- Author: Justin Fox
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WHOEVER FEARS THE SEA
For my mother
Mchelea bahari si msafiri
Whoever fears the sea is no traveller
— Swahili proverb
Everything can be found at sea,
According to the spirit of your quest.
— Joseph Conrad
Table of Contents
A NOTE TO THE READER
ALSO BY JUSTIN FOX
The sea was a dark mirror. The captain held up his hand for silence, laid his cutlass on the deck and stepped into the wheelhouse. ‘It’s the World Trade Center,’ he said.
The Hispaniola swung on her anchor in the darkness and the BBC voice trailed away, then returned as the current nudged the brigantine back towards the island.
Paul Waterson looked around at the crew and guests, cramming into the wheelhouse to listen. The fancy-dress evening had been dealt a blow. Everyone had made an effort for this, the third evening of their cruise on the chartered brig, anchored now off Praslin in the Seychelles. They’d raided the dress store and were all got up with eye patches, headscarves, earrings and great-buckled belts.
Tony Blair sounded like Churchill. Was this World War Three? Paul glanced at the German tourists clad in pirate outfits, craning their necks to hear.
Blair’s voice was clear again: ‘There is no doubt in my mind that we stand very, very closely with America. We should regard this act as if it was an attack on any of us, and all of us.’
Paul found his hands were trembling. Hannah.
Hannah, his girlfriend in New York, worked for CNN. She lived uptown and her office was nowhere near the World Trade Center, but he wanted to get off the boat and find a telephone all the same.
After the broadcast, the crew tried to make the best of it, singing a bawdy version of ‘Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest’ while two of them performed a mock sword-duel on the main deck, but people’s hearts were no longer in it and the party faded early.
In his stifling cabin, Paul found it hard to sleep. His mind conjured pictures of jets ploughing into skyscrapers. He consoled himself that if there was anything he needed to be told, Hannah or her family would have found a way to contact the boat.
Paul emerged on deck early the next morning to find the skipper sharpening the end of a broomstick with his seaman’s knife to form a crude spear. ‘Strange things are happening in the world,’ he said. ‘It can’t hurt to be prepared.’
He was in the Seychelles to research a travel documentary about the Hispaniola. Ordinarily, he would have enjoyed such an assignment, involving a pleasant week of knocking about the islands. He was a bit of a Sunday yachtsman back in Johannesburg and loved anything to do with boats. Hispaniola was a hundred-foot Dutch topsail schooner, restored and refitted for the luxury tourist market. The vessel had been converted to look like a pirate brig: a painstaking two-year project by the owners.
Paul had stayed a few days on Mahé doing research, then joined Hispaniola for a cruise. The days were spent sailing between the islands; in the evenings they’d anchor off some enchanting beach. Each location was more idyllic than the last: crescents of perfect white sand, shaggy palm trees, granite boulders and luminous water.
One afternoon, they’d rowed to Cousin Island, a deserted sanctuary. It felt like Eden. Birds nested on the ground and allowed humans to sit beside them. They displayed no fear, only curiosity. There were fairy terns, noddies and tropic birds with long white tails. His group came upon a herd of giant tortoises grazing in a glade like prehistoric cows. The reptiles ate out of their hands, long phallic necks straining from the shells. What easy meat they’d have made for hungry sailors.
Given the theme of Hispaniola’s refit, and the fact that the Seychelles was once a safe haven for buccaneers, Paul’s research had taken a pirate angle. In fact, the trip had reawakened his childhood fantasies of nautical adventure. He’d pictured himself boarding Hispaniola in some secluded cove and marauding through the islands like the cutthroats of old.
His investigation had turned up plenty of useful material. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many buccaneers had their lairs in the Seychelles: the cumbersome merchant ships that sailed to and from the East were sitting ducks. It was a hideout in paradise. Even now, everyone on the islands wanted to talk about pirates. Tourist brochures spoke of buried treasure in the grounds of one or other hotel; the beach you were sipping your cocktail on was once a pirate cove; buccaneer graves dotted the shore. The pirates’ ghostly presence lent a certain frisson, and they were good for business.
Now, a day away from port, Paul sat in the bows, jotting desultory notes, a skull-and-crossbones flag waving above his head. The tropical beauty around them added a bizarre counterpoint to his imaginings. He couldn’t get the horror of New York out of his head.
Paul had so wanted Hannah to join him on this assignment. She was probably working long hours at the office, covering the unfolding events in her home town. He remembered the sailing trip they’d done together in Mozambique the year before. Hannah lying on the foredeck, her auburn hair coiled across the towel, her suntanned body. He saw her dark-green eyes — how they challenged him. That bold laugh that cut through his doubt. He needed to see her. He needed