By Godfrey Wray
AS they rounded the last bend before reaching the river, former Army Officer Benson held back. Moored to the derelict wharf were two contrasting vessels: One a weather-beaten trawler, appropriately named The Wreck, and the other a sleek beauty with the lines of a small yacht. Classy Lady was her name.“Wow! That fancy boat must have set you back a substantial piece?”
“Gotcha! That’s no ordinary boat. It’s a submarine.”
“What! C’mon, man, don’t joke! All ‘subs’ have an oval shape.”
“Not this one. This has a completely new design. Let’s go aboard; you’ll see for yourself.”
“What about the trawler?”
“Don’t let appearances fool you; that’s a super-fast naval vessel rigged to look like its purpose is to trawl. It’s our means of traversing the rivers and getting the trainees to the next point.
“But we’ll make it appear as if it needs repairs, so it can remain close by, here and at Bartica, until we abandon this camp. There are ten Central and South American recruits aboard. When it gets dark, they can help your boys unload the equipment and food items you requested.”
The last rays of sunshine were etched across the horizon. Benson could not resist a naughty thought. ‘Is this the last light I’ll ever see?’
They were getting ready for a dry run, one that, if successful, could change the course of smuggling from South America, Latin America and the Caribbean into North America and Europe.
He was uneasy; he was never fond of travelling on water for long periods. Now his dislike was compounded, for he was about to embark on an underwater odyssey expected to last at least an hour, according to Hassan. The irony of an underwater dry run was not lost on him. A mini-submarine, for Christ’s sake!
No matter they called it a deepwater submersible, and touted its many safety features, his stomach was already beginning to feel queasy. But Hassan, sitting to his left in front of an elaborate digital dashboard, was all cheer.
“Don’t panic, ‘Bro’, this is a cakewalk. I promise that by the time we return, you will be a convert, looking forward to the next run.”
Benson looked askance at his young partner, his gaze expressing extreme doubt.
Hassan’s enthusiasm knew no bounds. His voice sounded loud in the confined space.
“Here we go for the ride of your life. You’ll remember this forever.”
The distinctive gurgling of water flooding ballast tanks could be heard above all else. Soon, the river inched higher on the transparent acrylic pressure hulls, and to Benson’s perplexed mind, it appeared that the murky waters were beckoning them like an open tomb.
Benson felt light-headed. He stared rigidly ahead, as thoughts of the vast emptiness of an endless abyss conspired to paralyze his brain cells. Conversation was a no-no.
Hassan, in the meantime, flicked switches, turned knobs, and pulled levers, the consummate undersea captain on a fact-finding mission.
Benson couldn’t bear the strain. He stammered, “Where did you learn to do this?”
This was the signal that Benson had overcome his first fears, and Hassan eagerly began to explain the mechanics of the sub’s buoyancy and other attendant details.
“This is a SeaMarine 1500. It can carry up to a dozen passengers. With the seats removed, a half-ton of any kind of contraband is a manageable cargo. It can operate at a maximum depth of four hundred meters, with a cruising speed of eight knots an hour. Surface speed is double that. It can operate submerged for more than 24 hours, and its range is almost a hundred nautical miles.
“As you can see, the craft is a state-of-the-art submersible, offering panoramic viewing, contemporary styling, hydrodynamic efficiency, extraordinary range, and superb manoeuverability. By the way, it was originally fitted with a 15KW electric motor, but we added a 50KW diesel engine to drastically increase surface range and speed.”
Benson knew to whom Hassan was referring when he spoke of ‘we’, but he was puzzled as to where this engine-attachment exercise had actually taken place.
“You didn’t answer my first question,” he said, somewhat peevishly.
WILL TO SUCCEED
Hassan smiled like a mischievous schoolboy relishing ill-gotten gains. “Guess I didn’t. But since we are brothers, here goes. I did dives in these small submarines for three months in remote Guyana waters until I became the best navigator among a group of more than 50 trainees. The cocaine bosses out of Colombia and Venezuela are going hi-tech to beat the surveillance of the U.S. Coast Guard. They have the money and the will to succeed.
“As for me, I’ve grown to love the peace and quiet these subs can provide. You’re a loner like me; that’s why I damn well know you’ll feel the same way I do when I’m down there.”
Benson noted the expletive with mild surprise. Hassan never swore. He had obviously slipped that in for reassurance and effect.
The Arab was now cranking up. “This sub will be officially introduced to the authorities, ostensibly to help boost Guyana’s tourism drive. Last year, passenger submarines carried over two million customers, and enjoyed US$150M in revenue. Which poor country won’t want a piece of that global pie?”
Benson knew an answer was unnecessary to the rhetorical question, so he waited for his partner to continue.
“The profit potential of a tourist submarine operating business is unlimited, and will be eagerly embraced. But the real objective is for the ‘sub’ to make regular clandestine runs to deliver consigned cargo to mother ships in mid-Atlantic. The Americans usually work along with the local customs and narcotics boys; so, once a ship gets port clearance, it is usually smooth sailing thereafter.”
“Who’s going to handle this ‘sub’?”
“I have two radical cousins right here in Guyana, ready to join the cause. They are cane-cutters during the day, and river smugglers at nights. Tomorrow, we make contact in an unusual way.”
“What! You’re from the Middle East! How could you have relatives in this country?”
“Long story; but I’ll make it short another day.”
All of Benson’s underwater fears had evaporated.
Hassan pointed this out to him. “See what I told you? You are as comfortable as I am. But it’s time to head back to port.”
Benson had been paying keen attention to what Hassan had been doing. He felt confident enough to suggest a few moments at the control panel, and the Arab moved aside with exaggerated panache.
They clasped hands, and braced chests.
A button flashed red on the panel, while an interior fog horn squawked. It was time to resurface. They were less than a hundred yards from the once famous berth in the North West area. And there was a huge pot of intrigue to stir.