brokers like squabbling seagulls. The saddest of all
were the ‘widow boats’ where we would hear a frightened wife
issue an ultimatum.
“Choose. It’s either me or this damned boat.” The
husbands, whose dream it invariably was, who chose to stay
with their cherished dreamboats, often ended up alone on
board, unable to go anywhere for lack of crew or anyone with
whom to share their dream.
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Chapter 18. Necklacing at Granny Dawns
Granny Dawn lived alone in a run down, four bedroom
house overlooking the rolling hills above Durban’s Paradise
Valley. She was a friend’s mother and not actually related to
any of us. We only called her Granny out of respect for her
great age. Granny Dawn loved to tell us endlessly, how in days
gone by, when her husband was alive and her sons were young,
how the Valley was a favoured picnic spot for Durban families.
When they tired of the sunny whites-only beaches infested
with up country holiday makers, they would pack a picnic
lunch, bundle into their cars and drive down an earth track
into the indigenous forest to where the Umbilo River
meandered through the trees down to the ocean. Now the
valley was home to a new community of less cheerful
picnickers who had drifted to the big city of Durban seeking
employment and lodgings and finding none, had hidden in the
bush around the city. Here they built improvised shelters for
themselves and their desperate families out of wood and wire
hoops covered in discarded plastic and cardboard.
Granny Dawn gave us the use of one of her empty rooms
where could temporarily store our belongings which we could
not fit neither onto Pisces nor inside the Tortoise at the
caravan park. We filled an entire room with suitcases of
clothes, boxes of books, family memorabilia and toys that the
kids were not yet ready to parted from.
We received Granny Dawn’s distressed telephone call
relayed via Pisces’ ship radio demanding that we come
immediately. It was just after nine am on a Saturday morning
when we parked E.T. our VW kombi next to her son Sean’s
blood red Ford Cortina XR6 at the top of her steep driveway.
His car displayed a bumper sticker flanked by a fish symbol on
either side of a legend that read, Die Here is my Herder. It
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flummoxed me for a moment until I realised it was written in
Afrikaans which translated means The Lord is my Shepherd.
It was clear that Sean had been there for some time
before us because the six pack that he carried welded
permanently to his right hand most weekends was already half
gone. I could also see by the look on his face that he was
fighting mad.
“They took everything!” he shouted as he yanked open
the boot of his car. “Just smashed the back door open and
threw whatever they could carry over the wall. You took your
own sweet time getting here considering most of the stuff they
took was yours.” He hawked up a gob of phlegm and spat it
down next to my foot as he withdrew a shotgun from the
arsenal in his car boot and threw it at me.
“Come inside. This is men’s business,” croaked Granny
Dawn, standing on the porch in her blue nightgown and fluffy
pom-pom slippers. She shooed Dianne and the children inside
and slammed the door behind her.
“Come. Come. What are you waiting for? Christmas?”
Sean brandished a shotgun as he sucked out the last of his beer
and threw the empty bottle over the concrete fence into the
bush behind him.
“Who broke in?” I recoiled in shock as he threw the gun
at me and I almost dropped the carelessly flung weapon.
“The bloody houtkoppe. (wooden heads) that are
squatting there in the bushes you dom doos” (dumb/stupid
‘box’) he spat again and cocked his own shotgun for emphasis
after he slammed the car boot closed.
“Surely we should report this to the police?” I suggested
timidly.
“I am the police!” he hissed. “Well a Reservist anyway”
he conceded as he corrected himself. He was of course
referring to the volunteer civilian force which had earned a
bitter reputation for taking the law into their own hands.
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Don Darkes
Before I could protest or gather up my thoughts he ushered me
ahead of him onto a well-used winding path that ran alongside
his mother’s property into the dense bush behind. I stumbled
dazed down the dusty track. The forest closed around us,
shutting out the sky above our heads, almost blotting out the
early morning light entirely as it transformed the familiar wellmanicured suburban landscape into a gloomy and menacing
tropical jungle.
As we negotiated a bend in the meandering path we
entered into a clearing jam packed with corrugated iron and
plastic shacks. Stinking raw sewage oozed and ran everywhere
and litter festooned every tree and bush with plastic shopping
bags and discarded product wrappers creating a chaotic
garden made up of what the press mockingly call Africa’s wild
flowers.
Once my eyes grew adjusted to the piercing rays of
bright sunshine lancing down between the leafy branches of
the overhanging trees I could make out the resigned faces of
gaunt mothers breastfeeding their filthy, mucus-bubbling
children, while they watched us arrive. Nearby, seated on a
circle of whitewashed stones was a group of melodiously
singing African Zionist Church brethren. The women were
dressed in long white robes with blue sashes and headscarves
and the men were resplendent in smartly pressed military-like
khaki uniforms with peaked officer’s caps. All proudly wore
their Silver, Zionist Star badges. Sean pushed me to one side
and began to harangue the group in Zulu language. They said
nothing as they watched him impassively while he brandished
his shotgun threateningly and kicked angrily at discarded tins
of coffee creamer and empty Coca-Cola bottles strewn about
the place.
I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I
recognised the sweet aroma of dagga (marijuana). I turned to
discover the source of the narcotic fumes and saw with alarm
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that a belligerent crowd of surly men had formed behind
where Sean stood haranguing at their women. One of the men
was rolling a car tyre along the ground and another wielded a
clear plastic coke bottle filled with urine coloured liquid that I
knew instantly was petrol. I swallowed the lump in my throat
with an audible gulp.
Oh my God. These bastards are going to necklace us! I
realised with alarm.
Necklacing is the gruesome term used to describe the
bizarre punishment meted out by the mob for rapists and other
criminals. Typically the screaming mob would pass summary
judgement upon an evildoer before placing a rubber car tyre
‘necklace’ around their victim’s necks. They would fill the tyre
with petrol and set it alight. Then, chanting and dancing, the
frenzied rabble would crowd around the burning victim, taking
turns to gleefully kick and beat the writhing bodies long after
their screaming had ceased. Any member of the mob who did
not participate or showed insufficient enthusiasm, was liable to
suffer necklacing themselves.
I cannot remember running back to my familiar world of
paved roads and streetlights that waited nearby, but I do recall
Sean’s bitter words as he confronted me while I frantically
bundled my family into our waiting Kombi.
“Ja, run you kaffir-boetie coward. (Nigger-lover/brother)
When people like you let them overrun this country they will
move into your house and then you will be happy to move into
their shacks to be reunited with all your stolen belongings.”
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Chapter 19. Mouths of Babes
There are two bars more devastating to sailors than the
sandbar guarding the entrance to the harbour. The first is the
type that dispenses alcohol and other is the law that legislates
that races should under no circumstances mix socially and
particularly not sexually. This was the so-called Race or Colour
bar. Transgressors risked criminal proceeding followed by
imprisonment.
As we got to know our neighbours we sometimes
discovered more about their indiscretions than I think they
wished to reveal. One of these was Gunter who lived on his half
completed boat anchored even farther out on the chain
moorings than we were. Every morning we would greet each
other as he rowed his dinghy to shore to start his day, building
and repairing yacht fridges and freezers. On most evenings we
would chorus “Good Night” as he rowed himself back to his
lonely floating home.
We began to notice that the only time that Gunter’s
routine would vary was on alternate Friday evenings when he
would row back to his boat later than usual with a dark shape
hidden under a blanket behind him. Dianne accidentally
discovered that Gunter was sneaking a black lady aboard when
a gust of wind lifted a corner of the blanket one evening. Since
Gunther risked being incarcerated without trial for a hundred
and eighty days under the dreaded Immorality laws and
because we knew the children were listening Dianne and I
used ambiguous terms to disguise what we were actually
gossiping about. This backfired on us one Friday evening as
Gunter was stealthily rowing with his criminal cargo to his
vessel when four year old Bill innocently stood up and shouted
loudly across the open water:
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“Hey Uncle Gunter, are you taking that black lady back
to your boat so that she can pump your bilges too?” as Dianne
and I cringed with embarrassment.
We had another favourite yacht that we derisively
named the floating Dogbox whenever we gossiped about her.
Every few weeks we would become aware that the owner was
aboard. He arrived in the early hours, much the worse for wear
and would fall down the ladder in his drunken state with a
great clatter followed by loud cursing. He would then stay on
board indefinitely sometimes for days at a time without leaving
his vessel for any reason. Often we would take bets as to how
long it would take before his diminutive wife would arrive,
disappear below and then the usual rocking motion of the
vessel would alter for a while before the loving couple would
emerge and walk down the jetty hand in hand. Of course our
gossiping was discovered when we attended a family function
at one of the yacht clubs where it was customary for everyone
to introduce themselves by first names followed by the name
of their boat. When our feuding couple arrived and introduced
themselves as Charles and Chantal,from the yacht Cataluna, we
were unprepared for the ever vigilant Morgan, who burst out
indignantly.
“Liar! Liar! Your boats name is Dogbox!” she exclaimed
indignantly as Dianne and I looked away, embarrassed, and
tried not to laugh out loud.
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Don Darkes
Chapter 20. The End of Mankind
She stood above me, her long tanned legs held wide
apart, with her arms folded beneath her heavy breasts as she
watched me manoeuvre between her pristine white hulls. Her
crimson tipped toes curled and flexed as the tide rhythmically
thrust my vessel in and out of her narrow space. I felt the point
of no return approaching when a creaming wave pushed me
deep inside her opening sliding my bows along the slippery
length of her starboard hull as I entered her confined opening.
She gasped, moist lips parted as I looked up into her sea-green
eyes and she saw how close I was to losing control. Then the
wave receded once more, sucking me gently backward,
allowing the awkward moment to pass. Leaning over I deftly
plucked her soggy straw hat from the oily swell, stood up in my
undulating tender and handed it up to her with a flourish.
Languidly she leaned over to accept it, deliberately teasing me
with a glimpse of her creamy white breast-flesh as her bikini
top gaped briefly before I was reluctantly forced to meet her
eyes once more.
“Is the skipper around?” I asked nonchalantly, trying to
establish why an attractive and desirable female was left alone
aboard an ocean-going catamaran with no visible male around
to guard his territory.
“You are addressing the skipper,” she retorted with a
challenge in her voice.
“Is there anything else I can assist you with while I am
here?” I asked by way of providing her an opportunity to
reward me for my efforts.
She returned my hungry stare with a knowing look and
paused while she looked around the yacht basin, came to a
decision and then turned to me with a wicked grin.
“Why don’t you come aboard? I have something to show
you down below that I think we may both enjoy,” she said
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hooding her eyelids and deflecting my leer as she invited me
inside with a seductive movement of her head.
I made certain to tighten my bum muscles and suck in
my stomach as I heard the unmistakable sound of curtains
being drawn. She watched me descending her polished teak
ladder into her cosy cabin below. When my eyes adjusted to
the darkened room I was thrilled to see she had discarded her
sarong and was standing clad only in a minute bikini, the backs
of her naked thighs pressed against the navigation table as she
beckoned to me to come closer. Then, holding my mesmerised
eyes with her own, she slowly leaned forward exposing her
cleavage and opened her shapely legs while reaching between
them with a languid movement of her right hand. Helplessly I
dropped my gaze (and my jaw), only to see her slide open a
tiny drawer concealed between her knees. It contained two
sausage-shaped cylindrical objects lying side by side on a bed
of green felt.
“These two inventions represent the peak of man’s
ingenuity…and his demise,” she mused, picking up the first
tube and stroking it with her carmine tipped fingers.
“This!” she said, deftly snapping open the breech with
practiced skill and slowly inserting a silver concrete nail into
its chamber. “This is a Hilti-gun! With this tool in my hand I can
place a nail wherever and whenever I wish without having to
rely on any man!”
Picking up the second cylinder she lovingly caressed its
rounded tip with her scarlet tipped fingernails. “Behold! Man’s
crowning achievement!” Deftly she twisted its base,
whereupon it began to vibrate and its end began to squirm and
rotate with a buzzing sound.
“I can see in your eyes that you know exactly what this
is! So let me ask you this? Why would any woman who can
operate these two devices have need of any man?” she asked,
contemptuously dismissing me as she snapped the drawer shut
with a bang.
Shocked and chastened I rowed our tender,
flabbergasted at how contemptuously I had been humbled and
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Don Darkes
humiliated. Dianne saw immediately that I was agitated as I
returned to our boat with my tail between my legs.
“What happened sweetheart?
“I had to fish this lady’s hat out of the marina.” I replied
bashfully and burst out laughing with embarrassment
. “Do you remember the story I often tell about God and
Adam?” I teased her.
“Which one?” She laughed seductively as she read in my
eyes and body language what my words were trying to hide.
“Well, God calls Adam and says to him, Adam, I have
good news and I have bad news. The good news is that I have
given you a brain and I have also given you a prick. The bad
news is that I have only given you enough blood to run one of
them at a time!”
“Oh dear,” Dianne laughed. “What have you gotten
yourself into this time? I think you better tell me all about it.
You know that I have never been the least bit jealous” she said
knowingly as she patted the seat next to her inviting me to sit
down. By then I was laughing so hard that I scarcely noticed
what her hands were doing until it was too late to reverse the
flow of blood.
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Chapter 21. Pisces Stirs
Less amusing was an incident that almost put an end to
the entire adventure, perhaps reminding us that the spirit of
Pisces was ever vigilant for an opportunity to do us harm. We
were moored on chains and anchors side by side with several
other yachts. The spaces between the boats would vary with
the tides and the direction of the wind. Sometimes the gap was
large and we could pass a dingy between the vessels and other
times the space was reduced to a point where only the soft
inflatable fenders between the hulls prevented them from
grinding each other to pieces. One morning as we were
assisting our starboard neighbours on the yacht Concorde, by
attempting to lever the colliding vessels apart, so that they
could climb aboard their boat, Bill lost his balance and fell into
the sea and he was trapped in the crushing gap between the
hulls.
Dianne screamed and with a superhuman effort became
a female Hercules as she placed herself between the squeezing
vessels and held them apart long enough for me to dive in and
retrieve our son before he was crushed. Of course this was a
mere coincidence and it would be irrational to attribute this to
any supernatural force.
After all I am not superstitious.
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Chapter 22. Up the Creek
Although Bill was approaching his fifth birthday he was
intelligent far beyond his years. Often he would study a
problem, without saying anything, until he was certain of his
facts and then he would make a connection that sometimes had
even the adults flummoxed. Since our mooring fees included
the services of the ferry, we tended to take advantage of it. The
ferry was a large open decked motor boat with a sealed off
floatation compartment to enable it to float even if it capsized.
There was a bench with seating for about ten passengers and a
powerful petrol outboard motor to drive it. It was fuelled from
a portable red steel tank that was connected to the engine by a
black rubber pipe with a pumping bulb midway on its length.
Thabo the ferry driver had grown used to our routine and
sometimes would even anticipate our comings and goings,
especially where the children were concerned. They always
made a fuss of him and brought him titbits to eat as they sat in
the stern with him as he drove us back and forth.
One afternoon as Thabo was taking us back to our
vessel, Bill became very agitated. “Red box, red box “he
repeated over and over again as he pointed to a spot at the
ferry driver’s feet. At first I took no notice as Dianne and I
prepared our packages and got ready to disembark. Then I
realised that Bill was trying to tell us something as he grew
increasingly insistent and began to drum his feet upon the deck
in his effort to be understood and taken seriously.
“What is it Bill? What’s bothering you?” I asked him as I
made my way to the stern where he sat with Morgan.
“Where is the red box?” he asked pointing to a spot near
Thabo’s feet. I shook my head in bewilderment; not knowing
what was worrying him and looked quizzically at Thabo for
enlightenment. Suddenly Thabo’s eyes grew large and he cried
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
out “Haau! Before clapping his hand over his mouth as the
starving motor spluttered and died from fuel starvation. Bill
had noticed that Thabo had forgotten to bring aboard the fuel
tank. We all laughed until the tears ran down our faces as we
hung over the sides and used our hands to paddle ourselves
back to the jetty while Bill sat Buddha-like, arms akimbo as if
to say
“ I Told you so!”
FIGURE 12 MORGAN, BILL , THE AUTHOR AND E DWARD THE
FERRY DRIVER
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Don Darkes
Chapter 23. Bucket Brigade
We were sitting on the deck, drinking coffee and
listening to the mournful hooting sound of the harbour tugboats contrasting with the cheerful dawn chorus of thousands
of garrulous Indian Mynas infesting the trees lining the road
that runs past the marina. There we experienced an incident
that made a huge impression upon Bill which led to him saving
the lives of the entire family as we lay becalmed in the middle
of the Mozambique Channel almost a year later.
We had noticed unusual activity on the yacht moored
astern of us. As we sipped our coffee and watched, Mike, the
owner and his Zulu yacht-hand, disappeared below deck
carrying a small bucket. They emerged a few moments later
each holding their bucket at arm’s length before carefully
emptying it over the side. Since there was no splash of the
contents being emptied we believed their buckets to be empty.
They ignored our pantomimed actions as we rotated our index
fingers at our temples indicating our conclusion that they were
crazy. Unabashed, the pair continued with their charade,
serious as mummers, while we looked on with undisguised
amusement.
“Hey, guys! Is your bilge pump broken?” I jeered unable
to contain my amusement and curiosity any longer.
“No!” They chorused, without pausing in their efforts.
“Whatever are you doing then?” I laughed curiously.
“Watch and learn,” retorted Mike irritably.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
He went below returning once more, gingerly holding
his bucket in front of him. Then, after first setting his bucket
afloat in the channel behind his yacht, he flicked a lit match
into it. It exploded with a long blue flame and a loud thump
that punched a hole in the bucket’s side sinking it without a
trace.
“Take note what could happen to your yacht if you aren’t
careful how you deal with a gas leak below deck!” he said as
our family looked at him our eyes wide with shock.
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Don Darkes
Chapter 24. Chicken Pops
“Mom Dad, come quick, Morgan is crying.” Bill had crept
into our cabin, concern for his sister written all over his round
face as he tugged frantically at our bedclothes. As we reached
their bunk bed cabin we could see Morgan lying in her bed,
thumb in mouth, her teddy under her armpit and tears
streaming down her face. Bill had taken her falling-fing down
and as we turned on the light we could see that her face was
covered in tiny red spots and wet pustules. Dianne’s nurses
training kicked in as she instantly diagnosed the problem.
“Good thing we have all the children we want. Our
daughter has chicken pox.” She remarked dryly.
“What a thing to say. What do you mean by that?” I
asked perplexed.
“A side effect in mature men can be sterility.” she said in
a matter of fact tone as the nurse in her took over.
“So what do we do about Morgan?” I asked helplessly
wringing my hands.
“We need to keep her isolated and warm and well
hydrated. Judging by the severity of the rash she may have
scars to remember this infection by. We will also have to keep
her away from everyone else until we see if we get infected too
and this passes.”
Unfortunately we were unable to reach our dear friend
Jane, who was already en route from Johannesburg, driving
down to visit us for the first time.
“What do we do about Jane? She is due to arrive here
later today.” I remarked.
“I would imagine, since she has been a school teacher for
so many years that she has been exposed to the virus many
times and has built up immunity. Either way we shall keep her
on the ferry until we give her the option of coming aboard or
not.” Dianne said as she busily examined Morgan’s face and
body with concern.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“I am a little worried. Morgan has fine skin and I am
anxious that she may get more scars on her face.” Dianne
remarked. I could see that she was thinking about Morgan had
being born almost fifteen weeks premature and spending
almost three months in the incubator.
“Look at the scars here on her forehead and here on her
upper lip made by them peeling off the adhesive tape they used
to hold the pipes they stuck up her nose” she said tearfully,
recalling that traumatic time.
“Do you remember how she weighed only 720 grams,
less than a kilogram pack of butter at birth, and how long she
held the record at the Sandton clinic as the smallest baby to
survive?” I nodded with a lump in my throat as we both looked
down at our distressed daughter.
“I bet you remember too how loudly she could yell when
they fed her through the pipes running up her nose when she
was in the hospital.” Dianne said as we both chuckled as we
remembered how the nurses learned to respect her short
temper.
“Yes, and I remember you telling the paediatrician that
he was wrong to say she would not make it, and that anyone
with a yell as loud as hers would survive no matter what.” She
sniffed tearfully.
“Huh! And do you remember the heading on their
massive bill when we eventually got to take her home?” I
grunted, still angry at the memory.
“Yes I do. It read Spontaneous Abortion typed across
the top in bold type.” We both laughed out loud to cover up the
uncomfortable lump in our throats.
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Don Darkes
Jane arrived later that afternoon and took over without
batting an eyelid. At her direction we soon had Morgan
paddling happily in an orange plastic basin filled with water
and bicarbonate of soda. We sat upon the coach roof as we
gently sponged her down.
Thanks to Jane’s home remedy, Morgan carried very few
scars from that experience and never failed to raise a laugh
from Dianne and me whenever she regaled anyone about her
illness, perfectly convinced that she had suffered from ‘Chicken
pops.’
FIGURE 13 J ANE LOOKING ON WHILE MORGAN
THE POPS .
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IS TREATED FOR
6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 25. The Walruses Sing
Just because I am paranoid does not mean that there isn’t
someone out to get me.
“I need your opinion on some woodwork.” Terry
certainly had no need of my advice so it was clear he wanted to
speak with me alone and certainly out of earshot of both
Dianne and the children, so I dutifully followed him toward the
opposite end of the yard.
“I know of a well-paying job you may be interested in.”
Terry knew that we were short of cash, and that I would be
willing to do almost anything to bolster our shrinking finances.
We had discovered that the yacht that we had bought was not
as seaworthy as the surveyors report had indicated. I also had
the uneasy feeling there was something else which he was not
telling me as I sensed that he wanted to tell me something and
then reconsidered.
“Before you ask -yes it is legal, -as far as South African law is
concerned anyway. Although the Harbour Police may not think so, -they
still apply some of the old World War Two regulations.” Terry’s crooked
smile did not give me a good feeling.
“It’s worth a grand to you, less my finder’s fee -of
course!” He gave his crooked smile again.
I had been under the water for a few minutes when the
throbbing heartbeat of the approaching behemoth numbed me
with fear as it filled my head with its overwhelming thrumming
sound. The shock wave of its powerful beats vibrated though
my body, triggering a wave of queasiness that pressed against
the rubber mouthpiece of my scuba gear. Forced to inhale
sharply as I panicked, my facemask pinched painfully
squashing it against my nose. If I lost control I knew that I
would have little alternative but to fin frantically upward to the
surface and risk ‘the bends.’ I feared being sucked into the
gigantic blades of the approaching ocean liner’s propeller and
being shredded into its crimson wake like a frog run over by a
lawn mower.
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Don Darkes
“Clank! Clank! Clank! The staccato sound of a
prearranged signal made by beating a hammer against a length
of steel bar alerted me to the fact that I was approaching the
limit of my planned dive. I still had not found the brass
propeller dropped by the yacht Pegasus as it motored toward
the harbour entrance. Peter its charismatic skipper, had
promised me a thousand Rands if I could retrieve it. Despair
washed over me as the poor visibility and the cluttered
harbour bottom, littered with debris, made my task virtually
impossible. The lure of the cash paled as I considered how once
again I had acted without thinking it through properly. To
make matters worse, I was sure I could see a dark shadow of
one of the deadly Zambezi sharks hovering just out of sight
waiting for the right moment to come up behind me to sink its
ragged teeth into my thigh and shake me like a dog mauling a
rabbit. Besides, what I was doing was illegal and if the harbour
police caught me it could mean jail. Two clanks reverberated
through the water. It was the recall signal summoning me to
the surface again. The prospect of defeat gave me new
strength. Finning strongly, I covered a lot of ground in an allout effort. A dull glint caught my eye and the propeller seemed
to beckon to me from the spot where it had come to rest next
to a rusting oil drum. A small grouper mouthed defiance before
retreating into its lair. Elated I had difficulty in forcing myself
to stop and decompress, hanging suspended a few metres
below the surface to purge my blood of its expanding air
bubbles, before rising into the sunshine, propeller first,
triumphantly mocking king Arthur’s lady of the lake
brandishing a sword.
“I’ll draw your cash and meet you at the Point Yacht Club
bar this afternoon to celebrate” said Peter slapping me on the
back with enthusiasm. My heart sank. During our brief
residence in Durban, we had learnt some of the quirks of “The
last Outpost”, as we were gradually admitted to some of the
lower echelons of the yachting community. Unwritten rules
determined a pecking order incorporating your financial
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status, your job or profession, the yacht you owned, the school
you attended and your sporting achievements. These
determined your status in the inbred community and by
implication to which yacht club you could aspire. Nevertheless,
membership of one of the recognised clubs was mandatory if
one wished to secure a berth in the crowded yacht basin. So I
joined Durban Boat Owners Association on the basis of their
more relaxed rules and significantly lower membership fees.
Membership of this club, together with the fact that I was a
despised Vaalie, a member of the reviled migratory up-country
holiday makers, from the gold producing inland cities on the
opposite side of the Vaal River, automatically relegated me to
the bottom rung of their social ladder.
Although the Point Yacht club was not the pinnacle of
the yachting community’s elite, it outranked the lowly status of
the “Boat Owners Association” and I could not help feeling that
I would be recognised as an impostor by its members who
would surround me hissing “Unclean, Unclean!” as they made
signs to ward off the evil eye.
“Don’t be silly. It’s all in your mind. This is a great
opportunity to make some new friends,” Dianne kissed me on
the forehead as I dressed in a clean white shirt, black slacks
and tie before setting off to meet Peter and hopefully to get
paid. The level of noise issuing from the crowded bar indicated
that I was at least three rounds of drinks in arrears. I entered
the smoke filled room where the inhabitants squabbled
raucously, exchanging testosterone like jostling walruses and
butting each other in the hope of soliciting the favours of a few
battle scarred females who lounged in a corner nursing chilled
white wine and soda water cocktails.
“Hey Brian! I told you I wouldn’t have to pay your
thieving rates to get you to make me another propeller, even
though it’s your fault it fell off in the first place,” bragged Peter.
He brandished the bronze propeller I had lifted from the
harbour floor earlier that day.
“And this is the guy you have to thank for it” he said,
pointing at me with a thumb over his shoulder. Brian glowered
at me, marking me indelibly in his mind as the cause of his
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Don Darkes
being cheated out of his rightful due and therefore making me
his sworn enemy.
“How about a drink for Durban’s answer to Jacques
Cousteau?” roared Peter, instantly forgetting me as he assumed
his place at the head of the walrus pack, allowing me to merge
into the background as the beer and banter flowed.
My face reddened as I tuned in to a fragment of gossip
on the fringes of the posturing macho walrus herd.
“Did you hear that some idiot Vaalie bought Pisces?”
Snorted one of the lesser walruses.
“Yes, I wonder if he knows that he has bought a Jonah,
the most jinxed boat in the Bay?” grunted his companion.
“Remember how those four youngsters that built her
hull were all killed in a car smash?” belched his buddy.
“Yes, I do. What about that croupier from the Transkei
casino who bought the hull at the auction and then ran out of
money fitting it out? Do you remember how he used to drive
the bare hull around the bay like a motor boat because he
could not afford the masts and sails?” snorted the first walrus.
“Yes!” He snuffled and snorted, slopping his drink as he
did so.
“Do you remember what he did when we kicked him out
of the club?” wheezed his pal.
“Do you mean the time he pulled down his shorts and
mooned the commodore of the club and the fancy ladies taking
the salute at the Yacht Club’s annual Sail-Past ceremony?”
Guffawed the first walrus.
“No, I’m referring to what happened after he slipped and
fell overboard, got crushed against the dock and ended up
paralysed in the Addington hospital? Do you remember how
Brian, the engine mechanic, pulled a fast-one and had the boat
“arrested” so that he could force it to be auctioned, just so that
he could get the two grand he was owed?” snuffled the second
walrus.
“No flies on Brian eh?” Cackled his crony slapping his
knee with admiration.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
“What about the guy who finally got Pisces finished and
took it on its maiden voyage?” Croaked walrus one.
“How could I forget? Damn boat nearly killed my buddy
Gunter and the owner. They had to get the National Sea Rescue
Institute to tow them, barely afloat into Richards Bay. The
owner never set foot on a yacht ever again.” His companion
shook his head and slobbered with glee.
“Never mind that, do you recall how Pisces fell off her
cradle in the boatyard and flattened that Zulu?” Frowned
walrus one.
“Yes, I remember that. Do you remember the
witchdoctors charms and bones and the muthi they found
hidden inside her hull while they were making repairs?”
Wheezed the smaller walrus.
“I do, I also remember how they had to import labourers
from Johannesburg because the local men refused to work on
her after they found the cursed charms.”
“Bad news, a jinxed boat. I wonder what kind of fool
has ended up with that Jonah now? Snorted walrus one.
“That would be me.” I said gritting my teeth as I
recovered from the shock.
Although it cost me several rounds of drinks to obtain
more information from the garrulous walruses, it was worth it
to learn more about the scurrilous history of our boat, Pisces.
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Don Darkes
Chapter 26. Teacher Munro’s riddle.
Dark bearded Munro was a portly jovial ex-chartered
accountant who had jumped off the merry-go-around and
rebuilt his life free of his self-imposed boundaries some years
before us.
“Time and money are two things you should not spend
all in one place” was his favourite saying. Down to the round
spectacles, black bushy beard and polar neck jersey he was the
spitting image of the captain in the Tin-Tin comic book. Munro
was able to maintain his boat and live a reasonably
comfortable lifestyle by doing exactly what he wanted
whenever he wanted to by doing what he enjoyed the most which was sailing or teaching others to sail. Munro was our
sailing instructor. He operated his classroom from a garage at
the Bluff yacht club which is located where the sewers empty
into Durban harbour. His classroom garage was a magnet for
scores of renegade hamsters that also fled their wheels and
needed to learn to sail. He visibly preened when we addressed
him as Teacher Munro and he had a gentle but mischievous
sense of humour that I enjoyed. One day as he noted that my
temper was becoming frayed by the challenges of navigation
and seamanship, he decided to pose me a riddle.
“Did you see on the news last night that a multinational
group of scientists have discovered the bodies of Adam and
Eve?” He asked with a deadpan face.
“No I did not see it Munro. Dianne and I are doing our
level best to kick the habit of anaesthetising ourselves with
television, especially television news.” I replied.
“Then you missed a good report. It seems that a
multinational group of scientists have made an amazing
discovery. They were studying core samples taken from an
ancient ice floe when they found a cave filled with primordial
ice that has not thawed since it originally froze at the dawn of
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
time. This ice was so pure and so clear that they could see
many feet down through it to where two perfectly preserved
naked human bodies lay frozen” he said with a twinkle in his
eye. “Then as the scientists looked down at them incredulously,
they all agreed unanimously that they had definitely found the
bodies of Adam and Eve.”
“How did the scientists know just by looking at them
that it was Adam and Eve?” I asked.
“Well the television camera zoomed in on the scene.
When I saw the bodies I had to agree with them that it could
only have been Adam and Eve.” Munro replied. “So how did
they know?” He challenged.
“Were they both wearing fig leaves?” I asked
sarcastically.
Munro shook his head. “No they were both completely
naked.”
“Did they have mortuary labels attached to their toes
with their names written on them?” I asked as Munro cringed
at my stupidity. He shook his head exasperated.
“I know. There was a talking snake frozen in the ice with
them,” quipped Dianne who had been listening to the
discussion.
“Not too bad Dianne, and to give you a clue, it’s usually
women who get this one long before the men do.” Munro
smiled.
“Aha! Were this naked couple holding a half-eaten
apple” I suggested while Munro shook his head solemnly.
“No there was no snake and no apple. Come on you two.
Please bear in mind that these are serious scientists and they
would not jump to a conclusion based on such frivolous
evidence.” Munro taunted us.
“They had Adam and Eve tattooed on their chests.” I
ventured half-heartedly, while Munro slapped his forehead.
“Did the male have a scar on his side where he donated a
rib to make Eve?” Ventured Dianne.
“Not too shabby. But not quite correct either” Munro
said smiling at her.
Dianne’s face lit up as the solution came to her.
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Don Darkes
“I know! I know! It’s so obvious!” She exclaimed
delightedly. Munro held his finger to his lips.
“Shh. Promise me that you won’t tell the caveman?”
Dianne nodded while they both laughed at me.
By now I was exasperated and perplexed but did not
want to give either of them the satisfaction of seeing it. “When
is my pilots’ exemption examination going to take place?” I
asked Munro by way of changing the subject.
“You will be meeting with the port captain next Tuesday
and I hope you are more on the ball than you are today.” He
teased as he tapped the pack of mariner’s flashcards.
That night as we lay in our cabin, Dianne could sense by
my irritation that I was baffled by the Adam and Eve story and
that I was a little jealous and too proud to admit it.
“I love you” She said playfully tickling my chest and
stomach with her soft fingers.
“Lower, Lower” I replied automatically. She dropped her
voice two octaves and said in a very deep voice
“I love you” and we both guffawed, sharing an old joke
that often led to love play which she knew usually helped to
reduce tension between us. I sighed. She moved her hand
lower, playfully circling my stomach with her teasing fingers. I
ground my teeth being childish and not wanting her to belittle
my frustration.
“Although I promised Munro that I wouldn’t tell you the
answer and I always keep my promises, that does not mean
that I can’t give you a clue.” Then she playfully stuck her finger
into my belly button and kissed me passionately as I groaned
and hit my forehead with the palm of my hand as the solution
to the riddle came to me.
Of course, Adam and Eve were never born in the usual
way. They would not have had a belly button!
I had taken and passed my ships radio licence exam and
now had to take the Durban Harbour pilots exemption exam.
Any ship entering or leaving the harbour has to pay for a pilot
to come aboard to guide them in and out of the port. On paper,
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
an exception is made for local small craft where the skipper
has passed the exam and received a Pilots Exemption
Certificate. I had been studying for weeks, learning the charts,
noting the positions and meaning of the buoys and lights, the
restricted areas and the procedures to be followed upon
entering and leaving the harbour. One of the sections of the
exam involved learning the light arrays displayed by various
types of ocean going vessels. This was done using a pack of
flash cards similar to those used by young schoolchildren. Bill
and Morgan loved this and entered into the spirit of the game
so well they knew “the lights” far better than I did.
“Too bad I couldn’t take you with me Bill.” I said as I
returned disconsolate from the test.
“Oh dear! What happened?” Dianne asked concerned as
she saw my gloomy expression.
“The port captain himself tested me. I thought of you
when I used your technique to remember the red and green
light and which was left and which was right.”
“Do you mean my, There-is-no-red-port-wine-left aide de
mémoire?” queried Dianne. I nodded.
“Then he tested me with the various picture cards from
the flash card deck, Diver-down, Trawler, Dredger, vessel over
one hundred metres long and so forth.” Morgan and Bill
shouted out aloud, recognising each card shuffling through the
pack, searching for the one that had flummoxed me.
“I had no problem with any of them. But then the swine
showed me one card that had me stumped. And now I can’t
find it in this pack either.” I said throwing the deck onto the
saloon table in a huff.
“What did it look like?” Dianne asked gently.
“Well to be honest it looked like a Christmas tree and I
said so too. He was not amused. He failed me there and then.
But he then he relented and said he would issue my certificate
when I could prove to him that I knew what it was.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this but I think we
should go and see teacher Munro.” Dianne suggested.
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Don Darkes
“So did Captain Cooper show you the Christmas tree?”
Munro asked as he winked at Dianne. I smiled in a vain attempt
to hide my irritation and my embarrassment.
“I can’t find it in the pack.” I replied irritably.
“You won’t find it either because it’s not in the standard
deck. He had the card made up as a test of logic and deduction
skills. Nevertheless it is a vessel that exists. Just hope and pray
you never see one.”
“So don’t keep me in suspense. What the devil is it?” I
was in no mood for one of Munro’s guessing games.
“It’s an aircraft carrier you idiot!” He chuckled.
Our classroom lessons continued and were augmented
by invaluable hands-on sailing practice on board our vessel,
Pisces the Sailfish, as we took her over the sand bar guarding
the entrance to the harbour and out into the churning washing
machine that frothed in the open ocean outside. The large
majority of this instruction was provided by an accomplished
female sailor, Mimi Glover, our on-board instructor who had in
turn, learned her craft at the hands of her estranged husband, a
concert pianist who had also been lured by the call of the sea.
The first time Mimi accompanied us out to sea was all the more
memorable as she promptly rushed to the side of the boat and
was spectacularly seasick.
“Are you all right?” Bill asked her with concern all over
his face.
“I am absolutely perfect. This is an important lesson you
need to to learn from me!” I looked at her bewildered.
“If you feel a bout of seasickness coming on make sure
that you are facing downwind!”
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Chapter 27. Sinking Feeling
A powerful westerly wind moaned and whistled through
the rigging, clanking the halyards against our hollow masts.
Pisces snatched at her anchor chain, rocking and pitching as
the swells rolled beneath her. We slid the hatches closed and
secured the portholes, sealing out the roar of the stinging salty
rain lashing over the heaving deck above our heads. We
snuggled below, dry and secure in the gently rocking main
cabin, sleepily sipping hot cocoa, staring absent-mindedly at a
wavy television picture, crackling and hissing in protest to the
onslaught of the storm outside.
“Looks like the South African Broadcasting Corporation
is foisting another second-rate movie on us. The scriptwriter of
this movie should be fired!” I groused. “We’ve been watching
helicopters hovering over that stricken cruise liner for ages. He
could at least have injected some drama by showing the terrorstricken faces of the passengers or someone drowning if they
want me to stick it out to the next advert,” I muttered irritably
switching off the offending set before drifting into a dreamless
sleep.
A bump against our hull woke me up with a start.
“Don’t panic. It’s only the ferry delivering our Sunday
newspaper,” said Dianne, smiling down at me through the open
hatch as she scanned the headlines.
“Seems the SABC stole a march on CNN. They syndicated
live footage of a passenger liner sinking off the Transkei Wild
Coast yesterday,” she added, pointing at the headlines. “What
was the name of that scruffy-looking cruise liner listing to
starboard so badly as we watched it leaving Durban harbour a
couple of days ago?”
“Do you mean the cruise liner Oceanos?” I answered
with a sinking feeling.
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Don Darkes
Authors note.
The passenger liner Oceanos sank on the 4th of August
1991 as the result of incomplete repairs and freak waves that
have resulted in the demise of many vessels in this notorious
stretch of the Indian Ocean known locally as The Wild Coast.
Media reports revelled in the telling story of the less
than chivalrous Greek Captain who led the way in abandoning
the stricken Oceanos and leaving his terrified passengers to
their fate.
They also reported how the cruise ship’s band and
entertainers played cheerful songs and entertained the hapless
passengers, calming them and preventing a panic as they
waited to be rescued, in a scene reminiscent of the sinking of
the British warship Birkenhead that took place not far from
this spot many years before. Fortunately the Oceanos
passengers and the performers were all rescued, unlike the
brave soldiers on the doomed Birkenhead who died at their
posts and who have been credited by many for coining the
phrase Women and Children first as they heroically stood to
attention on the deck of their sinking ship while the women
and children were evacuated in the only lifeboats. Despite
many innovative and often fatal attempts over the years, the
gold which was being carried aboard Birkenhead has never
been recovered.
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Chapter 28. Bitter Pills
It was quite by chance I overheard Steve, an American
single-hander as he requested permission to enter port.
“Durban Harbour Radio, this is the American yacht
Aldebaran requesting permission to enter Durban Harbour.”
He pronounced it owl-debb- barron, running the syllables
together in a drawl that I have never been able to emulate. I
made a mental note to find out what his yacht’s name meant.
“Oh it’s a star in the Taurus constellation” Dianne said
offhandedly as she intercepted my thoughts and anticipated
my needs yet again. She has a fascination with the stars that I
have never been able to comprehend. Dianne can look up into
the night sky, point out a star and name it and I never tire of
seeing their glint reflected in her sapphire blue eyes when she
does it. I thought nothing more of Steve until our paths crossed
again when I noticed his neat hand written notice pinned up on
the yacht club notice board. He was seeking crew to
accompany him as he sailed along the coast from Durban
toward Cape Town. I could understand his reluctance to
attempt this stretch of ocean alone after finding out first hand
why so many cruising yachtsmen name this stretch of the
Indian Ocean the ‘washing machine’.
“This would be a good opportunity for me to gain
experience and accumulate sea miles. Let’s take a walk over to
the international jetty and check him and his boat out.” I said to
Dianne.
Aldebaran was a forty foot sloop. She proudly displayed
her name and that of her home port, San Francisco, in bold
white letters that contrasted with the bright colour of her sleek
red hull. She sported several white stripes that ran the length
of her hull that worked together with a number of gold stars
clustered around her name to echo the stars and stripes that
she proudly flew alongside her South African courtesy flag.
Although she must have sailed many thousands of miles to
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cross the Pacific and the southern Indian Ocean she looked as
immaculate as if she had never left her home port.
“I hope he does not expect me to pay for the privilege.” I
said a little intimidated by the pristine yacht.
“Welcome aboard. Please call me Steve” he called out to
us brightly as he appeared on deck and pointed to where we
should board and where we should remove and then leave our
shoes. Steve was an American cliché, from his designer-label
deck shoes to his bogus hearty over-friendly manner and his
perfectly manicured store-bought smile. Both he and his vessel
were almost too perfect making it difficult for me to judge
where the carefully manufactured façade ended and the
genuine person began.
Any ocean sailing vessel has a unique and distinctive
smell providing clues to its past and to the nature of its owner,
crew and passengers. A racing yacht for example, reeks like a
locker room with the hormonal tang of male sweat, the acid
stench of urine and the sour reek of vomit overlaid with the
chemical tang of fibreglass and silicone rubber sealant. A
cruising yacht’s pong may contain some or all of those
ingredients fermented together with the stink of wet carpet,
ripe faeces, oily bilge water, mildewed carpeting and rancid
diesel all overlaid by the aroma of last week’s curry and the
sulphur stench of stagnant sea water. Smell alone is often
enough to identify the “ego-palaces” seldom leaving their walkon moorings to sail offshore. They chose instead to be
raucously patronised by their owner’s friends on weekends or
visited by furtive couples on weekday afternoons. They
invariably reek of charcoaled boerewors sausage, sour beer,
stale cigarettes and sweaty afternoon sex. Aldebaran had no
such tell-tale odours to give her away. She was as clinically
flawless as her owner’s expensive fake smile, right down to the
eye-watering automatic air-freshener that expelled regular
spurts of phony pine forest to neutral any olfactory clues to her
true character. Perhaps that is why I ignored my intuition,
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stifling my misgivings as I noted the incomplete crew entries in
his ship’s log above the spot where I signed on as crew for this
cruise. Besides, I was desperate to log as many offshore and
overnight hours at sea as I could before shouldering the
responsibility of taking my own family to sea aboard Pisces.
After all what was the worst that could happen?
We cleared the sand bar outside Durban Harbour,
reaching into a dying late-afternoon south-westerly wind that
promised a brief calm spell before the north-easterly breeze
picked up again to push us onward toward Cape Town.
Dismayed to find the heads’ door locked Steven bared
his perfect teeth exposing his designer smile as he twanged
condescendingly “Chill out, it’s just us guys on board. Take a
dump over the stern!”
I knew then that there would be no hot meals prepared
in that pristine galley, and that the locked heads, like
everything else on board, were a carefully maintained façade
masking the true nature of its skipper. I began to wonder anew
about the crewman who had signed on at Richard Bay,
mysteriously “jumping ship” without signing off the ships log
when he reached Durban.
Alone at the helm as we sailed along the notorious
Transkei Wild Coast and over the watery grave of the Oceanos,
I guiltily invoked a silent prayer remembering how we had
weathered the storm that sank her as we leered at her agony
like voyeurs as we sat safely cocooned aboard Pisces while she
lay securely moored in Durban Harbour. I recalled how we
were entertained by her death throes exhibited on our black
and white television set blissfully unaware that we were
witnessing a live broadcast of her demise and not just another
mediocre made-for-television reality show. As if in retaliation,
the north-easterly wind began gusting, driving a confused
following sea that crashed and fizzed behind my head as line
after line of menacing waves came racing up behind me,
twisting our stern to port as each crest broke against our hull,
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lifting and dropping us again and again as they passed
endlessly beneath our keel. I resisted the urge to look over my
shoulder at the pursuing waves and stared instead at the
amber glow of the compass, making the constant corrections
necessary to hold our course in a vain attempt to distract
myself and fight down my feeling of blind panic. I thought of
Dianne and our two children waiting for me back on board
Pisces and I had a vivid flash remembering my mother’s
strident voice as we strode angrily from her house.
“You are reckless and irresponsible and you are going to
drown not only yourself and Dianne but you are going to
drown my grandchildren as well.” Although I am not
superstitious I could not overcome the urge to pray, over and
over.
Dear Lord if I am indeed being reckless and
irresponsible please do not punish my innocent family. Take
me, take my possessions; but please spare them.
I was too exhausted to protest when, at the changing of
the watch, I went below to find Steve curled up inside my
sleeping bag.
“No sense in letting a warm bed go to waste” he grinned,
challenging me with bared fangs like a Doberman guarding a
bone.
I climbed into my sleeping bag and tried to sleep but
could not overcome the nagging feeling that something was
amiss. As I lay there recalling my days in the military trying to
reassure myself that I was mistaken by remembering how it
was customary for a number of us that were sharing an allnight watch to allow the off duty members to grab some sleep
in a “hot-bed”. Surely, I asked myself, this was the same thing?
After all wasn’t it ‘just us guys on board’ as Steve had pointed
out earlier? Somehow I failed to convince myself and lay
awake the entire time so that I was even wearier four hours
later when Steve came down the steps to summon me to take
over the helm from him. It did not occur to me that Steve had
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,sailed almost halfway across the planet by himself, assisted by
electronic systems that invariably did a better job than most
humans can deliver or that he certainly did not really need me
to help him to steer his yacht. Nor did it occur to me that he
most certainly knew that too. Instead I was driven by the need
to make sure that I kept my side of the bargain even though I
was suffering from lack of sleep.
By the time I completed my watch and went below once
again to roust Steven from my sleeping bag. I had not slept for
more than thirty six hours and was drunk with exhaustion. I
had just climbed into the warm bag when the gentle sinking
feeling of dropping off to sleep was replaced by horror and
revulsion as I felt something wet and slimy. I thrashed
frantically to free myself from my disgusting sleeping bag,
spasmodically dry-retching as I recognised the acrid smell of
fresh semen.
“What’s the matter? Feeling seasick?” Steve asked
nonchalantly as I rushed to the side to throw up.
“You need to be careful not to fall in. I doubt that I could
turn this boat around or even find you before the sharks do. It
happens all the time you know.” He flashed the Doberman grin
at me again and as I looked into his steely eyes I realised with
dismay that he was not joking.
I woke abruptly, roused by the beat of a whirring
propeller and the strident sound of a retreating petrol motor
throttled hard. I lay on my face on the cabin floor. My head
throbbed and my whole body ached. As I tried to get up I
realised that my hands were tied behind my back and that my
knees kept slipping in a puddle of something that was both
sticky and slippery. I recognised the smell of blood. As I rolled
over onto my side and managed to slide myself into a sitting
position with my back against the chart table I became aware
of a burning sensation in my stomach and anus. With a sick
feeling I realised that it was my own blood and exactly what
the other substance was. It was daylight and at first could not
remember where I was or how I had got there. Then as I sat
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there and understood where I was I realised that I had no
recollection of the last twenty-four hours or how or why I was
tied up. Slowly I inched my way backwards up the chart table
until I was standing and then painfully shuffled to the galley
where I turned around so that I could use my fingers to inch
open the drawer, grasp a steak knife and saw through the rope
that bound my wrists together.
Groggy and disorientated I made my way onto the deck
where I realised that I was alone on Aldebaran which was lying
at anchor in deep water. The tender was absent from its
bracket. That, no doubt, was the source of the engine sound
that had woken me from my drugged stupor. Blinking in the
bright sunshine I looked around and saw that we were in a bay
that was filled with people gambolling in the bright sunshine.
As the sensation returned to my aching body and my head
began to clear I recognised the unmistakable landmarks of
Knysna a small port along the coast en route to Cape Town.
Flashes of the lost hours returned to me and as I recognised the
reason for the pain in my nether regions I threw up violently
with a shout, prompting a knot of children walking on the
beach to wave and call out in response to what they must have
thought was my friendly greeting. As my head cleared and I
began to come to terms with my situation I realised that Steve
must have brought the vessel into the lagoon while I was
unconscious and had then gone ashore for some reason. I knew
that I would have to be prepared for his return. The lock tore a
fist-sized piece out of the brightly varnished heads’ door as it
splintered beneath my assault. Squatting on the pristine toilet I
stared horrified at the rope burns and chafe marks on my
wrists. The last thing I remembered was suffering a crippling
migraine triggered by fatigue and stress and then gratefully
gulping down a pair of bitter tasting pain capsules proffered by
a wryly smiling Steve. Then I recalled pain, outrage and horror
and screaming soundlessly while he laughed behind me. My
mind balked as I experienced flashes of the lost hours and
began to remember what he had done to me. Then I staggered
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and fell, overcome with a powerful wave of rage that
threatened to overwhelm me as I pictured myself squeezing his
throat until his eyes bulged out and his blood squirted between
my fingers. The pounding headache returned forcing me to try
to calm myself. As I sat on the floor holding my throbbing
temples between my hands I considered my situation. There
was no telling when Steve would return and when he did come
back what he was planning to do with me? I remembered his
casual comment about me falling overboard and being eaten by
sharks and I knew with a sick feeling what he planned to do. He
was going to sail out again and throw me overboard
somewhere between here and Cape Town. It would be perfect.
No witnesses and no messy details either. That still left the
nagging question.
Why hadn’t he done so already? Was he hoping that I
would not remember anything? If that was the case how would
he explain the fact that he had left me tied up?
The only explanation was that he had not finished with
me yet. I shivered with horror. Although the headache was
worse than ever, I forced myself to think.
What would happen if he came back and found me
untied?
Steve was a lot larger than I was and he would no doubt
be prepared. I went to the galley drawer and took out the
biggest knife I could find. This would help to even the odds.
Even so, if I attacked him and killed or injured him, even in a
fair fight, there would be a lot of questions to answer. A very
public court case would follow and then everyone would know
what he had done to me. I imagined the newspapers lapping it
up and my friends and family pointing at me and sniggering. I
dismissed that option out of hand. What about just jumping
over the side and swimming to shore and going back to my
family and putting it all behind me? That way there would be
no consequences and no awkward questions. No one would
ever know.
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But a little voice inside me wanted retribution. Bloody,
violent and savagely satisfying payback.
But how?
Suddenly it came to me. All I had to do was to make a
tiny cut in the hose that led from the gas bottle to the stove.
That way I could be far away when he came below, made a
spark, ignited the gas and boom! A satisfying image of him and
his too perfect smile being blown through the air like the
proverbial Cheshire cat and splattering into the ocean in
thousands of tiny pieces played itself like a movie over and
over in my mind. I gloated as I thought how easy and how
satisfying it would be. Then I realised with disappointment that
I dare not stick around to watch. I had to be far away to
establish an alibi when he blew his last load. Thankfully the
thought also helped to dissipate my anger somewhat. This was
not a movie. There would be questions, an enquiry and even a
court case. Besides, I would have to answer to myself
afterwards. What would I say to Dianne and the children?
Nevertheless I was tempted. I moved toward the stove, knelt
down reached behind it and found the hose. It was armoured
by a flexible metal sheath and almost impossible to cut.
No problem I thought, undo the coupling just sufficiently
for the gas to seep out. Better still. Undo the coupling and also
shut off the gas at the bottle itself.
That way he would be far out at sea when he would find
his stove not working, assume the gas was depleted and then
either change the gas canister or find it was closed and turn it
on again. The gas would seep out and would be waiting
implacably for him to go below. He would light the stove and
boom! As I knelt on the floor I looked up and saw the gas alarm
on the roof. I knew would have to sabotage it or he would hear
it shriek when it detected the gas and give my diabolical plan
away. I was so engrossed in my plotting that I did not hear
Steve return and climb aboard.
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“Just what do you think you are doing?” I almost laughed
at the absurdity of my situation as I recalled the computer,
HAL, in Stanley Kubrick’s movie, 2001 a Space Odyssey, saying
exactly that in the same tone of voice as the hero tried to
sabotage it.
Steve was standing at the top of the stairs that led to the
saloon below. When I saw the determined expression on his
face and the winch handle he grasped firmly in his right hand I
realised with a shock that this was no laughing matter. Raw
fear thrust me across the cabin floor where I grabbed his leg
and dragged him, head bumping down the stairs until he
landed awkwardly on the cabin sole with a crash. Jubilant, I
knelt on his chest revelling in the feeling of intense pleasure as
I smashed my tightly bunched right fist into his smarmy face,
firing it with all my strength and with all my pent up anger and
frustration behind it. It felt so good that I did it again and again,
alternating right and left fists rejoicing as I watched the blood
and spittle fly each time I landed my furious blows on his eyes
and cheeks. He made no move to defend himself nor did he
make any sound other than to grunt gutturally each time I
landed a blow. He merely lay there submissively as I smashed
his face to a pulp.
But something was wrong. As I landed each blow and his
flesh shuddered and split under the impact of my bunched
fists, I felt pain. Not mental anguish but real pain. This was
sharp and vivid, excruciating pain, that far exceeded the
torment created by the anger and humiliation that I was
rapidly releasing. I had never hit anyone this hard before but I
had seen it done countless times in the movies. There I had
always enjoyed it as I swung my fists and threw blows in
tandem with the hero as the villain got his just deserts.
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It was not supposed to be like this! I groaned in agony as I
smashed his already swollen eye with my fist again and
watched his cheek burst under the impact of my knuckles. But,
once again, it was me that felt blinding searing pain. Then I
realised what was wrong. I had broken both my hands. I had
smashed the bones in my knuckles to the point where they
were already beginning to swell. Sweating and drooling with
effort and passion I realised that a great deal of the blood and
spit was my own. Nevertheless I was still incandescently angry
and wanted to hurt and humiliate him far, far more.
Then, as I hesitated and felt him stirring beneath me and
knew with a sinking feeling that now he would begin to
retaliate and that I would be defenceless when he did. I dug my
elbow into his eye in desperation. I considered biting him but
instead smashed his cheek with my forehead and almost lost
consciousness myself with the shock and impact of it. I
remembered my father saying as he beat me,
“This hurts me more than it hurts you.” But I did not find
it in the least helpful now.
I saw the winch handle lying at the bottom of the ladder
within easy reach and I knew I had to kill him or be killed
myself. Leaning sideways I picked it up only to drop it again as
my shattered hands and broken fingers failed to retain their
grasp. Desperately I stood up to kick him and realised at the
last moment that I was barefoot. Instead I drove my heel with
all my weight behind it into his crotch. Although he moved his
thigh reflexively to absorb most of the impact, I felt the cruel
blow strike home and had the satisfaction of feeling his genitals
grind and squirm as I crushed them underfoot. I exulted in a
feeling of intense satisfaction as I heard him sob out in agony
for the first time.
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“No more, No more!” He begged as he curled defensively
into the foetal position covering his head with his hands. As
suddenly as it began, my rage disappeared. Instead I felt shame
and disgust.
Calmer now, I decided to end things then and there and
to take my things and leave.
“This ends here and now. If you try and cook up some
cock and bull story or try to complain to the authorities I will
make sure to find not only the guy who jumped ship in Durban
but I shall also seek out the police in every country you have
visited to have them ask some very awkward questions about
you and the missing crew entries in your log book.” I ground
my teeth as I growled at him. The locked main cabin door took
the edge off my frustration as I kicked it open and tore at it,
ripping it off its hinges. My rucksack lay open, also violated,
within his cabin, but nothing appeared to be missing so I
picked it up and stepped over his body as I clambered up the
stairs into the bright sunlight and sanity that was waiting
outside. None of the happy holidaymakers gambolling outside
spared me a second glance as I waded ashore in my undershorts holding a dripping black plastic garbage bag containing
my rucksack and trudged exhausted into town.
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Chapter 29. Spicy Runaways
The sleepy clerk at the bus station grudgingly informed
me that the next bus back to Durban would only be in three
days’ time. There was no telling what would happen if I waited
until then and I came face to face with Steve again, so I
resolved to get as far away as I could, as soon as possible. I
considered hitch-hiking through the remote Transkei back to
the boat, but considered it far too dangerous. On impulse I
decided to abandon another white South African taboo and
approach the taxi drivers at the bustling black mini-taxi rank
instead. The thought of this land journey in what we whites
contemptuously called a kaffir-taxi, paradoxically made me far
more apprehensive than sailing any flimsy yacht with a pervert
along the shipwreck strewn, treacherous coastline that was
aptly named The Wild Coast.
Despite my racist and bigoted trepidation, the excited
passengers journeying through the Transkei, the Xhosa
homeland, to Durban in Zululand, accepted me, a white man or
mlungu, without question. They said nothing about my swollen,
broken and useless hands as they coaxed me out of my hiding
place at the back of the Toyota minibus by including me in
their lively chatter even to the extent of translating between
Zulu and Xhosa languages as they vied with each other to ply
me with titbits from their own humble meals and roaring with
delighted laughter at my response to some of their unfamiliar
delicacies.
“Haau Baba, wait till you taste my spicy runaways” one
fat mama chortled as she saw me shuddering at the sight of her
disgusting looking dish of yellow chicken’s feet swimming in a
rainbow pool of half congealed fat. Luckily I was able to save
face when I tucked in with lip-smacking gusto into the marog,
(wild spinach) and the samp (corn kernels) and beans, a
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delicious and filling staple prepared with lightly spiced onions
and herbs. I was delighted when my favourite meal, mielie-pap,
was offered. This stiff white porridge, made from ground corn
or mielies, water and salt, is the staple food of Southern Africa.
Although some regard it as glutinous and tasteless, it is
precisely this quality that makes it ideal for saucy
accompaniments and culinary creativity that enable every cook
and mother to create a cheap, satisfying and delicious
signature dish. Dianne detests it, so I take every opportunity to
enjoy it whenever she is not around to be offended by my
slobbering. I was able to sample four or five variations on the
theme before we had travelled the first hundred miles.
Although I could not decide which my favourite was, there was
a particularly delicious chakalaka sauce made with tomatoes,
green peppers, onions and green chillies that I could not resist.
For months afterwards my red-stained tee shirt and shorts
bore mute testimony to my gluttony despite many subsequent
washes. Stomach filled, I was soon soundly asleep with my
bulging belly, snugly wedged between a garrulous
breastfeeding mother and her sweating plump friend as we
sped noisily back to Durban.
As I slept in the back of the taxi, still numb with shock I
came to terms with the fact that my best course of action lay in
encapsulating my pain like an oyster and insulating my
shattered spirit over time with layer after careful layer of rockhard shell. I decided not to tell anyone, not even my wife
Dianne. I would try to forget all about it. I did not know then
that I would have to wait almost twenty years to read Steve’s
obituary before I could finally come to terms with the incident
and begin to deal with it.
The speeding taxi bus approached Umtata and the
passengers began to get agitated. After casting a few
speculative glances in my direction during a muttered
deliberation they came to a decision about me and the women
began to ululate thrillingly before bursting into joyous song.
The vaguely familiar tune, reminiscent of a hymn, was catchy
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and soulful and I began to enjoy it until the hair stood up on the
back of my neck and gooseflesh dimpled my body as I
recognised the melody for what it was, the banned political
protest song Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika (Xhosa; "Lord Bless Africa") I
knew that it was a criminal offence to sign or write the lyrics to
this emotive song. Offenders could be arrested and jailed for
180 days without trial.
Hiding in the back of the taxi, memories of my days as a
privileged white university student came seeping back like
backed up sewage. I remembered how my hormones were in
lust for a well-endowed blonde, Luanne, who was in my
Psychology class. She enticed me to join a student protest to be
held on the steps of the University of the Witwatersrand. In
those days the entrance was at. 1 Jan Smuts avenue, the main
thoroughfare entering Johannesburg. I could tell by the paired
raisins in her blouse that she was excited and my hormones
agreed to support her cause, immediately. We were issued
with posters and a printed pamphlet before being carefully
herded and displayed upon the University’s white granite steps
before a jostle of waiting press photographers. A haunting
voice took up a hymn like song and the other students joined in
at first hesitatingly, then gaining in volume and power as
together we read and sang from the printed pamphlet
containing the unfamiliar and criminally contraband, African
language lyrics of Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika. Reluctantly I tore my
eyes from Luanne’s twins to look at the sign which I dumbly
held aloft.
The sign read. Free Mandela. I was all for it. No one
should have to pay for Mandela, whatever it was. Before you
jeer, consider that while today that name is a household word,
back in ‘74 only a handful of people knew or cared who or
what he was. Strict laws were promulgated, enforced by
draconian penalties, to indelibly mark and punish anyone who
uttered or wrote any evil communist criminal terrorists name,
particularly that one. It was a criminal offence to own or
publish any of Mandela’s criminal words. By government
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decree he became a banned person; literally and legally nonexistent, ostracised and outcast by a police state that dealt
harshly with its detractors.
At first I did not see the paint-filled balloons come
hurtling toward us until they began to burst, splattering our
choir with their vitriol and spite. But I did see the hate filled
faces of the jeering short haired students from the Right Wing,
Rand Afrikaans University, wiping their paint splashed hands
triumphantly as they hooted and laughed. They rejoiced when
the heavily armed police arrived to surround our faltering
choristers.
We were rounded up and taken in a cage-like armoured
personnel carrier being tested as police riot vehicle, a
prototype Casspir, to John Vorster Square. This was the
forbidding blue mosaic tile monolith, overlooking the plush
offices of the city of gold’s mining magnates. Upon arrival at the
forbidding structure, the roaring Casspir drove into the
underground garage hidden deep in the bowels of the police
fortress. We were herded toward a set of massive steel
elevator doors and carefully counted while we waited for the
lift to arrive. When it eventually did, the policemen jammed us
tightly inside in order to squeeze one of their own men inside,
no doubt to guard us. They baulked when they discovered that
the overloaded lift refused to move. A hurried consultation
resulted in comic farce as they attempted to cram the smallest
member of their group into the overcrowded lift, to no avail.
They even considered leaving some of us behind until they
realised that we could escape. Eventually they decided to
wedge all of us subversives into the elevator, before pressing
the button marked 9. They hurriedly withdrew to run and
climb more than ten flights of stairs on foot.
“I heard them say they are taking us up to the tenth
floor,” a terrified protester whispered apprehensively, using
my voice, as the prison-like elevator groaned and scraped as it
grudgingly hoisted us agonisingly upwards.
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“Why is there is no tenth floor button on the lift
controls” I wondered out aloud.
“Isn’t that where they have the famous door to the black
men’s toilet?” Quipped our resident joker mischievously.
“Yes, the one where the toilet door opens into space
exposing a ten story drop onto the concrete below.” responded
another wag. We tittered nervously, recollecting the quashed
court cases against the Gestapo-like police. A rash of gallows
humour cartoons were sparked by numerous incidents
involving suspected terrorists falling from the tenth floor.
“How did the police get there so quickly?” asked the
terrified protester. (Of course that was me.)
“They knew what we were going to do before we did.
They have secret agents and paid informers on campus,
infiltrating everywhere to monitor and report everything we
say, do, think…”
“And smoke!” Quipped our freshly-caught jester.
“Secret agents, on the university campus?” I asked
incredulously.
“Absolutely. They work for a secret government agency,
the Bureau Of State Security. Also known as BOSS. The ironic,
but no doubt unintended acronym was particularly apt as it
was also the accepted term of address. It is more often
translated into its Afrikaans language equivalent, Baas, used by
the other races to address their white-skinned betters and
masters.
“Does anyone know how to identify BOSS secret
agents?” asked our court jester.
“They’re the ones wearing grey, short-pants safari suits,
with a comb tucked into their socks” chorused our trapped
group, hissing with suppressed laughter. Safari suits had first
exploded onto the stagnant South African men’s fashion scene,
by providing practical, cool, cotton, open vee-necked, short
sleeved, shirt-like jackets. The outfit was designed to be worn
with no under-vest or shirt, exposing tufts of manly chest hair
to the cooling breeze. It advertised rank and status by the
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number of glittering gold neck chains and the number of pens
that could be crammed into the breast pocket. The safari suit
was completed by matching crisp pleated shorts and knee-high
socks. This was initially a practical alternative to the formal
business suit and collared shirt and tie that has remained
unchanged for almost a century. The practical outfit was well
suited to the hot and dry African summers until it was adopted,
en masse, by the hated civil service and as school uniforms.
Eventually the lift stopped at the ninth floor jolting and
shuddering as if the hoist cable had been hit by a truck. The
doors creaked and wheezed grudgingly open, slowly revealing
a gigantic plain clothes policeman, puffing and sweating
profusely as he stared crossly at us, arms folded akimbo upon
his massive hairy chest and with a leather holstered pistol
upon his hip. He was wearing, (you guessed it) a bilious green
polyester safari suit with knee-high beige socks, complete with
holstered comb. Our steaming pressure cooker hesitated as we
all suppressed the urge to seal our fate by laughing out loud.
Time stood still as we stared back incredulously at this
apparition while the tension inside our tiny space grew.
Someone farted and we exploded out of the lift, laughing
hysterically as we erupted from the elevator into the sombre
room beyond. A knot of furiously shouting policemen herded
us like doomed cattle in an abattoir up a decrepit staircase, lit
by a solitary naked flickering bulb, up to the dreaded tenth
floor.
My interrogation was brief and ruthless. The one-way
glass, appearing as a mirror to me, the terrified prisoner,
seated upon a hard metal chair behind a splintered wooden
table, overlooked the grim procedure. Most of my interview
was spent attempting to record my unpronounceable name
and being continually interrupted by a policeman bursting in
to ask the interrogator to start over and over again as the tape
recorder inside the secret room behind the bogus mirror
refused to work, no matter how hard or how often he punched
and prodded the flat-tab buttons that controlled it. Eventually
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Don Darkes
my tormentor gave up, exhausted and exasperated he threw up
his hands in disgust. I took pity on him and offered to assist. He
nodded resignedly as I stood up and walked next door, opened
the tape holder and carefully extricated the cassette tape to
carefully unwind several loops of the brown magnetic tape
ribbon that had jammed the mechanism.
“May I borrow two of your pens please Arseiffer?”I
asked, being recklessly facetious. None of them noticed my
taunt as one of them wordlessly selected two ballpoints from
the dazzling array, proudly worn like medals, in the top pocket
of his safari suit jacket. They watched fascinated as I stuck a
pen into each of the geared openings in the cassette and wound
the reels in opposite directions to tension the recording tape. I
reinserted the cartridge and pressed the record and play
buttons simultaneously. I was rewarded with applause as the
red recording button lit up. Then I became the vile prisoner
again and was frogmarched back to the interrogation room.
Most of us spent only that night in jail and were released
without charges the next morning following a severe tongue
lashing and a stern warning that listed the criminal
punishments should we be caught singing or speaking the
criminal terrorists name aloud again. Others we never saw
again. In my case they made it clear that the police clearly
knew what an idiot I was and who the genuine protesters were
and thus who the terrorists and criminals were. I shall never
forget the smell of urine, fear and terror of that awful place and
hope to never to be dimpled or pimpled into visiting it again.
Back in the taxi Mama Runaways smelled my fear and
slithered over to where I was hiding.
“Do you know why we are singing this song now baba?”
She asked gently.
“No Mama” I replied truthfully.
“Because we are celebrating as we pass near the
birthplace of Nelson Mandela.” She answered reverently.
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“We pray every day for his release.” She said sadly. I
hope she did not see me blush.
The police roadblock was craftily placed across a
narrow section of the national road making it almost
impossible to turn around or avoid the checkpoint without
rousing suspicion. Mama Runaways turned to look
meaningfully at me as the gesticulating policemen cut our taxi
from the herd and ordered all the occupants out before
searching them thoroughly.
“Did you got identification wiff you? The policeman
asked in his best English as he took me aside, separating me
from the others to rummage search my still-damp rucksack.
“No”. I lied, knowing full well that it was only nonEuropeans that were required to carry identification at all
times, especially when travelling.
“Whachew doing on this kaffir-taxi? He menaced.
“Trying to get home to Durban from Knysna. There’s is
no Greyhound until Thursday.” I answered truthfully.
“Did you got anyfing you want to tell us?” He narrowed
his eyes suspiciously. I gulped.
“Not unless you are referring to the very spicy runaways
and the mielie pap.” I squeaked attempting to lighten the
confrontation.
“We are watching you kaffir-boetie. If we catch you
taking part in an illegal gathering you will be sorree!” He hissed
as he gestured for me to return to the taxi where Mama
Runaways gave me a sweaty hug. and I had earned the nod of
her approval and she raucously rewarded my complicity and
silence with a handful after dripping handful of her poultry
speciality, as we sped onward to Durban.
It was four in the morning, without a breath of wind or
the sound of passing traffic to disturb the sleeping hoboes
huddled in the doorways on the quayside when I arrived at the
marina. Since there was no way to communicate with Dianne
sleeping alone on board with the children, she did not know
that I had jumped ship at Knysna or that I was on the way
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home. She did not expect me to return for at least another
week. I decided to surprise her. The Ferry driver was not due
to come on duty for several hours. Stripping naked, I tied my
clothes into the black plastic bag before diving into the oily
calm of the bay and began swimming across the dark expanse
of water toward the Sailfish. Feeling vulnerable, I tried not to
think of the harbour sharks or the blind brown trout, floating in
the bay. Aware of how my growing excitement at the thought
of my reunion with Dianne was impeding my progress, the
lines from Chuck Berry’s classic fifties song popped into my
head as I began to stroke (the water) in time to it.
Once I was swimming ‘cross Turtle Creek,
All them snappers all around my feet.
Sure was hard swimming ‘cross that thing,
With both hands holding my ding-a-ling-ling!
By the time I neared the Sailfish, I was gasping for
breath through my laughter as I climbed painfully, using my
forearms, chin and prehensile toes to spare my aching hands
and drag myself up the anchor chain to slither wetly onto the
bowsprit before rolling onto my back to recover. Thankfully a
magical force beyond sharp reflexes moved me instinctively to
one side just in time, as a razor-sharp kitchen-knife slashed
through the air and bit into the wood a hairsbreadth from my
naked chest.
“Suffer and die, you bastard,” screamed Dianne,
mistaking me for an intruder as she panted like a tigress
protecting her brood.
It was so good to be home again!
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Chapter 30. Green Mambas Crossing
Bill’s fifth birthday was approaching when Dianne and I
decided to set off on our first international cruise. Dianne had
spent weeks collecting dry food and provisions that would last
us at least six months. She carefully marked each tin lid with a
black indelible pen before varnishing them. Morgan helped too,
scribbling on the tins, in a language only she could understand
as she marked the tins while Dianne merely smiled and said
nothing to discourage her. The flour and cereals she placed in
glass jars or plastic Tupperware containers and put a cotton
ball dipped in ether inside each container to kill any weevils.
Most of a day was spent carefully covering several dozen eggs
with Vaseline before carefully storing them in a special
Styrofoam box. We assumed that we would be able to buy fresh
meat, fish, milk, cheese and vegetables whenever we made
landfall and we had sufficient flour to bake our own bread
every day. We carried 700 litres of fresh water in a single tank
which we knew would last our family for at least a month as
long as we used it sparingly and used seawater to shower
before rinsing off with a hand held garden sprayer containing
fresh water. Besides this we also carried another 100 litres in
four separate jerry cans. The 700 litres of diesel in the steel
tank had to be carefully treated against infection by an amazing
bacterium that thrived on diesel and caused blocked engine
injectors with disastrous results. Dianne had managed to
contain a cockroach invasion by using a wonderful chalk sold
by the Chinese supermarket. We were ready.
We waited, impatiently checking for a weather window
as we watched the weather forecasts carefully every day
looking for a dying North Easterly breeze to herald the
approach of the South Westerly wind which would blow us
toward Madagascar.
When the customs officials came on board to and stamp
our green passports which we fondly called green mambas
because very few countries were willing to accept South
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Don Darkes
African tourists without trepidation and treated them as if they
were indeed loathsome snakes.
I showed the first signs of succumbing to superstition
when they asked our destination.
“We are sailing towards Tulear, Madagascar.” I replied
carefully, making certain that I did not say that we were going
to Tulear as I had been repeatedly told by Terry not to
announce a firm destination since any sailor knows that a
landfall is in the hands of the wind and weather and the gods.
Learning that the journey and not the destination is the
hallmark of a true Traveller is not a lesson I understood then.
Although my initiation into ocean sailing aboard Aldebaran
provided valuable insights and underscored the importance of
choosing fellow travellers with care I missed the point entirely
when I explained, “Announcing your plans is certain to make
God laugh”
Terry was one of the last to bid us farewell.
“Are you aware that you will be leaving port on a
Friday?” He asked as he rubbed his chin nervously.
“Absolutely, the weather is perfect. Why do you ask?” I
replied.
“It is extremely bad luck to leave port on a Friday. Oh
yes, don’t tell me. I already know. You are not superstitious!”
He said as he hung his head resignedly.
Within minutes of crossing the sand bar guarding the
entrance to Durban harbour and entering the washingmachine, we were all seasick. Bill was throwing up and Morgan
fell asleep which was her way of dealing with nausea. That
night as I stood alone at the helm, steering a course that would
take us across the Agulhas current and hopefully find calmer
water, I began to have second thoughts. I looked up at the
stars and realised that we were completely at the mercy of the
sea.
Humbled, I silently repeated my prayer.
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Dear Lord if I am indeed being reckless and irresponsible
please do not punish my innocent family. Take me, take my
possessions, but spare them.
By the time the South Westerly wind arrived it was
sparkling daylight. The swell had diminished considerably and
we were across the current. The maroon sails filled and
swelled, and the ropes and the rigging cracked and groaned
with the strain as Sailfish heeled over picking up speed and
power. The deck began to vibrate and I could feel the energy
coursing to our batteries as the wind generator howled and
buzzed with the vigour of the wind. A feeling of déjà vu
overcame me as I recognised a powerful phrase, like a snatch
of a well-loved song. This was not music, but a full bodied
sensation with vibrant colours, exciting aromas and powerful
sounds fleshing out my favourite dream where I imagined the
sun beating down on my naked back. I breathed the pristine
salty tang of sparkling froth foaming onto our bowsprit and
deck as it splashed up from our plunging bows. I have driven a
screaming Porsche at high speed and crouched terrified behind
my tandem partner as we swooped our fragile bicycle madly
down the winding bends of Long Tom Pass, flying madly at
over one hundred kilometres an hour. These did not even come
close to the mighty sound and exhilarating thrill of raw speed
and thrusting power as the twenty ton Sailfish smashed and
flew through the rolling waves at full speed. This was all of six
knots, the pace of a brisk walk. As I gripped the deck with my
bare feet, revelling alone in the thrilling feeling, I was joined
cautiously first by Dianne and then Bill and Morgan both
clambering up the ladder excitedly. Then, all alone together, we
wordlessly shared a priceless moment that was at the same
time brief and infinite as we stared out over the endless
horizon toward our future. As the wind increased I knew that I
would soon have to consider taking down some sail as the
Sailfish heeled over so hard that a clatter of falling crockery in
the galley below had Dianne scurrying down the ladder to
assess the damage.
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Don Darkes
“No problem,” she shouted cheerily. “The cutlery drawer
slid open and dumped our knives and forks onto the floor.
Since I am down here who wants a cup of Rooibos tea to
celebrate?”
We soon began to settle down to the rhythm and motion
of the sea and the roar of the wind as our Sailfish bowled along
for hour after hour. The miles swam foaming past our keel.
Bored, I trimmed and fussed with the sails and discovered that
it was not even necessary to hold onto the helm to keep on
course. The ‘Finger of God’ seemed to know the way, pointing
unerringly towards Madagascar. I set up our deep sea fishing
rods from the stern. The line was as thick as weed-trimmer
cable and we tied on glistening lures fashioned from the silver
foil insides of boxed-wine.
“Let’s see if the fish enjoy Château le Boxe!” Dianne
quipped and then yelped with shock as the stout poles checked
momentarily and then relaxed again as the prowling sea
monsters broke the cable-like lines contemptuously. Time and
time again I retied them and fitted new silver-foil lures, to no
avail, as the cords just snapped again and again until we
exhausted our supply of wicked hooks and silver wine bags.
“Do you want me to crack a new box of wine?” Dianne
asked cheekily.
“Not yet. But certainly when we make our first landfall
and we have something to celebrate” I shouted above the roar
of the wind in the rigging.
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Chapter 31. 52092 Unexpected Guests
Alone at the helm just before dawn on May 20th, Bill’s
fifth birthday, I heard them join us for the first time. I was
staring up at the stars watching fascinated as an albatross
effortlessly soared above us. The backdrop of millions of stars
glistened between our swaying masts as we bobbed and
weaved over the sea. At first I thought the sound was Dianne or
one of the children blowing their noses or sighing in their
sleep. Then, as I listened, I heard several more blasts. They
surrounded our speeding vessel. A mile long green trail of
phosphorescent light marked our path as we dashed though
myriad tiny organisms that flashed and glowed in protest at
our passing.
“What’s happening daddy?” Bill climbed up the ladder
sleepily rubbing his eyes.
“There are uninvited, but very welcome guests come to
wish you Happy Birthday! I replied, my heart full with joy as I
put my arm around his shoulders and hugged him as together
we listened to the excited squeaks and clicks. A pod of
gambolling dolphins blew and splashed alongside the Sailfish.
Dianne and Morgan joined us as the sun came up. I had
an idea.
“Sweetheart, can you keep an eye on the helm while I go
below?” Dianne nodded and smiled as I returned with the
harnesses that we all agreed to wear (but seldom did)
whenever we were on deck and under way. Then I clipped Bill
and Morgan onto the safety lines that ran on either side over
the length of the boat and guided them as we crept forward
over the bobbing deck to the bowsprit.
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Don Darkes
“Smile!” Dianne said and she snapped the picture
quickly before carefully sealing the camera into its plastic bag
once more. We stood on the Finger of God looking down into
the foaming wake below and saw the frolicking dolphins turn
on their sides to look curiously back at us. They joyously
weaved and bobbed in a swath of bubbles beneath our keel and
leapt into the air and somersaulted for joy.
FIGURE 14 THE AUTHOR, MORGAN AND BILL IN THE MIDDLE
OF THE M OZAMBIQUE CHANNEL
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Chapter 32. Pisces Warns
Later that day the wind died down entirely and we
found ourselves becalmed in a glassy azure ocean.
“Shall we fire up the Donkey?” Dianne called as the sails
flogged listlessly while we bobbed gently in the bright
sunshine and wiped the sweat from our faces.
“No, I think I will take some time to check everything
and catch my breath. If the wind does not pick up by this
evening then we will start the engine.”
“Great, then I am going to make Bill’s birthday cake,”
came the reply from Dianne as she fussed happily in the galley.
I dropped the sails, in case the wind decided to change
its mind and asked Bill and Morgan to keep a watchful eye as I
stripped off and dived into the sea. The water was warm and
inviting as I swam around the boat. Secretly I was hoping that
the dolphins would return and fulfil a lifelong fantasy to swim
with them, but they had disappeared as soon as the Sailfish
slowed down and drifted to a standstill. I tried not to think
about any of the monsters teeming in the ocean below my body
that had snapped our fishing lines so easily. Instead I tread
water and admired the brass portholes in the stern. Dianne’s
vibrant curtains added a splash of colour and were just one of
the touches that she provided that made the boat feel like
home. Then as I swam to the bows where the dolphins had
cavorted scarcely an hour previously I got a shock. A thick
black swath was slashed on either side of the hull below the
bowsprit like a grotesque smile. As I touched it I realised that it
was sticky, evil smelling oil. During the night we had probably
sailed through an oil slick, no doubt slopped from a passing
tanker. I held onto the chain that was attached from the bows
to the underside of the bowsprit and got a nasty surprise.
Instead of being taut and rigid, it sagged beneath my weight.
Letting go hurriedly, I back pedalled furiously in order to look
up at the bowsprit and rigging to determine the cause. My
stomach contracted as I saw the reason for the loose chain
immediately. The coupling on the forestay (a thick steel cable
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Don Darkes
that held the Genoa) which connected the bowsprit to the top
of the masts, was loose. I watched incredulously and could see
it was slowly unscrewing itself under the tension of the rigging
connected to the rocking masts. Ignoring the pain from my
unhealed smashed hands, I pulled myself back onto the deck
and found the coupling was held in place by a single thread. I
tightened the bottle screw and secured it in place with a cotter
pin and bent the tangs securely around the wire. If the wind
had not died when it did, then both masts would have come
crashing down. I shivered despite the tropical heat.
“What’s the matter darling?” Dianne asked concerned as
she saw my shocked expression when I clambered down the
companionway ladder to open the engine cover.
“I am just cold” I lied as I lowered myself into the bilges.
There another shock awaited me. As I stood up inside, I
realised that it was full up to my chest with water!
Had the water tanks burst again? I asked myself. A taste
of the foul brew of engine oil, diesel and anything else that
slopped onto the cabin floor above, told me that it was sea
water. I panicked and breathed in a mouthful involuntarily and
spluttered.
“Is everything alright?” Came Dianne’s anxious voice
from above.
“Fine. Fine,” I lied again.
“Are you certain, because I am about to put Bill’s cake
into the oven and if you need help with anything it can wait?”
She knew I was keeping something from her. My mind raced.
Were we sinking?
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Then I remembered what one of the walruses had told
me. Pisces had been towed into Richard’s Bay, barely afloat
once before, the cause had been traced to a roll of very special
fabric that prevented seawater flooding into the bilges through
the minute gaps between the propeller shaft and the hull. I
remembered that running the motor, turning the shaft
clockwise, caused any water in the bilges to be driven out
through this gland and its fabric packing. If the boat were
sailing, the shaft would rotate counter clockwise and water
would seep into the bilges if the packing material were faulty
to overwhelm the automatic bilge pumps. I dived down and
scrabbled in the slimy water around the packing gland. It had
come completely undone! I surfaced again with a gasp and this
time Dianne saw me as I surfaced, my face covered with oil,
diesel and slime.
“It’s OK.” I forestalled her question. “The stern gland has
come undone and I need to fasten it in place again. It is going to
take a while so I need you to keep watch topside for any ships.
Send Bill down to pass me tools I may need.” I ordered tersely.
She nodded and disappeared.
It must have taken about half an hour before I had the
gland packing back in place and watched with relief as the
bilge pump emptied the water from the bilges. Bill had kept me
company during this time, passing me tools and keeping me
informed as to what was happening on deck. As I climbed out
of the bilges Dianne was climbing down the ladder.
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“Oh no! The cake has flopped. Who turned the oven off?
She complained.
“It was me Mummy.” He said plaintively.
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you want a birthday
cake?” Dianne asked crossly.
“Yes I do. But your klof that you hanged on the oven
door handle was burning,” he said as if it was scarcely worth
mentioning. (Bill spoke with a slight lisp and mispronounced
words like cloth.) Dianne hesitated aghast as she saw her
blackened and half burnt dishcloth lying on the galley floor in a
puddle of water.
“Daddy was busy so I turned the gas off at the tap and
threw water on it.” He said as if it was the most natural thing in
the world. Dianne hugged him as we both held back a tear of
pride and relief. We have never enjoyed a failed birthday cake
as much as we did that day. The following day the wind picked
up and we continued on our way. The gland packing continued
to leak, but not enough to overwhelm the bilge pumps. I tried
to jam the rotating shaft with a piece of stout rope, but it
snapped the powerful cord like a piece of cotton and continued
to whine and whirr in time with the power of the wind and our
speed through the water, without further incident.
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Chapter 33. Landfall
“Please double check my calculations. You know my
maths have always been suspect. According to my calculations
this is where we were six hours ago when we received the last
SATNAV fix?” I asked Dianne as I pointed to a spot on the chart.
We were using the archaic satellite system because we were
unable to afford the prohibitively expensive new Global
Positioning System, GPS. Besides there were very few GPS
systems available in South Africa due to the impact of
international sanctions levied against the apartheid
government. The SATNAV system we had on board took six
hours to calculate a bearing after obtaining a fix from its
American satellites continually circling the planet.
“I don’t agree exactly with your position. You have
forgotten to allow for leeway or for current. You also haven’t
allowed for the fact that America may have reduced the
accuracy of their system deliberately, due to the Gulf War. But
other than that your guestimate is more or less correct. Do you
realise that we are well north of Tulear?” She said after careful
calculation.
“Yes, but I don’t think we should worry too much about
that. Let’s head for this village here.” I said tapping a point on
the chart marked as Morombe and pulled out the pilot book to
glean whatever information I could about the approaches to it.
We could smell the land some time before we could see
it. We also noticed a large number of different birds and a
change in the colour of the ocean as we approached. I climbed
up the mast to see if I could obtain a better view and my heart
soared as I saw a smudge on the horizon.
“Land ho! Land ho!” I cried with an excitement that I
have never been able to describe. Now that I have tasted what
the early explorers did once they sighted land after many days
at sea, I know my appetite will not easily be satisfied.
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Chapter 34. Dawn Ritual
We anchored in deep water just inside the reef that
sheltered the tiny village marked on our chart as Morombe. We
had dropped anchor late the previous afternoon and had been
loath to go ashore just before sunset and then have to make
our way back to our vessel in darkness. Instead we ate a light
meal and caught up on some much needed sleep.
The next morning we sat on deck in the predawn gloom
sipping from enamel mugs of steaming coffee while we waited
for the sun to rise. The sky was just beginning to blush with the
sun's first rays when we noticed a number of dark figures
huddled in a line on the beach. They were hunched over as if in
an attitude of prayer. Every few minutes one of them would
stiffen then rise and disappear into the bush only to be
replaced by another supplicant. As the sun began to rise
illuminating the scene more brightly they had all disappeared
as mysteriously as they had arrived. Later as we purred toward
the beach in our rubber duck, we discussed what we had
witnessed.
“I think they were praying or meditating.” Dianne said
confidently.
“You may be right. I seem to remember reading
somewhere that Christianity is the dominant religion here
although I can’t think of any church that requires their
congregation to line up on the beach at dawn to pray.” I
commented.
“Me neither. Perhaps this is some kind of sun worship.”
Dianne suggested as we came closer to the shore.
“You are probably correct but I can’t think of any
religion that worships the sun.”
“Oh look, they seem to have left some kind of offering on
the beach” Dianne said.
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“Oh yes now I can see it too. It seems to be in line with
the low tide mark.” I said squinting to make it out. Dianne and I
were both struggling to see clearly since we had taken the
precaution of removing our spectacles and storing them safely
in a zip-lock bag for the trip to the shore.
“Offerings are typical in the Eastern cultures. I wonder
what it is?” She said as we both strained our eyes to make out
what it was that the congregation had left behind.
“Hey dad I hope we are not going to land here,” said Bill
with concern in his voice.
“Why not son, are you afraid to meet new people?” I
asked gently.
“No dad, I just don’t want to park our boat in their
toilet,” he replied innocently.
At first Dianne and I looked at him blankly and then as
we got closer to the shore we realised what his younger eyes
had seen. We made sure to land upwind and in a clear space
before we dragged our tender above the high water mark onto
the now deserted beach. Since it was not practical for any one
of us to remain behind to guard our dinghy we laid out an
assortment of sweets and cheap trinkets on the wooden seat in
an attempt to appease any light-fingered passers-by.
Morombe consisted of a collection of reed huts on the
edge of the beach that were separated from the rest of the
village by a dusty track used only by pedestrians and by Zebu
carts. As we walked into the settlement we realised that the
only vehicles in this remote village were the two wheeled
cattle drawn Zebu carts and the potholed dirt track that we
were following had clearly been formed purely by the traffic of
human and animal feet and had never been used by any
mechanical vehicle or device. A solitary rusty hand-operated
water pump stood at the centre of an open area awash with
mud. There a queue of villagers, carrying an assortment of
containers, waited patiently for their turn to draw water. No
one batted an eyelid when some of them took the opportunity
to strip off and wash themselves at the same time. A number of
ramshackle, bamboo and palm open air stalls and makeshift
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tables, laden with fresh fruit and vegetables stood around the
perimeter. Here the majority of the vendors sat amongst their
wares under the shade of large hardwood and once-white
canvas umbrellas, that sheltered their goods displayed on
raffia mats spread out on the bare earth. Amongst the fruits
that we could recognise were hands of tiny yellow and black
skinned bananas, mounds of oval red and yellow cheeked
mangoes, pale orange pineapples and piles of wrinkled purple
and green granadillas. There were piles of unwashed red
tubers resembling sweet potatoes and mounds of unfamiliar
varieties of pumpkins, squashes and calabashes. The rickety
tables and stalls that stood around the periphery of this area
were bent under the weight of huge canvas bags of unpolished
rice. Multi-coloured spices filled the air with their fragrance.
“What are those?” asked Bill pointing to a table laden
with beige spiny fruit the size and shape of a rugby ball.
“I think those are jack-fruit,” I replied uncertainly.
“It seems they prefer meat to be sold with the fur still on
it,” said Dianne pointing to where a number of joints of meat
hung from the rafters that supported a sagging palm thatched
roof. We both blanched when the butcher wafted a ragged
raffia fan over his wares releasing a cloud of black flies from
their roost. Another trader proudly displayed skewers of dried
fish that filled the air with their eye-watering stink as he waved
them towards us.
“Have you noticed how the adults are watching us out of
the corner of their eyes and taking a great deal of effort to
ignore us?” Dianne asked softly even though it was unlikely
that anyone here would understand what we were saying.
“Yes I noticed that too. I can’t make up my mind if they
are shy or if they are simply being downright rude,” I replied.
A group of children being led by a stern woman carrying
a package of books under her arm called out "Bonjour Vaza!”
Gaily as she herded them in in a line, no doubt to school.
“In fairness, judging by the children, I think that the
adults are just being polite and reserved” mused Dianne.
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Chapter 35. Pied Piper
The following day as the sun rose and began to heat up
the deck we decided to have a swim. Although we were
anchored outside the reef, the azure blue water around the
boat was crystal clear and so inviting that of course we donned
our swimsuits and dived in. The tension of the past few days
seemed to wash away as we swam around the boat splashing
each other and laughing with the pleasure of it. The water was
warm and clean and it was only some time later that we
reluctantly climbed up the ladder and sat sunning ourselves on
the deck.
“Hey Dad some people on the beach are calling us,”
Morgan said pointing to where a small crowd gathered on the
beach were looking towards us, gesticulating and calling out
with excitement as they shouted something that we could not
quite make out, over and over again. We decided to take the
dinghy ashore to visit the village in order to become
acquainted with the villagers. Besides we were desperate to
find fresh fruit and vegetables. As we dragged the dinghy up
the beach we became aware that the villagers had retreated
from the beach and stood instead under the trees some
distance away from us. Nevertheless they continued chanting
something that sounded like antsansa, over and over again.
Since we had no French or Malagasy we had absolutely no idea
what they were saying.
“I may be wrong but I get the impression that the
villagers are shy.” Dianne remarked. “I think they are not used
seeing strangers. The adults in particular are pretending to be
busy with some important task that keeps them rooted to the
spot and they are definitely watching us out of the corner of
their eyes.” Despite this it was clear by their furtive manner
that they were very much interested in us so we assumed that
they were either extremely shy or that it was not socially
acceptable for them to look at us or approach us directly.
Although the adults remained withdrawn, the children were
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unable to hold their composure for very long. As we walked
along the beach we noticed that the village children were
following about twenty meters behind us, skipping and
chattering as they did so. Judging by the disapproving stares
they received from the adults it was clear that their actions
were not meeting with their approval. It did not take long
before the bolder children ventured closer and once or twice
one of them sneaked up and gently reached out to touch
Morgan’s long blonde hair. Since the dusky villagers all had
black or sun bleached red brown hair I assumed that they were
unaccustomed to seeing the unusual colouring. Morgan in
particular was very popular as she did not take offence at their
attentions and treated it as if it was all part of some new game.
Bill being older was a little more reserved and he skipped away
because he has never enjoyed being the focus of attention or
being touched by anyone. Although Morgan was only four she
knew how to hold her audience spellbound. She wore a pair of
pale blue shorts and instead of a T shirt or bikini top she chose
to wear a wide blue silk ribbon that she looped around her
neck and crossed demurely over her tiny chest before being
tied across her back in a huge bow. As we turned and retraced
our steps to walk back to our dingy, one of the braver lads
approached Morgan holding up a tiny fish as a present which
he solemnly presented to her. She accepted it with the dignity
of a queen and then ran shrieking excitedly to where Dianne
and I were standing and showed it proudly to us.
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FIGURE 15 MORGAN HOLDS UP HER TRIBUTE WHILE HER
ADMIRERS LOOK ON
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Chapter 36. Watch Lemur
We continued to explore the town and came to a shack
which had a long post embedded into the earth inside the tiny
yard. A sleepy looking Ring-tailed lemur was attached to this
pole by a piece of frayed rope tied to a leather collar it wore
around its scrawny neck.
FIGURE 16 THE CURIOUS LEMUR A SPLIT SECOND BEFORE HE
MADE HIS MOVE
At first the wide-eyed animal appeared to take no notice
of us until it was suddenly galvanised as it set eyes on Morgan
and scurried frantically across the dusty yard towards her. I
could see that the creature was also intrigued by her unusual
blonde hair and had decided to investigate. Instinctively I
stepped between them blocking the determined lemur’s path.
Then, frustrated, the frantic beast ran up my leg and sank its
teeth into my arm as I tried to restrain it. I was convinced that
the maddened fiend would attack Morgan too, so I grabbed it
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by its collar and held it at arm’s length while it scratched and
squirmed in an effort to get free. Dianne screamed. This
brought a man running from a more imposing house that was
set back from the road amongst the trees. He called out to us in
French and when he met with no response he miraculously
switched to English.
“Are you OK?” Do you need assistance? I am the village
doctor.”
“Thank heavens, my husband has been bitten” Dianne
replied since I was too shocked to speak. “My name is Étienne. I
am here as part of the French Médecins Sans Frontières
initiative, Doctors Without Borders” he translated
automatically as he introduced himself. “I would recommend
that you allow me to vaccinate you against Tetanus” He said as
he led the way. “That Lemur is becoming a problem. We are
powerless to do anything about it because the villagers believe
that the lemur represents a powerful fady. A fady is a taboo or
belief. Please understand that this country is known to the
Malagasy as Tanindrazana, the land of the razana or ancestors,
and that everything they do is measured against their respect
for their revered forefathers. They also believe that their
razana watch over them constantly and also punish them
whenever they are displeased.”
As we spoke a youth emerged from the shack and took
the struggling lemur from me without uttering a word.
Although Etienne was clearly extremely busy, with a
long queue of patients waiting good-naturedly as they sat or
lay under the trees outside his clinic. They made no objection
when he took me straight into his surgery where he cleaned
the bite wound and gave me an injection before handing me
some tablets and remarking
“It appears to me that you have suffered an injury to
your hands. Do you want me to examine them?” I nodded. He
unwrapped the bandages and grunted.
“You may have broken a number of bones in both of
your hands. Unfortunately there is little I can to help you other
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than to provide you with some pain medication. I can see that
whoever has bandaged them knows what they are doing since I
can offer no advice on how to improve these dressings.
“Thank you. I was trained as a nurse.” Dianne said,
blushing a little at his compliment.
“How much do we owe you?” I asked attempting to
change the subject.
“Absolutely nothing at all, it has been my pleasure to be
of service to you. Please do not let this unfortunate incident
sour your experience of Madagascar. Although I am a
Frenchman and like you, I am also regarded as a Vaza or white
foreigner by the Malagasy people, I have grown to understand
them and to respect their way of life and their customs. Above
all, understand that to the Malagasy, everyone has their place
in their society and it is important to them that everyone
knows their place and conducts themselves accordingly. They
value family and tribal ties above all else.”
As he escorted us to the door Dianne turned to him and
asked “Doctor Étienne, what does the word antsansa mean?”
He looked at her with concern on his face.
“They are also a big problem in this village because
ignorant outsiders would say that they are a means of suicide.
Besides also being the subject of a powerful fady the villagers
believe that the antsansa are also razana and therefore contain
the spirits of their ancestors. As such they are to be treated
with respect and never harmed or maligned. I have been less
successful in treating their bites which are usually fatal. “Why
do you ask?” Dianne told him about the incident on the beach
and how the villagers had called out antsansa over and over to
us as we swam around our anchored yacht and also later when
we returned to the beach.
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“Étienne laughed bitterly. “In that case I think this lemur
has done you a service in bringing you to me.” We looked at
him puzzled. “The bay where you are anchored and where you
were swimming so innocently is notorious for their attacks and
that is why no one swims there.” I looked at him still not
understanding. He grimaced and waved his hands about as if
he was trying to wipe the incident from the air in front of him.
“You see, you were swimming with what you English
would call.. man eating sharks!”
Dianne paled visibly and I changed the subject hurriedly
before she could consider the implications.
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Chapter 37. No-Name Island.
We left Morombe en-route to Morondava and dropped
anchor for the night in the lee of a tiny island that bore no
name on our chart. This was not unusual since the coast of
Madagascar is littered with uninhabited islands, many of which
have no name at all. During the early hours of the morning I
was agitated and unable to sleep so I decided to swim ashore
alone and almost instantly regretted my decision when I was
bumped and jostled by a creature so large and so abrasive that
I sustained a massive bruise and received a nasty scrape that
looked as if it had been scoured by sandpaper that oozed blood
and streamed down my leg. It was undoubtedly a curious
shark. It was dark as I staggered onto the shore, but the light
from a crescent moon hanging above the beach combined with
the phosphorescence made by my passage through the water
and the glowing green fire that still clung to my naked body
was more than sufficient to light my way to a sandy mound
that formed the high point of this tiny atoll. As I walked I was
puzzled to see a most peculiar pattern that seemed to have
been imprinted deliberately upon the sand. It appeared as if a
demented olden-day printer had taken his wooden printers
block and replaced the letters with a semi-circle of sharp
knives, then stamped a pattern onto every visible bit of the
island sand that he could find. I sat down on the tussock
overhung by a palm tree and looked with fascination at the
patterns and wondered who or what could have made them
and why. The sea was calm and the Sailfish lay sleeping quietly,
rocking gently, tugging softly at her anchor chain as the tide
began to slowly ebb and flow. The sun was just below the
horizon as I noticed a tiny movement on the sand below where
I sat. I watched fascinated as, all at once the entire surface of
the island writhed and came alive with movement as
thousands of crabs emerged from the sand and began to run
around in a kind of bizarre dance. As I stood up to get a better
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view they stopped stock still, like children playing blind-mansbuff and then, as if at a signal dug themselves into the sand and
miraculously disappeared again. The marks I had noticed
earlier were no doubt made by their myriad scurrying legs. As I
stood on the tussock the sun came over the horizon and
washed the soft moonlight and glowing phosphorescence
away. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, far out
on the ocean. As I placed my fingers into the corners of my eyes
in order to better focus and see (I did not have my glasses with
me and had long ago given up grappling with my contact
lenses) I made out an approaching pirogue. There was not
enough time to swim back to the yacht before the other craft
arrived, besides which I did not relish encountering the
monster shark again. I decided to wait until Dianne awoke and
rescued me in the rubber duck. As the vessel approached I
could make out its ragged pale brown lateen sail and the high
prowed, dug-out log canoe, with an eye painted upon either
side of its bows that was lashed to the outrigger which was
little more than a nearly straight log. There was a solitary
fisherman on board and at first I thought he was as naked as I
until he stood up to step ashore not five metres from where I
stood. He wore a faded cotton loincloth around his scrawny
hips and skeletal legs. He looked straight at me and raised his
right hand in greeting as he greeted me softly.
“Bonjour Vaza”. I returned his greeting with my eyes
greedily riveted upon his skinny forearm where a thick gold
bangle encircled his emaciated wrist. He did not approach but
merely stood there looking at me, no doubt as surprised to see
me as I was to see him. As the light improved and the sun came
up, I could see that his golden bracelet was made from a
number of folded, old red-gold coins that formed an
overlapping circle about his wrist.
As we looked at each other I knew that I would do
whatever it took to obtain his wristlet and I was shocked at
how intensely I felt the burning desire to own it. I pointed to
my naked wrist and then to his bracelet and pantomimed him
giving it to me.
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He understood immediately and put both his hands up
to his face and made a circle around his eyes with his fingers. I
understood immediately what he was telling me. He wanted a
pair of goggles, a diver’s facemask in exchange. I cursed myself
for not bringing mine with me but did not see the point at the
time as it was dark and the decision to swim ashore was made
on the spur of the moment. I considered calling Dianne to wake
her up and bring a set to me, but hesitated as I considered how
unfair would be the exchange. The value of his jewellery, for
indeed that is was it was, would buy a thousand dice goggles
and I would be as guilty of theft if I succumbed to temptation
and swapped it for a single mask; if I had simply beaten him
and torn it from his wrist. Somehow he read this in my eyes,
shook his head, climbed back into his canoe and sailed away
again. As I sat there waiting for Dianne and the children to
wake up I argued back and forth with myself. Would I have
been guilty of theft if he had been willing to exchange a useless
ornament, which he could neither eat nor use for something
that would enable him to hunt fish and find food with which to
feed his family? To this day I remain undecided as to what I
should have done.
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Chapter 38. The Gold Magnet
We left our anchorage at Morombe and No-Name Island
to drop anchor at the small town of Morondava a little further
north along the coast.
The dirt track wound its coils around each shack as it
snaked its way through the village. It widened, like a lump in
an engorged python’s body as it passed an imposing building.
The dry bare earth outside the structure bore a criss-cross
patchwork of dusty bare footprints that marked this spot as a
focus of village life. The red mud-brick edifice was larger and
more permanent than the dry palm-thatched, grass and reed
huts inhabited by the residents of the village and it was clearly
the main trading store. The building was constructed on two
levels, with the owner’s residence occupying the top floor and
the shop itself laid out on the ground level. A long veranda
supported by rough timber beams ran the length of the
building and provided cool shade for the goods that were
displayed under its protection. Several Zebu stood patiently in
the harsh sun lazily swatting flies with their tails and
mechanically chewing as they waited for their masters to reemerge from the cool interior of the building. A haphazard pile
of wooden Zebu cart-wheels shod with rusty iron rims leaned
against the wall. Nearby a brace of scrawny chickens grumbled
and clucked as they scratched and pecked in the red dust for
insects and fought noisily with each other whenever they
found one. As we approached, a ragged woman hid her child
beneath her skirts before greeting us shyly in a sing-song voice,
“Bonjour Vaza.”
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“Hey Morgan we can play hopscotch here!” Bill dragged
the tip of his stick through the dust and began to lay out the
lines for one of their favourite games. Soon they were so
engrossed that they did not notice the fascinated audience
which emerged silently from the trees surrounding the dusty
clearing. The villagers watched them with rapt attention, as
they played in the dust completely oblivious to their onlookers.
FIGURE 17 BILL AND MORGAN PLAY HAPPILY IN THE SAND
WHILE THE BYSTANDERS WATCH
“Leave the talking to me” I said to Dianne as we left the
children to their game and cautiously entered the darkened
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interior of the shop. As our eyes grew accustomed to the gloom
we discerned that we were standing in an empty space
bounded on three sides by a counter that ran in front of open
shelves packed from floor to ceiling with all manner of goods.
Three neatly dressed Malagasy female shop assistants stood
behind the counter giggling with shyness as we returned their
chorused greeting. There were no other customers so we felt
exposed as we curiously surveyed the room and they examined
us in turn. A bespectacled middle aged Indian man stood
discreetly behind the oldest of the women who occupied the
most imposing spot that lay at the centre of the U-shaped
counter directly in front of us. He did not look at us directly nor
did he greet or acknowledge us in any way while he made a
show of being intensely preoccupied with some important and
deeply engrossing task.
“Must be the owner” I muttered to Dianne. Before I
could greet or approach him he disappeared behind a curtain
into a darkened room beyond.
“Good morning. Can anyone here speak English?” I
feigned a smile as I looked at the uncomprehending and
expressionless faces of the three ladies that stood behind the
counter smiling blankly.
“Oh boy, it seems as if we are going to have to play
International Charades” I whispered through my frozen smile
to Dianne.
“May I speak with the owner? I asked. “Please?” I added,
smiling vainly as I attempted vainly to soften my clumsy
approach. I was met with blank stares. Dianne giggled.
“They don’t understand a word. Let me have a go.” She
said stepping forward confidently toward the senior assistant
and smiling warmly. Dianne has genuine empathy and a love of
people that transcends language and she soon managed to
have all three ladies twittering around her as they examined
fabrics and handmade clothing. I marvelled as they established
the feminine rapport that needs no spoken language and which
sets women so far apart from lesser creatures, men. Once I
realised that the women were no longer taking the slightest
notice of me I took the opportunity to walk along the counter
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and examine the goods crammed onto the shelves behind it.
There were stacks of luridly coloured Chinese made enamel
pots, pans, plates and dishes, tinned foods and porcelain,
fishing hooks and lines and piles of neatly folded fabrics. By
the time I had surveyed the store and gained an understanding
of what goods were available and by implication which were
lacking, the germ of an idea had begun to form in my mind.
Here was an ideal opportunity to create trade between our
countries. It was clear that French and local products
dominated the shelves and that no South African goods were
available. This was hardly surprising since there were no
diplomatic or informal contacts between our respective
countries due to Apartheid.
I resolved to meet with the owner to work out mutually
beneficial business opportunities. The problem to be overcome
was how to get past his ladies, who were clearly there to keep a
discreet distance between their master and the customers. As
we walked back to the beach where our dingy was tied up I
noticed that there were numerous handmade posters offering
home video rentals. It struck me as a little bizarre. I had
deliberately escaped my humdrum existence in South Africa
where I nightly anaesthetised myself with mega doses of
canned television drama, only to discover that the inhabitants
of this remote village, with only rudimentary running water
and intermittent electricity, appeared to be addicted to
television just as badly as I. Nevertheless it gave me an idea. I
went back on board and carefully sifted through the video
cassette tapes that we had brought with us.
The following day we made our way back to the store.
This time we bypassed the meat stand where the sausages,
powered by fly maggots, walked off the counters. The roadside
tavern was already serving breakfast to its customers from an
assortment of unlabelled bottles that were displayed in its
interior. I recognised bottles of rum with vanilla, rum with
ginger and rum with coconut milk but some of the bottles and
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their contents defied identification. These glass flasks
reminded me of the specimen displays in my high school
science laboratory where various ghastly creatures and
dissected organs floated in translucent liquid. The Zebu cart
drivers watching us walk by politely greeted us and indicated
that we should not be walking like commoners but (as was
befitting our dubious status as Vaza) riding in style in their
carts. It was interesting was that they were not soliciting
business but were genuinely concerned that we, as white
foreigners, should be afoot. I could not help but smile at this
glimmer of apartheid, even here in a country that had never
known legislated racism.
“Should we accept a ride, it could be fun?” Suggested
Dianne. Bill and Morgan chorused agreement and pleaded to
be allowed to ride.
“No. I don’t think it would be wise. It is even slower than
walking and they may want to take us to their homes and try to
show us hospitality. We would have a difficult time refusing
and even more embarrassing time getting away again” I said
dismissing the children’s disappointed groan. Eventually we
arrived at the trading store where we waited for a number of
early morning customers to finish their business before we
entered. The three ladies were smiling broadly as they
recognised Dianne. This time she did not ask to examine cloth
or crockery but merely passed them our carefully wrapped
package containing the video cassettes, labelled in our best
guidebook French and marked for the attention of the
proprietor. Then we quickly retreated into the bright sunshine
and the attentions of the curious crowd waiting outside.
The following day I returned alone. The trio of ladies
were a little shocked to see me without Dianne and were taken
aback. They whispered amongst themselves before dispatching
the youngest behind the curtain. She returned a few minutes
later with the Indian owner. He was dressed in a full length
white cotton robe and sported a ragged grey beard that almost
reached his chest. We knew that neither of us could speak the
others language and would have to use sign language to
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communicate. We nodded to each other each awkwardly,
uncertain if we should shake hands or greet each other in our
own language. Instead I placed my bandaged right hand over
my heart and introduced myself. I had to repeat my name
several times. He did the same and gave his name as Rashied.
He signalled for me to follow him and led the way behind the
counter and up a wooden staircase to a cool and comfortable
living room where a television set took pride of place in front
of a lurid orange fabric couch and two chairs. The videos I had
left the previous day were lying inside their package on small
table. He picked them up and tried to return them to me- which
I declined by signalling that they were a gift by pointing to my
heart and then to him. He understood immediately, raised his
hand above his head without taking his eyes from mine and
clicked his fingers. A woman entered the room demurely, her
eyes downcast. She made certain not to look at me directly and
I made sure to do the same. She was carrying a small wooden
tray covered with a hand embroidered cloth. Rashied lifted the
cloth to reveal a beautifully made small hand carved wooden
box which he offered to me. I placed my hands together in the
universal gesture of thanks. The lady withdrew. I felt it would
be bad manners to jump to business immediately, although my
South African temperament was inclined to do so. This was a
different world and I would have to learn its customs. Before
we left the yacht Dianne had anticipated that we would have
difficulty communicating so she suggested that I take a spring
backed pad and a pencil to help us to converse by playing a
kind of international Pictionary combined with Charades. I
made a childish drawing of our yacht on the pad – pointed to it
and then to myself before handing it to Rashied. He looked at
the graphic for a few moments, and then, comprehending, gave
a loud
“Aha,” breaking the silence which up until now had only
been broken by the scratching of our pencils. He took the pad
and pencil and drew a few wavelets next to the outline of
Madagascar adding a question mark next to my yacht drawing.
I understood immediately. Taking the pad back from him I
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drew an outline of the southern tip of Africa and then circled
South Africa. I circled a spot where I wrote the word Durban. I
handed it back to him and he nodded. He sketched a stick
figure of a man and pointed to me. I nodded understanding.
Frowning with concentration, he drew a woman standing next
to me and looked at me with a question mark in his raised
eyebrows. I pointed to my ring finger and then realised that my
wedding band was missing, it had been washed from my finger
after I had capsized my canoe in a race some years previously.
Somehow I felt as if it was still there and it even still pinched
me on some occasions. He frowned, mystified.
In a misguided attempt at humour I placed my wrists
together as if they were handcuffed. He looked shocked. Then I
realised that he had taken me literally. I did not want him to
think I was some kind of criminal. Working quickly I drew a
stick figure representing myself then I sketched a stick figure
representing Dianne standing next to me. I drew them with
hands enjoined. He frowned again. I could see by his
expression that he had thought that we were merely
companions and he disapproved. Then I drew a third figure, a
man holding a book, standing in front of us. He scowled and
looked at me for confirmation of what he was thinking- then I
drew two smaller stick figures with linked hands representing
my children, Bill and Morgan. Then I sketched a house and
circled the drawing.
“Aha” he said again and nodded. I motioned to the
depiction of my family, pointed to him and added a question
mark. He nodded and pointed to himself and to my sketch
indicating that he too had a wife and two children, a boy and a
girl.
He pointed to my bandaged hands and tilted his head to
the side posing an unspoken question. I pointed to the picture
of the yacht, drew a hammer and lied.
“Boom- boom” I said guiltily and knew that he had
sensed that I was hiding something. But he merely nodded
again and held up his hand, palm towards me in the universal
sign. Stop. He clicked his fingers again. The lady entered the
room as before, eyes downcast and stood at his side. He spoke
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too softly for me to hear. A few minutes later she returned with
two glasses on a tray together with a glass jug filled to the brim
with a yellowish liquid that appeared to have tadpoles
swimming in it. I gulped not knowing what to expect. Without
looking at either of us she filled both glasses from the jug and
served first me and then her master, being careful not to look
at either of us or to address me in any way. I picked up my
glass between both hands and lifted it toward my face
pretending I was holding it up to toast him as I sniffed its
contents attempting to find out what it was. A delicious aroma
entered my nose. It was freshly pulped granadilla juice. I
nodded my thanks as I took a long refreshing draft and racked
my brain as to how to move the ‘conversation’ from small talk
to business. I drew the shop with its veranda and balustrades. I
sketched him, with a beard, standing outside and pointed to
him. Rashied nodded, understanding that I had shown him as
the master of the business. Impatiently I pointed to the outline
of South Africa. He nodded. I drew a slightly altered diagram of
a different shaped building, being careful not to make it any
larger than his. Then I drew a pile of boxes standing outside my
building with a picture of myself adding a beard and pointing
to mine as I did so. He began nodding even before I finished
since he clearly understood where the pictogram conversation
was leading. I drew an arrow pointing from my ‘establishment’
to his and an arrow pointing from his business back to mine.
Carefully I inserted a tiny picture of my yacht between the two
arrows and motioned with my pencil backwards and forwards.
He nodded and indicated for me to pass him the pad.
Painstakingly he drew one of the boxes on the deck of my yacht
and smiled. Then he pointed to the box and drew a fax
machine. I nodded. Warming to his task, he excitedly sketched
a pair of two way radios. I nodded, excited too. Then he held up
his finger emphasising the importance of his next point.
Carefully he drew a stick figure of a man wearing a peaked cap
holding his hand out. Then he crossed the man out. I frowned
puzzled for a few seconds and then it dawned on me. The man
with peaked cap and his hand out was a customs officer. He
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was proposing that we bypass the authorities. I nodded
enthusiastically and gave him a thumbs-up, understanding and
agreeing at the same time. It was clear that he understood we
were discussing trade between ourselves and our respective
countries and businesses.
I was a little perplexed as to how to discuss the matter
of payment. The Malagasy currency was near worthless
outside of the country itself. And I certainly did not wish to
have to use it to buy local goods that I would have to resell
back in South Africa. At the same time I was acutely aware that
Madagascar and its people had difficulties obtaining foreign
exchange. I did not know how to sketch my dilemma so in
desperation I held out my swollen hand and painfully rubbed
my thumb and first two fingers together in the universal
gesture for money. He was ahead of me. His hand shot up and
he snapped his fingers twice impatiently. The lady entered the
room more rapidly than before and stood at his side. He
muttered something to her in a language that I assume was
Malagasy since there were no French words nor any accent
that I could pick up. She scurried out of the room as he
indicated for me to wait. She returned a few moments later
carrying a small wooden box. He opened the hinged lid, looked
inside, grunted with satisfaction and then turned the box
around so that I could see the contents.
It was filled with Malagasy banknotes. I tried to mask
my disappointment while I worked out a way to ask if there
was any other way we could transact our business. Once again
he was way ahead of me. He snapped the box shut and
muttered to the lady who returned immediately and scurried
out yet again only to return a few moments later with another
box. He opened the box, held the lid open, looked inside, then
satisfied, he grunted once more and slowly revolved the box
toward me. It was filled with well-used bills. I could see
immediately that they were mainly French and English and
some were very old- possibly even collector’s items. Before I
could stop myself I gave an involuntary gasp of surprise. He
misinterpreted my actions and snapped his fingers impatiently
once again. The woman scurried out and returned once more.
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Only this time she was staggering with the weight and bulk of a
much larger box. She awkwardly put the box down on the floor
with a loud thump. It was clearly very old and had that patina
that comes from much handling. The box was criss-crossed by
three strong metal hoops with a robust lock attached to each
one. I was intrigued.
What could possibly be inside? I wondered. He motioned
for the woman to leave and she withdrew obediently. He
placed his hand inside the loose neckline of his long robe and
withdrew a cord to which was attached a trio of large brass
and well-worn keys. One by one he inserted each of them into
the huge padlocks and snapped them open. He opened the lid
and gazed inside for a few moments. Then, still keeping the
heavy box on the floor between his sandalled feet, he grunted a
little with the effort as he slowly turned the box to face me. The
rich red glow that radiated from the box blinded me
momentarily as I struggled to interpret what I was seeing. The
box was filled to the brim with a jumble of gold coins that were
French and Portuguese or possibly even Spanish. I could see by
their rich red gold colour that they were very old. As I stared
down at them I realised that the value of the gold alone was
considerable but knew also that these coins were worth even
more to collectors. I had struck the mother lode!
I felt a pang of guilt remembering the ragged fisherman
on No-Name Island and what I had almost done. He could see
by my face that I was satisfied and he smiled for the first time.
We filled the remaining pages in the wire bound book as we
began to sketch and discuss in earnest our new venture. It was
many hours before I stood blinking in the bright sunshine once
again.
I hardly recall walking back to the beach where Dianne
and the children were waiting impatiently with the dinghy. As I
walked I understood that Rashied, as a trader, was in a unique
position to act as a kind of gold magnet for the fishermen. They
would stumble across the coins as they hunted the fish that
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invariably congregated around the artificial reef created by the
ancient shipwrecks. Since the fishermen would have no use for
the coins it was logical that they would approach a willing
shopkeeper who would exchange them for food or useful items
such as fishhooks, line or clothing or things the fishermen and
their families needed. By the same token, he had reached a
point where he realised that as long as he hoarded the gold it
was worthless to him also. He also needed to exchange the gold
for something that would be of value to him without alerting
the authorities. I waited until we were back on board our
vessel before I trusted myself to speak.
“So are you going to tell us what happened? Do you
realise that you were gone for more than four hours?” Dianne
could hardly contain her curiosity.
“We are going to become smugglers” I said. Dianne knew
me well enough not to press me any further until I was ready
to explain. Instead she pointed to the box that Rashied had
given me.
“What is in that box?” I opened it. Inside, on a bed of
clean raffia straw lay a pair of silver bangles. They resembled
the bracelet that I had seen on the wrist of the fisherman on
No-Name Island. Only his was solid gold and far chunkier than
either of these.
“I bags this one!” Dianne said as she picked up the
smaller of the two and admired it. As she examined it I could
see that it was handmade since it was slightly imperfect. I
knew that it was also very old because it had that dull sheen
made by long contact with bare skin and because it bore marks
of wear that old silver gets when it has been worn continuously
for a long time. The other bangle was similar only heavier and
somehow more masculine. Neither of the bracelets formed a
continuous circle. Instead they were twisted into a loop
resembling a section that had been cut from a spring. While the
body of the bangle was round and smooth the open ends of
both bangles were squared off and had been marked with a
hand-beaten pattern. It was clear that they were intended for
male and female wearers.
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As Dianne tried hers on for size it was obvious that the
wristlet had been opened by bending it in order to remove it
from the previous wearer’s wrist, so I had to use some force to
bend it back into a symmetrical shape in order to fit it snugly
onto her wrist. As I did so I felt a curious warm tingling, almost
like electricity. I also felt that the metal would not tolerate
being bent and unbent continually in order to remove it.
FIGURE 18 THE SILVER
VONGU-VONGU FRONT AND BACK. I STILL FEEL THE
ELECTRICITY TODAY!
“I hope you like it. This bangle is not going to stand
being twisted too many more times without snapping like a
piece of wire that has been worried back and forth once too
often.” Although I do not wear jewellery of any kind I felt
strangely compelled to try the masculine one on for size. I can
always take it off I told myself. As I shaped the silver around
my wrist I felt the electric tingling sensation once again and
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had the sense that some residual energy from the previous
wearer had been transmitted to me and then I dismissed the
notion as being fanciful.
“Do you feel that?” Dianne asked. “I can feel a
connection to the previous owners. And I can feel that there
has been more than one owner too!” I shook my head irritably,
dismissing her irrational comment.
“Don’t be silly. That is superstitious nonsense.” I replied
tersely, but I was perturbed that she had felt it too. I put it
down to the fact that we have been together for a long time and
know each other so well that sometimes we can almost read
each other’s thoughts.
“You realise that we cannot take these off ever again
without breaking them,” Dianne changed the subject again as I
started to remove my bracelet.
“Don’t you think that your new partner will take offence
if he notices that you are not wearing his gift?” I had to admit
that, as usual, she was right, so I decided to keep it on, at least
until we had more time to cement our new found business
relationship.
“Now tell me all about our new smuggling business.”
Dianne said as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world.
“Well to begin with, we are going to need to go back to
Durban where we are going to strip out our cabins to make
space for cargo. Then we are going to have to find out
everything we can about really old gold coins. Tomorrow I
shall be exchanging every cent we can muster for gold coins.”
We spent most of that night enthusiastically discussing
the events of the day and planning our bright new future.
Early the following day, I went alone to the traders shop
and was immediately ushered upstairs to Rashied’s home. He
smiled broadly when he noticed that I was wearing the silver
bracelet that he had given me. After we exchanged
pantomimed pleasantries and drank some more of the
exquisite fresh granadilla juice, we got down to business. I
explained that I wished to purchase some of his gold coins and
wished to negotiate the price. Using the spring backed notepad
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Don Darkes
and pictograms and a marathon session of Pictionary-Charades
we eventually arrived at what I believed was a fair
arrangement to both parties. He would allow me to purchase
as many of the gold coins as I could afford for only the price of
their weight in gold based on the reigning gold price. Although
we had a month old copy of a French newspaper that we used
to calculate the various rates of exchange, I had my usual
difficulty in calculating the complex arithmetic without the
benefit of an electronic calculator and accepted his calculations
without question. We agreed that since I would be running the
risk of having to negotiate with the authorities, including his
own government which might decide to claim ownership or
demand a share or a bribe. Any additional value that I could
obtain for the coins themselves would therefore accrue to me
alone. We also agreed that under no circumstances was I to tell
the authorities where the coins had originated.
By the time we finished our business it was late
afternoon and I had exchanged our life savings for their weight
in gold coins which fitted snugly into my canvas knapsack. This
was moulded that very evening, into the dark recesses of the
bilges under a thick layer of underwater curing epoxy that was
indistinguishable from the keel itself.
If the customs guys find this they will confiscate it. I
thought to myself.
We are actually going to become real honest to God
smugglers. Strange, I don’t feel a bit like a criminal.
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Chapter 39. A New Leaf
“I wonder what they are selling over there?” Dianne
said as she pointed out a more substantial stall set back from
the others where a large crowd was waiting patiently. As we
watched an open drawn by a pair of long horned Zebu, rumbled
into the clearing. It was laden with a huge pile of freshly cut
green leafy branches. The throng stirred and began
uncharacteristically for these usually reserved and wellmannered people to jostle each other for more favourable
positions in the queue and even attempted to mob the cart. A
pair of stern looking men armed with stout wooden staves
took up their positions atop the wagon and whacked anyone
that dared to approach too close while the cart was
manhandled into position behind the stall.
As we watched curiously, the crowd parted as a man
armed with a sharp machete appeared behind the table and
wrote a number with a flourish on a flat jagged piece of dark
slate with a chalky piece of seashell. As he held it up the mob
grumbled a little and then surged forward each holding a fistful
of money, whereupon the guards lightly tapped the worst
offenders on the crown of their heads with their staves until
they subsided a little. We watched fascinated as the man with
the machete grasped a twig bearing a few shiny leaves and
severed it from one of the larger branches with a deft flick of
his knife. He quickly exchanged it for one of the many bundles
of cash being waved toward him by frantic members of the
unruly horde. Each time he did this the crowd stirred and
heaved as if they feared that the supply of precious leaves
would run out before they had a chance to obtain any for
themselves.
“The foliage looks like curry leaves or perhaps even tea
leaves.” Dianne said quietly out of the corner of her mouth
while we sidled up towards the cart and approached as close as
we dared to the excited throng.
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“Look! They are eating them” she said. We noticed that
the successful bidders had begun to drift away and were
frantically stuffing a few of the shiny leaves into their mouths
and masticating contentedly upon them like cows.
“It must be coca leaves.” I said observing the dazed look
that began to appear upon the faces of those who were
chewing.
“You mean like those that cocaine is made from?”
Dianne queried.
“I think so. After all, we know that, here in Madagascar,
they grow vanilla and cocoa beans, which both originated in
South America, so why not coca plants too?”
“No! You are mistaken. This is not coca.” We looked up
surprised as a thickset European man spoke and appeared next
to us like a genie out of a bottle.
“Please excuse me for eavesdropping but since you are
the only other white people in this village I knew I should came
over and introduce myself and so I myself could not help
overhearing your conversation. My name is Pierre.” He said
extending his hand towards me.
“Don.” I said grasping his hand and wincing at his firm
handshake.
“This is my wife Dianne, my son Bill and my daughter
Morgan.” I watched fascinated as he solemnly shook hands
with each of them in turn.
“We have just arrived ….” I began.
“Yes I watched your yacht, the Sailfish Pisces, when you
arrived last night and dropped anchor in the bay.” Pierre
interjected.
“I myself am a visitor of sorts. I am here to study these
fascinating people.” He smoothed his bushy grey moustache
with his forefinger.
“You see I am an Ethnologist, from Paris. “ He explained
by way of response to my raised eyebrows. As we spoke I
noticed that the leafy contents of the Zebu cart had
disappeared entirely and the once excited customers were now
slowly drifting away, munching serenely as they did so.
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“In that case are you able to tell us something about the
leaves that they are chewing?” Dianne asked as she kept a
watchful eye on the children who had wandered over to where
a weather-beaten turkey was gobbling as it strutted
purposefully behind a reed barricade.
“Indeed I can, since their use of the plant forms part of
my research. They are Khat also known as Qat leaves. They are
not related to coca although they are also a mild stimulant. The
Malagasy use the leaf to improve their concentration and
sometimes to reduce fatigue. Some of the tribes chew the
leaves to induce a kind of religious or spiritual trance when
they invoke their razana –their ancestors. I myself am having
some difficulty in studying it too closely though because it is a
lucrative business, because it is in short supply, because it is in
constant demand and because the source where it is grown
and harvested is kept a closely guarded secret.” He waved his
hands around for emphasis and I wondered idly if he would be
able to speak at all if his hands were tied together.
“Although the Malagasy are not generally a violent
people, I myself have had my life threatened whenever I myself
asked too many questions.” He looked around furtively.
“May I invite you to somewhere less public for light
refreshment as I myself fear we are attracting too much
attention?” As I followed the line of his gaze I noticed the Zebu
cart guards were looking in our direction and clearly
discussing us. Dianne and I exchanged a glance instantly
communicating and silently agreed to accept his invitation.
“That would be most welcome” I said as we followed
him as he led the way through the trees towards a cane-fenced
enclosure. A palm thatched rattan and bamboo hut, larger than
some others, stood unobtrusively in the cool shade.
“Welcome to the Les Bougainville’s Restaurant” he
announced. It is the best place in Morondava to meet, should
you wish to remain discreet. I myself take all my meals here.”
The establishment was deserted save for our small party. We
followed him to a cosy and neatly swept, bare earth veranda,
shaded by a cane and bamboo pergola. This was supported by
the wizened trunks of a number of well-placed trees towering
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Don Darkes
high above our heads through the roof of the unconventional
structure.
He waved his hand and waited patiently pair of
obsequious young women hastily placed two tables together
and quickly spread a faded but clean cotton cloth over them
before placing five cane and rattan chairs around them.
“May I recommend the refreshments?” He bowed his
head elegantly as Dianne and I nodded enthusiastically while
we seated ourselves. A diminutive Malagasy woman appeared
from behind a raffia curtain and stood quietly at his side. It was
clear that there was no menu and that he was a regular
customer since he ordered in fluent Malagasy sprinkled with
the occasional French word. She listened intently before
scurrying away.
“We have so many questions.” Dianne began, “But we
don’t know where to start.”
He nodded. “That is understandable since Madagascar
has chosen to remain cut off from the outside world and I fear
that my countrymen have striven to keep it that way.
“We could not help but notice that the local people
appear to be aloof or distant toward us. Have we done
something to offend them?” observed Dianne.
Pierre raised his eyebrows. “You have touched the heart
of the Malagasy mind-set.” he said smiling at Dianne with new
respect. “Have you heard them greet or refer to all of you as
Vaza?” He smiled as we nodded. “It means stranger, foreigner
or more specifically white or rather European stranger.” It is
both a term of respect and the opposite because it is a warning
to others that we are foreigners, that do not know how to
behave and therefore will never be accepted here. The
Malagasy have a strict code of conduct, unique customs and a
tribal hierarchy which I believe, in its own way, far transcends
what your countrymen call apartheid.” He smiled and waved
away our objections as we started to stutter and apologise for
our country’s embarrassing cultural and political philosophy.
“Please, do not take offence. As a young student studying
in Germany after the war, I myself was unable to find a single
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German that supported the Nazis.” He held up his hand
dismissively as I opened my mouth to protest again.
“The fact is that the Malagasy have an unwritten but
nevertheless clear code of conduct and a corresponding social
order that requires that everyone know their place in it and
that they act and speak accordingly. The Vaza are, in theory at
least, at the top of the social order and as such cannot be
approached directly or on equal terms. I myself do not wish to
bore you at this time, especially as I can see that I have lost
some of my audience.” Morgan had fallen asleep with her
thumb in her mouth and her head upon the table while Bill was
trying to tempt a mangy, three legged, rat-faced brown dog, to
come closer so that he could pet it.
The waitress returned with two mini bottles of CocaCola which she placed in front of the children.
“Ugh! It’s warm! Complained Bill disappointed as he
frowned at the waitress.
“Please do not complain as I myself am afraid you are
lucky to have it at all because it’s an expensive luxury
especially imported, exclusively for me, from France” chided
Pierre.
As he spoke the waitress placed a dripping wet light
brown quart bottle of beer on the table and laid out three
different, gaudily patterned plastic tumblers in front of the host
before withdrawing.
“There is no refrigeration in this village, so the beer has
been cooled especially for us in the spring that bubbles behind
this building.” I rotated the bottle and looked at the label that
bore a picture of the disembodied heads of three white
Lipizzaner horses looking toward me, beneath the legend that
read Three Horses Beer. Pilsner.
“It’s surprisingly good so I myself don’t know why some
of my countrymen call it Three Zebu Beer.” Pierre chuckled as
he poured a glassful into each of the tumblers and passed two
of them to Dianne and me.
“So their ‘apartheid’ is based on tribal and ethnic rules
and not merely skin colour” I asked.
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Don Darkes
“Not exactly, but far more precise, especially when
compared to your system, which I understand is more
concerned with one being able to present the outward
appearance of being white skinned more than anything else.
The Malagasy have any number of subtle ways of
distinguishing one tribe from another and making outcasts of
those who marry or have children across the tribal boundaries.
This automatically ranks them at the bottom of the social
ladder along with the Negroid races that came across from
Africa and culminate at the top end of the ladder with the
Merina tribe who dominate the Highlands around the capital,
Antananarivo.
“Is there a religious aspect to their social stratification?”
I asked.
“Surprising as it may seem, the population is
predominantly Christian, divided up between the Catholics and
a number of the Protestant churches more or less equitably.
However, Madagascar has one of the largest Lutheran
congregations outside of Europe. Despite the proximity to
Zanzibar and North Africa there are surprisingly few Muslims.”
Pierre took a long sip of his beer and smacked his lips with
satisfaction.
“Considering the fact that they look down on the African
races, where do the Malagasy come from? Are they, like the
Australian Aboriginals or the African San people, a unique
race?” I asked.
“This is in fact also the subject of my studies. Although
the current thinking is that the Malagasy arrived here
relatively recently from Malaysia or even from the Pacific
islands and South America, I am researching the persistent oral
tradition that speaks of the Vasimba or the little people, who
like the Roc, the fabled giant bird of legend, became extinct.
Despite the overwhelming number of Christians, the Malagasy
simultaneously follow a number of unique customs, language
roots and culture that forced even the usually intractable
Catholic Church to bend its rules and soften its dogma to
incorporate some of their ancient practices and beliefs into
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everyday Catholic practise rather than risk losing their
converts altogether.
“But enough of this dry talk. Our food is getting cold.”
Pierre said as he gestured impatiently for the waitress to
approach with our lunch.
FIGURE 19
A M ALAGASY T SHIRT - PARODYING THE 3 HORSES
BEER . I HAVE BEEN THERE AND GOT THE T SHIRT .
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Don Darkes
We tucked into our meal that consisted of tough but
tasty Zebu steak and strange tasting potato fries that we later
learned were a type of taro root. Pierre leaned over to me and
asked.
“Please forgive my impertinence but I noticed you have
damaged your hands. What happened?”
“It was my own fault. I made an error of judgement” I
replied unable to meet his questioning gaze.
He nodded and raised his eyebrows when he sensed that
I was not prepared to discuss it further. Instead he lifted his
glass and said by way of a toast.
“May I take this opportunity to welcome you to the
Island of Saint Lawrence”
“Why do you say that?” I asked laughing. “Are you
pulling my leg, this is Madagascar?”
“Not at all. The Portuguese explorer Diogo Diaz named
the island St. Lawrence when he was blown off course and
landed here on his way to India.”
“Oh I love that!” I replied filing the curious fact away in
one of the many little mental drawers where I store useless
information.
When we finished our meal Pierre seemed to think for a
moment, reconsidered and then spoke.
“I myself would like it very much if you would visit me in
Paradise.”
“Absolutely. We would enjoy being able to do that”
answered Dianne excitedly. “Where exactly is Paradise and
how do we get there without dying first?” She smiled, her blue
eyes wide with innocence and mirth.
“Bon! Pierre lapsed into French for the first time. “I shall
send two pirogues to fetch you tomorrow morning two hours
after sunrise.”
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Chapter 40. Garden of Paradise
The next morning we waited anxiously for the pirogues
to arrive and take us to what we assumed must be Pierre’s
home. Since he had elected to send ocean-going canoes for us
we assumed that it could not be reached by road. Besides the
opportunity to travel in a Malagasy outrigger canoe was too
good to turn down. When the weather-beaten craft arrived we
were at first a little concerned at their appearance.
“Should we just take our dingy?” I said to Dianne and
then changed to Afrikaans in case the paddlers could
understand us if we spoke English. “Hierdie dinge lyk as of hulle
vrot is.” (These things look as if they are rotten.)
“Don’t be silly” she replied. “They look fine. Besides
don’t you think Pierre would be offended if we snub his kind
offer?” I knew she was right.
“You are right. Well I think then we should all at least
wear life jackets.”
Dianne laughed. “Well I think that may be a good idea
for the children but for my own part I think it would be a bit
like bathing with socks on.”
It did not take long for us to climb shakily into the highprowed dugout canoes, that each had a puddle of stagnant
water sloshing around in their bottoms. My break into
Afrikaans proved to be unnecessary. It soon became clear that
the paddlers had no English. They sat impassively in the stern
of their canoes, each armed with a single, hand carved, tear
shaped paddle, as serenely as a pair of Sphinxes. Morgan sat
between my legs, inside the first canoe and Bill insisted on
looking after his mother in the second one. At first we were
somewhat alarmed at how little freeboard there was between
the level of the water and the sides of the boat. We soon
relaxed and enjoyed the ride immensely. We sped across the
mirror calm ocean, marvelling spellbound as the bejewelled
multi-coloured fish frolicked in the coral gardens below and
the crystal white beach, fringed by variegated tropical forest,
unrolled like silk ribbons along the coast.
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“Look there is Pierre!” Bill’s eagle eyes picked out our
host standing alone on a long strip of shimmering white sand
that was laid out like a carpet in front of an exquisite palm
thatched bungalow that seemed to blend with the jungle
behind it.
“Welcome to Paradise!” Pierre said as he opened his
arms to hug Dianne and to plant a smacking kiss on each of her
cheeks, much to my surprise. He led the way into the cool
shade of his veranda where two clear glass bowls filled with
fresh fruit juice, fortified by chunks of pineapple, mango,
cinnamon and vanilla pods languished under a white net, upon
a rattan table.
“Salut” he cried after pouring two glasses of plain fruit
juice for the children from one bowl and generous glasses for
us three adults from the other and handing them to each of us
in turn.
As we took a sip we realised that the adult glasses
contained a healthy dose of aromatic rum that made our eyes
water at first. Then as the intoxicating beverage raced through
our veins, and our glasses were continually topped up, we soon
found ourselves relaxing and laughing as Pierre told us about
his life in Paradise.
“When I first came here there was absolutely nothing,
just bare jungle.” He said. “I was taken to the tribal chief and
asked him if I could purchase this property. He had no idea
what I was talking about because the Malagasy do not believe
that foreigners, or indeed anyone, can actually own land.
Nevertheless they are tied to the land where their parents and
grandparents are buried because, like the sons of Abraham,
they believe that the place where their ancestors are buried is
almost sacred and that to abandon their razana’s graves is to
invite disaster. They are obliged to settle there and venerate
their ancestors. In return, their razana will look after them in
their daily lives. On some parts of the island the Malagasy
practice a rite known as Famadihana where they will gather
the family together to exhume the bones of their razana,
rewrap them in expensive silk wrappings and sacrifice many
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Zebu in a celebration that may last several days. Considering
how the Malagasy relate to the land it is not difficult to see why
they have great difficulty understanding the Western concept
of land ownership. Nevertheless the chief allowed me to use
this land for as long as I wished as long as I made sure to
respect the fady and traditions associated with it. He stood up
and beckoned us to follow him, which we did rather unsteadily
due to the rum, as he led us on a tour of his domain.
“On Saturday evenings I start up the generator and use
the electricity it provides to show the forest people a movie.”
He waved expansively at the dense forest behind him.
“Afterwards we discuss the movie and have a critical
discussion.” Pierre proudly led us past his vegetable garden to
where an imposing gnarled and ancient looking tree stood
behind a cane and raffia fence. A number of ribbons and pieces
of brightly coloured cloth tied to its branches and trunk were
rippling in the gentle breeze.
“This is a Kili, a Tamarind tree. It is the most sacred spot
in the area and every year the tribal elders oversee a special
ceremony under its branches. Under no circumstances am I
allowed to touch or approach this tree beyond the fence which
you can see surrounding it.” We moved under the shade of
some trees in front of his bungalow before he spoke again.
“I want for nothing here. Every day the villagers bring
me Zebu milk and sometimes eggs or fruits that I do not
already grow myself. The fishermen bring me all manner of
fish and food from the sea. I have my books, and new movies
and new books arrive once a month from Paris.” He
pronounced it Paree and I smiled as I wondered what he would
think if he heard me mispronounce that famous name the way
we English speakers do.
“I myself have my studies and a touch of culture from
the civilised world in France.” He grimaced and made as if to
spit as he said the word civilised. We gazed at the crystal blue
sea that lapped gently onto his beach framed by a brace of
whispering palm trees. I had to agree. This was Paradise.
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Don Darkes
“But now I have to leave my Garden of Eden and return
to Hades.” He said suddenly, with glistening tears in his eyes.
Shocked, Dianne and I looked to him for an explanation.
“I have to go back to France.” I looked quizzically at him,
puzzled.
“I have been diagnosed with cancer.”
“Are you going to France for treatment?” I ventured.
“No. I have to go home to die.” He said simply, as if it was
the most trivial thing in the world. We stood there for a long
moment, complete strangers linked together momentarily by
pain and anguish. Bill broke the silence when he looked at me
and asked Dianne plaintively,
“Mummy, is something wrong? Daddy is crying.” It was
only some time later that I realised that my son had never seen
his father shed a tear before today.
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Chapter 41. 6692. Pisces Day
June 6th. 1992.
“Red sky in the morning” I began.
“Sailors take warning.” Responded Dianne
automatically.
“It’s June sixth. The anniversary of the D day landings
today.” I mused as we lounged on our deck sipping coffee and
watching the sun colour the sky red as it rose out of the sea.” I
have always had a fascination for history and find the lives of
the people and the events that shaped their lives infinitely
more interesting and sometimes even more bizarre than any
fictional characters or events that populate so much of our
entertainment today. I wondered if the people on this island
had any inkling at the time what was happening at the other
side of the world on this day when the ‘civilised’ countries
slaughtered each other on a beach not unlike this one.
During the night the motion of the sea had altered from
a slow languid rolling motion to a short sharp chopping
movement that was most uncomfortable and made sleeping
almost impossible.
“This is odd. It’s almost as if there is a cyclone
approaching. Since June is not the season for them I must be
mistaken. In any case I think it is time to get back to Durban
and start our new venture, but before we leave I would like to
buy some of those gigantic coconuts that we saw in the market.
Perhaps we can do that before we meet Pierre for a farewell
lunch.” I said.
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“That’s a great idea. Do you think we can get some of
those pretty cotton lambas for me to wear and some to take
back as presents?” Dianne said, excited as she jumped up and
began to pack a basket for the trip.
The outboard burbled as we motored back to the beach
and we took special care to pull our dingy far up onto the sand
because the usually calm bay had developed a mild surge and
wavelets were breaking on the usually placid shore.
We were comfortable and felt almost at home as we
walked through the now familiar village and confidently
returned the cheerful greetings of the locals.
“Bonjour Vaza!” they cried.
“Salut” came our chorused reply. Pierre had explained to
us some basic words and some of the more subtle conventions
that allowed us to feel more at ease and also helped break
down the reserve of the locals that we had thought until now
were arrogant and aloof. Since we were returning to South
Africa we did the tourist thing, searching like gannets for proof
of our exploits in the form of souvenirs, trinkets and trophies
with which we could impress our friends and relations back
home.
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Chapter 42. Bowled Over
June 6th. 1992.
During the preceding few days, as we walked to
Rashied’s store we passed and ignored the same young girl,
eyes downcast, her legs crossed beneath her. She sat, like an
outcast, completely separate from all the other vendors on the
bare earth behind a tiny raffia mat upon which she displayed a
solitary article. But today was different as we stopped and
gazed with acquisitive tourist’s eyes at her humble offering.
She did not look up nor did she react to our presence in any
way, but she continued to stare down before her with
unfocused eyes like a monk meditating on a sacred object. A
solitary rust-brown, open mouthed pot stood leaning slightly
askew on the mat in front of her. The metallic bowl resembled
a small round melon with its bottom cut off to provide a flat
base upon which the slightly squashed ball shape could stand.
A hole cut into the top was fitted with a fluted opening similar
to that found on a vase. It was clear that the dish had been
made by hand as the edges of the lip were rough and irregular.
As we leaned forward to examine her offering we could also
see that it had been hand-beaten from tarnished brass or
fashioned from a crude alloy of copper coloured metals. There
were solder marks where the lip had been brazed onto the
slightly oval base and I could see the impact marks made by its
being beaten into shape.
“Oh dear. How sad. She has sat here all week hawking
the self-same vase.” Dianne whispered, with the sympathy
evident in her voice. The girl sighed soulfully, but did not look
at us and continued staring at the bowl as if she was willing it
to sell itself to us.
“Sweetheart, perhaps she is selling nuts, or fruit of some
kind and she is merely depressed because she is out of stock.” I
said, attempting to pull away as my attention was caught by
some brightly coloured cotton lambas fluttering from a pole a
little further down the road.
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Don Darkes
“I don’t agree! That dish has stood there, empty, just as it
is now, for the whole week, and no one has bought it or
anything else from her. All she has to sell is this one little jug. I
bet she has her family waiting at home yearning for her to sell
it so that they can buy something to eat tonight.” I could see
that Dianne obviously felt sorry for the young girl and was
going to buy the ugly metal vase no matter what I said.
As I looked down at the young girl, who could not have
been more than eight or nine years old and I saw how carefully
she had plaited her long black hair and how threadbare was
her dress, my heart went out to her. I imagined her family
waiting anxiously every day for her to return home bearing
good news, only to be disappointed as they saw her crestfallen
face. No doubt her father had crafted this dear little urn with
his bare hands and was waiting anxiously for her to sell it and
bring in some money with which to feed his starving family.
Then, as she looked up for the first time and I gazed into her
limpid dark brown eyes, which would have Disney scouts
scrambling to sign her for a Bambi sequel, I relented and forced
back the lump in my throat.
“How do we ask her now much she wants?” I said
gruffly, fearing that the frog in my throat would betray my
distress.
“Leave that to me.” Dianne knelt down holding a sheaf of
paper Malagasy money. Catching the girl’s eye she started to
peel notes from it. Every so often she stopped and held the
growing sheaf of notes out toward the girl who nodded assent
each time she did so. Then Dianne would shake her head,
reconsider, add some more cash and do it all again!
Eventually I could take it no more. I have never been
good at arithmetic but as I looked at the growing mound of
money I thought that we had become crass tourists and had
crossed the boundary from generosity into foolishness.
“Geez! We want to buy just this one dish not the whole
frigging factory.” I said through my clenched teeth.
“Hush, this is two hundred thousand Ariary, slightly
more in the new currency, Franc Malagache or FMG. I know it
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
is confusing but it’s only about twenty South African Rands.”
Dianne said tactfully referring to my well established
incompetence to calculate things mathematical, arithmetical or
financial.
“There! Three hundred thousand Ariary or slightly more
in FMG, still only about Thirty Rands.” She contradicted herself
as she came to a decision and held out the wad of money to the
still nodding girl. She accepted the cash without any smile or
sign of thanks or any visible emotion.
“Oh dear, do you think it’s not enough?” Dianne asked
concerned as she started to fish out some more creased and
greasy Ariary and FMG notes.
“It’s quite sufficient.” I said crossly. “Now take the damn
pisspot and let’s go! There. Look at her, you can you see I am
right. She is so happy with the money that she’s burst into
tears!!” I remarked exasperated and led my family crossly
away.
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Chapter 43. Plat du Jour
6th. June 1992.
Our favourite table at Les Bougainville’s restaurant had
been reserved by Pierre for our farewell lunch. He was late
arriving and we proudly placed our hard won prize in the
centre of the table.
“Pardon moi” said Pierre momentarily surprised and
lapsing into French as he arrived a little late. “May I ask why
there is a begging bowl sitting upon our lunch table?” He
remarked quite innocently. He appeared not to notice as
Dianne and I flushed with embarrassment as we understood
our blunder.
“Please forgive me if I am being forward but may I ask
you a question?” Startled, I looked at Pierre, expecting him to
ask again why both my hands were crushed and why I had
fresh stitches on my forearm.
“I see you are both wearing Vongu-vongu” he said
pointing at our silver bracelets. “May I ask how you acquired
them?”
”Yes, you may ask. They were given to us by a local
man.” I replied, mentally filing away their names like a magpie.
“Did he tell you that these are very old indeed and have
probably been handed down from wearer to wearer over
several generations? Did he explain that you should never take
them off until you decide, in turn, to pass them on to your loved
ones and because they create an unbreakable link between you
and Madagascar and the previous wearers?” I frowned and
shook my head.
Superstitious nonsense, I thought.
“No, he did not tell us these things.” I replied surprised.
“Hmm, I see you are a sceptic” he said nodding sagely.
“Please consider that I am a man of science and was once a
devout Catholic, but in this, I myself, am no longer a sceptic.”
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
He lifted his right arm and pulled his sleeve back to reveal his
own Vongu-vongu.
“May I myself recommend the prawns?” Pierre took over
once again as our gracious host. “Although it pains me to admit
that this is the cheapest meal in this establishment.”
“Why is that? Back home they would be one of the most
expensive items on the menu” asked Dianne surprised.
“Morondava is home to a Malagasy prawn fishing fleet
left behind after the Russians built a packing plant here in the
seventies. The Malagasy were trying to get out of the pockets of
my countrymen and instead they ended up in the pockets of
the Ruskies.” He rubbed his index finger with his thumb and
spluttered as he made a squeezing noise with his pursed lips
volubly demonstrating France’s financial hold on Madagascar.
Dianne supressed the urge to laugh and tried to catch
my eye as she tried to set me off too. She knew I was thinking
about how we gossiped about his habit of speaking with
elaborate gestures and punctuating his speech with zany sound
effects. The food arrived and was spread out extravagantly
upon the table. There were oval plates piled high with juicy
butterflied prawns, skewered on bamboo and grilled over an
open charcoal fire. Bowls of fat, thumb sized, prawn tails
swimming in an exquisite sauce of green peppercorns in rich
yellow cream, vied for space with bowls of shelled prawns,
fragrant with curry. A gigantic platter of steaming, saffron
coloured rice completed the meal.
“This rice is grown here in Madagascar, in the paddies
located on the highlands around Antananarivo,” Pierre
explained, delighting in the spread he had arranged.
“How about a photograph so we can remember this
moment?” I suggested and then stood up and snapped a picture
of the bounty of the sea upon our table, surrounded by our
smiling faces.
I walked around the table taking more pictures in an
attempt to capture the moment. As I looked through the
viewfinder from my vantage point standing behind the feast, I
could see the restless ocean framed between two wooden
poles supporting the trellised palm frond roof above our heads.
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Don Darkes
When I focused on the happy group, I saw foaming white caps
glinting on the ocean beyond.
The wind must be picking up and the sea is responding to
it, I thought noting the position of the rocking Sailfish. She was
anchored far out beyond the pounding reef as she waited
patiently to take us back to South Africa.
“The sea is looking more unsettled than this morning
and I can see white horses on the waves for the first time since
we arrived in these waters,” I commented.
“Aha! Here is the Three Zebu’s Beer’” announced Pierre
extravagantly, as he poured a tall glasses of the foaming
beverage for the three adults. He motioned for the timidly
hovering waitress to fill glasses of fresh fruit juice for Bill and
Morgan.
“This is terrific Pierre. Merci and baie dankie!” I toasted
Pierre and winked fondly at Dianne before we set upon the
prawn feast like a flock of greedy seagulls.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
FIGURE 20 I AM NOT A BIG DRINKER BUT THIS IS INCREDIBLE
BEER PIC TAKEN IN 2006 WHEN I WENT THERE TO FULFIL A LIFELONG
DREAM (ANOTHER STORY . TOLD IN THE SEQUEL TO THIS BOOK , 2 ND.
TIME LUCKY )
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Don Darkes
Chapter 44. A Stitch in Time
June 6th. 1992.
“I myself see you have purchased some lambas.” Pierre
tactfully avoided mentioning our tarnished metal beggars bowl
sitting proudly in pride of place upon the table. “May I see them
please?
“Certainly” glowed Dianne as she proudly took the
traditional oblong cloth from her open woven basket which
stood alongside her chair. She stood up and opened them, one
by one, trapping one end beneath her chin and allowing the
other to hang down to her sandaled feet.
“Ah that is a genuine one, a Lambahoany,” remarked
Pierre. “Can you see the ohabolana, the Malagasy proverb,
written around the edges? It is particularly appropriate to us
today because it says ‘Ny voky tsy mahaleo ny tsaroana’ which
means ‘A good belly-full doesn't equal a kind remembrance.’
“Does that imply that some lambas are fakes?” Dianne
interrupted.
“Indeed, in the sense that genuine lambas are hand
woven here in Madagascar and the imitations are mass
produced, printed on cotton sheets in China and India. There
they know nothing of the subtleties or meaning of the ancient
craft.”
“In that case why are there Baobab trees in this picture?
I thought they were indigenous to the continent of Africa.”
Queried Dianne pointing to the illustration on the lamba she
was holding.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Pierre slapped his forehead. “Merde!” Pardon. I do
apologise. But I myself cannot believe that you have spent all
this time in Morondava and you have not visited our world
famous tourist attraction, the Avenue of the Baobabs. I myself
will see to it that this sad state of affairs does not persist.”
“Thank you Pierre, but since we are leaving today we
shall have to do it next time.” I interjected and instantly
regretted it as Dianne shot me a glance reminding me that
Pierre would literally no longer be here.
“And what is that?” Pierre continued smoothly, ignoring
the awkward moment as he pointed to some carefully folded
heavy white cotton fabrics.
“Oh, these are just some childishly embroidered
tablecloths.” responded Dianne sheepishly. “I adore
embroidery and just could not resist them.”
“Au contraire” corrected Pierre. “These are fine
examples of Malagasy needlework. A woman may spend years
completing a single item as she sews each one for recreation
after completing her many daily chores. In fact this piece you
have selected is the subject of another of my pet projects. May I
bore you with its history?”
“Please do!” begged Dianne her eyes shining. I groaned
inwardly and tried not to sigh too obviously.
“But tell me Dianne, why did you choose this particular
piece above all the others? Asked Pierre curiously.
“To be honest it reminded me of some antique
needlework I saw in a museum in Madeira.” She answered
slowly. “The use of threads and these techniques are so very
different from modern embroidery stitches and I just fell in
love with it.”
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Don Darkes
“This is incredible!” Pierre looked at Dianne with new
respect. “You have made a connection that has taken me years
of study to make.”
“How is that? What connection are you referring to?”
Dianne’s interest was piqued and even I sat up and took notice
although I could not help feeling somewhat left out.
“How briefly to explain?” Pierre took a deep breath,
made a sucking noise with his teeth as he gathered his
thoughts before continuing.
“The Malagasy have chosen to remain isolated on their
island and in so doing managed to preserve much of their
culture, free of contamination by outsiders. This is similar in
many ways to the Japanese people. However, when they did
come into contact with visitors from the outside world and
adopted new things from them, these borrowed influences
tended to be preserved intact and unchanging over time. Of
course, for the visitors, their original input evolved and
adapted to the ever changing world and their own evolving
culture. The Malagasy kept the original memory intact over
time after the strangers disappeared. Similar perhaps to the
Victorian costumes worn by the Herero’s of Namibia or the
bowler hats of the Indians of Peru.”
I was struggling to see how this had anything to do with
embroidery and becoming bored, gazed idly out to sea where
the Sailfish awaited our return as Pierre droned on. “When
some six hundred Portuguese sailors were shipwrecked
nearby in the 1500’s the survivors built a fort in order to
survive while their fate remained unknown in Portugal. Almost
one hundred years later when this fort was rediscovered by
their countrymen, the survivors had died out and legends of a
white skinned people who had been taken into slavery or killed
were recounted by the local tribes.”
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I was growing restless as I noticed a dark line on the
horizon.
Was it a squall? I asked myself. Since I was not wearing
my glasses, I was uncertain and did not want to interrupt
Pierre even though I feared that he would bore us to death
before he got to the point. I stifled a yawn. Dianne remained
enthralled.
“Pierre, this is interesting but how is this relevant to my
embroidery?” Asked Dianne, ignoring my restlessness.
Pierre took a long sip of his Three Horses Beer before
continuing. I tried unsuccessfully to stifle my yawn as he
continued.
“The Portuguese sailors discovered to their amazement
that the local women were carrying out a style of embroidery
that had disappeared in Portugal almost a century before!
What you found today is an almost exact replica of Portuguese
needlecraft, dating back to the 1500’s, that has remained
unchanged in the hands of industrious Malagasy women until
today; almost 500 years later!” Dianne was overjoyed to hear
this and began to question Pierre more closely. I was more
interested in the approaching storm on the horizon and tuned
them out. Besides, I did not want to alarm Dianne
unnecessarily.
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Chapter 45. Pisces Returns
“Excuse me for a moment Pierre, but please continue.
This is so interesting” I lied.
“Bill, would you mind standing up next to that pole so I
that can take a picture?” I asked my son to pose for me,
masking my true purpose. I looked through the viewfinder,
extended the zoom and focused onto the skyline beyond Bill to
where the Sailfish was supposed to be. I grew cold despite the
tropical heat. The Sailfish had moved from her position! As I
looked up once again I could see her Genoa billowing in front of
her.
Pisces had returned and she was sailing away
without us!
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
FIGURE 21 THE CIRCLE MARKS PISCES HELL -BENT ON
DESTRUCTION . THIS WAS ANOTHER CRITICAL MOMENT SEEN THROUGH
THE EYE OF THE CAMERA.
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Don Darkes
By the time we raced to the beach and untied the dingy,
there were waves breaking on the fore shore. That morning
there had been ripples and gentle ripples. Now crashing
breakers smashed and foamed as they broke onto the sand.
Fishermen scurried to drag their bucking pirogues across the
beach and into the shelter of the trees that lined the shore. The
gale tore coconuts from the bowing palm trees and flung them
to earth like cannonballs. The tide was nearing its high point
and washing right up the beach so we did not have to drag the
dingy far. Launching it was difficult because the waves
threatened to capsize the craft or fling it back onto the land.
The tiny petrol engine could not make headway against the
surge of the water and the relentless power of the wind. In
desperation I jumped out and waded with the heaving
inflatable craft through the surf to where the water was deep
enough for its flailing propeller to bite without hitting bottom
as the waves passed beneath. The howling wind blew onto the
land, creating a sailor’s nightmare; a lee shore. Here the wind
ruthlessly heaves any foreign object floating in the ocean onto
the sand like a dog vomiting up pieces of a dead lizard.
Although the wind was blasting water over our bows,
drenching us completely, the sun was still shining as warm and
as bright as any other day. Only the colour of its light had
altered as if we were looking at the sky through a sheet of
tinted glass, like the eyepiece of a welder’s helmet. As our path
converged with the wildly plunging Sailfish we knew then that
she had become Pisces once again and that Pisces was hell bent
on destroying herself once and for all.
Pisces had a two meter draft, which meant that she
needed deep water at least the height of a tall man standing
beneath her waterline in order to remain afloat and upright. As
we approached we could see that there was too little water to
support her wildly rearing hull or to float erect. As we watched
dismayed a wave would roll up behind her, lifting her up
momentarily to a point where she would right herself and then
buck and rear like a wild stallion trying to break free. Then the
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wave would roll away dashing Pisces down onto her keel
before knocking her onto her side with a shock that checked
her headlong flight momentarily as she wallowed and fought to
get up again. Again and again we watched the crash of the
impact and shockwave ripple through her heaving hull and
shudder through her heaving masts. Over and over we saw the
rolling surge lift her up, knock her to the floor, then wait for
her to gather up her battered dignity and stagger upright,
before bashing her down again. So hell bent was Pisces on
escape and certain suicide that we struggled to intercept her
headlong flight. Once as she thrashed in the grip of the storm,
we were almost crushed by her furious Finger of God as she
waved it up and down, in her desperation to destroy herself.
Somehow Dianne helmed our tiny boat alongside and held it
there while I thrashed and scrabbled to get astride the bucking
Pisces. Then as I gained a foothold my other leg lost its grip and
my scrabbling foot kicked Bill’s head, knocking him
unconscious. Once I clambered onto the deck to ride astride
Pisces bucking form I could see the driving Genoa billowing in
the wind as it drove her inexorably forward. It had somehow
unfurled itself and then mysteriously, instead of whipping the
sheet uselessly free in the wind as she had done once before in
the boatyard, the vital rope had inexplicably tied itself around
a cleat. This enabled it to power Pisces towards her death. It
was almost as if someone had tied this rope deliberately.
I tried to shout to Dianne to take herself and the
children back to the beach to wait for me there. The roar of the
wind and the crash of the waves and rushing water whipped
the words from my lips. Somehow, she understood and turned
her heaving craft away and was blown back onto the foaming
shore.
Taking stock I stumbled forward and cut the Genoa
sheet with the emergency knife that I snatched from its pouch
in the cockpit. This allowed the rope to fly free and make the
sail flap impotently in the gale. Seeking to find out why Pisces
had somehow broken free of her anchor in deep water outside
the reef, I followed a trail of links leading from the locker onto
the deck. Then I traced the chain as it ran over the steel trough
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Don Darkes
along the deck toward the bows where it terminated suddenly
in a single half link. The thick anchor chain was new and
looked as if it had been deliberately cut, allowing Pisces to ride
free with the wind under the force of the powerful sail.
Even though the speed of her flight had been diminished
by robbing the Genoa of her prey, the waves were nevertheless
driving Pisces onward. In fact, the waves were starting to force
her long bowsprit around, turning her parallel to the shore and
side on to the waves as each successive jolt drove Pisces
inexorably into ever shallower water and threatened to tumble
her sideways onto the beach. Nevertheless I was relieved to
see that there were no rocks and curiously, although the water
was shallow, there were no coral outcrops either. There was
little time to lose. I had to halt her flight quickly. The stern
anchor lay in her place and I cut the lashings free with a single
lucky stroke. There was no chain attached to this anchor, so I
dashed forward and dragged some chain from the bow locker
then attached the free end to the anchor before throwing it
overboard with a shout. Once sufficient chain rattled out I
snubbed it securely around the stout wooden post set into the
aft deck and waited. I staggered as the fluted anchor bit,
dragged, dug into the mud and held, bringing Pisces’ headlong
flight to an abrupt halt. She reared like a thwarted mustang,
jumping and thrashing as she tried to fling me from her back. I
stumbled forward to the cockpit while she struggled to break
free. Although the cockpit was hip deep in sloshing seawater I
was able to hang onto the helm and brace my shoulder against
the mast to steady myself. Then I grabbed the handset from the
radio bracket, pressed transmit and called into it.
“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is the Yacht Pisces
located two miles north of Morondava. We require immediate
assistance.” A hiss of static was my only reply. I tried again,
knowing full well that there was no one nearby to hear it. Even
if there was someone, they would be powerless to assist,
because the water was too shallow below our keels to enable
any vessel to approach or to pass a tow line.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Somehow I needed to claw Pisces off the lee shore and
reach the safety of the open sea. To do that I knew I needed to
start the engine and power her back into deep water. With a
sinking I heart I realised that Pisces’ keys were in Dianne’s
basket, now safely ashore. I staggered in the cockpit,
disappointed and felt a fist like blow in my right thigh when a
monster wave bucked the vessel and she shuddered under the
impact. On reflex I touched the knot in my throbbing leg
muscle and a wave of pleasure washed over me as I realised
the cause of the pain. The cork float ball, attached to the boat
keys was in my pocket! I do not remember fishing it out and
somehow inserting the ignition key into its slot. If only my luck
would continue to hold. I turned the key. The mighty diesel
coughed once, missed a beat and roared powerfully into life.
Our luck was turning.
The Sailfish was fighting back. I put the motor into
reverse and gunned the throttle. We began to claw our way
back toward the open sea. There was neither space nor depth
to turn so I had to continue in reverse, flinging the wheel back
and forth as I struggled to keep the stern facing toward the
rolling breakers. I shouted with joy and relief as we began to
make headway when a tearing sound followed by a powerful
shock stopped us short in our tracks with a jarring crash. The
engine stalled. We had reversed over the stern anchor which I
had just set and the taut chain had scraped beneath the hull
until the anchor bit and brought us up short. The jolt knocked
me off balance and I fell sideways knocking my head on the
starboard winch as I plunged into the bathtub sized trough of
water sloshing in the cockpit around my feet.
Pisces had returned with a vengeance and now she
had regained the upper hand!
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Don Darkes
Chapter 46. The Book of Gnomes
June 6th. 1992.
Suddenly all was quiet. Gone was the roar of the wind
and the rushing of the sea. Gone too was the strident beat of
the engine. It was quiet and warm and cosy and I was happy. I
was sitting on the top bunk in the children’s cabin, safely
aboard Sailfish, reading to them from their Book of Gnomes
that lay open upon my thighs. I looked up from reading and
saw the wide blue eyes of Bill and the gap-toothed, smiling face
of Morgan waiting expectantly for me to read the last line. A
line they already knew so well. I exhaled in a cloud of bubbles
then stopped. I dared not take the next deep breath I needed to
deliver the last line. Somehow I knew that I was under water.
My chest began to burn as I hesitated. The children looked
expectantly at me, a question in their eyes as they waited to
recite the final words along with me when I read them aloud. I
held back. I dared not take the vital breath I needed to be able
to read the last line. An upwelling of joy swelled within me. I
knew that if I breathed now there would be no more agony,
only this moment, crystallising my bliss forever as my children
chuckled before kissing me goodnight. I wanted it to last for
eternity. All I had to do was breathe once. Just one final deep
breath and this perfect moment would be mine forever.
I opened my mouth to inhale and stopped as I was
assaulted by excruciating pain! This eye watering torment
burned as if my head was on fire and my hair was being torn
out by its roots. I was ripped, dripping and spluttering, upward
and out of the water. I opened my eyes and saw Steve’s hated
face shimmering before my eyes as he yanked me triumphantly
aloft. He dangled me there using double fistfuls of my hair to
hold me upright. I could see his fleshy lips moving as he spoke,
but could not hear his words above the roaring in my ears as
incandescent rage burned out everything but my hatred for
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him. Alternating with both fists, I swung at Steve but he
gracefully danced my blows aside, pirouetting like a matador. I
tried to bite his wrist, snapping like a rabid dog to force him to
let me go but he easily jerked my head back using my hair as a
leash. He opened his maw to laugh, exposing jagged, nicotine
stained teeth. I recalled Steve’s flawless designer smile and in
that moment came to my senses. With those imperfect teeth I
knew at once that this could not possibly be Steve and I came
to my senses.
FIGURE 22 BILL AND MORGAN LISTEN WHILE I READ FROM
THE BIG BOOK OF GNOMES . BILL ( CURRENTLY 26) COLLECTS
GNOMES
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Don Darkes
Chapter 47. The Frogman Arrives
June 6th. 1992.
“You look as if you need some help!” A tall swarthy man
held me painfully upright by my hair and shouted with a strong
French accent, above the roar of the waves.
“I am Jean-Luc. I was photographing frogs in the forest
when I saw your bateaux floundering in the surf and decided to
swim out to see if I could be of assistance. Please accept my
apology for pulling you out of the water by your hair but I
suspected that you might be drowning and could not get a grip
on you any other way.” He sheepishly released his grip on my
mane and gently helped me to stand unsteadily upright. I was
too stunned to speak. Reluctantly I returned to earth once
more.
Together we cut free the stern anchor and started to
make headway again as I gunned the engine. Blood was
streaming down my face from a jagged cut in my scalp at the
back of my head. I did not care. I was determined to make sure
that Pisces did not return today. Progress was slow as JeanLuc, standing spread legged at the bucking stern, guided us
through the coral heads, shouting
“Wave!” ahead of each upwelling surge. This prompted
me to gun the howling engine and brace ourselves before we
lifted up, plunged down, thumped bottom, rolled right and
shook like a wet dog. Then we prepared to do it again and
again as each rushing swell arrived and rolled foaming under
us. Inch by inch we gained sea room each time I revved the
engine between each swell, snaking the boat a little as we
clawed our way backwards. I could see Dianne and the kids on
shore, anxiously watching our battle. A ragged knot of
fishermen stood behind them, agitated but helpless to assist.
They could see that our frantically rearing steed was bucking
uncontrollably and that she would thrash about and crush
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their flimsy wooden boats like straws. The engine howled, the
sea roared and the wind screamed defiantly as inexorably we
began to gain ground. Without warning, the brave donkey
gasped and died. This time had not stalled. It simply stopped
dead. I turned the key. Nothing, not even the click and whine of
the starter motor. My heart sank. I did not want to admit to
myself what could be wrong. Jean-Luc turned questioningly to
me as I wrenched Pisces’ key from the ignition and unlocked
the sliding hatch into the cabin below.
Climbing backwards down the ladder I stepped down
into chest high water. Once my eyes grew accustomed to the
gloom, I could see spice bottles and cushions, hatch covers and
wooden boxes all floating in the oily water. Morgan’s teddy
drifted by and I knew then that the donkey had drowned,
bravely fighting to the last breath until the rising water cut off
her vital air supply and she choked. Half swimming, half
wading, I made my way aft to a gaping hole where our bed had
once been. The rudder, hitting against the sea bottom, had
smashed a jagged semi-circular crater, the size of truck tyre, in
the stern. The frothing sea water came gushing in as the
rolling waves lifted and dropped Pisces. The sliding hatch in
this cabin was locked from outside, so I knew I had to either
exit through the breach in the hull and risk not being able to
get on board again or else I could swim back underwater, to
the open forward hatch, dodging floating debris as I did so.
Somehow I clawed my way to the open hatch and dragged
myself onto the heaving deck. At first I was at a loss as to what
to do.
I remembered the repair we had made after Pisces had
crashed to earth in the boatyard and knew I could heal this
wound too. To do that, I needed to deliberately beach her, so
that when the tide went out, I could plug the hole, seal it off and
repair the damage. I shouted above the roar of wind and sea to
Jean-Luc.
“She is holed and full of water. We must turn around
before we sink in deep water. I have to go back and drag the
boat onto the beach.” He nodded, immediately, understanding.
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“The wind and waves will help us this time. They will
drive us toward the land where your wife and children are
waiting,” Jean-Luc shouted as he came forward.
“Give me a long rope and I will swim ashore with it.
Once I am there, I shall ask the villagers on the beach to help
me pull her in,” he yelled above the shrieking storm. I nodded
agreement.
“We also need to take a rope from the top of the mast to
help us pull the boat down onto her side so that we can reduce
her draft and get her even closer to the beach,” I yelled.
Together we dragged all the lines we could find out of the aft
locker and tied them to the top of the masts. We secured a
heavy mooring hawser firmly to the stout anchor bollard and
threw it off the bowsprit, after first fastening a coil of lighter
line to its tail end which we looped over Jean-Luc’s shoulder.
“See you on the beach!” He shouted cheerily as he dived
onto the maelstrom, trailing ropes in his wake and swam
powerfully ashore. As I stood watching him, a furious bellow
issued from the forest. I watched in amazement as a
monstrous snorting tractor, belching smoke and diesel fumes,
arrived on the scene. Jean-Luc lost no time in attaching his
thick hawser to its gigantic tow hook. He instructed the driver
to pull, towards the beach, in time with the ebb and flow of the
surging sea. Meanwhile, I shouted to a line of excited villagers
in the water, to pull on the masthead line. Like a tug-of-war,
they toppled the struggling Pisces onto her port side. Then they
tied her down, like Lilliputians subduing Gulliver.
At first Pisces struggled to get up. Eventually she
weakened and like a beached sailfish, gave up fighting and lay
still.
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Chapter 48. Childs Play
June 6th. 1992.
In the excitement none of the adults saw the life raft
break free from its mountings and inflate with a hiss of gas as it
hit the water. We did not notice it float away and gaily pop up
its orange canopy, like a cheerful circus tent. It blew and
bobbed ashore to where Bill and Morgan were standing. The
children cheered when it eventually arrived. They dragged it
up above the high water mark and lost no time in unzipping its
entrance and climbing happily inside to play at being
shipwrecked.
“What happened? Why are you are bleeding?” Dianne
dashed up to greet me as I waded ashore.
“I bashed my head on the winch when I fell. Just as well
Jean-Luc was there to save my bacon.” I answered her as she
hugged me gratefully and then turned to smile in thanks and in
greeting at the gangly Jean-Luc who was standing back a little
bashfully.
“It was nothing. I am here in Morondava to study the
rare frogs in this estuary for a book I am researching. I am a
naturalist you see. When I saw that your husband might use a
little bit of help, I decided to meet him.” Jean-Luc shyly flashed
his gap-toothed smile again as he pointed to the forest and the
mouth of the river entering the sea. He wiped his round
spectacles on the hem of his shirt before replacing them on the
bridge of his nose like a schoolmaster.
A ‘frog’ studying frogs? I stifled the urge to laugh.
Dianne shot me a warning glance as she picked up my
irreverent thought.
“Where are the kids?” I asked, looking around
concerned.
“They are over there, playing in the life raft, happy as
clams.” Dianne pointed to where it stood at the edge of the
forest in the shelter of an overhanging Tamarind tree. “Come to
think of it, there should be a first aid kit inside. Come with me,”
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Don Darkes
she commanded in her nurse’s no-nonsense tone as she
dragged me towards it.
“Good heavens. Bill is bleeding too!” She exclaimed as
she entered the tent and saw the dried blood on our son’s head
where I had accidentally kicked him when I scrambled aboard
the runaway Pisces.
“Come inside, out of the wind. I need to clean both your
wounds!” She ordered and used the special safety knife
attached to its side to cut open the pouch containing the life
raft survival kit.
“Hey Dad, look! There’s chocolate in here.” Morgan
wheedled, picking up the pack and licking her lips theatrically.
She fluttered her eyelashes and smiled irresistibly at me as she
always did when she wanted something.
“Go ahead, let’s all have some, and be sure to offer some
to Jean-Luc who is waiting outside to meet you both,” I
relented as idly looked through the contents of the kit, which
had remained sealed inside the life raft until that day.
“Hmm, look what else they have included along with
seasick pills, glucose tablets, a puncture repair kit and water.”
“What is it?” Asked Dianne curiously as she attended to
the cut on my head.
“It’s a Saint Christopher medal,” I answered with a wry
smile and held it up for her to see. “Do you think the
manufacturers of this life raft are trying to tell us something?”
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Chapter 49. Vigil
Announcing your plans is certain to make God laugh.
June 6th. 1992.
Jean-Luc mysteriously disappeared without a word,
before we could thank him. Some of the villagers had drifted off
to their homes as we sat together on the beach watching the
sun sink into the ocean without a ripple. The sturdy group that
remained wrapped themselves up in their lambas and curled
up to share the all-night vigil with us.
Bill and Morgan insisted that we all sleep inside the life
raft but Dianne and I felt claustrophobic inside its damp and
flimsy walls. We sneaked outside as soon as their soft snores
and steady breathing told us they had fallen asleep. It was new
moon and funereally dark despite the fact that the sparkling
heavens were filled with iridescent stars. The restless ocean
flashed and glowed with green phosphorescent fire. The
howling wind dropped as quickly as it had arrived and the high
tide crept in to lick at Pisces gently, comforting her where she
lay quietly, tethered to the earth.
“So where to now?” Asked Dianne quietly as we watched
the heavens whirl above our heads.
“If you mean what I intend to do with the Sailfish. That’s
easy. When the tide goes out I shall climb aboard and patch the
hole with plywood, screws and underwater curing epoxy. Then
I shall pump her out so that she can float. I shall find
somewhere to careen her on her side or perhaps lean her up
against a jetty or wharf and repair her there.
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It’s pretty much the same process as we have already
done at the boatyard in Durban. It’s a minor irritation but not a
catastrophe,” I answered with an offhand confidence I did not
feel.
“And then?” She whispered.
“Sweetheart, then we will sail back and forth trading
gold for gadgets and make a fortune.
Since I am not superstitious I did not hear God laughing
as we dozed off into an exhausted sleep, unmindful of the
biting sand fleas.
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Chapter 50. Déjà vu
Déjà vu, literally "already seen") is the impression that
one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation,
even though the exact circumstances of the prior encounter are
unclear and were perhaps imagined. The term was coined by a
French psychic researcher, Émile Boirac (1851–1917) in his book
L'Avenir des sciences psychiques ("The Future of Psychic
Sciences"), which expanded upon an essay he wrote while an
undergraduate. The experience of déjà vu is usually
accompanied by a compelling sense of familiarity, and also a
sense of "eeriness", "strangeness", "weirdness", or what Sigmund
Freud calls "the uncanny". The "previous" experience is most
frequently attributed to a dream, although in some cases there is
a firm sense that the experience has genuinely happened in the
past.
June 7th 1992.
When the first rays of sunlight began to peel away the
darkness at dawn on June seventh, I could see that it was low
tide by how far the pounding waves had receded. Now they
were crashing some way off from where I sat huddled with my
shivering family. A flash of reflected sunlight beckoned from
the expanse of sand exposed by the receding ocean.
“Wait here,” I said standing up blearily. I wiped the sleep
from my eyes and stepped onto the glistening beach, ignoring
the protests from the robust villagers who had shared our allnight vigil. At first I did not notice how my footsteps filled up,
sank and then vanished behind me, as I single-mindedly drew
each foot from the sucking white sand. Instead I staggered
doggedly forward to stand exhausted above my glinting steel
objective. Mystified I scratched my head, wincing absentmindedly as warm blood oozed afresh from the wound on my
aching skull. I struggled to recognise at what I was looking. As
I sank up to my hips in the cloying muck, I recognised with
dismay, the familiar shape sticking out of the quicksand.
Momentarily I was transported back to Durban and the
boatyard, shortly after Pisces had fallen off her cradle,
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shattered her side and snapped both her masts. I remembered
repairing them both and how excited I was on the day Dianne
helped me to measure the tallest one as it lay, freshly
repainted, on its trestles. I stared in horror at the gleaming
metal in the quicksand and recognised it for what it was. At
that moment I knew that Pisces had finally beaten me. Since I
was looking at the tip of her tallest mast, this was Pisces’ mast
cap. The weight of her ballast had no doubt caused her hull to
right itself. This explained why the tallest mast stood upright.
That meant she must have sunk more than the height of a six
story building and lay buried far below my feet As if in
confirmation, a gigantic air bubble belched up through the
watery sand and burst obscenely at the surface with a wet
plop. I gazed in morbid fascination as more debris floated to
the surface. I recognised shattered bits of polished teak, two
canisters of exposed film and Morgan’s favourite teddy
bobbing in the water. With a sick feeling I knew that Pisces’
hull had exploded under the terrible pressure at that depth;
releasing anything that would float to the surface. Her
shattered body lay in her grave forever, together with
whatever curse she carried.
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Chapter 51. Bread sans Fish
We were not alone as we trudged sadly away from that
remote beach in Madagascar. The whispering villagers
tramped respectfully behind us, like mourners in a funeral
procession.
“What do we do now?” Asked Dianne crestfallen as we
led the way.
“All I know for certain is that we are going to have to
pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on.”
Do you think all of this happened because of the Curse?
Dianne’s lovely face was pale and exhausted.
“You know I am not superstitious. I prayed several
times during the last few weeks and my prayer has been
answered.” She turned to look at me with a strange
expression. Dianne knew that I was not superstitious and she
was in no mood to banter.
“This is no time to be flippant.” She said tossing her long
blond mane like a mare flicking an irritating insect, her
expression uncharacteristically showing her anger.
“Do you remember when my mother said that I was
reckless and irresponsible; that I was going to drown not only
myself and you but that I was going to drown her
grandchildren as well?”
“I certainly do. You did not speak to her for more than
six months afterwards and sometimes you took your
frustration out on us.”
“I know. I am truly sorry. I was wrong, and she was
right. Now I understand that although she was furious, she was
also concerned and meant well. She got me thinking. I could
not bear the thought of hurting or losing you or our children.
So, superstitious or not, I prayed. My prayer was a plea. If I was
guilty of a doing a reckless and irresponsible thing ,that only I
should be punished and that no harm should come to my
family. That’s why I’m grateful to have been granted more than
what I prayed for.”
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Dianne nodded and said nothing. We both knew that the
loss of everything we owned was punishment for her too.
I am grateful.” I said gently and stopped to face her
towards me so that I could look into her steely blue eyes.
“Grateful! Grateful for what?” She spluttered, bewildered
and angry.
“I am grateful for the wakeup call I received today. I
have learned that the only thing that is important is that we are
always together as a family. You must never allow me to lose
sight of that.” She nodded and attempted to smile.
“What are we going to do right now?” Her voice
trembled as she held back a tear.
“We shall have to alert the harbour authorities. They
will know how to reach our government and arrange to
repatriate us.” I changed the subject and sighed. “I anticipate
political problems between the respective South African and
Malagasy regimes. They refuse to speak directly to each other
ever since the Apartheid government refused to allow the
Malagasy President to disembark when he arrived, by ship, at
Cape Town recently.”
As we made our way into town, intending to ask Pierre
for his assistance and approached a humble shack that stood
on the outskirts of the village. When we drew alongside it,
Dianne became aware of a petite woman carrying a young child
upon her hip. She had left the gaggle of villagers following
behind us. She tugged wordlessly at Dianne’s sleeve and
pointed toward the humble palm thatched, bamboo walled
dwelling. Dianne understood.
“Your house?” Dianne asked although we all knew the
woman would not understand English. The Malagasy woman
nodded and pointed backwards to her own heart.
“Helene,” she said, by way of introduction, opened the
ramshackle door and invited us inside. Her modest shack
consisted of a single room, with a neatly swept bare earth floor.
Four makeshift grass beds lay on the dry ground in a corner
where pair of young girls sat cross legged upon them and
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smiled shyly at us. An upturned wooden crate took pride of
place as a table inside the hovel. The ‘table’ was unadorned,
save for a fresh banana leaf placed upon it, acting as an
improvised ‘plate’ that bore four, dry bread rolls, resembling
miniature French loaves. Helene lifted the boy child from her
hip and handed him wordlessly to the elder of his two wideeyed siblings who wiped his running nose and comforted him.
Their mother stood at her simple table where she silently
broke each of the four tiny loaves in two and timidly offered a
piece to each of us, four total strangers. She then handed a
portion to each of own children. Embarrassed and overcome
by her generosity I started to decline. Luckily Dianne caught
my eye and made me to remain silent by sheer force of will.
Helene softly gave thanks and then gestured for us to begin
eating. Dianne looked at me with tears in her eyes as we
silently chewed. We swallowed our breakfast with great
difficulty because our throats that were taut with emotion.
When the meal was over, Dianne thanked Helene by
clasping her hands together as if in prayer and bowed forward
slightly from the hip. The two women smiled at each other as
we departed, instantly forging the powerful bond that mothers
everywhere share. We stepped into the bright sunshine and
the group waiting outside murmured as another tiny Malagasy
woman shyly approached Dianne to offer her a lamba. Dianne
stooped to accept it and to allow the woman to wrap the
homespun cloth around her shoulders and hips. With a start I
realised that Dianne was, to their eyes, almost naked since she
was wearing only a thin blue cotton tee shirt, red cotton shorts,
slip slop sandals and no brassiere.
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The woman handed Dianne another, larger lamba, gazed
directly into her eyes and then flicked her eyes briefly toward
me before firmly returning her face back to Dianne. It was clear
that she intended the lamba for me but that it would be
improper to approach me or give it to me directly. As I became
aware of my own appearance I realised that my green tee shirt
was filthy, torn and blood-stained and my once-black shorts
were hard and crusted white with dried salt, grease and dried
blood. My body and clothing stank of diesel, bilge water and
the sweat of fear. Dianne helped me to wrap the traditional
garment around my body. We tried to thank our benefactor but
she was clearly embarrassed and disappeared silently into the
anonymity of the crowd.
Never before or since, have I experienced such selfless
generosity made all the more poignant since it was given by
those who had very little themselves. It touched me in a way
that brings gooseflesh to my body even thinking about it today.
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Chapter 52. Avenue of Baobabs
Pierre was incredible. Although he was clearly under
pressure to wind up his affairs before leaving Madagascar and
returning to France, he guided us through a laborious process
traipsing from one government department to another, filling
in forms and answering questions. The harbour master in
particular was brisk, efficient and impersonal, as if he routinely
processed shipwrecked families. We reciprocated,
unemotionally completing myriad unintelligible French
documents with Pierre assisting as translator. As he read one
document to me I realised with a shock that we had consigned
ownership of the wreckage of our doomed yacht to the
Madagascar government, as is customary following a
shipwreck. Machine-gun thuds emitted by an array of rubber
stamps signalled the end of our business. Aside from the
begging bowl which we own and treasure to this day, we were
now officially destitute!
Our stay at Les Bougainville’s had its bright side too. We
depended on the good services of the neutral Swiss and Dutch
diplomats to act as go-betweens to negotiate our passage back
to South Africa. During this time, we were accommodated at
Pierre’s generous expense in a small structure behind the Les
Bougainville’s restaurant. A sparse but clean and comfortable
room was placed at our disposal for a few weeks, while the
officials shuffled paper and practised protocols.
We were destitute and depended on the charity of
others and had to ration our donated funds carefully. We found
the cheapest meal was prawns and rice and we ate it for
breakfast lunch and supper.
The mayor of the town, Rolando Kolo, ensured that we
were feted as minor celebrities. A charity drive was held to
garner donations of money and clothing because every cent we
owned and all our possessions were on our sunken yacht.
Dianne snapped a photograph of us with the Mayor and his
family. This illustrates the odd assortment of donated clothing
that we wore.
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FIGURE 23 THE AUTHOR, ROLANDO, HIS WIFE, CHILDREN,
MORGAN AND BILL
The highlight of our stay came when we were taken, in
Rolando’s dilapidated Renault 4, to the unique, spectacular and
unforgettable Baobab forest located just outside the town of
Morondava. This unforgettable spot has subsequently been
named as a world Heritage Site, but certainly not as a result of
our visit! The shock and enormity of our loss was beginning to
sink in and we were having trouble keeping our spirits up. The
simple pleasure of visiting this truly unique spot cheered us
and the sight of these incredible ‘God’s upside-down’ trees
shall remain with us forever. It is difficult to comprehend the
majestic size of these gigantic trees which had only survived
predation by charcoal and firewood scavengers, due to the
belief by the Malagasy that the Baobab trees are sacred, taboo
or Fady and therefore protected by their ancestors.
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FIGURE 24 THE WORLD HERITAGE SITE; AVENUE OF THE
BAOBABS. HERE MORGAN, BILL AND THE AUTHOR ATTEMPT TO
ENCIRCLE THE GIGANTIC TRUNK OF ONE OF THE SMALLER TREES .
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Chapter 53. The Prophesy
Thanks to the intervention of the Swiss and Dutch
governments, they linked my pariah country, South Africa, with
Madagascar. Rolando insisted on giving me a gift just before we
were repatriated as shipwrecked sailors. He solemnly handed
me a box, roughly the size of a large shoebox. It was crafted
from finely woven raffia matting, sewn into a rectangular
shape and beautifully hand dyed before being painstakingly
embroidered. He coughed before nervously reading from a
prepared note;
“This is to remind you of the Malagasy proverb.” he
coughed again and wiped a tear from his cheek.
“All you have lost by water or by fire in Madagascar you
shall have again.”
Back home in South Africa, when we opened Rolando’s
gift, we were overjoyed to find that it was filled with all
manner of Malagasy hand crafts, souvenirs and an enigmatic
painting. This artwork, depicting a ring tailed lemur, rendered
on hand-made paper, was later to become our logo and the
symbol of the fulfilment of the Prophesy. There were also a
number of slabs of organic chocolate made from locally
cultivated and fermented cacao.
This box contained the vital keys to enable the Malagasy
prophesy to come to pass. But that is a happy and fulfilling
story which I shall enjoy sharing in the sequel to this
adventure, in my next book, 2nd Time Lucky.
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FIGURE 25 THIS ENIGMATIC LEMUR BECAME THE SYMBOL OF
OUR RECOVERING ALL THAT WE HAD LOST IN M ADAGASCAR - AND
MORE!
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Chapter 54. The Obituary.
Until recently I have been unable to tell anyone the
entire story of what happened on that first Pisces day. Instead I
had to wait for someone that I have hated bitterly for twenty
years, someone that I tried to murder, to die.
I read Steve's obituary, on the June 6th. 2012. I would
love to tell you that it was the day that he died, but it was not.
That was the day I chose to check up on him, via the Internet,
as I did every Pisces day. This time I discovered that he
contracted a humiliating and debilitating disease and
committed suicide a few months previously by taking an
overdose. I am not ashamed to say that I was overjoyed at the
news.
This was sweet revenge indeed.
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Chapter 55. Postscript. Killer Prawns.
Pisces Day, June 6th. 2010.
Every June 6th., we remember Pisces Day, often
commemorated as D-Day elsewhere. We also celebrate our
family’s survival on that day. I also remember it as the day I
died and was coaxed back to life again by a French Frog
Scientist. We call it Pisces Day because that was the name of
our doomed yacht
We have celebrated every Pisces day by reuniting our
family around a meal of prawns and rice. Why prawns and
rice? To remind us how we had to eat that for weeks on end,
because prawns and rice were cheap and plentiful and because
we were destitute.
On the eighteenth anniversary of Pisces Day, June 6th.
2010, my family was put on trial again.
My wife Dianne and I and our daughters Luna and
Morgan lived atop Fields Hill just outside the coastal city of
Durban, South Africa. Our son Bill worked in Pietermaritzburg
about 100km inland. He left work early in order to attend our
annual celebration. Dianne chose the restaurant carefully and
booked a table, near a window that overlooked the old railway
station.
The name of this prawn restaurant was Jimmy's Killer
Prawns. We thought nothing of it at the time. (It has
subsequently gone out of business and disappeared.)
“Ugh! There is something slippery under the table”
exclaimed Bill as he lost his footing and fell heavily against the
red vinyl seat that protested with a sibilant hiss of escaping air
as he tried to shift his huge frame into the cubicle.
“Judging by the smell of rancid butter and garlic it must
be the prawn sauce” laughed blonde and vivacious Luna, his
younger sister, as we slithered our bottoms along the maroon
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bench seats. Dianne’s blue eyes sparkled with pleasure at
having the family together again. She sat at the base of the U,
flanked by both our daughters with Bill and me facing each
other.
“Although it’s just past six-thirty the place is already
busy” remarked Dianne surveying the half-full restaurant.
“What shall we order?” Quipped Morgan covering her
ears and cringing.
“Prawns and rice!” We chorused over and over, laughing
unashamedly at the surprised faces of the other patrons.
“I'm dying of thirst. I hope the waiter comes to take our
drinks order soon,” groaned Bill grasping his throat
theatrically and gagging to the amusement of his adoring
sisters.
“Remember, only granadilla juice” I ordered mock
sternly, ignoring the disappointed groans of my family.
“Come on Dad, can't we break tradition just this once? I
hate tadpole juice,” complained Morgan recalling the freshly
pulped granadilla juice swimming with frog-spawn-like seeds
which was the cheapest drink we could afford in 1992. I shook
my head and my family groaned in unison, as they did every
year.
“I wonder why there are no waiters around?” puzzled
Dianne quietly.
“Wait a minute. Speak of the devil!” Luna pointed to a
thickset man approaching our table.
“It's not that cold tonight. I'm surprised management
lets them wear their hats on duty.” I noted as our waiter
approached.
“Do you have granadilla juice...?” I stopped mid-sentence
as the muzzle of a large pistol was placed squarely on the tip of
my nose.
“Cell phones and money,” interrupted the man gruffly.
“I don't have any money with me. I pay by credit card
and I am not carrying my cell phone” I stuttered, numb with
shock.
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“And you?” The robber swung around and placed the
barrel of his gun on Bill’s forehead.
“I have a phone.” Bill said reaching into his shirt pocket
with trembling fingers and dropped it to the floor. Unthinking
he ducked below the table to retrieve it and scrabbled around
on the greasy floor while it evaded him like a slippery fish. The
gunman's pin-prick irises flashed and I imagined the roar of his
gun and the impact of the bullet mushrooming my son’s head
redly onto the walls and floor.
“Wait. Don't shoot! My son is trying to pick up his
phone.” The gunman hesitated and Bill emerged again unaware
of how close he had come to extinction.
“What about you?” the gunman waved his pistol at the
girls where they sat ashen faced and rooted to the bench. Luna
spoke first.
“My Daddy won't buy me one.” She lied with an innocent
expression on her face that convinced even me. The gunman
shot me a disgusted glance and so neither of us noticed Luna
surreptitiously secreting her precious phone and purse
between the seat cushions behind her.
“And what about you?” The robber hissed at Morgan
who had emulated her younger sister’s example. Both girls
stared down the killer’s harsh gaze. I caught their eyes with my
own and gestured to them not to maintain eye contact with
him. They obeyed demurely. My heart thrashed within my
chest from an overload of pride, terror and anger.
“Stand Up!” He commanded and we all complied, albeit
bent double, like aged grannies, within the narrow space
between the table and the bench. The crook moved forward,
wedging his gun beneath his chin, while he frisked Bill and me
patting our bodies and even feeling our groin region as he did
so and found nothing that interested him.
He looked towards my wife and daughters. I baulked at
the prospect of him running his hands over their innocent
young bodies and began to boil and rage inside. Bill caught my
eye and shook his head imperceptibly, warning me with his
eyes.
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“The girls don't carry money. Our father is too stingy.”
Bill blurted, lying convincingly. The thug glanced disdainfully
at me once more, snorted derisively and turned his drug dulled
eyes toward his other prey sitting at the tables behind him.
He swaggered to a table occupied by a solitary man who
was so busily engaged in devouring his meal and at the same
time speaking on his mobile phone, that he had not noticed the
commotion. The gunman stuck the barrel of his pistol on the
distracted man's nose. “Cell phone and money,” he demanded.
The diner frowned uncomprehendingly at what he also
thought was the waiter.
“Huh”
“Cell phone and money!” The robber hit the table with
his fist upsetting the glass of red wine over the seated patron’s
lap.
“Uh...I have to go now. I think I'm being held up at
gunpoint and robbed,” the diner said to his phone, rung off and
handed it to the gunman.
“Money” demanded the robber.
“I don't have any. I pay by credit card,” said the diner
flicking it onto the table.
“May I continue eating? This is my first meal of the day
and I am starving,” he said dismissively and returned to his
meal without waiting for a reply. The crook grunted and
moved to the next table which was occupied by an elegantly
dressed Indian couple sharing a candlelit dinner.
“Money and cell phones,” he demanded crossly.
“I also pay by card,” said the Indian man “But here is my
phone. It's insured so thank you! I shall get a brand new one,”
he said with a huge disarming smile and handed it over. His
speechless wife showed her empty hands and shook her head
vehemently. The gunman dropped the phone into a filthy black
cloth bag suspended by a leather cord from his neck and
turned to his next victim.
“Oh, just a minute,” the Indian man tugged at the
robbers sleeve. “Would you mind terribly sir? All my contacts
and my entire business are on my phone.” He left the words
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dangling. The thug nodded understanding, pocketed his pistol
and upturned his decrepit swag bag upon an empty table.
“Find it” he hissed menacingly. “Take your phone chip
out.” The Indian diner complied and helped the robber sweep
the phones and money back into the bag.
“Thank You.” He said gratefully. The thief nodded and
was disappointed when he turned to service his next victim
only to discover that his comrades had completed the work
behind him. The situation became even more bizarre when a
group of would be diners arrived to take up their dinner
booking and were brusquely shooed away by a gun toting
crook.
So far we had only sampled the hors d'œuvres. The gang
were furious at their slim pickings. Clearly they did not fear the
intervention of the police since they were in no hurry to depart
and it was close to midnight before they finished with us and
swaggered out into the night.
When the police eventually did arrive, none of them
were in uniform. Instead they wore shabby street clothes that
were filthy and dishevelled. The first thing they did was to
demand a round of free drinks from the owner. They lounged
around the bar laughing and talking amongst themselves as if
they were gangsters hanging out at a sleazy shibeen. (illicit
bar.) Their demeanour and appearance made us believe we
were being robbed by a second band of criminals. The leader of
the group strutted up to our table and stood with his legs apart
and his arms folded upon his chest while he leered at us. His
filthy white tee shirt bore the misshapen skull logo of The
Enforcer.
“We are here to protect and to serve. Tell us what
happened here.” His gap toothed attempt to smile reassuringly
was more menacing than the grinning skull emblazoned on his
sweat stained shirt. By the time the police had finished with us,
we were more terrified of the gang of police than we were of
the original criminals.
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The terror did not end there. In the weeks and months
that followed we saw the gangsters on numerous occasions at
the shopping malls. They would leer at us and taunt the girls by
pointing to their stingy father and laughing uproariously at
their shared joke. When we visited the police to complain and
to ask about the progress of the investigation we were told
they had no record of any such incident; despite the fact that it
had been in a local newspaper. Other victims we contacted
fearfully told us to let sleeping dogs lie. There would be no
investigation they said. Eventually the family became so
traumatised they refused to leave the house for fear of meeting
our tormentors. Incensed and determined to obtain justice I
complained at a higher level; without response. Eventually I
asked a good friend, a well-connected man and a long standing
member of Interpol, to make discreet enquiries. His special
ringtone, Don’t worry, be Happy, told me it was he, when my
mobile phone rang late one evening.
“We need to meet; sooner rather than later,” he said
without preamble.
“Sure. Why don’t you come for dinner this Friday
evening?”
“Yes, yes,” he said tensely. “Until then I need you to
remain silent. Stop harassing the cops and try not to go out. If
you need supplies, shop out of town.”
“Why? Is something wrong?” I asked, knowing full well
that there must be.
“I can’t discuss this over the phone. See you Friday.” He
hung up, uncharacteristically for him, without another word.
What he told us, like Basil's gun to my head twenty
years before, for me the last straw in a series of disquieting
events. Only this time I called a family meeting and we voted
unanimously to take action. We did not know at the time that
our family decision would result in all five of us living together,
high up in the branches of a Casuarina tree rooted in Zululand,
for one year, one month and one day.
***************
This story continues in the sequel, 2nd. Time Lucky.
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6692 Pisces the Sailfish
Author Biography
I have been chaotically married for over three decades to
my amazing wife Anne who bore me three miracle children. After
repudiating my psychology degree in the mid-seventies I served
my mandatory National Military Service in a top-secret and
clandestine Electronic Warfare unit stationed in Rhodesia, for
which I received a military medal. During the eighties, at the
height of Apartheid, together with (then illegal) “black” partners I
built a successful manufacturing company which I later sold to buy
the yacht upon which I was shipwrecked together with my family.
After returning destitute to South Africa, I rode a ripple in the
dot.com wave and later cashed in my Internet start-up in order to
distribute rare organic Madagascar chocolate. Currently, our
family resides high off the ground amongst the branches of a
Casuarina tree while we work together to build another yacht. I am
also writing several books that have as a common denominator, my
love of history and my belief that fact is stranger and far more
interesting than fiction.
Other Books by Don Darkes
2nd Time Lucky.
On Pisces day, June 6th. 2010, my family suffered a
traumatic event, triggering a unanimous family vote to opt-out
again. This story records our journey from another gun-athead incident after we voted unanimously to live high up in the
branches of a Casuarina Tree in Zululand. Then it follows our
journey onward, as we encounter amazing people, animals and
events and rejoice in bizarre experiences while we build our
family ark.
Fly on the Wall.
This is the biography of an amazing man, a round-theworld-sailor, a War Veteran, and a member of three
generations of Hollywood Movie Soundmen. He has over 100
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Don Darkes
Hollywood Movies to his credit and has been nominated for an
Oscar 5 times. Currently he is an Academy Awards Judge. He
has sailed with Disney and lived on Marlon Brando’s Island. His
soundman father, on his deathbed, advised him to turn his
back on fame and fortune and to go sailing. That is exactly what
he did, but that is only a fraction of his fascinating story.
Darkest Africa. My Life of Crime.
This is the biography of my friend and mentor. Born in
Great Britain in the thirties, his fascinating and eventful tale
reveals how he was concealed under an assumed name in
order to hide his true identity. At the end of World War Two,
he went to Rhodesia. There he spent many years as a mounted
policeman patrolling African bush country, teeming with wild
animals and primitive tribesmen. His experiences as a
Policeman, Judge, Member of Interpol, International Security
Consultant and Entrepreneur culminated with him having to
flee for his life with a target on his back and a price on his head.
Bread from Air.
This novel, has been on my mind for more than two
decades. This is a direct result of our being shipwrecked in
Madagascar. I have studied more than 400 history books and
visited numerous historical sites to gather information and do
background research. Bread from Air explores the fascinating
links between the Jewish Holocaust and Madagascar and
reveals the hidden lives of some of the incredible women who
helped to shape the course of world events and yet somehow
disappeared through the cracks in history’s floor.
***
I would be gratified to receive feedback, comments or
questions from my readers. I may even give them a voucher for
one of my other books. I can be contacted via my website at
www.dondarkes.com.
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