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From Crayfish to Iron
4. "Innocent Fishermen" with KalashnikovsThe 'innocent fishermen' were now armed with their own Kalashnikovs and had adorned themselves with assorted webbing, belts and pouches. It was clear that these were not ordinary fishermen. They were, in fact, coast watchers and were not nearly so friendly as on their earlier visit.
We had no language in common but it was easy to determine that they wanted us to weigh anchor and follow them to Edd, a little town about 15 miles to the north. I began to get really frightened. When I absolutely refused to move (I told them we could not sail because of the damage), they finally left after indicating that they would return tomorrow with officials from Edd. It was very clear that they expected us to remain where we were. We were, in a real sense, prisoners.
Our predicament was serious. It would not take any official long to determine that my boat had come down from their arch enemy, Israel. We were stocked with Israeli foods and some of us had Israeli stamps on our passports. If we became entangled with the Ethiopians after have come to their coast without visas or permission, it might take months before we would be released. There was also the real likelihood of impoundment, or having my boat seized.
But the plight of SailTrader and its crew was much more serious. They too, had come down from Israel but the real problem was the Rob Schaafsma and his family are South Africans. When the Ethiopians figured that out, and they would, there was the very real possibility that while we would be inconvenienced for a month or two, Rob might well disappear.
We were up to our kazoo in alligators. Our euphoria over the ease with which the dismasting had been dealt blew away in the cold wind of realization that we were in much more danger than we had been at sea. Something had to be done.
As soon as the "military" left, we called a council of war and decided that the only chance of escape we would get would be that very night. We hoped that the Ethiopians had bought our story about being unable to move. We had the advantage of no moon. We made our preparations in full knowledge of the risk we were taking. If we were caught, the outcome could be tragic.
Surprise was at the core of our plan, so the sooner we cut and ran the better. Time was the enemy's ally. It would either allow them to bring officials up the next day or mobilize some local assistance to keep us pinned down until someone decided what to do with us. At that point all appeared very quiet. The "fishermen" had disappeared as night began to fall over the little bay.
In order to get away as quickly and quietly as possible I took a line from SailTrader and hauled in my clattery anchor chain. Rob's was hanging on nylon rope so he hand hauled quietly. I could not. We ordered absolute lights out and, as the sun disappeared, I was dismayed to see a light on our sister ship. It was only their compass light, but it was a dead give-away. Out it went and SailTrader, unable to see her compass, now had only her radar to sail by. Rob felt that he would be able to follow us out by radar and thus would not need his compass.
As it happened, his radar played an infinitely more important role in our salvation. We both had VHF and I quickly rigged a deck-level emergency antenna to replace the one lost when the mast came down. We selected an obscure channel and at the moment that full darkness fell, I signalled that I was taking off and that Rob was to follow.
As I pulled out, I glanced back and caught the faintest glimmer of light on the beach. It quickly went out and as I turned to peer ahead into the hazy blackness, I saw an answering pinpoint from seaward. With all our careful plans and hopes, we'd been discovered! The Ethiopians, not trusting our claims of incapacity as I had hoped, had anticipated a run and had a boat out to pen us in.
I called Rob and he said he could see the boat on radar but that it did not seem to be coming our way. He could see nothing following us from shore.
Suddenly the VHF cracked with his shout, "Turn north, turn north". North was the last place I wanted to turn since that put me on course with the light I had seen but I put the wheel hard over and pushed my speed, at Rob's command, up to full.
SailTrader's screen had lit up like a Christmas tree. The Ethiopians had hidden four fast 35-foot fishing vessels behind the headlands of the sheltering islands that we had to pass to get out of the bay. At the signal from shore, all four moved out to join the boat whose light we had seen. They proceeded to effectively screen the mouth of the bay. Not only were we found out. We were trapped.
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