"Stop Sheep!!" boomed a voice and a spotlight shone down
on us. "Stop Sheep... ...customs". There was a dull thud as a RIB arrived. 'Caccia' our 27 foot sloop was over-run by burly
giants, each with three left feet, who made an exuberant search for contraband. We were 10 miles off the Spanish coast, coming
from Morocco and it was 03.00 AM on a moonless night. Another RIB bumped alongside and another ungainly quartet boarded. These
were the pen pushers. We rolled in the various washes and below the swinging of the lamp, the small
space and the sight
of Peter and I finishing our supper had one poor recruit rushing for the rail, to the undisguised delight of his older comrades.
There was a jubilant cry from the cockpit - 49 bottles of whiskey.
Our berth in the commercial harbour at Almeria was filthy and uncomfortable but we weren't leaving until we
got our whiskey back. It was perfectly legal UK bonded stores. Our transgression seemed to be that 'El Jefe' (the chief) thought
we had too much for such a
small boat. Of course, now that customs had it we were free to go - not likely mate! We phoned
the British Consul - a helpful chap named McKitterick. "Do you have any relatives in County Antrim?" I asked, "my granny was
a McKitterick from Kilmore." Put two Irish people in a room and within 10 minutes we'll find a common ancestor. His advice
was to stand our ground and not disclose the whiskey's value. You see Black Bush is no ordinary hooch. It's from Bushmills,
the oldest whiskey distillery in the world and they know their business -
practising since 1608 they ought to. Every day
for two months we climbed the polished oak stairs and admired the ornate gilt ceiling in the customs house as we sought a
meeting with 'El Jefe'. Usually we got 'El Segundo', because he spoke English. Well, he thought he did. Irish-English must
be very different, we would have preferred Spanish. A lot of misconceptions would thus have been avoided.
One morning we arrived to great activity and celebration. A major drug trafficker had been arrested and success
created a generous mood in the office. 'El Jefe' himself would return our whiskey to the boat. He also brought his wife who
presented us with a whiskey cake - a Spanish speciality, she said, and one particularly beloved of El Jefe. The Senora had
'borrowed' a small bit of our whiskey to experiment and her verdict was that Irish whiskey made the best tart ever. Perhaps
we would like the recipe - a very secret family recipe
rarely passed on. The Senora would write it down for us. Meanwhile
El Jefe had a drop of Black Bush and was extravagant in his praise. He graciously accepted a souvenir bottle. Later, re-stowing
the bottles, we found that somehow we now had only 42.
Peter and I agreed that El Jefe looked well, considering the number of whiskey cakes he must have eaten recently.
This text appears as copyright of Geraldine Foley.
The story was published in Cruising World in December 2003