Blue Gold: A Kurt Austin Adventure (NUMA Files Series)

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Overview

Kurt Austin and his crew are back to slake their thirst for action as they attempt to drown an eco-extortionist's plan to control the world's freshwater supply.

From deep within the Venezuelan rain forest emanates the legend of a white goddess and a mysterious tribe with startling technical accomplishments. Few believe the tribe exists -- and even fewer suspect its deity can change the course of history.

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Blue Gold: A Kurt Austin Adventure (NUMA Files Series)

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Overview

Kurt Austin and his crew are back to slake their thirst for action as they attempt to drown an eco-extortionist's plan to control the world's freshwater supply.

From deep within the Venezuelan rain forest emanates the legend of a white goddess and a mysterious tribe with startling technical accomplishments. Few believe the tribe exists -- and even fewer suspect its deity can change the course of history.

For National Underwater & Marine Agency crew leader Kurt Austin, an investigation into the sudden deaths of rare whales leads him to the Mexican coast. Meanwhile, in South America's lush hills, a specially assigned NUMA crew turns up the white-goddess legend -- and a murderous cadre of bio-pirates intent on stealing medicinal secrets worth millions. Soon Austin and his crew realize they're working the opposite ends of the same grand scheme. A California agribusiness tycoon is poised to rise to power by monopolizing the earth's depleted freshwater reserves and dominate the world.

Austin has a hunch the mythical tribal goddess may be the key to locating a secret formula that could turn seawater into fresh. But with each step into the bush, he and his NUMA team feel like fish out of water -- and must fight a trail of enemies through a dense jungle of treachery and murder.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
National Underwater & Marine Agency stud Kurt Austin, who made his debut in 1999's massive bestseller,Serpent, now returns in Blue Gold. Here Kurt and crew work desperately to stop a madman's attempt to control the world's freshwater supply.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743418225
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 10/30/2001
  • Series: NUMA Files Series , #2
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 4.80 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Clive  Cussler

Clive Cussler is the author or coauthor of twenty-nine books, which have been published in more than forty languages in more than 100 countries. In his life away from the written word, Cussler has searched for lost aircraft, led expeditions to find famous shipwrecks, and garnered an amazing record of success. With his own NUMA crew of volunteers, Cussler has discovered more than sixty lost ships of historic significance, including the long-lost Confederate submarine Hunley. A world-class collector of classic automobiles, Cussler lives in the mountains of Colorado.

Biography

Cussler began writing novels in 1965 and published his first work featuring his continuous series hero, Dirk Pitt, in 1973. His first non-fiction, The Sea Hunters, was released in 1996. The Board of Governors of the Maritime College, State University of New York, considered The Sea Hunters in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis and awarded Cussler a Doctor of Letters degree in May, 1997. It was the first time since the College was founded in 1874 that such a degree was bestowed.

Cussler is an internationally recognized authority on shipwrecks and the founder of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, (NUMA) a 501C3 non-profit organization (named after the fictional Federal agency in his novels) that dedicates itself to preserving American maritime and naval history. He and his crew of marine experts and NUMA volunteers have discovered more than 60 historically significant underwater wreck sites including the first submarine to sink a ship in battle, the Confederacy's Hunley, and its victim, the Union's Housatonic; the U-20, the U-boat that sank the Lusitania; the Cumberland, which was sunk by the famous ironclad, Merrimack; the renowned Confederate raider Florida; the Navy airship, Akron, the Republic of Texas Navy warship, Zavala, found under a parking lot in Galveston, and the Carpathia, which sank almost six years to-the-day after plucking Titanic's survivors from the sea.

In September, 1998, NUMA - which turns over all artifacts to state and Federal authorities, or donates them to museums and universities - launched its own web site for those wishing more information about maritime history or wishing to make donations to the organization. (www.numa.net).

In addition to being the Chairman of NUMA, Cussler is also a fellow in both the Explorers Club of New York and the Royal Geographic Society in London. He has been honored with the Lowell Thomas Award for outstanding underwater exploration.

Cussler's books have been published in more than 40 languages in more than 100 countries. The author lives in Arizona.

Biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA)

Good To Know

Cussler worked for many years in advertising and was responsible for coming up with Ajax's "White Knight" commercial catchphrase, "It's stronger than dirt."

The Board of Governors of the Maritime College, State University of New York, considered Cussler's 1996 nonfiction book, The Sea Hunters, equivalent to a Ph.D. thesis and awarded Cussler a Doctor of Letters degree in 1997.

Cussler is a fellow in the Explorers Club of New York and the Royal Geographic Society in London, and has been granted the Lowell Thomas Award for outstanding underwater exploration.

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    1. Hometown:
      Phoenix, Arizona
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 15, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Aurora, Illinois
    1. Education:
      Pasadena City College; Ph.D., Maritime College, State University of New York, 1997

Read an Excerpt

Blue Gold

  • 1
    2001

San Diego, California

WEST OF ENCITAS on the Pacific coast, the graceful motor yacht Nepenthe swung at anchor, the grandest craft in a flotilla that seemed to include every sailboat and powerboat in San Diego. With her fluid drawn-out lines, the spearlike sprit jutting from the thrusting clipper bow, and her flaring transom, the two-hundred-foot-long Nepenthe looked as if she were made of fine white china floating on a Delft sea. Her paint glistened with a mirror finish, and her brightwork sparkled under the California sun. Flags and pennants snapped and fluttered from stem to stern. Bobbing balloons occasionally broke loose to soar into the cloudless sky.

In the yacht’s spacious British Empire–style salon a string quartet played a Vivaldi piece for the eclectic gathering of black-clad Hollywood types, corpulent politicians, and sleek TV anchors who milled around a thick-legged mahogany table devouring pâté, beluga caviar, and shrimp with the gusto of famine victims.

Outside, crowding the sun-drenched decks, children sat in wheelchairs or leaned on crutches, munching hot dogs and burgers and enjoying the fresh sea air. Hovering over them like a mother hen was a lovely woman in her fifties. Gloria Ekhart’s generous mouth and cornflower-blue eyes were familiar to millions who had seen her movies and watched her popular sitcom on TV. Every fan knew about Ekhart’s daughter Elsie, the pretty, freckle-faced young girl who scooted around the deck in a wheelchair. Ekhart had given up acting at the peak of her career to devote her fortune and time to helping children like her own. The influential and well-heeled guests chugging down Dom Perignon in the salon would be asked later to open their checkbooks for the Ekhart Foundation.

Ekhart had a flair for promotion, which was why she leased the Nepenthe for her party. In 1930, when the vessel slid off the ways at the G. L. Watson boatyard in Glasgow, she was among the most graceful motor yachts ever to sail the seas. The yacht’s first owner, an English earl, lost her in an all-night poker game to a Hollywood mogul with a penchant for cards, marathon parties, and underage starlets. She went through a succession of equally indifferent owners, winding up in a failed attempt as a fishing boat. Smelling of dead fish and bait, the rotting yacht languished in the back corner of a boatyard. She was rescued by a Silicon Valley magnate who tried to recoup the millions he spent restoring the vessel by leasing her out for events such as the Ekhart fund-raiser.

A man wearing a blue blazer with an official race badge pinned to the breast pocket had been peering through binoculars at the flat green expanse of the Pacific. He rubbed his eyes and squinted into the lenses again. In the distance thin white plumes were etched against the blue sky where it met the water. He lowered the binoculars, raised an aerosol canister with a plastic trumpet attached, and pressed the button three times.

Hawnk . . . hawnk . . . hawnk.

The klaxon’s blaring squawk echoed across the water like the mating call of a monster gander. The flotilla took up the signal. A cacophony of bells, whistles, and horns filled the air and drowned out the cry of hungry gulls. Hundreds of spectators excitedly reached for their binoculars and cameras. Boats heeled dangerously as passengers shifted to one side. On the Nepenthe the guests wolfed down their food and poured from the salon sipping from glasses of bubbly. They shaded their eyes and looked off in the distance, where the feathery plumes were thickening into bantam rooster tails. Carried on the breeze was a sound like an angry swarm of bees.

In a circling helicopter a thousand feet above the Nepenthe, a sturdy Italian photographer named Carlo Pozzi tapped the pilot’s shoulder and pointed to the northwest. The water was marked by parallel white streaks advancing as if plowed by a huge, invisible harrow. Pozzi checked his safety harness, stepped out onto a runner with one foot, and hefted a fifty-pound television camera onto his shoulder. Leaning with a practiced stance into the wind that buffeted his body, he brought the extraordinary power of his lens to bear on the advancing lines. He swept the camera from left to right, giving viewers around the world an overview of the dozen race boats cutting furrows in the sea. Then he zoomed in on a pair of boats leading the pack by a quarter of a mile.

The speeding craft skimmed the wave tops, their forty-foot hulls planing with elevated bows as if trying to escape the restraints of gravity. The lead boat was painted a bold firehouse red. Trailing by less than a hundred yards, the second boat sparkled like a gold nugget. The boats were more like star fighters than craft designed for travel over water. Their flat decks connected two knife-edged catamaran hulls called sponsons and aerodynamic wings over the engine compartments. Twin F-16–type canopies were set side-by-side two-thirds of the way back from the sharp-pointed double prows.

Squeezed into the red boat’s right-hand canopy, his sun-bronzed face fixed in a mask of determination, Kurt Austin braced himself as the eight-ton craft slammed against the concrete-hard water again and again. Unlike a land vehicle, the boat had no shock absorbers to cushion the jarring impact. Each jolt traveled through the one-piece Kevlar and carbon composite hull up through Austin’s legs and rattled his teeth. Despite his broad shoulders, his muscular biceps, and the five-point harness system that strapped his two-hundred-pound frame in place, he felt like a basketball being dribbled down the court by Michael Jordan. Every ounce of strength in his muscular six-foot-one body was needed to keep a steady hand on the trim tabs and the throttle levers and a firm left foot on the engine pedal controlling the pressure in the mighty twin turbos that sent the boat thundering over the water.

José “Joe” Zavala sat hunched over the steering wheel in the left canopy. His gloved hands tightly gripped the small black wheel that seemed inadequate for the task of keeping the boat pointed in the right direction. He felt as if he were aiming rather than steering the boat. His mouth was set in a grim line. The large dark brown eyes had lost their usual soulful look as they strained intently through the tinted Plexiglas visor to read the sea conditions for changes in wind or wave height. The up-and-down movement of the bow compounded the difficulty. Where Austin gauged the boat’s behavior, quite literally, by the seat of his pants, Zavala felt the waves and troughs through his steering wheel.

Austin barked into the intercom mike that connected the canopies. “What’s our speed?”

Zavala glanced at the digital speed gauge. “One twenty-two.” His eyes went to the GPS position and compass. “Right on course.”

Austin checked his watch and looked down at the chart fastened to his right thigh. The one-hundred-sixty-mile race began in San Diego, made two sharp turns around Santa Catalina Island, and came back to the starting point, giving thousands of spectators along the beaches a view of the dramatic finish. The final turn should be coming up any minute. He squinted through the spray-splashed canopy and saw a vertical line off to the right, then another. Sailboat masts! The spectator fleet flanked a wide swath of open water. Once past the spectators, the racers would pick up the Coast Guard cutter near the turn buoy and head into the last lap. He snapped a quick glance over his right shoulder and caught the reflection of the sun off gold.

“Kicking it up to one-thirty,” Austin said.

The hard shocks coming through the steering wheel indicated that the wave height was growing. Zavala had observed white flecks in the water and a distinct marbling to the seas that told him the wind was up.

“Don’t know if we should,” Zavala yelled over the shriek of the engines. “Picking up a slight chop. Where’s Ali Baba?”

“Practically in our back pocket!”

“He’s crazy if he makes his play now. He should just lie back and let us take the lumps like he’s been doing, then go for the home stretch. Sea and wind are too unpredictable.”

“Ali doesn’t like to lose.”

Zavala grunted. “Okay. Take it to one twenty-five. Maybe he’ll back off.”

Austin pushed down with his fingertips on the throttles and felt a surge of speed and power.

A moment later Zavala reported: “Doing one twenty-seven. Seems okay.”

The gold boat fell back, then speeded up to keep pace. Austin could read the black lettering on the side: Flying Carpet. The boat’s driver was hidden behind the tinted glass, but Austin knew the bearded young Omar Sharif look-alike would be grinning from ear to ear. The son of a Dubai hotel magnate, Ali Bin Said was one of the toughest competitors in one of the world’s most competitive and dangerous sports, Class 1 offshore powerboat racing.

Ali came within a whisker of beating Austin at the Dubai Duty Free Grand Prix the year before. The loss in his own backyard before his home audience was particularly galling. Ali had beefed up the power in the Carpet’s twin Lamborghini engines. With improvements in its power plant the Red Ink squeezed out a few extra miles per hour, but Austin estimated Ali’s boat was a match for his.

At the prerace briefing Ali had jokingly accused Austin of calling in the National Underwater & Marine Agency to quell the seas in his boat’s path. As leader of the Special Assignments Team for NUMA, Austin had the resources of the huge agency at his command. But he knew better than to play King Canute. Ali had been beaten not by engine power but by the way Austin and his NUMA partner clicked together as a team.

Zavala, with his dark complexion and thick, straight black hair always combed straight back, could have passed for the maître d’ in a posh Acapulco resort hotel. The slight smile always on his lips masked a steely resolve forged in his college days as a middleweight boxer and honed by the frequent challenges of his NUMA assignments. The gregarious and soft-spoken marine engineer had thousands of hours piloting helicopters, small jets, and turbo-prop aircraft and easily switched to the cockpit of a race boat. Working with Austin as if they were parts in a precision machine, he took command of the race from the second the referee raised the green starting flag.

They were up on plane at a near-ideal angle and blasted across the start line at one hundred and thirty miles per hour. Every boat had hit the finish line with throttle straight out. Two hard-driven competitors blew out their engines on the first lap, one flipped on the first turn, probably the most dangerous part of any race, and the rest were simply outclassed by the two leaders. The Red Ink rocketed by the others as if they were stuck on fly paper. Only the Flying Carpet kept pace. During the first Catalina Island turn, Zavala had maneuvered the Red Ink around the buoy so that Ali went wide. The Flying Carpet had been playing catch-up ever since.

Now the Carpet had taken wing and was coming abreast of the Red Ink. Austin knew of Ali’s last-minute switch to a smaller propeller that would be better in rough seas. Austin wished he could trade in his large calm-water propeller. Ali had been smart to listen to his weather sense rather than the forecast.

“I’m cranking her up another notch!” Austin shouted.

“She’s at one-forty now,” Zavala yelled back. “Wind’s up. She’ll kite if we don’t slow down.”

Austin knew a high-speed turn was risky. The twin catamaran sponsons skated across the surface with practically no water resistance. The same design that allowed for high speed over the wave tops also meant wind could get under the hull, lift it in a kiting motion, or, even worse, flip it back onto its deck.

The Flying Carpet continued to gain. Austin’s fingertips played over the tops of the throttle levers. He hated to lose. His combativeness was a trait he’d inherited from his father along with the football player physique and eyes the color of coral underwater. One day it would get him killed. But not today. He eased back on the throttles. The maneuver may have saved their lives.

A white-crested four-foot rogue sea was racing in off the port bow, practically snarling as it bore down on them. Zavala saw it angling in, prayed they’d clear it, knew instantly that the timing was all wrong. The wave hooked one of the sponsons like a cat’s claw. The Red Ink was launched spinning into space. With lightning reflexes Zavala steered in the direction of the spin like a driver caught on an ice patch. The boat splashed into the water sideways, rolled so the canopies were buried, then righted after a few more yaws.

Ali slowed down, but once he saw they were all right, he gunned his engines, throwing caution to the winds. He wanted to finish as far ahead of Austin as possible. Ignoring the advice of his veteran throttle man, Hank Smith, Ali pushed his boat to the edge. The giant rooster tail arced high in the air for hundreds of feet, and the twin propellers plowed a wide and double-furrowed wake for hundreds more.

“Sorry about that,” Zavala called out. “Caught a wave.”

“Great save. Let’s go for second place.”

Austin pushed the throttles forward, and with a scream of the engines they were off in hot pursuit.

•  •  •

High above the race course the Italian TV cameraman had spotted the dramatic reversal of the lead boats. The chopper swooped out in a wide circle and came back over the flotilla to hover at midchannel. Pozzi wanted a wide shot of the lone boat speeding past the spectators to the turn buoy for the final approach to San Diego. The cameraman glanced at the sea below to get his bearings and saw wavelets outlining a large, shiny, grayish object mounding at the surface. A trick of the light. No, there was definitely something there. He caught the attention of the pilot and pointed straight down.

“What the hell is that?” the pilot said.

Pozzi aimed the camera at the object and zoomed in with the touch of a button.

“It’s a balena,” he said as the object came into focus.

“For God’s sake, speak English.”

“How you say? A whale.”

“Oh, yeah,” the pilot replied. “You see them migrating. Don’t worry, he’ll dive when he hears the boats.”

“No,” Carlo said with a shake of his head. “I think he’s dead. He’s not moving.”

The pilot put the chopper at a slight angle for a better view. “Hell, you’re right. There’s another one. I’m counting three—no, four. Damn! They’re popping up all over the place.”

He switched to the hailing channel. “Come in, San Diego Coast Guard. This is the TV helicopter over the race course. Emergency!”

A voice crackled over the radio. “Coast Guard station at Cabrillo Point. Go ahead.”

“I’m seeing whales in the race course.”

“Whales?”

“Yeah, maybe a dozen. I think they’re dead.”

“Roger,” the radio man said. “We’ll alert the cutter on scene to check them out.”

“Too late,” the pilot said. “You’ve got to stop the race.”

A tense silence followed. Then: “Roger. We’ll try.”

A moment later in response to a call from the station, the Coast Guard cutter moved from its post at the turn buoy. Orange signal flares blossomed against the blue sky.

Ali saw neither the flares nor the bloated gray carcass floating in his path until it was too late. He yanked the wheel, missed the obstruction by inches, dodged another body, but could not avoid a third. He veered off, yelling at Hank to cut power. Smith’s fingers flew to the throttle, and the planing hull settled down. The Carpet was still going fifty miles an hour when it hit the carcass. With an explosion of foul air, the body popped like a huge blubbery balloon. The boat careened off on one sponson, flipped, somersaulted, and miraculously landed right-side up again.

Ali and the throttle man were saved from fractured skulls by their helmets. Working through a black haze, Ali reached for the wheel and tried to turn, but there was no response from the rudder. He called out to the throttle man. Hank was slumped over the throttles.

On the Nepenthe the captain had left the bridge and was down on the deck talking to Gloria Ekhart when the actress leaned over the rail and pointed. “Excuse me, Captain. What’s that gold boat doing?”

The Flying Carpet was wallowing like a punch-drunk boxer trying to find a neutral corner. Then the twin bows came around, and the boat straightened out, gained speed, and assumed a trajectory aimed at the yacht’s midships. The captain waited for the boat to veer off. It kept coming. Alarmed, he calmly excused himself, stepped aside, and whipped a walkie-talkie from his belt. His mental computer was calculating how long it would take the gold boat to hit them.

“This is the captain,” he barked into the hand radio. “Get this ship under way!”

“Now, sir? During the race?”

“Are you deaf? Weigh anchor and move this ship out. Now.”

“Move? Where, sir?”

They had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting under way in time, and his helmsman wanted to play twenty questions.

“Forward,” he shouted, close to panic. “Just move it!”

Even as he barked the order the captain knew it was too late. The race boat had already cut the distance in half. He started to herd children to the other side of the yacht. Maybe a few lives would be saved, although he doubted it. The wooden hull would shatter into splinters, fuel would be spilled in a fiery conflagration, and the yacht would go to the bottom within minutes. As the captain grabbed onto a wheelchair with a little girl in it and pushed her across the deck, he yelled at others to do the same. Too frozen by fear to react, Ekhart saw the gold torpedo speeding toward them and instinctively did the only thing she could. She put her arm protectively around her daughter’s thin shoulders and held her tight.

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First Chapter

Chapter One

San Diego, California,2001

West of encinitas on the pacific coast, the graceful motor yacht Nepenthe swung at anchor, the grandest craft in a flotilla that seemed to include every sailboat and powerboat in San Diego. With her fluid drawn-out lines, the spearlike sprit jutting from the thrusting clipper bow, and her flaring tran-som, the two-hundred-foot-long Nepenthe looked as if she were made of fine white china floating on a Delft sea. Her paint glistened with a mirror finish, and her brightwork sparkled under the California sun. Flags and pennants snapped and fluttered from stem to stern. Bobbing balloons occasionally broke loose to soar into the cloudless sky.

In the yacht's spacious British Empire­style salon a string quartet played a Vivaldi piece for the eclectic gathering of black-clad Hollywood types, corpulent politicians, and sleek TV anchors who milled around a thick-legged mahogany table devouring pâté beluga caviar, and shrimp with the gusto of famine victims.

Outside, crowding the sun-drenched decks, children sat in wheelchairs or leaned on crutches, munching hot dogs and burgers and enjoying the fresh sea air. Hovering over them like a mother hen was a lovely woman in her fifties. Gloria Ekhart's generous mouth and cornflower-blue eyes were familiar to millions who had seen her movies and watched her popular sitcom on TV. Every fan knew about Ekhart's daughter Elsie, the pretty, freckle-faced young girl who scooted around the deck in a wheelchair. Ekhart had given up acting at the peak of her career to devote her fortune and time to helping children like her own. The influential and well-heeled guests chugging down Dom Perignon in the salon would be asked later to open their checkbooks for the Ekhart Foundation.

Ekhart had a flair for promotion, which was why she leased the Nepenthe for her party. In 1930, when the vessel slid off the ways at the G. L. Watson boatyard in Glasgow, she was among the most graceful motor yachts ever to sail the seas. The yacht's first owner, an English earl, lost her in an all-night poker game to a Hollywood mogul with a pen-chant for cards, marathon parties, and underage starlets. She went through a succession of equally indifferent own-ers, winding up in a failed attempt as a fishing boat. Smelling of dead fish and bait, the rotting yacht languished in the back corner of a boatyard. She was rescued by a Silicon Valley magnate who tried to recoup the millions he spent restoring the vessel by leasing her out for events such as the Ekhart fund-raiser.

A man wearing a blue blazer with an official race badge pinned to the breast pocket had been peering through binoculars at the flat green expanse of the Pacific. He rubbed his eyes and squinted into the lenses again. In the distance thin white plumes were etched against the blue sky where it met the water. He lowered the binoculars, raised an aerosol can-ister with a plastic trumpet attached, and pressed the button three times.

Hawnk...hawnk...hawnk.

The klaxon's blaring squawk echoed across the water like the mating call of a monster gander. The flotilla took up the signal. A cacophony of bells, whistles, and horns filled the air and drowned out the cry of hungry gulls. Hundreds of spectators excitedly reached for their binoculars and cameras. Boats heeled dangerously as passengers shifted to one side. On the Nepenthe the guests wolfed down their food and poured from the salon sipping from glasses of bubbly. They shaded their eyes and looked off in the dis-tance, where the feathery plumes were thickening into ban-tam rooster tails. Carried on the breeze was a sound like an angry swarm of bees.

In a circling helicopter a thousand feet above the Nepenthe, a sturdy Italian photographer named Carlo Pozzi tapped the pilot's shoulder and pointed to the northwest. The water was marked by parallel white streaks advancing as if plowed by a huge, invisible harrow. Pozzi checked his safety harness, stepped out onto a runner with one foot, and hefted a fifty-pound television camera onto his shoulder. Leaning with a practiced stance into the wind that buffeted his body, he brought the extraordinary power of his lens to bear on the advancing lines. He swept the camera from left to right, giving viewers around the world an overview of the dozen race boats cutting furrows in the sea. Then he zoomed in on a pair of boats leading the pack by a quarter of a mile.

The speeding craft skimmed the wave tops, their forty-foot hulls planing with elevated bows as if trying to escape the restraints of gravity. The lead boat was painted a bold firehouse red. Trailing by less than a hundred yards, the sec-ond boat sparkled like a gold nugget. The boats were more like star fighters than craft designed for travel over water. Their flat decks connected two knife-edged catamaran hulls called sponsons and aerodynamic wings over the engine compartments. Twin F-16­type canopies were set side-by-side two-thirds of the way back from the sharp-pointed double prows.

Squeezed into the red boat's right-hand canopy, his sun-bronzed face fixed in a mask of determination, Kurt Austin braced himself as the eight-ton craft slammed against the concrete-hard water again and again. Unlike a land vehicle, the boat had no shock absorbers to cushion the jarring impact. Each jolt traveled through the one-piece Kevlar and carbon composite hull up through Austin's legs and rattled his teeth. Despite his broad shoulders, his muscular biceps, and the five-point harness system that strapped his two-hundred- pound frame in place, he felt like a basketball being dribbled down the court by Michael Jordan. Every ounce of strength in his muscular six-foot-one body was needed to keep a steady hand on the trim tabs and the throt-tle levers and a firm left foot on the engine pedal controlling the pressure in the mighty twin turbos that sent the boat thundering over the water.

José "Joe" Zavala sat hunched over the steering wheel in the left canopy. His gloved hands tightly gripped the small black wheel that seemed inadequate for the task of keeping the boat pointed in the right direction. He felt as if he were aiming rather than steering the boat. His mouth was set in a grim line. The large dark brown eyes had lost their usual soul-ful look as they strained intently through the tinted Plexiglas visor to read the sea conditions for changes in wind or wave height. The up-and-down movement of the bow compounded the difficulty. Where Austin gauged the boat's behavior, quite literally, by the seat of his pants, Zavala felt the waves and troughs through his steering wheel.

Austin barked into the intercom mike that connected the canopies. "What's our speed?"

Zavala glanced at the digital speed gauge. "One twenty-two." His eyes went to the GPS position and compass. "Right on course."

Austin checked his watch and looked down at the chart fastened to his right thigh. The one-hundred-sixty-mile race began in San Diego, made two sharp turns around Santa Catalina Island, and came back to the starting point, giving thousands of spectators along the beaches a view of the dra-matic finish. The final turn should be coming up any minute. He squinted through the spray-splashed canopy and saw a vertical line off to the right, then another. Sailboat masts! The spectator fleet flanked a wide swath of open water. Once past the spectators, the racers would pick up the Coast Guard cutter near the turn buoy and head into the last lap. He snapped a quick glance over his right shoulder and caught the reflection of the sun off gold.

"Kicking it up to one-thirty," Austin said. The hard shocks coming through the steering wheel indicated that the wave height was growing. Zavala had observed white flecks in the water and a distinct marbling to the seas that told him the wind was up.

"Don't know if we should," Zavala yelled over the shriek of the engines. "Picking up a slight chop. Where's Ali Baba?"

"Practically in our back pocket!"

"He's crazy if he makes his play now. He should just lie back and let us take the lumps like he's been doing, then go for the home stretch. Sea and wind are too unpredictable."

"Ali doesn't like to lose."

Zavala grunted. "Okay. Take it to one twenty-five. Maybe he'll back off."

Austin pushed down with his fingertips on the throttles and felt a surge of speed and power.

A moment later Zavala reported: "Doing one twenty-seven. Seems okay."

The gold boat fell back, then speeded up to keep pace. Austin could read the black lettering on the side: Flying Carpet. The boat's driver was hidden behind the tinted glass, but Austin knew the bearded young Omar Sharif look-alike would be grinning from ear to ear. The son of a Dubai hotel magnate, Ali Bin Said was one of the toughest competitors in one of the world's most competitive and dangerous sports, Class 1 offshore powerboat racing.

Ali came within a whisker of beating Austin at the Dubai Duty Free Grand Prix the year before. The loss in his own backyard before his home audience was particularly galling. Ali had beefed up the power in the Carpet's twin Lamborghini engines. With improvements in its power plant the Red Ink squeezed out a few extra miles per hour, but Austin estimated Ali's boat was a match for his.

At the prerace briefing Ali had jokingly accused Austin of calling in the National Underwater & Marine Agency to quell the seas in his boat's path. As leader of the Special Assignments Team for NUMA, Austin had the resources of the huge agency at his command. But he knew better than to play King Canute. Ali had been beaten not by engine power but by the way Austin and his NUMA partner clicked together as a team.

Zavala, with his dark complexion and thick, straight black hair always combed straight back, could have passed for the maître d' in a posh Acapulco resort hotel. The slight smile always on his lips masked a steely resolve forged in his college days as a middleweight boxer and honed by the frequent challenges of his NUMA assignments. The gregarious and softspoken marine engineer had thousands of hours piloting helicopters, small jets, and turbo-prop air-craft and easily switched to the cockpit of a race boat. Working with Austin as if they were parts in a precision machine, he took command of the race from the second the referee raised the green starting flag.

They were up on plane at a near-ideal angle and blasted across the start line at one hundred and thirty miles per hour. Every boat had hit the finish line with throttle straight out. Two hard-driven competitors blew out their engines on the first lap, one flipped on the first turn, probably the most dangerous part of any race, and the rest were simply out-classed by the two leaders. The Red Ink rocketed by the others as if they were stuck on fly paper. Only the Flying Carpet kept pace. During the first Catalina Island turn, Zavala had maneuvered the Red Ink around the buoy so that Ali went wide. The Flying Carpet had been playing catch-up ever since.

Now the Carpet had taken wing and was coming abreast of the Red Ink. Austin knew of Ali's last-minute switch to a smaller propeller that would be better in rough seas. Austin wished he could trade in his large calm-water propeller. Ali had been smart to listen to his weather sense rather than the forecast.

"I'm cranking her up another notch!" Austin shouted.

"She's at one-forty now," Zavala yelled back. "Wind's up. She'll kite if we don't slow down."

Austin knew a high-speed turn was risky. The twin catamaran sponsons skated across the surface with practically no water resistance. The same design that allowed for high speed over the wave tops also meant wind could get under the hull, lift it in a kiting motion, or, even worse, flip it back onto its deck.

The Flying Carpet continued to gain. Austin's fingertips played over the tops of the throttle levers. He hated to lose. His combativeness was a trait he'd inherited from his father along with the football player physique and eyes the color of coral underwater. One day it would get him killed. But not today. He eased back on the throttles. The maneuver may have saved their lives.

A white-crested four-foot rogue sea was racing in off the port bow, practically snarling as it bore down on them. Zavala saw it angling in, prayed they'd clear it, knew instantly that the timing was all wrong. The wave hooked one of the spon-sons like a cat's claw. The Red Ink was launched spinning into space. With lightning reflexes Zavala steered in the direction of the spin like a driver caught on an ice patch. The boat splashed into the water sideways, rolled so the canopies were buried, then righted after a few more yaws.

Ali slowed down, but once he saw they were all right, he gunned his engines, throwing caution to the winds. He wanted to finish as far ahead of Austin as possible. Ignoring the advice of his veteran throttle man, Hank Smith, Ali pushed his boat to the edge. The giant rooster tail arced high in the air for hundreds of feet, and the twin propellers plowed a wide and double-furrowed wake for hundreds more.

"Sorry about that," Zavala called out. "Caught a wave."

"Great save. Let's go for second place."

Austin pushed the throttles forward, and with a scream of the engines they were off in hot pursuit.

High above the race course the Italian TV cameraman had spotted the dramatic reversal of the lead boats. The chopper swooped out in a wide circle and came back over the flotilla to hover at midchannel. Pozzi wanted a wide shot of the lone boat speeding past the spectators to the turn buoy for the final approach to San Diego. The cameraman glanced at the sea below to get his bearings and saw wavelets out-lining a large, shiny, grayish object mounding at the surface. A trick of the light. No, there was definitely something there. He caught the attention of the pilot and pointed straight down.

"What the hell is that?" the pilot said. Pozzi aimed the camera at the object and zoomed in with the touch of a button.

"It's a balena," he said as the object came into focus.

"For God's sake, speak English."

"How you say? A whale."

"Oh, yeah," the pilot replied. "You see them migrating. Don't worry, he'll dive when he hears the boats."

"No," Carlo said with a shake of his head. "I think he's dead. He's not moving."

The pilot put the chopper at a slight angle for a better view. "Hell, you're right. There's another one. I'm counting three — no, four. Damn! They're popping up all over the place."

He switched to the hailing channel. "Come in, San Diego Coast Guard. This is the TV helicopter over the race course. Emergency!"

A voice crackled over the radio. "Coast Guard station at Cabrillo Point. Go ahead."

"I'm seeing whales in the race course."

"Whales?"

"Yeah, maybe a dozen. I think they're dead."

"Roger," the radio man said. "We'll alert the cutter on scene to check them out."

"Too late," the pilot said. "You've got to stop the race."

A tense silence followed. Then: "Roger. We'll try."

A moment later in response to a call from the station, the Coast Guard cutter moved from its post at the turn buoy. Orange signal flares blossomed against the blue sky.

Ali saw neither the flares nor the bloated gray carcass floating in his path until it was too late. He yanked the wheel, missed the obstruction by inches, dodged another body, but could not avoid a third. He veered off, yelling at Hank to cut power. Smith's fingers flew to the throttle, and the planing hull settled down. The Carpet was still going fifty miles an hour when it hit the carcass. With an explosion of foul air, the body popped like a huge blubbery balloon. The boat careened off on one sponson, flipped, somer-saulted, and miraculously landed right-side up again.

Ali and the throttle man were saved from fractured skulls by their helmets. Working through a black haze, Ali reached for the wheel and tried to turn, but there was no response from the rudder. He called out to the throttle man. Hank was slumped over the throttles.

On the Nepenthe the captain had left the bridge and was down on the deck talking to Gloria Ekhart when the actress leaned over the rail and pointed. "Excuse me, Captain. What's that gold boat doing?"

The Flying Carpet was wallowing like a punch-drunk boxer trying to find a neutral corner. Then the twin bows came around, and the boat straightened out, gained speed, and assumed a trajectory aimed at the yacht's midships. The captain waited for the boat to veer off. It kept coming. Alarmed, he calmly excused himself, stepped aside, and whipped a walkie-talkie from his belt. His mental computer was calculating how long it would take the gold boat to hit them.

"This is the captain," he barked into the hand radio. "Get this ship under way!"

"Now, sir? During the race?"

"Are you deaf? Weigh anchor and move this ship out. Now."

"Move? Where sir?"

They had a snowball's chance in hell of getting under way in time, and his helmsman wanted to play twenty questions.

"Forward," he shouted, close to panic. "Just move it!"

Even as he barked the order the captain knew it was too late. The race boat had already cut the distance in half. He started to herd children to the other side of the yacht. Maybe a few lives would be saved, although he doubted it. The wooden hull would shatter into splinters, fuel would be spilled in a fiery conflagration, and the yacht would go to the bottom within minutes. As the captain grabbed onto a wheelchair with a little girl in it and pushed her across the deck, he yelled at others to do the same. Too frozen by fear to react, Ekhart saw the gold torpedo speeding toward them and instinctively did the only thing she could. She put her arm protectively around her daughter's thin shoulders and held her tight.

Copyright © 2001 by Clive Cussler

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 77 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 78 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2001

    Cussler & Kemprecos strike GOLD again

    I am quite puzzled at the negative reviews of this, the 2nd Kurt Austin adventure. For my money, it may not be 100% equal to your average Dirk Pitt treasure, but I'd have to say it comes pretty close. I was as skeptical as any other Dirk Pitt fan when I first saw 'Serpent' a little over a year ago, but I had to remember that Cussler had never failed me before, so I took the gamble on Kurt Austin novel #1 and I was incredibly glad I did. 'Blue Gold', like 'Serpent' continues the tried-and-true Cussler formula. Somewhere is a really bad guy--or in this case, a bad girl--who has plans on doing something that will tragically effect the entire planet, in this case, control arguably the most valuable resource on the planet outside of oxygen: WATER. Kurt Austin & his trusty sidekick, Joe Zavala end up as Dirk & Al usually do, knee-deep in the mess, quite by accident. But once into it, they cannot stop themselves from rushing headlong into the conspiracy. The Amazon connection as well as the missing WWII spy plane added a great deal of thrills to an already winning plot. For those who just CANNOT get past this not being a Dirk Pitt adventure should do this: every time you see the name Kurt, just substitute Dirk and the same goes for exchanging Al for every time you see the name Joe...by doing this, you can hardly tell the difference between these books and one featuring the Special Projects Director of the National Underwater & Marine Agency. Again, there are those who cannot (or will not) attempt to do this, but for my money, I'll take a Cussler novel just about any way I can get it, and if a Kurt Austin tale quenches my adventure thirst while waiting for Dirk & Co. to make another trip to the bookstore, I just see it as a good thing all around. Also, for those who enjoy Clive Cussler's style of writing, check out one of Jack Du Brul's books. He is soon becoming the new master of adventure fiction.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Awesome!!!!

    I Liked this book because there is nonstop action from the beginning. Even when it slows down it really held my attention. Also a very diverse storyline and not all action. Has a good plot and the characters are well defined.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    A Thriller

    The story keeps on going...can't put the book down. It's a must for the thrill seeker, looking for the next event.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2013

    Great Read

    This book is yet another example of why I keep coming back to Cussler when I want a good book to read

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2014

    Good

    Read

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    True Gold!

    Back in blue!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    Sph

    Ish baq

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2012

    Marceline

    Bye see you tomarrow *kisses you back*

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    Totally recommend it!

    As always, Cussler never lets down the action or intentsity.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011

    Great reading for everyone!!

    I have read eleven books by Mr. Cussler. They are the best. I can recomend any of his books to readers of all ages.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 23, 2011

    For Clive Cussler fans a must read.

    Blue Gold is a very good read , never a dull moment and always suspenseful right to the end. As with all of Cussler's books a page turner and hard to put down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2003

    KURT IS NO DIRK PITT, BUT HE IS OK!

    I HAVE BEEN A CLIVE CUSSLER/DIRK PITT FAN FOR YEARS. THE NEW HERO, KURT AUSTIN, IS NO DIRK PITT. HIS CHARACTER IS NOT AS DEVELOPED AND PERSONABLE. ALSO, HIS 'TEAM' JUST DOESN'T SEEM AS CLOSE KNIT AND LIKABLE AS DIRK'S. ALL THIS ASIDE, IT HAS A PRETTY GOOD START ON BECOMING A GOOD SERIES. THE SCIENCE ASPECT IS INTRIGUING, THE FEMALE VILLAIN IS VERY NASTY, AND THE ADVENTURE IS EXOTIC. HOWEVER, THE MAIN CHARACTERS STILL NEED A LOT MORE DEVELOPMENT AND CONSISTENCY. MAYBE THEY WILL GROW ON ME.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2001

    A Great New Beginning

    I loved this book. The story line was interesting. You did need to read it carefully (don't skip any pages) or you'll miss some of the important clues to what going on. Dirk is getting old and has done almost everything. Now is the time to bring in Kurt, the younger person with new partner and personalities to open up another story line. It does live up to Clive's other stories. The only negative thing is being with a co-author is they haven't written much together so the styles haven't totally meshed yet. The next story together will be awesome. I think the next story Kurt and Dirk should be working together.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2000

    Blue Gold = Great Read

    After reading all of Cussler's books, I am happy to say that this is as good or better that all the rest. While Austin is not Dirk, the two characters are from the same cloth. This new series helps pass the time of waiting on a new Pitt novel bearable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2000

    Bad Gal

    An interesting twist on the typical Bad Guy in most action/adventure novels.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2000

    Recommend

    As an avid Cussler reader for many years I am constantly checking the shelves for a new title. One a year just isn't enough once your hooked. But I must say the new series do not meet the standards of the Dirk Pitt and crew. I find the characters shallow and not as seasoned as Dirk was. There is good build up as far as characters is concerned but too many flukey type escapes. Also the end comes too quick after reading through so much detail. I hope that Mr. Austin will become a little more like Dirk whereas right now he is too much of a fly by the seat of the pants character. All in all a good read but not as exciting as past writings of Clive's.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2000

    BLUE GOLD lost at sea

    I've read all of the Cussler novels and am an ardent fan. However, this co-authored novel does not meet Cussler's elegant standards for highly detailed and mind-boggling excitement. When you have become 'Cusslerized' over the years, the flimsy action episodes in Blue Gold seem to fall flat. This novel definitely needed more Cussler input.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2000

    Pure Gold

    I¿m so glad that Clive Cussler started another series! Waiting for a year plus for another Dirk Pitt was torture. I have been a fan of Mr. Cussler since Rise The Titanic. His books have always been such a pleasure to read. Fun adventure, total escapism. The good guys win and the bad guys get theirs. A new take on the old western books. Mr. Cussler does a wonderful job of explaining the high tech end of things and makes the story in his books seem real. This book is no exception. The four main characters are fun and interesting. Kurt and Joe the two lead characters are as much fun as Dirk and Al. May be even a bit funnier. The addition of a married couple is an added bonus, for a anchor to the plot. The plot of this book is tight with some very nasty villains. The ¿heroine in distress¿ in this book could use a bit more fleshing out. But you do understand her and root for her. Over all a very fun book to escape into for a couple of days.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2000

    Austin is back - but he's no Dirk

    For Cussler fans, the escapades of Kurt Austin are a welcome addition to the NUMA files. For Pitt fans, Kurt and Joe seem to be a watered down version of the dynamic duo. The Trouts play a big role in Blue Gold, which is good. Hiram and Max are here, as well as Sandecker, but Rudi only makes a cameo. I guess the feeling of disappointment stems from wanting Pitt to save the day. A good read on its own, but left me wanting to know what's going on with Al,Dirk and Lauren

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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