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Local author Dean King embarks

Africa Redux


In August of 1851, the U.S. merchant brig Commerce sailed from Gibraltar headed for the Verdes Islands carrying a load of salt, brandy and Spanish coin, but she never reached her destination. She was shipwrecked in a storm. All those aboard — 11 crew members and one passenger made it safely to shore, but that was merely the beginning of their troubles.

On shore, which happened to be on the edge of the Sahara Desert, they were attacked by Berbers and the passenger was killed. Discouraged by this, the crew returned to the longboat, choosing to take their chances at sea.

The men shared the longboat with a number of bottles of wine and, for some reason, a live pig. The wine soon disappeared; they slaughtered the pig, ate it raw, and were reduced to drinking their own urine.

After nine days, the shore looked better than it had, and deciding they would rather not die at sea, they landed again, climbing up some 300-to-500-foot bluffs only to be enslaved by the nomad Ouled Bou Sbaa (the Sons of the Fathers of Lions). Eventually, half of the crew endured an 800-mile journey across the desert by foot and by camel that finally took them to Mogadore, Morocco, where they were ransomed and set free. In all, seven of these 11 men who made it to shore came back alive; the rest were killed or disappeared forever.

In September 2001, Richmond writer Dean King will make a journey following in the footsteps of the Commerce's sailors. From Sept. 20 until Oct. 20, he will go by boat from Cape Bojador south to Cape Barbas, by camel north for several hundred miles, and then by Land Rover to Essaouira (formerly Morgadore). But he doesn't plan to be captured by slave traders. Instead, he plans to write an article for a national magazine and a book ("Skeletons on the Zaraha"), for which he has received a $750,000 advance. Frosting on this fortunate cake has been added by the strong possibility that King will sign a deal with a major motion-picture studio to turn the story into a film.

Three Richmonders — Greg Jones, associate rector of St. James's Church, Ted Lawrence and his wife, Claudia D'Andrea, — will be going along with King. And while they are determined not to eat a raw pig, they are planning a camel roast at the end of their journey.

The manuscript for "Skeletons on the Zaraha" is to be delivered to Little Brown, publishers, in October 2002.

Dean King, a 1981 graduate of St. Christopher's and a 1985 graduate of UNC at Chapel Hill, is the author of "A Sea of Words" and "Harbors and High Seas," books written to go along with the Patrick O'Brian's sea stories. King also wrote "Patrick O'Brian: A Life Revealed." He has edited the Heart of Oak series of reprints of famous sea novels and nonfiction, and he and his wife, Jessica, edited "Cancer Combat" a series of stories by young cancer survivors.

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