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|Chapter 44: Battle Stations|
Trevor sailed from Al-Quseir just after dawn, bound for the convoy rendezvous at Jabal al-Tair Island. The Talon sailed later that morning. The two catamarans would proceed separately; sailing in formation was too difficult, and there was no purpose to it so far north.
At night, Trevor slept in his beanbag, in fifteen to twenty minute stretches, using radar and GPS to guide him. The winds were favorable, coming mainly from the north by northwest, which made for easier sailing.
On the second day at sea, the winds proved unkind, becoming light and erratic. Trevor left his sails up but engaged the engines, motorsailing at seven knots, making use of the electrical power to run his water maker and washing machine. By the time the sun set, he had fully replenished his water supply, and had done his laundry.
The evening breeze was enough to push Atlantis along at three knots, so Trevor shut down the engines. He was not yet worried about time; he had nearly a week to reach the rendezvous, and knew he could proceed on engines for the entire distance if need be, though at the cost of expensive fuel.
The dawn of the third day came, with Atlantis coasting along under sail at barely three knots. The heat was intense even at that early hour. The sun beat down mercilessly, driving the temperature to over one hundred degrees. The passage down the Red Sea was proving nerve-wracking and brutal; Trevor had to remain in the cockpit, bathed in his own sweat, for almost the entire day, every day.
Beset by the sweltering heat and alone on his boat, Trevor had experimented with clothing, everything from boardies to speedos to nothing at all. What he had settled on was the pair of red running shorts Joel had given him; they were light, cut like jogging shorts, and made of a very light material that didn’t hold his sweat. He’d taken to wearing them day in and day out, rinsing them out in the sink a few times each day.
The days slowly passed, with Trevor keeping carefully to his plotted course, ever wary of ships and the countless reefs and tiny islands scattered throughout the Red Sea.
The ships were the greatest hazard. Several times, at lonely hours in the night, the beeping of the radar’s proximity alarm – which Trevor had set for four miles – woke him, and on two occasions, Trevor had to alter course to avoid collisions with massive commercial ships.
Another dawn came, and a freshening breeze brought a welcome increase in speed. Trevor studied his navigational display, zooming out so that he could see both shores of the Red Sea. He was near the middle of the sea’s current one hundred forty mile width, passing seventy miles due west of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Forty miles inland from it lay Mecca. To Trevor’s west, the desolate mountains and dusty deserts of Sudan lay invisible beyond the empty horizon.
Trevor checked the weather report again, noticing that the wind was forecast to increase, and swing around to come out of the west. He smiled, assuming that meant better sailing conditions. That smile soon turned to a frown, as the weather updated again, and he saw an advisory for possible dust storms in his area.
The winds rose throughout the day, channeling through the Sudanese mountains and whipping across the dry sandy coastal plains, picking up countless tons of dust and sand.
Trevor’s first glimpse of the maelstrom coming at him was of a dark cloud, like a roiling brown fog bank, low on the western horizon, rolling swiftly across the water.
It came nearer, driven by the gusty winds, and Trevor, who had never seen a dust storm, reacted with concern and caution, furling the sails and powering up the engines, in case the onset was violent.
Trevor watched the brown cloudbank approaching, sweeping across the water towards him. He began to smell it; the dry tang of dust lingering in the air, as the sun turned ochre.
The first wisps of dust blew through the rigging, accompanied by thirty-knot gusts. The sky darkened as the dust shut out the sun, suffusing Atlantis in an eerie red glow. Trevor grabbed a towel and breathed though it, blinking against the driving dust.
With Atlantis on engines, Trevor could easily con her from the nav desk helm station in the salon, so he dashed inside, shutting the salon door behind him, and then closing the vents.
Trevor started the air conditioner, savoring the cool air as he stared out the main windows, at the baleful reddish glow. After twenty minutes, the dust storm thinned somewhat, and Trevor increased speed to six knots, motoring through the dusty onslaught. An hour become two, then more, and day turned to night. The dust storm’s unrelenting assault continued, gradually abating through the following day.
When the skies finally cleared, Trevor hoisted his sails, disengaged the engines, and spent the afternoon hosing Atlantis down with seawater, trying to get rid of the cloying fine red dust that had coated nearly every external surface.
For the next several days, Trevor battled inconstant winds, treacherous waters, and frequent shipping. Then, at last, the slow crawl down the Red Sea was nearing an end, marked by the graceful cone of Jabal al-Tair Island peeking over the southern horizon, glowing in the pale moonlight. Trevor had reached the convoy rendezvous point, with a day to spare.
As the light of dawn lit the island in a rosy glow, Trevor anchored off the southern coast, in the agreed-upon rendezvous. Talon was already there, as were Thaddeus, Yarborough, and a dozen other yachts of all shapes and sizes.
Safely at anchor, Trevor headed for his cabin, where he slept soundly for ten hours; the first solid sleep he’d had since leaving Egypt.
That afternoon, Trevor pulled on a shirt and took his Zodiac to the Thaddeus, to check in and catch up on any news. He tied up at the stern and clambered up the stairs, finding the massive yacht oddly quiet.
Trevor walked forward on the starboard main deck, wondering where everyone was. As he passed the front of the main superstructure and emerged onto the foredeck, Trevor’s eye caught movement, and he looked to his side to see one of the crew swabbing the teak foredeck. The crewman was shirtless; his stunning looks accented with sun-streaked brown hair. Trevor’s gaze froze on the alluring sight of muscles flexing in the sun, as Trevor walked directly into a forestay, bouncing off the heavy cable and coming to rest in a heap on the deck, his sunglasses skittering away in the direction of the shirtless crewman, who turned towards the racket.
“Hey, are you okay?” the crewman asked, jogging over to offer Trevor a hand up.
“Uh, yeah, I think so,” Trevor replied awkwardly, as he was hauled to his feet, trying not to stare at the bare chest in front of him.
The crewman retrieved Trevor’s sunglasses and handed them to him. “What happened; did you trip?”
Trevor looked at the forestay and shrugged, remembering how Julie used to tease him about walking into bulkheads whenever a hot guy was around. “I was just daydreaming, and the next thing I know, I’m in a heap on the deck,” Trevor said, smoothing his hair back into place.
“I’ve done that a few times. It happens, man. There’s a lot of things to trip on aboard this boat. My name’s Craig, by the way,” the crewman said, leaning back against the rail.
Trevor slipped his sunglasses on, so he could enjoy the view unobserved. Concentrating on keeping his voice casual, and hoping he didn’t make a fool of himself again, Trevor said, “I’m Trev. I was looking for Eric, to see if there’s anything new about the convoy.”
“Oh, he’ll be around sooner or later; the boss is a late sleeper, rarely up before noon unless he has reason to be.”
Trevor nodded, glancing around. “It’s a big boat, must take a lot of work to keep it in shape.”
Craig chuckled. “Yeah, but that, as he’ll tell you himself, is what a crew is for. There’s six of us, and Mr. Rotide keeps us busy, but he’s a pretty decent boss in a lot of ways, and the pay is good.”
Trevor nodded, again enjoying his close-up view of Craig’s bare, tan, sweating torso. “It looks like a great place to live and work, and at least he lets you work shirtless,” Trevor said, giving himself a mental kick as soon as the words had escaped his mouth.
Craig laughed, patting his bare abs. “Let? He damn well insists. Let me clue you into something... Every member of this crew is handpicked by Mr. Rotide, and is young, male, and good looking. It’s no secret which way Mr. Rotide rolls. A few of the other crewmen... let’s just say they get some big cash bonuses that I don’t. Me, I’ve got a girl at home, or I hope I do when we get back, but that puts me in the minority on this ship.”
Trevor blinked in surprise. “Wow, that’s different...” Trevor let his voice trail off, having no idea what to say next.
“I better get back to work, the boss will be up soon. See ya around, Trev,” Craig said, snatching up his mop and returning to his task.
Trevor turned to head astern, looking over his shoulder at Craig’s back, thinking, ‘Why the hell do I have to make a clumsy awkward ass of myself every time I see a hot guy?’ Trevor, his eyes still on Craig, had no sooner finished that thought than he walked headlong into Eric Rotide.
“Whoa there Trev, my invisibility lessons must be paying off,” Eric said with a chuckle, as he disentangled himself from Trevor.
“Sorry,” Trevor replied, wondering if he could be any more embarrassed. He was soon to learn that he could.
Eric glanced forward, where he’d seen Trevor looking, and grinned. “There’s some good scenery around here, which can be pretty distracting.”
Feeling his cheeks burn, Trevor replied quietly, “Yeah, and I guess I get distracted easy.”
Eric gave Trevor a hearty laugh. “Either that, or you’re light headed from lack of food. I remember how you ate in Suez, and I think we’ve got enough vittles aboard to feed you a good meal.”
Trevor followed Eric to the dining room, as a few other yachters began to arrive for lunch and a planning session convened by Eric. The lunch was sumptuous, as Trevor had been anticipating, and the conversation lively. The first piece of news was that the Thaddeus had remained at the Suez Canal Yacht Club for two days so Eric could recruit more yachts for the convoy, and was expecting as many as twenty-seven.
After finishing his dessert, Eric held up his nearly empty crystal wine goblet and tapped it twice with a silver butter knife, calling for attention. “I’ve been checking the warnings, and they advise against using VHF or single-sideband anywhere in the pirate areas; the pirates apparently listen in and can home in on the signals. Satellite phones are one option. Are we all equipped with them?”
Trevor was relieved to discover that he was not alone; eight other yachts reported a lack of satellite phones, a development which caused Eric to scowl.
A heated discussion followed, and the phoneless yachts were detailed to communicate via signal flags and lights, and resort to VHF only in an emergency.
The convoy would be effectively limited to the speed of its slowest member, roughly six knots. Trevor winced as he realized that meant he’d be in tight formation for at least eight days.
Jan was the one to raise the issue. “We have at least three yachts that are singlehanding. There’s just no way a solo sailor can stay awake for eight days, or stay in tight formation while asleep, even for twenty-minute stretches.” It was an objection that had been made before, but no decision had been reached. One option – bringing the convoy to a halt for several hours each day – had been flatly rejected as too risky.
Trevor looked around the room before standing up, feeling slightly ill at ease. “I think there is a way this can be done. If the yachts that are singlehanding follow tracks parallel to the convoy track, but separated from the convoy and each other by half a mile, our autopilots could keep us roughly on station, at least close enough for a fast form-up of the convoy in case of trouble. We’d sleep in fifteen to twenty minute stretches during daylight, and resume our place in the tight convoy formation at night.”
Trevor’s comments sparked a heated debate, but in the end, though his plan had flaws, it remained the least-bad option and was adopted.
The next day, Trevor joined the yachters for a spectacular breakfast aboard Thaddeus, and as he was leaving, Trevor caught sight of Craig, working shirtless in the rigging, who gave him a friendly wave.
The yachts rode at anchor as the convoy slowly assembled. A few that had signed up had run into delays, but a total of twenty-four yachts, with a combined compliment of sixty-two people, would form the convoy.
Eric was firmly in charge, and decreed that Thaddeus would operate under the call sign of ‘alpha’, with himself as alpha-one. For the sake of simplicity, he also decided that the other yachts would operate under their own names, and opined that it wouldn’t really matter due to the radio silence they would be observing. Many of the yachters noted the contradictions inherent in Eric’s statement, but none thought the issue worth arguing.
On departure day, they joined for a sumptuous breakfast aboard Thaddeus, and in a melee of confusion, attempted to raise anchor and get underway. To everyone’s consternation, it took over an hour for the convoy to achieve some semblance of a tight formation.
Eric’s plan was fairly simple. The rifle-armed yachts would take station on an outer ring, with Atlantis and others that carried only shotguns and pistols closer in. In the center would be the unarmed yachts. Taking the lead position was Thaddeus, which would also act as the communication center in case of emergency.
The plan was a good one; rifles outrange automatic weapons – the pirates were most commonly armed with AK-47s – and so the rifles could engage first, targeting the pirates’ crew and engines.
The idea was mutual defense; the pirates would most often attack in skiffs, and against a formation of rifle-armed yachts, they would stand little to no chance. Any that did succeed in entering the convoy formation would be dealt with via shotgun and pistol fire.
One problem they discussed was when to open fire. They would, they knew, be encountering many fishing boats, often visually indistinguishable from pirate vessels. The agreed threshold had been decided upon after considerable debate; hold fire unless the suspected pirates brandished weapons or attacked.
Trevor retrieved his revolver and ammo boxes from his secret compartment, feeling as though he was taking Atlantis into battle. He hoped that would not be the case, but he felt confident that the massed gunfire of the convoy could handily defeat any pirate attack.
Another thought brought Trevor further solace; the fact that the overwhelming majority of ships and boats passing through the pirate waters transited uneventfully.
Joel’s research had shown that the best university in Florida for underwater archeology resources was Florida State University. The appointment was on Wednesday, when Lisa and Joel were supposed to be in school, but they both wanted to go. Figuring that forgiveness was easier than permission, they met at Bridget’s guesthouse before school, and took Joel’s car for the five-hour drive to Tallahassee, in the Florida panhandle.
They arrived well ahead of their early afternoon meeting in the administration building, so they took a walk through the campus. As they walked, hand in hand, Joel asked softly, “What do you think about this as a place for us to go to college?”
Lisa looked around and smiled, more at the fact that Joel had said ‘us’ than the university. “I’ll be happy if we’re together,” Lisa said, giving Joel’s hand a squeeze.
Their meeting was with a nautical archeologist, Professor Garfinkle. All he’d agreed to do was listen, and Joel felt nervous as they entered the professor’s office.
As soon as they were all seated, Joel launched into his spiel, quickly describing the loss of the Ares, the reported area, and how no known trace had ever been found. He also began to describe Trevor’s search methods.
Professor Garfinkle listened attentively, and interrupted Joel to mention, “I’m familiar with the back-story of that wreck. As you may imagine, I follow shipwreck news very closely. It’s an intriguing case. The area is easily accessible, but trying to search visually, as your friend is doing, is difficult at best. Do you happen to know what the hull is made of?”
“It would be the same as Trevor’s boat, Atlantis; fiberglass reinforced with Kevlar,” Joel said, leaning over, phone in hand, to show the professor a few photos of Atlantis.
Professor Garfinkle nodded, deep in thought. “That’s a tricky target for sonar, but the reason I agreed to meet with you is that I’m developing a towed synthetic aperture sidescan sonar. The towed unit looks a bit like a torpedo with stubby wings, and is depth-selectable. Now, you mentioned that your friend was offering his boat as the research platform, and it’s equipped as a luxury dive boat. That’s a good deal more attractive to me than the fishing trawler I’d likely be stuck with, but I need to know if your friend’s boat can handle the task. It would need a navigation system capable of following a preset grid pattern, and have power winches capable of hauling five hundred pounds out of the water, and be able to tow the transceiver at speeds up to eleven knots.”
“The nav system can handle that, and Atlantis has electric winches at the aft transom rail for raising and lowering the Zodiac skiff on its davits. They can do that with people in it, so I think they could hoist your sonar. I’m not sure if Atlantis would tow it that fast; she can do fifteen knots on engines, and faster under sail, but I don’t know what she’d do with that much drag,” Joel said, hoping that it would be enough.
Professor Garfinkle smiled. “That would do nicely; my unit won’t have a great deal of drag, so it, plus my heavy gear aboard, would only knock two to three knots off Atlantis’ top speed. Now, as for the wreck itself: if she’s anywhere in the area you mentioned, she’s likely on a sandy bottom, and there have been hurricanes in the area since she went down. Therefore, she may be covered in sand. I think my system could find her, and it would be a good demonstration of its capabilities. The aspect of solving a mystery would also be good publicity–”
Lisa jumped into the conversation to mention, “It’s also part of an ongoing murder investigation. Trevor’s father is suspected of sinking Ares to kill Trev’s mother. The case is still open and active, and finding Ares could settle the case, one way or the other.”
Professor Garfinkle’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and then his expression slowly changed as he smiled broadly. “I had no idea the case was still active... that makes this better from my point of view. Not quite good enough though... would your friend be willing to offer the services of himself and his boat for three weeks, and not just for the search for Ares? I’d like to try finding some missing aircraft if we find Ares quickly, as I expect we will.”
Joel nodded eagerly. “He would. Uh, how soon would you need him back in Florida? He’s in Egypt right now.”
Professor Garfinkle scratched his head. “You mentioned next spring when you called, which is what I’m still looking at. I should be ready for some test runs in February, but that will be on the Gulf Coast, and the aforementioned fishing trawler, stench and all, is booked for that. No sooner than March, but I’d say April, as the weather should be calmer, though it could be as late as summer, depending on how the final checkouts go. Make sure you, or he, gets in touch with me in December, I’ll know more on the technical side then.”
Joel’s grin mirrored Lisa’s. “That would be perfect. Thanks, professor,” Joel said, getting up and shaking the professor’s hand.
The long and grueling days passed, as the convoy, struggling to remain in some semblance of formation, proceeded south for two hundred miles, to the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, and turned east by northeast, staying on the Yemeni side of the Gulf of Aden.
The convoy’s track was thirty miles off the coast of Yemen, which kept the Somali coast over a hundred miles to the south. This was the area of greatest danger, and they sailed blacked out at night, no lights showing, with their radars and AIS transponders remaining off.
It was nerve-wracking for Trevor, made worse by his lack of sleep. The catnaps he was able to snatch during the sweltering days were simply not enough, and he fought fatigue along with variable winds and the challenge of holding place in a formation.
One afternoon, while Atlantis was half a mile south of the convoy, Trevor was sweeping the horizon with his binoculars when he noticed a speck on the horizon. It was to the south – the direction of Somalia.
Trevor wasn’t the only one to have seen it; so had the lookout high in the rigging on Thaddeus, and then one of the crew had confirmed it with Thaddeus’s bridge mounted telescope. Using a signal light, they flashed a warning to Atlantis, and received the acknowledging flash of Trevor’s flashlight in return. Following the plan, the crew of Thaddeus began making rapid phone calls to the other yachts, as well as flashing a danger-alert message via signal lights. The sound of engines starting rumbled across the sea, as the yachts powered up in preparation for possible emergency maneuvers.
By now, Trevor could see the intruder as a dot on the horizon with his unaided eyes. He raised his binoculars again, focusing until he could discern the narrow prow of a dark wooden boat, heading in his – and the convoy’s – direction.
Atlantis was the closest yacht to the approaching boat, so Trevor altered course to port, angling in towards the convoy, seeking its safety as the unknown vessel closed to five miles, making straight for the convoy.
Unfurling the mainsail fully, Trevor engaged the engines but left them idling. Atlantis accelerated to twelve knots, closing the gap between herself and the main body of the convoy, which was already tightening formation and preparing for defense.
Trevor withdrew his gun from the helm map pocket, checking that it was loaded and the safety was off. He kept looking at the approaching boat, which was boring in directly at Atlantis in spite of Atlantis’s change of course.
A check of the nav screen confirmed that Trevor would reach the convoy’s main body well before he was intercepted, so he turned his attention to studying the oncoming boat, which still had its prow pointed squarely at Atlantis, just two miles south of her.
Trevor had already picked out firing positions in his cockpit; places he felt would offer him some cover from which to fight, which left him little to do but watch and worry as the onrushing boat closed the gap.
Atlantis reached the convoy’s outer ring, ducking inside per the plan to have the rifle-armed yachts for the outer perimeter. The yachts forming that side were sailing in line, a hundred yards apart, and Trevor matched course, slowing to the convoy’s speed of six knots.
Trevor gripped his gun tightly as the approaching boat tracked Atlantis’s maneuver, keeping her bow-on, and kept boring in. The mystery boat was now a half mile from Atlantis, on a course that would take it between two of the rifle-armed yachts.
Glancing to starboard, Trevor saw the Thaddeus on a course that would take her close across Atlantis’s stern. Her lookouts had seen that the approaching boat was coming straight at Atlantis, and had altered course in order to bring her firepower to bear.
On the deck of the Thaddeus, Eric and five of his crew took their firing positions, each armed with handguns and scoped 30-06 bolt-action rifles, which they made no effort to conceal. Two of the crew also had pump-action shotguns.
The approaching boat held course, coming to within a hundred yards of Atlantis and passing her bows close in, and Trevor got his first good look at the Somali boat. It was thirty feet long with a wood hull, but very narrow, powered by a single outboard engine. The small deckhouse and the hull looked ancient, but not as ancient as the lone occupant who sat at the outboard. To Trevor, he looked to be around ninety: frail and wizened.
Trevor couldn’t see in the deckhouse, which he knew could hide several armed men, but the old man himself appeared unarmed. Trevor tensed as the Somali boat passed down his port side, turned tightly, and crossed his stern between Atlantis and Thaddeus.
The Somali boat held course, heading directly away from Thaddeus and Atlantis, heading for the nearest of the rifle-armed yachts, the Yarborough, pulling in close astern and matching course. The old man began waving at the crew of Yarborough, then made a drinking motion.
On the Thaddeus, the lookout got a view into the Somali’s deckhouse as the aspect changed, and called out on a megaphone to the Yarborough, “He appears to be alone and unarmed.” Trevor heard that and began to relax a little.
After acquiring a few bottles of water from Yarborough’s crew – who now wore their rifles casually slung over their shoulders – the Somali boat turned sharply, heading straight for Atlantis, passing between her and Thaddeus, and then turned again, matching course and speed with Atlantis, closing to thirty feet of her port stern quarter.
The old man began waving at Trevor, and then made a drinking motion.
Thaddeus kept guard on Atlantis as the Somali boat closed, coming almost alongside, and Trevor tossed over a few bottles of water, and then the last of his cigarettes.
The old man gave Trevor a friendly wave, and the Somali boat roared off towards the next yacht ahead, where he mimed similar requests. Trevor kept a close eye on the intruding boat, relaxed, but keeping his gun at his side.
Aboard Thaddeus, the radio scanner picked up a rapid-fire stream of Arabic words from the small boat, and a few more-distant and brief replies. The young man who acted as Thaddeus’s captain at sea guessed correctly; the small boat was playing the role of scout. Moments later, Thaddeus raised a single flag on her signal hoist, the letter ‘B’, the agreed-upon code for ‘battle stations, attack likely’
Trevor saw the signal flag hoist and tensed. He glanced back at Thaddeus, which was just fifty feet off his starboard beam. Craig came to the rail and yelled the news to Trevor, who gritted his teeth and gave an acknowledging wave in return.
Aboard the pirate mothership – a large fishing trawler – fourteen miles to the south and out of the convoy’s visual range, the captain frowned: the old man who served as his scout had reported seeing many guns and prepared ships. The four skiffs and twenty armed men the mothership could muster, its captain decided, stood little or no chance against that many armed boats evidently willing and able to put up a hard fight. The goal of the pirates was loot and ransom, not fighting losing battles, so he much preferred prey that did not fight back. He radioed his intentions to his scout, and then altered course to the west, in search of easier pickings.
The convoy held formation, on alert for long after the old man had sailed away to the west. The night that followed was a tense one, with many an eye glued to flickering radar screens, as the convoy sailed on without running lights.
The next day, variable inconstant winds slowed the convoy, causing many yachters to chafe at being held up by the slowest yachts, but the convoy held together, continuing along the Yemeni coast until the town of Balhaf was thirty miles off their port beams. They altered course to due east, on a direct course for the scatter point east of Socotra.
The tension began to ease on the ninth day of the convoy, as they passed a hundred miles north of Cape Guardafui – the tip of the horn of Africa. From that point forward, they knew, they would be increasing their distance from Somalia with every passing mile.
In the early afternoon of the tenth day, Trevor spotted the mountains of the Yemeni island of Socotra, twenty miles to his south. Thinking the attempt was likely futile, he flipped open his cell phone, and to his surprise, found that he had a weak but usable signal. He dialed Joel’s number, and as soon as Joel answered, Trevor said, “Hey, it’s me, and we might lose the connection any second. I’m past Somalia, just north of Socotra, in the Indian Ocean. I’ve got about another two hundred miles to go until the convoy reaches its scatter point, but we’re past the danger area now.”
“Wow, that’s good news, Trev. I’m at home, just getting ready for school... I’ve been looking at a lot of maps, and Lisa and I have been worried sick, thinking of you being chased by pirates. Are you still heading for the Seychelles?”
“Yeah, but don’t forget, it’s another twelve hundred miles from the scatter point, and I’ll be limited to about four knots due to the debris problem. There’s also the doldrums, so I might get becalmed. I’m looking at about two weeks until I get there, maybe three, but I’ll switch to engines if it’ll be much longer than that, so I guess I’ll be talking to you in a few weeks.”
“That’s a long time... take care of yourself out there, man. Be safe, okay?” Joel said, and Trevor could hear the concern in his voice.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, thanks–”
Joel could hear the static increasing, so he blurted out, “Trev, I’ve got good news; looks like we’re a go for the Ares search when you get back–” The call dropped, cutting Joel off, but Trevor was already grinning broadly at the news. Trevor tried the call again, but could not get a signal.
In Florida, Joel’s school schedule that day meant he had almost no time to talk to Lisa, so aside from a fast mention that he was safely past Somalia, he waited until they were in the assumed privacy of Bridget’s guesthouse after school to tell Lisa about the call in detail, lamenting, “I wish I knew whether he heard the good news about the Ares search before the line went dead.”
“I hope he did, but he’ll be calling from the Seychelles in a few weeks, and it’s not like the search will be soon,” Lisa said consolingly, pulling Joel into a hug.
Later that same day, Bridget and George reviewed the new tapes. “Well, Joel is still working on looking for Ares. From what we’ve been hearing about the marine archeology matter, it appears that the actual search will not occur until Trevor’s return, though the caveat to that is that Joel has mentioned, in a conversation with Lisa, that he has sworn to find Ares ‘no matter what.’. The only safe assumption that we can make is that when Trevor dies, Joel would use the insurance money to launch the search on Trevor’s behalf. Therefore, though the threat is less imminent, he is still a deadly danger to us from a long term view.”
George thought for a few moments before replying, “Given what you think is aboard Ares in addition to that list of your assets, I think ‘deadly danger to us’ counts as an understatement. However... no matter how careful we are, there’s always a small risk that framing him could backfire in some way. We sure as hell don’t want any official suspicion regarding drugs focused in our direction, and he and Lisa are in the guesthouse a lot, which could be enough to get a few cops curious. So, as long as we have a way of keeping tabs on what Joel is up to, why don’t we wait until the murder investigation into you dies with Trevor. Then, you can take away Lisa and Joel’s guesthouse privileges and keep them at arm’s length for a while. We’ll get the coke ready just in case he goes ahead with the search, but let’s hold off on taking Joel out of play for a few weeks.”
Bridget drummed her fingers on her desk, and after several long seconds, nodded once. “I think you’re right. There’s also the known fact that money changes people, so perhaps, once he has the insurance money, greed will cause him to abandon his search plans. I earnestly hope that is the case; he’s a very personable and handsome young man, and Lisa utterly adores him. It would be a shame to ruin his life to no good purpose.”
“Do you think there’s much chance that, if we take Joel out, Lisa would take on the search?” George asked.
Bridget frowned as she considered that possibility. “I am unsure... but now that you mention it, I would have to say that she well might. She’s headstrong and I fear she’d believe Joel’s innocence, and embark on a crusade to prove it. She could very well become an ongoing problem, and I suppose she might also, out of loyalty, continue the search for Ares as well. I suppose it is best to be cautious... how difficult would it be to arrange for Lisa to share Joel’s charges?”
George smiled coldly. “Not hard at all. If the package has both of their DNA and fingerprints on it, plus an arranged anonymous tip or two to give me and a few other officers the excuse to pull them over and bust them red-handed, they’ll both be going away for fifteen to twenty, minimum.”
Bridget nodded once, showing resolve. “Then I suppose Joel has both of their lives in his hands. I hope he’ll abandon his search plans, but if not, we’ll carry through and put them both away.”
Two hundred miles east of Socotra, the convoy reached its designated scatter point. With a flurry of radio calls and farewells, the boats began breaking formation, heading off to their various destinations to the north, east, and south.
Trevor stood on the afterdeck, waving as the Thaddeus made the turn northward with reverent grace, and billowing sails. He caught one last glance of several of her crew, including Craig, shirtless at the rail, waving in farewell.
A few hundred yards away, Trevor saw the Talon, heading east for the Maldives, speeding away.
Atlantis and five monohull yachts peeled away to a southbound course, but the days of formation sailing had taken their toll in worn nerves.
With Somalia nearly five hundred miles to his west, and knowing that the distance would grow with every passing day, Trevor felt safe enough to bid farewell to the other southbound yachts.
On her reach across the trade winds, Atlantis proved her advantages over monohull yachts. A catamaran can sail closer to the wind than a monohull, and achieve high speed while doing so. Sailing on a close reach within forty degrees of the wind coming out of the southwest, taking advantage of his catamaran’s far greater ability, he left his monohull companions behind at ten knots, relishing the rush of speed after the slow crawl of the convoy.
Trevor knew he was taking a chance with tsunami debris, but rationalized that they were mainly a problem in the eastern Indian Ocean and the Indian Ocean Gyre, far from his current position. After a few hours, he reduced speed to eight knots. Over the next five days, Trevor held that pace only during daylight hours, partially furling his sails to reduce speed to five knots at night.
Four hundred miles north of the Seychelles, the wind began to lighten and shift, becoming variable and inconstant. Trevor soon found himself becalmed, in what his weather plot reported was an area between two wind zones; the northeast trades, which he was leaving, and a southerly band of winds currently south and east of the Seychelles.
Trevor’s becalming there was no surprise to him; near the equator, some areas of the world’s oceans are prone to light or no winds, often for weeks at a time. This is due to the equatorial low, caused by hot air rising over the equator. These regions are referred to as the Doldrums. He had expected it. Seeing that the forecast predicted little to no wind in his area for at least several days but did include a warning for potential squalls, he settled in to await the return of the wind.
The sea was glassy calm, and the heat stifling. With Atlantis motionless, Trevor furled the sails, shed his safety harness and his shorts, and then breaking into a run and cannonballing off the stern for a quick swim in the placid waters. As soon as he surfaced, barely twenty feet from Atlantis, he felt a rush of fear. Even though Atlantis could not move away, Trevor was still affected by his fall overboard in the Atlantic. Being left behind to die at sea was now one of Trevor’s deepest fears, and he broke into a fast freestyle crawl, racing back to his boat.
One day became two, and then more. Trevor filled the time doing maintenance, and then reading and watching movies. Occasionally, a slight breeze, a little more than a draft, would develop in the afternoons, and Trevor was able to garner a knot or two of speed. On most days, he managed less than ten miles. His nav station informed him that Atlantis, while apparently motionless, was still doing about one knot, due to the eastbound north equatorial current.
Often, Trevor saw towering cumulonimbus clouds – thunderstorms – partially obscured by the horizon, rising angrily in the afternoons. At night, he sometimes saw the distant flicker of lightening.
Bored and lonely, Trevor resumed writing his journal;
I’m becalmed, stuck in the doldrums in more ways than one. I’d heard how depressing it can be, but I didn’t comprehend it until it happened to me.
I’m currently 39 miles north of the equator. When I was first becalmed, days ago, I was seven miles further north. That’s a couple of miles a day. I’m sick of not moving and seeing just the same empty horizon, day after day. Except it isn’t really empty all the time; I’ve seen a few big commercial ships and supertankers. I guess they’re doing the same as me: giving Somalia a wide berth. I’m 741 miles east of Mogadishu, which I hope is far enough.
I’m getting tight on time. I’d like to leave Rodregues around November 1st, and it’s 1300 miles from here. I can do that easy at four knots, but not if I stay here much longer.
In the early afternoon of his sixth day in the doldrums, the sky over Atlantis turned dark and threatening, but the wind was still absent. A sudden blue flash, followed a second later by a shattering crack of thunder, broke the silence. ‘Oh fuck, that was close,’ Trevor thought, still hearing the subsiding echoes of the thunderclap. He knew that lighting was a danger to Atlantis; her metal mast was a prime target on the open sea, and a lightning strike would fry his electronics, along with possibly starting a fire.
Trevor fired up the engines and motored south at fifteen knots, until he judged that he was far enough away from the lightning, which was now playing every few seconds, miles astern. He checked the weather plot again, and seeing no change in the forecast, he made a decision, thinking, ‘I’m sick of being becalmed, and there could be more thunderstorms.’
On engines, he motored south at four knots. He did not like using costly fuel, but preferred it to drifting aimlessly for what could be weeks, in an area prone to severe squalls.
Just before midnight, Trevor was staring intently at his navigational display, watching as his latitude ticked down to all zeros. Then, in an instant he’d been waiting for, the latitude changed from north to south, signaling that he’d just crossed the equator. Trevor let out a whoop, and cracked open his last bag of tortilla chips, which he’d been saving for the occasion. It wasn’t exactly a traditional line-crossing ceremony, but Trevor was thrilled; for the first time in his life, he’d crossed the equator.
The Seychelles were just over three hundred miles away, which at four knots would take three days. At that speed, Atlantis had a range on engines of over fifteen hundred miles, so Trevor was content to motor all the way to the Seychelles if he had to.
In Egypt, the bombing investigation was beginning to make headway. The fragments of the satellite phone had yielded a partial serial number, which led the investigators to its Egyptian cellular account. That account, which proved untraceable regarding ownership, contained the phone’s internal chip ID, which allowed the manufacturer to trace the unit as far as a distributor in Miami, Florida. That distributor would be contacted, but there would be a delay due to it being nighttime in Florida.
The cellular account itself was yielding data in the form of call logs. Several were from Egyptian numbers belonging to pay phones or prepaid cell phones, but two showed an international origin, from Ft. Pierce, Florida. George’s call had in fact gone to a default voicemail for the account, and when he’d keyed in the detonation code, the tones had been recorded.
The shores and surface of Lake Timsah had been thoroughly searched, yielding a wide variety of flotsam and jetsam: garbage, lost buoys, children’s toys, and other odds and ends. Amongst them was a life jacket, which had the word ‘Atlantis’ written on a strap with a marker. There was also a full propane tank. Everything was collected, tagged, and stored for the investigators.
The bomb’s remains had generated some interest; few of the tank pieces were larger than a postage stamp, but the technicians had already determined that a propane tank had housed the bomb, and that the propane tank’s threaded coupling was an American gauge.
The records of the investigation were kept electronically, allowing the investigators to search the entire record. The name on the life jacket sparked enough interest for an investigator to check the digital files for that name, which led to both the interview with Trevor in Suez, and Colonel el-Masri’s note about Officer Gonzalez’s inquiry.
Coincidence is not beloved by police officers, and in this case they had several, all pointing to Atlantis as being in some way involved. The strongest was that Trevor had reported propane tanks amongst the stolen items, and two crewmembers of the stricken freighter had noticed a pilot boat discarding objects of some kind into the water. Trevor’s statement to the investigators, along with the report the Ismailia officer had filed, both mentioned a pilot boat.
Two leading theories developed; one was that Atlantis had been knowingly transporting bombs and one had been stolen, but this was contradicted to a degree by the police report of Trevor mentioning the propane tanks, which, they reasoned, he’d be unlikely to do if he’d known that one was a bomb. The other, stronger theory was that the bomb had been intended for Atlantis and then stolen.
Colonel el-Masri was informed of the developments, and was asked to get in touch with Officer Gonzalez.
© 2010 C James
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Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading.
Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to
Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and