Geert van der Kolk
The Smuggler of the Exuma’s
Razor-sharp coral, menacing beaches
‘The Mola mola is a solitary, pelagic fish that can grow to a length of three metres, with a weight of more than a thousand kilos. It has no tail and is a poor swimmer. It drifts along on the great ocean currents and lives on plankton and jellyfish. In some regions it is called the ‘sunfish’ because it occasionally lies on the surface, basking in the sun. Elsewhere it is called the ‘moonfish’ due to its shape.’
Gramm, the taciturn and surly main character of The Smuggler of the Exuma’s is the owner of a boat named after this fish. He skirts around the Bermudian archipelago, commissioned by a ship owner to look for his ‘friend’ Frank Blackwell who disappeared with a chartered boat, Gallant Lady, a year previously.
In the harbour of Bemini, Gramm takes the 11-year-old Rolle on board, as a guide to pilot him along the dangerous sandbanks and coral reefs. Gramm gets shot while filling up with water on an uninhabited island, probably by Colombian drug smugglers. Thanks to Rolle, they manage to reach the island of Stanchion Cay, where Blackwell turns out to be hiding from the consequences of a murder he committed while transporting smuggled goods. Blackwell cannot travel back to Florida, where the owner of Gallant Lady is waiting. Gramm had started out in the hope of receiving part of the insurance money if he could prove that the boat had been lost. But now that this possibility has been ruled out, Gramm and Blackwell decide to initiate another lucrative but nasty business. Blackwell is to take Haitians aboard, Gramm will subsequently smuggle them into Florida. But things turn out differently. Blackwell turns out to be a very unreliable partner, and the deal ends in a violent scene. Gramm and Rolle can only just escape, only to run into a heavy storm.
The events mark The Smuggler of the Exuma’s as an adventure novel par excellence. Van der Kolk tells his modern pirate story with the pace and suppleness of Hemingway. But it is more than an exciting boys’ book. Particularly the evocation of the boat trip under the sheer blue sky swept clear by the trade winds, beyond desolate islands with virgin beaches, wide panoramas, and the many-coloured sea make reading this book an unprecedented pleasure. Van der Kolk, who has sailed the Bermudas, knows exactly how to wake the dormant adventurer in every reader.