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A convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles appeared out of the desert and we prepared to meet our doom, expecting wild-eyed fanatics flourishing AK-47s. Wathara was easy pickings for any pirate or other renegade. The two Arabs who had found us before climbed out of the vehicles along with four or five other men. They started shouting and waving for us to come ashore and at first I thought perversely that I would force them to come out to us if they wanted to get us. Then I thought, what’s the use? They’ll get us in the end.
I climbed into the dinghy and rowed ashore, getting swamped as I landed.
“You have some trouble eh?” said one of the men, who looked European.
“No,” I snarled as I clambered up the rocky bank, “we do this once a month just for fun.”
The man looked puzzled for a moment and then burst into laughter, thrusting out his hand to shake.
“I am Lars Andersen. You can do nothing now because the tide is going down. Come with me to the camp.”
“Lars, that’s Swedish isn’it?”
“Danish. I am from Dandar Construction Company. We build the road over there.”
He waved a hand toward the stony hills and now I saw big yellow bulldozer crawling through the terrain.
“But the Arabs were shooting at us this morning. I thought they were terrorists or something.”
He threw his head back and had a good laugh over this joke.
“They do that all the time. They shoot at us when we want to build the road through their herd of camels.”
By some amazing chance we had managed to wreck the boat only a few miles from Dandar’s base camp where they were building a fish processing plant for the Yemeni trawler industry. At no other point on this coast would we have found any sign of life apart from crabs and camels.
Because of the phenomenal rain, parts of the road had been washed away and as we drove to the camp we passed backhoes, front end loaders and dump trucks pulled off to the side in the mud.
There were about 150 men in the camp, mostly Danish with some Swedes and Portuguese. Several had their wives and children along, living in comfortable, air-conditioned prefabricated houses. The camp was laid out around the shores of a bay where a jetty had already been built and factories and storehouses were under construction.
I was introduced to the project boss, an Icelander named Sigfus, a tall balding man in his forties with a totally expressionless face and piercing blue eyes. As if it were the most ordinary thing in the world to have a yacht wrecked at his door he outlined the possibilities. They had a barge with a powerful winch there in the bay.
“Yes?” I said. “But it would need good anchors and a long line on the winch so it could anchor well offshore.”
“Yes, it has that, he said thoughtfully, “but unfortunately the engine is out of action until we get some spare parts.”
“Oh,” I said.”
“We have a supply ship coming from Aden that could certainly pull your boat off the rocks.”
“That sounds great,” I said.
“Unfortunately not for another week or ten days.”
“Oh,” I said. “The boat will be wrecked in a week.”
“We also have a loader that could pick up your boat and take it out into deeper water. “How deep is your boat?”
“The draft is six feet or 180 centimetres.”
“Ah, then it is not possible, I’m afraid, to go into such deep water.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Perhaps we could lift your boat with our mobile crane and put it on a trailer.”
“Oh yes? That sounds good.”
“But of course the road is too bad now, with the rain.”
I was beginning to think this guy was some kind of sadist taking delight in teasing me.
“But never mind,” he said gloomily. “We will not allow your boat to be wrecked. The high tide is about four o’clock this afternoon, when we will try to get it off.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know how I’m going to pay you. I have no cash, only travellers’ cheques.”
Still without a flicker on his face or a spark in his eye he waved a hand in the air and said, “there will be no charge.”
That afternoon with the help of three Danish volunteers and a big truck we began trying to winch her off using three anchors and the engine. I ran the anchors out in the little dinghy, which was half full of water as I struggled against the surf to get far enough offshore to obtain a decent pull on the anchors. I don’t know how many times I made that trip with an anchor hanging over the dinghy’s transom until I reached the full scope of the warp. I dropped the anchor and rowed back to the boat to begin the heartbreaking business of winching. It was heartbreaking because we knew that every metre of line we retrieved only meant the anchor was dragging.
That night was the most dreadful of our lives. We lay on our bunks utterly exhausted, hearing the waves break as they approached and smashed into Wathara attempting to ride over them. Then she was dumped on the rocks with a shuddering jolt that jarred her from keel to masthead. Boulders were ground to pieces under her keel and the noise sent shivers down my spine. The anchors were still dragging.