The little Dutch family was translucently white where it stood gazing out to sea from the Promenade. They had swaddled themselves in linen to look like albino Touareg nomads, and submerged the child in the pram in some sort of heliocidal balm, but still they squirmed under the African sun. The infant began to steam from its nostrils and flapped peevishly with bleached chipolata fingers at the clogs and cheeses that dangled from its mobile, but its parents were distracted, enchanted by being able to see their partner’s entire skeleton, shining a bloody blue through the skin, when he or she stood in front of the sun.
The few dozen spectators who sizzled on the seafront clapped telescopes to their eyes when a sharp bang echoed off the lighthouse; but it had merely been the Dutch baby exploding, launching out of its pram in an elegant smoking arc and sizzling into a distant rock pool. Out in the bay, the yachts were motionless. The Volvo Ocean Race, it seemed, had not yet started.
Half an hour after the scheduled start they still lolled, looming over the flotilla of pleasure boats that swarmed about their sides, launches and catamarans half a flute of MoÃ«t away from foundering. Far out to sea a navy corvette chugged about, those crewmen who had joined the service via Apla now locked away in the bilges lest they give in to their urges and empty the for’ard anti-aircraft gun into a particularly gilded motorboat. A flare drifted down in the windless, dazzling sky. A horn sounded. Still nothing.
An hour later, one had to conclude that the race was under way, and in the absence of any actual forward motion on the part of the yachts, one resorted to a strong pair of binoculars in the hope of seeing some salty tars swarming about in the rigging, or a second mate with a Polynesian beauty tattooed on his chest, dancing a hornpipe. At the very least they might have presented their audience with a grim party gathered about a shirtless, defiant mutineer, the sea dog strapped to the titanium wheel getting 50 lashes with a GPS lanyard for bringing the sponsors’s name into disrepute.
But what was most confounding was the dearth of women on board. Melbourne, the fleet’s next port of call, is about 10 300km from Cape Town; and given that they covered 14m in two hours and were therefore traveling at about 168m per day, it is really not unreasonable to extrapolate that they’ll be docking roughly 170 years from now. Tackling such a voyage without at least a dozen crates of women on board is folly, not only because one requires offspring (140-year-old lookouts apparently tend towards myopia), but because women know how to stop and ask for directions.
Lunch had come and gone unnoticed in the strain to see anything resembling a wake and so it was time to retire to a trendy sushi restaurant across the road. The glare inside was insufferable: there was not a single black diner in the room. It soon became apparent why. Sitting at the bar, perusing the specials, sat Wouter Basson.
Eyes downcast, looking as debonair and at ease as most clandestine biological weapons experts do in crowded restaurants, he didn’t want to be recognised. Fortunately the clientele around him didn’t seem the newspaper-reading variety. Indeed, they barely seemed the menu-reading variety, moving their Botoxed lips as they battled through difficult foreign words such as “saki”. No, this was the demographic who employ arts graduates to read the papers for them, with instructions to act out the funny or diverting bits, and to show them the picture from the back page. Dr Death might as well have been on the moon.
I was suddenly overcome by a terrible desire to introduce myself to him, to ask him for an autograph for my girlfriend Ann Thrax. But how does one break the ice with Wouter Basson? “I’ve got this nasty ringworm in my armpit and nothing I’ve tried has killed it. Do you think you could take a look?” Is it polite to ask if he always wanted to be Dr Death, or whether perhaps he started more modestly, maybe as Dr Discomfort, fighting liberation armies by shrinking their fatigues and lacing their rations with Brooklax?
The questions lingered and so did the yachts. When we left Wouter to his raw fish, they had moved another yard.