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. A crescent 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 tropicbirds 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.
Extracted from Whoever Fears the Sea, published by Umuzi.