Except for the general background of the Sinai coast under Israeli rule, including the Dolphin Bar and some diving clubs and yachts and their personnel, all persons and happenings in this book are fictitious.
"...nomads like myself
wandering seas and lands and twisting wadis
across and through the homes and habitations
of Abels, settled Saxons, fellahin,
looting their hearts and money, taking wives
and leaving fast before..."
(Edward Codish, THE VOYAGE TO GAZA)
I had spent the last few days getting Sinbad ready for the next diving cruise: taking on fuel, water, food and drink; checking the engines, the air compressors, the diving gear, and the inflatable boat with its outboard engine. Everything was in perfect order, and now Sinbad lay in her berth in the Eilat harbour, all twenty metres of her gleaming white under the full moon just rising over the mountains across the bay. There were only Maria and me on board; I had given the rest of the crew - Bob, Ilan and Ron - a well-deserved weekend leave, asking them to be back early Monday morning, before the guests arrive. I was now sipping cold beer and smoking my pipe in the dining room, putting finishing touches to the cruise plan. Except for a soft occasional whir of a fishing reel from the deck where Maria was angling for squid with a luminous green lure everything was quiet. The boat sat still on the mirror-smooth water and it was a lovely feeling now that I had made the last payment and she was all mine and I could start seeing her as my real home. Someone once said that houses were merely badly built boats so firmly aground that you could not push them off and set sail. Sinbad was a boat from the start; but most of the time I was sharing her with the tourists and the crew, rather like a hotel owner living on the premises. There was also some uncertainty about the future. Peace with Egypt was in sight, and this would mean returning to the Egyptians, within something like a couple of years, the Sinai peninsula with its three hundred kilometers of Red Sea coast, lined with coral reefs which were considered either the most beautiful in the world or second to none, and being left, like before the Six- Day War, with Eilat and its measly six or seven kilometres of coast, already crowded and polluted by the town, the port, the airfield, and the pressure of tourists. The Israelis who had settled along the Sinai coast since the war - owners and personnel of hotels, restaurants, diving clubs, and souvenir shops - hoped that they would be able to stay on and that business would be as good or better than before. But if not, they could count on generous compensation. The two diving yachts, however - Ram Sahar's slightly larger Sunboat (twelve divers in six double cabins) and my Sinbad (eight in four cabins) - might not be eligible. The authorities could argue that no uprooting was involved, merely a change of berth, and that we could carry on as before, from Eilat.
This uncertainty was one of the reasons I was able to get Sinbad at a price I could afford. Another reason was that Red Shmulik, the previous owner (so called because of the colour of his hair, not politics), was caught smuggling hashish along the coast with the help of some Bedouin and was now in jail, heaving also had to pay a heavy fine he could not have managed without selling his boat. It was Major Yankele of our friendly local Military Intelligence who caught him, by pure chance. Yankele was taking a Scandinavian lady tourist in his army jeep to a little secluded beach for a midnight swim and ran straight into a couple of Bedouin loading hashish onto the boat. The Bedouin melted into the landscape - they can do it in full daylight in the open desert, and how much easier on a dark night on a rocky shore - but Shmulik was done for. Afterwards, Yankele made a great play of his small unit's round-the-clock alertness, hoping, unsuccessfully, for his long-overdue promotion. The boat thus had a slightly tarnished reputation, which change of ownership could not quite remove, as if some dry rot of lawlessness was still lodged in her ribs. On the other hand, mentioning casually to the tourists that Sinbad was once a smuggler's boat added to the romance of the vacation.
There was a knock on the door and Maria was standing there in her bikini.
"Beg to report, sir, the moon is up."
"Has been for the past half an hour. Took you that long to notice?"
She sat on my knees and put her arms around me and her cheek against mine. Her hair smelt of the sea, and her hands, faintly, of squid.
"How is it going, Maria?"
"Got half a dozen by now, and was just thinking about a coffee break. A cup for you, Cobi?"
"I'll try to get a few more, and we can have them deep- fried with a bottle of wine, and then sleep together with no one else on board till morning?"
I leaned back and pulled her closer to me and we kissed; a long leisurely slightly lazy kiss because we had slept together before and had the whole boat and night to ourselves. When the kiss went on and became slightly less lazy there came a splashing from the deck.
"Damn it," Maria said and jumped up. "They're squirting! I forgot the cover!"
She rushed out of the cabin. The squid would at first keep quiet in a large bucket of sea water; then, after a while, in a last desperate effort at escape, triggered by prolonged captivity and lack of space and oxygen, they would start squirting water and ink through their propulsion nozzles, dying shortly afterwards. If the bucket was left uncovered, the ink made a mess on the deck and whoever was responsible, crewman, skipper, or guest, had to clean up.
©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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