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Diamonds And Dust: 45 - The Sand Yacht

…It took four weekends to finish the thing and in an attempt to disguise that it was aluminium, we painted the frame blue. The wheels were wheelbarrow wheels and the sails were made from mattress covers that we stole off mattresses from half a dozen beds. The covers were a strong cotton and best of all, free…

Malcolm Bertoni tells of the hazards of building and “sailing’’ a sand yacht.

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

We nearly got into serious trouble over this one. We wanted to build a sand yacht as someone had seen an article about them and thought we could easily make one. Since I worked in the screenshop we had all the tools and space to make the thing. All we needed was the material. It had to be made of aluminium so that it could be light enough.

So we went hunting for suitable aluminium tubing. The tubing had to be about 2 inches in diameter and of reasonable thickness. We had made a wooden mast, the wheels and rope, and could even get a sail made. What we desperately needed was the aluminium tubing for the frame.

We all hunted around the plant. Nothing. We checked the dumps. Nothing. We looked everywhere. Nothing. It looked like we would never be able to make the thing.

A month went by and then Thys L_ came running into the screenshop all out of breath. “I’ve found a source of aluminium for the sand yacht.”

He excitedly took me around to the far end of the plant where the admin offices were. There it was. Aluminium scaffolding. A whole stack of them. Two inches in diameter, perfect thickness. Eight foot long. Perfect.

“How long has this been here, Thys?”

“It must have arrived yesterday afternoon or this morning.”

We strolled around the pile, trying not to look too suspicious.

“They must be wanting to use the scaffolding to paint
the offices.”

“Ya, I reckon you’re right.”

We quickly returned to the screenshop, where I worked out how many lengths of tubing we would need. That night I quietly took the bakkie to the back of the admin offices and loaded on eight lengths of the tubing. I took them behind one of the old tailings dumps and left them there, covered with an old tarp.

I told the guys about the aluminium and suggested we do nothing for at least a week to see if they missed the scaffolding.

A few days later I drove past the admin offices and on a pretext went in and spoke to one of the guys there. The scaffolding had been erected by then, but it was obvious to anyone that there were some pieces missing.

The next day the mechanical engineer and the painting foreman came to the screenshop looking for the scaffolding. I pleaded ignorance, acting like I didn’t know what he was looking for.

They looked at me suspiciously. I had a reputation for challenging authority and they didn’t believe a word I said, but without proof or evidence they could do nothing.

We kept the aluminium hidden for another month and then on the weekends when there was no-one about, started making the frame and building the sand yacht.

It took four weekends to finish the thing and in an attempt to disguise that it was aluminium, we painted the frame blue. The wheels were wheelbarrow wheels and the sails were made from mattress covers that we stole off mattresses from half a dozen beds. The covers were a strong cotton and best of all, free. We got the Ovambos to sew them for us. They worked pretty well.

We tested it along the road and it went beautifully. The only problem was that it was difficult to steer, especially when moving fast. Sand yachts are built in a triangle shape with one wheel in the front and two at the back. The front wheel is the one that steers and we never could get it to work right. We paced it with a Land Rover along a flat stretch of beach where the sand was nice and firm and it hit about 70 kms an hour in a strong breeze.

While sailing along one day, I damn near killed myself and in the process wrecked the sand yacht. I was screaming along on the beach at about 70 kms an hour and couldn’t turn. The steering had jammed again. The guys following in the Land Rovers could see me wrestling with the steering and heading for a nice big rock sticking perfectly out of the sand and right in my path. They said they all shouted warnings to me, but I reckon they didn’t say a word. They wanted to see what would happen if I hit something immovable at 70 kms per hour.

So I went straight into the rock, snapped the mast, broke off the boom and bent the whole frame out of shape. I flew over the mess, doing a somersault in the process and landed in the sail and mast as it fell forward. I was lucky and only had a few scratches and bruises. The guys seemed disappointed that I hadn’t at least broken my neck.

We towed the wreck to the dump and left it there. It was discovered a few months later and the mechanical engineer came to me fuming, basically accusing me of stealing the scaffolding, but knowing that he could never prove it. I had another black mark against my name.

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