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John's Story

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John Blackman is an Australian (with all that that implies) from Fremantle, on the west coast of Australia.  We met him in Anse Mitan, Martinique, in the early 80s, as he sailed through the Caribbean in his big racer/cruiser.  At the time he was about half way through his circumnavigation.  He told a fun story...

In 1974, John was cruising Portuguese Mozambique, on the southeast coast of Africa.  This was not a good time to be in Mozambique.  The Portuguese government was having all kinds of trouble with their colony.  The Freleemo, the local terrorist organization, was making everyone's life miserable, holding up cars, disrupting commerce, and shooting those they didn't like.  (OK, I realize that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, so I'm making a bit of a value judgment here, but this is, after all, my website. )  Thousands of refugees had been streaming into South Africa every day.  Since Mozambique had few exports and little of value, the Portuguese apparently decided to just abandon their colony.  If the local people wanted to be governed by terrorists, that was their problem.  So the Portuguese left, creating a fair amount of local pandemonium.

As a side note, my brother Tony and I were also in Africa at this time, having taken a year out of our university studies to travel.  We were touring through Rhodesia, where our father is from, just west (inland) of Mozambique.  On the evening that the Portuguese left, we were hurrying to some relatives for the night in our little Morris Minor that we'd been touring in since Cape Town.

The Rhodesians were fighting their own war at the time.  Robert Mugabe (the idiot currently in charge of Zimbabwe) and Joshua Nkomo each had armies, one funded and supplied by the communist Chinese and the other by the communist Russians.  In fact, the wife of the family we were hurrying to visit later died when her truck hit a land-mine.  The farm they'd put their life into was later taken away and destroyed when the war overran them.  The Rhodesians were worried about terrorist movements when the Freleemo took over from the Portuguese, so they'd put up a police road-block at the bottom of Christmas Pass in eastern Rhodesia.

We spotted this roadblock when we were about a quarter of a mile (half a kilometer) away.  Normally, this would have been plenty of time, but it was dusk, Christmas Pass is steep, and we were late, overloaded, and going a bit too fast.  I started throwing out the anchors as soon as I saw the road-block, but the Morris Minor never had very good brakes, even when it had just left the factory.  Ours was old and we'd already destroyed the left rear brakes on the bad roads of the Transkei.  I started down-shifting furiously, but the synchro's in the gearbox had long since worn away, so this involved a bunch of (somewhat ineffectual) swearing and (only slightly more effective) double-clutching as I tried to use all 3 pedals in a space much too small for my size 12 feet.  In the end, I brought everything to a screeching halt with about 12 feet (4m) to spare, hearts racing and brakes smoking.  A memorable day...

In Mozambique, it was memorable for John as well.  He was in the port city of Beira, saw what was happening and realized it was (long past) time for him to leave.  As he was picking up his boat and getting ready to sail away, 3 men in suits approached his boat at the dock.

"Are you leaving?"  John replied that indeed he was.

"We'd like to come with you."  John replied that he was leaving right away.

"We'd REALLY like to come with you."  John eventually consented and the 3 businessmen immediately stepped on board in what they were wearing.

So John left Mozambique and sailed south, down the east coast of Africa.  He dropped the 3 businessmen off in Durban, South Africa.  As they left, they handed John their business card.  They told John to give them a few months and then drop them a line, so they could show their appreciation.

John said goodbye and continued his cruising, heading slowly around the south coast of Africa.  When he got to Cape Town, he came across their card again, so he dropped them a line, asking how they were and telling them where he was.  Their reply was a telegram: Your ticket is waiting at the airport.  So John left his boat in the Cape Town marina and flew up to Lisbon, Portugal.  His 3 businessmen met him and the 4 of them continued on to Switzerland.  There, the delightfully generous Portuguese gave John the key to a safety deposit box.  In short, John basically didn't have to worry about money or working anymore, for the rest of his life!

Talk about being in the right place at the right time...

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