SI Vault
Clive Gammon
October 16, 1967
It was an ordinary Red Sea holiday—fishing with an Egyptian reel-wrecker, a Cairo city boy and an aggressive ex-Nazi, Then came barracuda, eaten to the accompaniment of an oompah band
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October 16, 1967

The Shark Of Araby

It was an ordinary Red Sea holiday—fishing with an Egyptian reel-wrecker, a Cairo city boy and an aggressive ex-Nazi, Then came barracuda, eaten to the accompaniment of an oompah band

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Those phrase books you buy when you go abroad do not include the things that really matter. My Arabic one, for example, told me how to say, "I expect a lady/ gentleman. Send her/him up to my room at once." And, "Can you give me something for my ears?" And even, "The wind is from the east, from the west, from the north, from the south." Things like that.

What I needed was the Angler's Universal Dictionary and Phrase Book, which unfortunately does not yet exist. This helps out with such essentials as: "Oh, Mustapha/Olav/Miguel, why have you wrenched the handle from my 4/0 reel?" And, "No, I do not wish to pay $5 extra for the shark bait." And, "Why are the naval police preparing to arrest me?"

All three would have saved a lot of trouble on my trip to Hurghada, on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. Especially the last one, when a small, round sailor, owner of one of the most malicious faces I have ever seen, danced up and down in a paroxysm of rage, right there on the hotel jetty, inviting me by unmistakable gesture to accompany him to his jeep, whereupon we could proceed to whatever was the equivalent in the United Arab Republic of the county keep.

I stood firm in the boat: I had my friends with me, of course. There was Ahmoud the skipper, explaining to me in Arabic just where I had transgressed. His son, Mustapha the reel-wrecker, was quietly engaged in snipping one of my wire leaders to see if the snippers worked. Mr. Sabreez, who alone could have interpreted, had shot below as soon as he saw the uniform and was refusing to come up. Only Rudi the Nazi had practical advice. "Why don't you throw this filthy Arab into the sea?" he said in a bored tone.

December on the Red Sea: the surf creaming on the coral reefs and along the white beaches that run endlessly south to the horn of Africa; puffball clouds drifting across to the dark mountains that stand to the west, crested like brontosaurs. In the sea itself, many game fish: barracuda, dolphin, kingfish, wahoo, sailfish, tuna, few of which had seen a baited hook. A magnificent sport-fishing opportunity, yes?

Well, yes, except that within 24 hours of arriving, some deep-rooted instinct for farce had caused me to surround myself with a set of assistants and friends that a social psychologist would call an unsynchronized group and anybody else a fourth-rate vaudeville act.

Skipper Jah Ahmoud was said, variously, to be a millionaire, the ex-boatman of the late King Farouk and to be 90 years old. On this part of the coast he was held in some awe for having fathered, 12 months previously, yet another son. Ahmoud looked after himself. Against the rigors of winter he wore an ancient British army greatcoat, dyed blue, over his long pink nightshirt. Down in Hurghada the daytime December temperature averages about 85�.

His son and No. 1 assistant, Mustapha, if born into a halfway privileged society, would have made a skilled engineer. He had the right kind of passionate curiosity about how things worked. On the Red Sea, however, he just wrecked reels.

There was Mr. Sabreez—gentle, fearful, with liquid, cocker-spaniel eyes—who had announced himself when I arrived at the hotel: "I am Mr. Sabreez, I am your right-hand man, I am government photographer, have you got any color film?" Mr. Sabreez was a Coptic Christian, exiled for some never specified reason from Cairo. He wanted to go back to Cairo very much. A city boy, if ever I saw one.

Rudi the Nazi, on the other hand, had found Munich a little dull after a spell as a Congo mercenary and an extended stay in the Republic of South Africa. He had driven down in his little VW through the Balkans, Turkey and Syria. So far he was notable for his bodybuilding exercises on the hotel terrace and for his unique ability to eat the fanged, monstrous, unidentifiable fish that had been served up for dinner the previous night.

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