Back in Maun, Botswana, early in 1995, I was phoning Lusaka once a week to hear if possible contracts for my company there had been nailed down. I was told to sit tight and wait.
Thus we were free to accept the invitation by Mike Bullock, the owner and founder of Aliboats, (www.aliboats.com) a successful aluminium boat building company in Maun, to join him on an expedition to raise a government boat that had sunk in the Okavango Delta.
The boat, belonging to the Department of Wildlife, had been overloaded with 15 sheets of corrugated iron roofing sheets on board. The driver had throttled back abruptly to avoid a collision with another boat. The following stern wave had swept in over the transom and flooded the boat. Down she went, nine months before.
The Botswana Defence Force had eventually raised the cargo and the motor, but the boat, filling with sand, defeated them. Two weeks before we got there, Mike had attempted to raise the boat by attaching four water-filled oil drums to it with ropes and replacing the water with air to make floatation chambers. While a good idea, the sheer weight of sand defeated the attempt. This time we were returning with a bigger sludge pump to suck out the sand.
The contingent consisted of Sheila, myself, Dan Rawson, Mike Bullock and Mike Watson. The latter two had scuba experience and full bottles. These were mainly required for floatation as the water was shallow.
We drove into Moremi Game Reserve in two 4x4s to Lake Xakanaxa where Mike had left the two boats from his previous attempt. We loaded the scuba gear, two pumps and supplies onto the boats and headed upriver through Lake Gadikwe and Lake Xobega and camped on an island just before the Lake Chinde entrance.
Sheila and I made supper. The huge campfire we lit defeated the rain deluge that fell soon afterwards. It was a very pleasant and entertaining evening, fuelled by beer and a spliff or two, as we listened to the three old hands reminisce about Delta happenings.
The next morning we set off upriver to the site, about half an hour by boat, where a cooking-oil can as a buoy told us we were over the spot. I manned the pump boat (OK711) while Dan helped on the dive boat. The Mikes went down to have a look.
The drums were still holding, although one from the middle would have to be moved to a corner. More importantly, however, was that the drums in the strong current had caused a scouring action which had removed a lot of the sand. Previously, only the handrails had been exposed on three corners and the fourth had been completely submerged. Now even some of the hull could be seen.
After moving and refloating the drum, Mike Watson set to work with the pump nozzle. It soon clogged up. When Dan and I cleared it, he was careful to suck only small quantities. In the early afternoon, the boat popped up as far as the drums would allow. With only the four of us, we could not get the bow onto the bank.
A boatload of beefy South African tourists passed by on their way back to Camp Okavango. We followed them to join them for beer and sandwiches, then hi-jacked them to come back and help lift our patient. Between us all we managed, then drained it and bolted another motor to the transom. Dan and Mike Watson drove it slowly back to camp; it being still very heavy with sand. I drove the pump boat and Mike Bullock the dive boat. Another entertaining evening followed.
The following day, we stripped off the half-rotten decking and scooped out most of the sand. After packing up, the three boats headed back to Xakanaxa, stopping only for a lengthy swim over a sandbar where one was fairly safe from crocodiles.
Arriving back in Maun, I was greeted with the news that the Lusaka jobs had fallen through and I was needed to take over the surveyduties at the Basil Read Construction’s site at Phoenix Mine, 30 km from Francistown.