My first time at the wrong end of the barrel by Liz Cleere.
“It’s fair to say that picking a winner was no easy task. Just ask Jane Labous, who’s part of our judging panel. Jane’s journalism and broadcast career has seen her work for The Independent, The Times and BBC Radio 4. It took Jane’s sharp eye for a story to help pick the winner from an impressive shortlist. And that winner was Liz Cleere. Here’s her story in its full, unabridged glory.”
“Go! Go! GO!”
I emerge through layers of sleep to the sound of shouting and something metallic rat-a-tat-tatting against our hull. It’s just after dawn, and we are anchored in the Red Sea near the border between Eritrea and Djibouti. Alarmed at the potential damage being done to our yacht, Jamie rushes up on deck. He stops dead: three ragtag men are waving semi-automatic weapons at him.
“You must leave! GO AWAY! GO! GO NOW!”
Jamie tries to block my path but I scramble past, unaware of what he’s facing. I freeze.
Jamie is calm.
“Our engine has failed and we need time to make repairs,” he explains, flinching each time the rifle butt cracks against our thin-skinned hull.
Unimpressed, the men fix him with narrowed eyes. Their voices are a crescendo of fury. I try not to look at the cold weapons as I attempt to deflect their attention away from Jamie.
“Please don’t make us leave!” I burst into manufactured sobs and flail my arms around like a mad woman. I hope they will be wrong-footed by this display of hysterics. To my astonishment it works. There is an imperceptible shift in their expressions and they speed off to one of the other yachts in our small group.
We know the game is up and we must get out fast, so we hoist the anchor in record time and head off to deep water. The men have given us permission to wait in the shelter of nearby uninhabited Sadla Island, where we’ll have some protection against the twenty-five knot northerly whistling straight up through the Bab-el-Mandeb. We can’t move east until the wind shifts and the waiting is making us all tense: none of our little band of yachts is looking forward to sailing through the Gulf of Aden, aka Pirate Alley.
Standing in their skiff, the shark-eyed men look very pleased with themselves. They watch us leave, the rifles now casually slung round their necks. I don’t want them to think they’ve frightened us, so in a small gesture of defiance I radiate the widest smile I can muster and wave goodbye. For the second time that morning I am astonished: white-toothed grins slide across three beaming faces as they raise their arms to wave back.