Zygmunt Frankel

THE SHARK REEF


SHARK REEF

The next morning we sailed another couple of kilometres, past Sharm-el-Sheikh, and anchored off the wreck of the Dunraven. The Dunraven was a British ship which had gone down, after splitting itself open on a nearby reef, sometime around World War One, and was rediscovered only recently by Israeli divers from Sharm. It lay in about thirty metres of water, well within sports scuba diving range, on a sandy bottom, with a gaping hole amidships where it had hit the reef. It must have sunk slowly, perhaps remaining impaled on the reef for a while, giving the crew the chance to get away, because no skeletons have been found in the wreck.

There seemed to be some mystery about the Dunraven at first. Phone calls and letters to British shipping and insurance agencies in London and to both Royal and merchant navies have brought to surface - no pun intended - two different ships of the same name, one of them possibly on a secret mission. Rumour had it that Howard Rosenstein, the black-bearded owner and manager of the Red Sea Divers, had tried to keep the location of the wreck secret for as long as he could because he thought that the ship might have been carrying gold to Lawrence of Arabia and that it must still be somewhere inside the wreck. In the event no gold was found but Ram Sahar, the skipper of the Sunboat, once told me indignantly over a glass of beer on board his boat that Howard had raised and was hiding a whole hoard of china cups, saucers, and plates with Dunraven's name on them. Then, with a mischievous smile, he said: "Come, I'll show you something, only promise you won't tell anyone," and led me to an obscure corner of the deck, pulled a wooden crate from under a bench, and opened it. Inside there was a nicely engraved porcelain toilet bowl, heavily encrusted with barnacles and coral, with the same name on it. As I myself also owned a few china plates and cups, as well as a very nice chamber pot from the Dunraven, I thought that at this rate there will soon be nothing left to plunder down there. Slightly worried about Maria's fortune-telling of the night before, I gave our guests a very careful and detailed briefing before the Dunraven dive. We were going down with torches even though the inside of the wreck was reasonably well lit for most of its length through the large hole amidships and the smaller entrance and exit ones, in the stern and bows respectively. The smallest hole was the entrance one, close to the screw, allowing the passage of only one diver at a time. An emergency exit could easily be made through the middle hole, and the exit one in front was also much larger than the entry.

We went down following the line which now permanently linked Dunraven's stern to a marker buoy on the surface, locating it for all comers, except for the intervals when the line was cut by one of the clubs or diving boats to make finding the wreck more difficult for the competition. Bob stationed himself outside the entrance hole, I just inside, Ilan amidships, and Ron at the exit, thus making sure that each guest passing through would be within the sight of at least two of us at all times.

The dive passed without a hitch. None of our guests had ever dived a wreck before, and it was another first. The dim innards of the sunken ship, heavily encrusted with marine growth and with a couple of large evil-looking groupers peering out of the corners made a great impression on them. At the exit, still inside the wreck, a cloud of small red fish stood almost still against the light, and one had the feeling of elbowing through them to leave the Dunraven. Outside once again, we still had almost half our air left, so we circled the ship, and saw two stingrays and one guitar shark, about a metre long, on the sandy bottom. The guitar shark is something between a sting ray and a real shark, and completely harmless. Max stalked it, trying to prod it with his snorkel, but it swam away before he could touch it. I told him after the dive that although guitar sharks are quite harmless one should still not try to prod them; a flip of the tail could dislodge his mask or regulator, and a brush of the rough skin could be abrasive.

We got back on deck in high spirits. We have now completed the technically most complicated dive of our cruise with flying colours. Our guests were becoming real veterans now, and any residue of gloom from Maria's fortune-telling last night has evaporated completely.

Sure enough, as soon as we had taken off our gear and had a cold drink most of them wanted to be in the water again, at least with masks and snorkels, while the seemingly tireless Werner and Max were begging for another little dive before lunch, not down to the Dunraven again, just along the nearest, fairly shallow, reef. One could hardly blame them for trying to make the most of a fascinating and expensive vacation. Though I personally would have preferred tthem to rest a bit more between dives, I agreed to the snorkelling, and also, there being some spare full air tanks available, allowed Werner, Max, and the two Frenchmen to dive again before lunch, no deeper than ten metres because of decompression risks, and no longer than three quarters of an hour. I sent Bob down with them and he reported that they planned and carried out the dive perfectly and all by themselves, without any advice or help on his part. Our bunch was fast proving itself to be a well- trained, disciplined, and responsible lot which could be fully trusted.

The next morning we made another dive on the Shark Reef and saw several more sharks. Our guests were slowly getting used to them while the fascination and some of the fear remained.

In the afternoon we dived the reef of Ras-uhm-Sid with its quieter, more pastoral slopes, and without the currents that run past the Shark Reef. In the evening, I went to call on Sheikh Muhammad at the lounge of the Marina Hotel to discuss the final arrangements and prices of our camel trip into the desert in three days' time. Half our guests went straight to The Dolphin after dinner - they were already fond of the place- while the other half, including, of course, Max and Werner, opted for another night dive first, under the guidance of Bob and Ilan, and would join us at The Dolphin afterwards. I left with the first group. Passing the Red Sea Divers I said to Helga, in the hearing of others, something about Howard having, in his club's little library, the book we have talked about. She took the hint at once and asked whether it would be possible to borrow it for a couple of days. We left the others, saying Helga would join them at The Dolphin soon and I when I finished with Sheikh Muhammad. We went past the diving club, up a small rocky slope, and down to a miniature sandy cove, four or five metres wide, actually the outlet of a small wadi. I spread my T-shirt on the sand and we made love with passion and impatience as if we hadn't done it for a long time. Afterwards, I still found it difficult to let Helga go. Something strange was happening to me concerning Helga. On the one hand, naked on the moonlit beach, with her marvelous body, long hair, and smoky eyes, she had never looked more like an apparition, a Lorelei transplanted to this shore; yet at the same time, such warmth seemed to flow from her to me, such caress from her eyes, that the little rocky wadi with the cool breeze blowing and the water lapping a few paces away felt for all the world like the cosiest and warmest home. I tried to remember whether it had ever been like this with any other girl and decided that it hadn't, although both the girl who had left that scar on my heart and Maria drifted briefly into my mind; and there remained something about Maria I would have to think out some other time, alone.

"Helga," I said, "if we don't go now, I'll want to stay with you like this for the rest of the night, and if possible forever."

She looked at me for a long time, and then said softly "Me too, Cobi. Perhaps we'd better go," another pause, "for the time being."

I saw her to The Dolphin, and then went to the Marina Hotel.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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