This story is by Anthony Craxton and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Luke stared blankly out into the cool, damp early morning mist as he pondered the next few days. “This would surely be our last trip”, he thought. “We’ve been dredging these wild shores for over a year now and still nothing to show for it”. Oh yes, they had found some diamonds, but only enough to prolong their agony in this dry and dusty place.
He remembered back to their wild excitement a few years ago when they planned to strike it rich dredging for diamonds off this wild western coast of South Africa. People, they heard, were making a lot of money up there and they dreamed of freedom and travelling the world.
This small harbour town is home to fishermen and a growing number of diamond prospectors. Dusty streets, a pub, a police station and small basic cottages were all there was. Wild seas to the west and desert to the east. A dreary place to exist.
Derek had just finished pumping the last drops of diesel into the tanks that they could afford. “Well, this is it,” he said to Luke. Turning, Luke replied, “OK. Let’s do this”. Casting off the mooring lines, they motored out through the mist and turned their boat up north.
They were the first boat out that day. They wanted an early start. Maybe, they thought, they could find a secluded spot without all the other boats crowding them out. They travelled much further that day than they had before. Three hours motoring brought them to a small bay. It was eerily quiet in the mist. Only the low thumping of their motor and squawks of a few seagulls broke the silence.
The conditions were ideal, and they wondered how many days they would have before the next storm would force them back to harbour. Seldom would they get more than a few days to work.
Dropping anchor, Luke slipped on his wet suit and plunged into the icy sea on an exploratory dive. Derek busied himself on deck preparing the equipment. In minutes, Luke surfaced shouting, “Gravel everywhere Derek! Pass the pipe.”
The gravel flowed all day through the sieves to the vibrating tray revealing sparkling diamonds. Derek could hardly believe the size of the diamonds. This bay had rich deposits, far beyond their wildest expectations. By late morning the mist lifted. Casting his eyes around he saw no other boats. They were alone! Maybe they would have this spot to themselves.
Furiously they pumped for three days before the strengthening wind whipped up waves that almost capsized their boat. Prospecting in the surf zone was dangerous work. By late afternoon the huge waves crashing alongside was too much to bear. Quickly pulling in the pipe and anchors, they sped out into safer waters.
The trip back through the wild seas could not dampen their excitement. They figured that they must have hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of diamonds. Their last trip? Not a chance. They would be back. They had only pumped a fraction of the gravel deposits in that bay.
Docking, and looking around they saw no happy faces. Another poor trip for the others it seemed. Luke and Derek struggled to conceal their excitement. The last thing they wanted was to reveal was their pumping spot.
Well after the other prospectors were firmly settled in the pub, did Luke and Derek take their diamonds to the office to receive payment for their spoils. Sure enough, they received a huge sum that day.
Hardly being able to contain their excitement, they hurried down the to the pub to celebrate in silence.
Luke and Derek spoke quietly among themselves, not trusting that they could keep quiet. But nearby, Koos, being depressed and drinking alone, was close enough to overhear Luke and Derek whispering. As he listened, uninterested at first, he began to notice their subdued excitement. Pretending to be otherwise occupied, he listened more intently. Slowly it dawned on him that they were revealing the location of a very rich deposit. Koos knew that bay. He knew it very well.
Luke and Derek left the pub early fearing that they would say too much. They thought it best to return to Cape Town early the next morning and wait for the seas to subside.
Koos was ecstatic. He needed a change of fortune. He tried to keep his mouth shut, but excitement and alcohol don’t mix well. Soon everyone in the pub knew the news. Even a group of six men sitting alone in the back corner heard the news. Despised by the others, they sat alone. Their boat, the Nautilus, was bigger and better equipped and they respected no one or the unwritten 50-foot pumping clearance law. They were there only to rape and pillage. They acted just like pirates.
Luke and Derek rose early the next morning and sped away back to Cape Town.
The others staggered out of bed much later that morning, heads pounding from the night before. One by one they gazed out over the ocean expecting to see a stormy ocean. But no, the storm had abated overnight, and the seas were calming down. Remembering the talk the night before, they rushed around preparing their boats for a trip north to pump diamonds.
It was not long before the boats were at anchor busy pumping rich gravels. Buoys marked their gravel deposits, and it was turning out to be a fine morning. The excitement was running high among the boats.
But then, on the second day about noon the ‘pirate ship’ was spotted motoring into the bay. “How did they find out about this?” they all muttered. “None of us even spoke to them. How did they find out?” But here they were. With disdain, all eyes were fixed on the Nautilus as it zigzagged dangerously between all the other boats.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. The Nautilus stopped with a lurch and a much smaller boat, Solitaire, just 20 feet away suddenly sprang towards the Nautilus. Nautilus’ spinning propeller had snagged one of Solitaire’s anchor lines. Like a powerful winch, the two boats were rapidly dragged together. The few short seconds that it took to realise what was happening was not long enough for anyone to react. Within seconds, Solitaire’s stern boarding platform smashed into the side of the Nautilus. A large gash along the waterline of the old wooden hull was its undoing. Water rushed into the boat and immediately the stern of the Nautilus began to sink, dragging the Solitaire’s stern down with it. Quick thinking by Allan on Solitaire saved the day. For Solitaire, not the Nautilus. Allan, grabbing a knife, quickly severed the straining anchor line freeing Solitaire from a certain watery death. Within minutes Nautilus’ stern was below water with its bow pointing skyward. No one wanted to help them, but no one wanted to see any deaths either. Being right there, Allan and his brother John helped the six panicked crew members climb aboard the Solitaire to safety.
The other boats milled around to help, but all this happened so fast there was little to do but to back off and watch the Nautilus slip below the surface to its watery grave.
Pumping was over for the day for the Solitaire, so it headed back to port with the sorry crew on board. With no boat, they would surely leave town and never return. They lost a lost of money that day.
After the day’s excitement, Allan and John headed to the pub to calm their nerves. Soon the rest of the prospectors dribbled in. The seas were picking up again, and they had to call it a day. But that was not before they had pumped almost all the gravel in the bay. They all made good money that day.
The atmosphere was boisterous in the pub that night. Much laughter and beer filled the night. And the crew of the Solitaire became the unlikely heroes of the day. They had vanquished the hated pirates. It was a happy night.
Three days had passed, and news of improving weather up north sent them back. It was time for them to pump the remaining deposits before anyone else found out about them.
They arrived late that night, but were up early next morning, long before anyone else. Standing on the deck of their boat, Luke stared out into the mist as he thought about their last trip. That thought it would be their last, but their fortunes had changed. They had found an extremely rich deposit, and they were now going back to claim the rest. Luke thought, “This one last trip and we will realise our dreams”. They were one trip away from freedom. Derek finished filling the tanks and said to Luke, “Well, this is it. Let’s go”. Turning, Luke replied, “OK. Let’s do this”. Casting off the mooring lines, they motored out through the mist and turned their boat up north.