Stout allies, all
of them. But the imminent threat of my spending the next few days in the
Hurghada hoosegow didn't seem to worry them as much as it should have. The fat
sailor made a lunge at a rod of mine that was leaning across a gunwale. I
snatched it back from his grasp. Ahmoud, impatiently twiddling his ancient toes
in the sunlight, burst out with more explanatory Arabic. There was a scuffling
from below, and Mr. Sabreez reappeared. He had cottoned onto the fact that the
police were not after him. "This man wishes for 50 piasters," he said.
Light dawned. Our naval friend had missed out when the baksheesh went round.
Without the payoff I was an evil man trying to smuggle big-game reels, rods,
Dacron lines, six bottles of Stella beer and a packet of sandwiches out of
Egypt. Fifty piasters made me a gentleman, a sport fisherman, his friend. He
wasn't greedy. It was just that his status had been threatened.
Our craft could
now put to sea. We were late starting anyway, even before the intervention of
the naval authorities. This was because of Ramadan, the Moslem month of fasting
and religious observance. The fasting part only applies between sunrise and
sunset: the rest of the time you can eat, smoke and drink as you please (the
Prophet merely forbade wine, remember). If you are making up for lost time,
therefore, you squeeze three meals into the dark hours, and it is customary
also to pay a lot of social calls. This all leads to a lot of yawning in the
daytime, and Cairo government offices give due recognition to weariness by
opening only between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Down on the Red Sea followers of the
faith make their own arrangements. Ahmoud was firm that we couldn't leave
before 10 a.m. and that we would have to be back alongside the jetty again by 4
p.m. so that he and the boys would have time to sort the boat out and get
cleaned up and ready to fall onto the roast pigeons, or shish kebab or
whatever, crack on the stroke of 5 p.m., official sundown.
So I was limited
to the hottest part of the day—the worst for fishing. And limited for range as
well. Through Mr. Sabreez I asked Ahmoud where the best fishing was. "The
Shadwan reefs," came the reply.
I asked, thinking that it might be worth losing a little fishing time to get to
the right spot.
"He says three
days there and three days back," said Mr. Sabreez, looking as if he could
burst into tears out of sympathy. Ahmoud smiled gently, with the ineffable
patience of the East, the patience, moreover, of one who knows that his stewed
lamb is guaranteed at 5 p.m., and that any attempt by this crazy foreigner to
foul it up will be instantly stigmatized as the worst kind of neo-colonialist
So, with the
ineffable patience of the West, I accepted the situation, getting out the small
rod and the reel with the light trolling line. The local reefs around Hurghada
possibly would have barracuda, and we might also get kingfish. We chugged away
from the jetty, and I started on my first task, which was to persuade Ahmoud
that it would be impossible to troll with a brightly colored canvas awning and
supporting struts in position over the stern of the boat. I told Mr. Sabreez to
pass on the message. There was a rapid exchange in Arabic, then Mr. Sabreez
explained to me, in the tone of one who humors a child, that the awning was
there to protect us from the sun. I said that this was nice, but nevertheless
it would have to come down.
The canvas part
was easily unshipped, but then I could see the reason for Ahmoud's reluctance.
The metal supports had long since rusted firm in their sockets. Eagerly
Mustapha stepped forward and hit the midship support with the starting handle
of the motor. It snapped off cleanly. This drastic solution did not appeal to
Ahmoud, who repossessed the handle and, with a vicious lunge, sent Mustapha
scuttling back forward. Since there was no fishing accommodation in the stern
anyway, I looked forward to the interesting prospect of playing any sizable
fish from midship and having to maneuver the line around the remaining
supports, few fish being so obliging as to fight it out directly astern. Virgin
fishing is a very exciting prospect, but in my experience it tends to go with
virgin boats and virgin skippers, if you see what I mean.
But as we moved
over the clear, shallow water, visibly alive with dozens of species of colored
reef fish, my spirits rose. Ahmoud gave me an evil smile and a wink, dove into
a locker and produced a box of small garfish—the bait. (I didn't know then that
this was a hidden extra, particularly since the Red Sea, for miles around
Hurghada, proved to be alive with shoals of a small tuna species which we could
have harvested without difficulty.) Ahmoud tutted over the fineness of my wire
leader, which, in any case, I thought was somewhat heavy, and came up with a
short length of stuff that could have held a pair of killer whales. "Do not
touch it," said Rudi the Nazi. "He will put 20 piasters on the bill,
plus service charge."
So the garfish was
rigged on my leader, and I let it slip away behind the boat. Ahmoud came over,
checked the drag and tightened it up. I slacked it off a little. He tightened
it. I slacked it. We glared at each other. Rudi, meanwhile, had found the
harness and belt I was going to use if we hit any big fish. This was the first
thing that had pleased him all day. He gloated over the webbing, the leather
straps, the gleaming buckles. "I may put this on?" he said. Then I had
to rig up the 6/0 reel and a rod for him. He preened, practiced a few glares,
then a proud smile.
"I am wanting
my picture taken now. In color, please. You may send it to this address."
He whipped out a visiting card. I gave it to Mr. Sabreez, who had moved into
action with his camera. "Later," said Rudi, "I might fish a
little." He went up onto the cabin roof to do a few handstands and some