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Article: Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

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    Tale of the Seas (Continuation)

    0 Comments by Doc Vernon Published on 7th January 2020 04:01 AM
    THE NEW RECRUITS, The black sea
    The Nereids were the granddaughters of Oceanus and they lived deep under the sea. Under their powers the sea could be either rough or calm. The could transform themselves into angry monsters stirring the abundant waters of the sea, yet also become beautiful nymphs and mermaids floating in the smooth ripples singing like the sirens of Ulysses. They were fairies, nymphs existing to this day in Greek traditions.
    Joyful and blessed with their own divinity, immortality and beauty, they passed the time either angering the sea or calming her down, dancing and swimming with dolphins. They swam alongside or behind the lonely ships that sailed the large oceans for endless days. Their presence offered solace to lonely sailors who longed for the company of loved ones left behind.
    They often accompanied us when we sailed the calm seas of the Mediterranean. Many times, we felt their invisible presence frolicking with the dolphins that followed our ship. They jumped into the air singing with the happy voices of young children playing and transferred their joyful mood onto us when our nostalgia and sadness took hold.
    Other times however, they were in a foul mood, so they tortured and tormented us. During one of our voyages to Odessa, and this is what I write about today, they must have been particularly enraged because they caused the sea to be so rough that our small ship was thrown about like a nutshell, at times climbing on the crest of a wave and then leaning over about to plunge into the deep dark waters of the Black Sea. The waves were constant and mountainous and they beat upon us without pity. The danger of sinking was great, fear had taken over our hearts while dark thoughts clouded our minds. But, we were sailors and had come across rough seas and fought them many times in the past. With patience, hope and endurance, as well as faith in God, we resisted turning fear into a companion and way of life.
    The Black Sea represented the crossroads of the ancient world and this became even more evident by recent diving expeditions that brought to light many wrecks of mainly ancient Greek ships, in an area linked with the glory years of Greece.
    In general, most shipwrecks in these waters were solely a result of the strong underwater currents that sank ships with great ease. The Black Sea is truly black in both name and colour and is very dangerous. Most shipwrecked sailors have never been found and legend says that the Nereids take them down into the bottomless depths where they live and keep them for company; and, when they are bored of them, they calm the sea and come to the surface to swim and play with the dolphins. In the throws of their games, they create foam that covers the sea and that is the only time its colour becomes lighter and from black, the sea turns black and white.
    The rolling of the ship was strong and I was down in the engine room, standing with my legs akimbo and cleaning burnt oil off the delaval disks using petroleum. I stood with my legs wide and my back wedged hard onto the oil filter to balance myself against the rolling of the ship. I was having a hard time succeeding, and the third officer was watching me from the other side with a smile on his face. He was a seasoned and hardened seaman, used to rough seas, and he could handle them well. He was from Soufli, a small town in the Evros area of Greece, famous for its silk. His name was Theodoros Daoutides and, even though decades have passed since, his name has remained engraved in my memory, because he was truly a good man, the only man who stood by me, helped and advised me, and taught me my first lessons about a ship’s engine. Maybe because he hailed from a remote area near the border and knew about the pain of isolation, and, maybe because Cyprus was a remote island far from the other Greek areas, perhaps these facts brought upon him some feelings of camaraderie towards me because I was Cypriot. Also, maybe he was a person who made friends easily and this was the only reason for this friendship, as we both carried out the same shift, he as a third officer and I as a new sailor. He explained the difficulties and how to overcome them, warned me about the good and the bad people in the crew, and taught me how to handle them with temperance and cunningness.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, The sea soned seamen
    At the time, Greece was under a dictatorship and everyone who supported the regime acted in a fascist manner while, everyone who was against it or a communist, acted in a revolutionary manner. The neighbouhoods and alleys of Piraeus were full of illegal immigrants and crime was rife to a large degree. The Junta on the one hand fought savagely against the people in favour of the Greek and Christian ideals, underground and hidden from sight, the same fascists and their supporters, without being answerable to any laws, reigned over the gangs of thieves and illegals.
    The lawlessness that prevailed ashore to a certain extent, also existed on board the ships, only worse. The seamen had no real love and respect for each other, habitually hypocrites. Behind closed doors, nasty and undermining words were uttered, and words were twisted in order to cause problems and vendettas. And, among all, were the snitches. Captains and second officers usually had their own guy who informed them on everything about everyone. They approached their colleagues in a friend like manner, but their ultimate goal was to extract Information.
    My brain could not comprehend this situation and wondered why, indeed, didn’t the opposite happen, in other words, why didn’t we all endure the hardships of the endless days of great loneliness and hard work in the middle of inclement weather conditions with love for one another. I brought to mind and compared other situations of forced human concentration and found that the same happened everywhere. The army, prison, on board ships, places where people unknown to each other, with no links such as familial relationship or friendship between them yet, they always treated each other badly. Nastiness is inherent and runs in the blood of most people, it spontaneously comes out towards others. It is in the character and nature of humans and, if allowed free reign within the subconscious animalistic instincts of man, without the control effected by principles and laws, such nastiness would spread and bring utter catastrophe.
    So, the human and animal instincts are the same and lead the individual to seek nourishment and reproduction, the only distinction being that humans are tortured by the ability to reason.
    These animalistic instincts sometimes led some bad seamen to vulgarity and shameful deeds. To satisfy their subconscious nastiness and their unnatural sexual needs, they bothered the younger crew members and, in particular, the “first timers”. As older soldiers in the army bullied the new recruits and called them “fish”, the same happened in ships, but to a greater degree, and to such point that most youngsters could not take it anymore and were forced to abandon the profession of seaman. The word “fish”, used to describe young soldiers, is very characteristic and means to compare the young soldiers with the new seamen who, until becoming seasoned seamen, looked like fish out of the water as their survival was doubtful.
    Some of the older crew members had no moral scruples and inhibitions, and with audacity and vulgarity intensely bullied the youngsters, especially if they were handsome and well built. Some capitulated to their appetites out of fear or to gain their “protection”, while those who withstood and did not surrender did so with difficulty, fighting off the immense pressure that was placed upon them.
    Those who could not take it, abandoned ship at the next port, angered and disgusted by life on board the ships.
    This hard coexistence of new recruits with men deprived of relationships with the opposite sex, on voyages that sometimes lasted many days, rendered them vulnerable to their sexual drive as deprivation caused them to seek homosexual encounters. Many times, those who had the pervasion within them, when given the opportunity, carried out lawless and depraved acts that caused their victims immeasurable despair, and ruined their souls and personality.
    These situations, as well as the dangers of the profession, forced many to abandon life on the sea. There is an ancient saying, stemming from all these dangers that exist in every aspect of a seaman’s life; any seaman who withstands life on the sea for three years has made the sea his mother, destiny and lover.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, The beginers
    I was a new recruit and the older guys saw me as a “fish out of the water”. As they did with all beginners, in their attempt to impose their superiority as senior seamen and, having the right to do so by unwritten law, they looked upon and treated me as if I was ignorant. Their attitude was negative and their demeanour towards me was thuggish and rough. The unwritten seamen’s law dictated that the newbies had to run the gauntlet of hazing, drudgery and shaming in order to be considered equal to the more senior seamen.
    This was something I was not prepared to endure, and I was determined to forcefully resist to the bitter end. I knew my strengths and my resistances, but more so, my stubbornness against anything I did not want. From a very young age I was very proud and did not take kindly to insults. I treated the people who liked to ridicule others or impose themselves upon others in the exact same manner.
    Among them was a tall blonde sailor who looked like he was from German ancestry; he claimed however, that he was a Pontian refugee. Belligerent and embittered, he had woman-like white skin and hair almost the same shade of white. He also sported a thin, sparse moustache. He really had an unlikeable sour face. His body was thick boned, solid and huge; he actually looked like a steam roller. He was strong and used this strength to assert himself. The crew cabins were on the aft deck, but his was in the middle of the upper deck near the bridge where the officers had their cabins. He boasted that he was the head guy of the captain, and his arrogance was palpable. He was only a simple sailor, but he was spreading the rumour that soon he was to be promoted to the position of second officer. He was a loner since everyone avoided him because of his bad demeanour. He worked hard on his own accord, without being ordered to do so by the second officer or the boatswain. Their attitude towards him was quite loose and it was obvious that they did not want to have any confrontation with him.
    They did not want to cross the captain’s informant. These snitches have no sense of honour, they are malignant tiny humans who enjoy reporting their comrades to the authorities; and such authorities look after them well, because they need them, they depend on their assistance and support in order to assert their power.
    The psychology of informants is the result of their suppressed needs which have been pushed by their small mindedness deep inside their subconscious. Having such repressed feelings, they are drawn into becoming informants to escape the misery of their marginalisation, and being informants, they feel that they rise above their deficient miserable personality and receive satisfaction; slowly, they are driven into their informant persona by an unjustifiable lust to wreak revenge against everyone around them.
    This was my opinion of the tall sailor, he was an inconsequential snitch disliked by the whole crew but, due to fear was flattered by all so as to stay on his good side. It was an obvious situation that he comprehended well and enjoyed in his powerful position of captain’s informant.
    It is with this man that I had my biggest clash as a new recruit but for other reasons as well. Reasons that occurred during the first part of my life aboard this ship.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, The dangerous cargo
    Leaning over and careful not to be bowled over by the strong rolling, I rubbed the thin discs of the delaval with wadding to get them clean. The roaring of the engine varied, loud at times then stifled, depending on the pitching of the ship as the waves lifted the stern out of the water causing the propeller to spin free in the air without any resistance and then back down into the deep waters. The third officer was on standby and concentrated on the orders coming from the bridge. The expert handling of the engine and the maintenance of a proper course against the huge waves and strong currents would keep the ship from sinking. The sea was very rough, and the crew was on standby on the bridge as well as in the engine room. Every now and then, the first officer would descend to the engine room to make sure everything was OK. He worked on the ships for many years and was very experienced. He realized this storm was very dangerous and was worried, so he was on duty with the rest of us. He was constantly climbing up and down the stairs with the shadow of fear in his face. The waves were over 12 metres high and the currents were strong. The ship rolled dangerously, and our cargo of timber was larger than usual. They had filled the cargo holds and on top of these, they had also tied large piles that reached right up the funnel. The sailors had tied them down tightly, to keep them from falling into the sea in case we were caught in a storm, but this addition of extra height on top of the deck changed the ship’s centre of gravity, increasing the danger of sinking as the waves caused the ship to list so far down, that it seemed to kiss the surface of the sea.
    Unfortunately, the captain followed the orders of the ship owning company and risked the safety of the ship by overloading cargo, in the hope that we would not come across excessively rough seas. They played roulette with the safety of the sailors and illegally loaded a much taller cargo than the allowed limit, so the company could earn more profit and the captain possibly receive a bonus of be favoured by his employers.
    The crew was in turmoil and very displeased by the overweight and tall cargo from the very beginning, since the Black Sea was often rough and could easily sink us. But, nobody could do anything; discipline on ships is absolute and the orders issued by the captain are law.
    We sailed from Odessa port with calm seas and the hope that it would remain like that and not put ourselves in danger. The route was short, at most, we would reach Preveza in Greece within five days.
    The Nereids of the sea however had other plans. Maybe the calm and inactive sea bored them, and, out of the blue, they decided to open their mouths and release northern winds and raise huge waves to the sky. The currents that usually ran in the deep surfaced and, hand in hand with the winds and waves, created a tempest that snatched our ship, threw it up high and started stubbornly wrestling with it, as if trying to sink it.
    We saw death before our eyes and felt his foul breath on our face as we watched the storm increase in intensity by the hour. The captain, having received information over the wireless that the weather was to worsen, called a meeting of the officers to see how we were to withstand since they all knew that the tall cargo was very dangerous due to the way it was stacked on deck. It was Swedish timber spread out on the whole deck, forming a pyramid and stacked from low down to a very high point. Passing from the stern to the bow was impossible. Anyone trying to climb over the cargo would surely be swept out to sea.
    They concluded that they cold not send the sailors on deck to release the timber into the sea and free the ship of its dangerous cargo. They decided that this was absolutely impossible because the storm was such, that they would surely drown. They decided thus that only good luck and deft maneuvers of the ship could save us. The wireless operator was ordered to send out a mayday signal and we, the crew, were ordered to standby with our life vests at the ready.
    After a while, the third officer sent me on deck to make coffee. We may have been in danger, but that did not mean that the end was upon us. A strong bitter coffee would boost our system and maybe also, boost our morale.
    With legs akimbo to throw the eight of my body on the opposite side of the ship’s listing and, holding on tightly to the railings of the stairs and then the corridor, I headed to the small galley. There, I found all the crew, sailors and officers, sitting silently and morose, with a worried look in their eyes, but at the same time, ready to do whatever was needed. The silence was heavy and the mood even heavier.
    All the coffee pots, cups and glasses were broken on the floor, they were not able to stay up on the shelves even though they were quite secured. I asked whether there were any news and the boatswain shook his head. Seeing that I could not make any coffee and not wanting to look at their frightened faces, I turned around to go back to my work in the engine room.
    At that very moment, a large wave hit the ship and it listed heavily. I did not manage to stay on my feet and gravity forcefully grabbed me and, to my good fortune, threw me onto a colleague who was sitting on a chair screwed to the floor. The same time, we heard a hair-raising screech, then a loud noise, like a shower of meteorites falling and hitting the roof of the stern deck, where we were sitting. The sound was deafening and hollow. For a split moment, I thought that we were sinking, that maybe we had fallen upon the symplegades rocks of Ulysses and were being crushed between them or, maybe, that the cargo of timber had broken loose and was hammering us on its way to falling into the sea.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, By the grace of God
    We were on the deck above the engine room, in the crew’s quarters. Left and right were the cabins and in the middle were the galley and the mess, with two corridors on the left and the right. Outside, on the stern and under the thick metal plates of the deck, was the small helm that kept our course steady. Whenever we hit rough seas and it struggled against currents and waves to maintain a steady course, it made a whistling, sharp and shrill sound. This was caused by extreme oil pressure within the hydraulic mechanism used to overcome the resistance of the sea and maintained a steady course.
    The crew’s quarters, that is to say, the living space for the crew, were manufactured with thick metal plates to withstand moisture and rust from the salty water. In big ships, these quarters were three floors and sometimes even larger, but our ship was small and therefore our quarters were only one floor high. They were like a sealed box made of thick bulkheads with round double-glazed port holes and thick metal watertight doors which protected us during bad storms against the fury of the sea. Inside our cabins, we were shaken by the waves and often fell out of our bunks. We listened to the angry roar of the sea, as if she was trying to scare us. However, we felt safe behind our thick metal plates, we were used to the dangers of the big storms, after all, we had withstood them so many times before.
    This time though, the huge waves dangerously rolling the ship from left to right and stretching our nerves tight with worry, tilted us at some stage so far, that we came parallel with the sea. Our breath was taken away, our stomachs were tied in knots and panic started taking over. The ship had listed too far, almost 90 degrees. Nothing stayed in place, nobody managed to stay standing unless he was holding onto something steady. How could the ship possibly recover? Had we any time to think, we would have said, “no, this was not possible”.
    Before realizing that we were actually sinking and that this was the end, we heard loud and hollow sounds, and the ship started to recover its balance. The violent rolling steadied and became smoother. The loud banging stopped and there was an eerie buzz of silence. All we could hear were the howling winds and the wild waves raging outside, a harmony of elements working in unison to ruin the tranquility of nature and disturb God’s creation. These were indescribable moments, yet, we had no time to feel fear. Everything happened in a split second, and our thoughts were not given the chance to form a full circle and instill terror in our hearts. What happened?
    Fortunately, we had not come upon the symplegades rocks that, according to mythology, stood like citadels at the straits between the Black Sea and the Bosporus, opening and closing and cutting ships in two, nor was the ship cut in two by the tremendous tempest. The tall and dangerous cargo we carried did not lean us into the water. On that day, the Angels in the heavens were watching over us and kept us safe, they did not allow the demons of the deep and the wicked Nereids to draw us under and drown us.
    On that day, St. Nicholas patron saint of all seamen, saved us at the last minute. Like all Christian vessels, whether large or small, we had his icon hanging on the bridge, for protection. At such difficult moments, people who have lost their faith in God regain it and within their heart, begin to believe in Him once more. When all is over, and hope abandons us, the Saints and the Angels, by God’s grace, intervene and prevent shipwrecks or save helpless, drowning seamen.
    What the captain wanted to do but was impossible because of the great storm, happened by God’s grace. The captain had decided that, to save the ship, the cargo needed to be untied and released into the sea. This, however, was impossible because, any sailors who would venture out onto the deck would immediately be swept into the sea by the waves and drown.
    As the rolling of the ship was extreme and the tall cargo had listed the ship right down onto the surface of the sea, the bonds holding the cargo in place snapped and the cargo of timber that stood above the levels of the cargo holds slid into the sea. On their way into the sea, many pieces of timber hit the roof of the crew’s quarters, which explained the hollow sounds we heard during those final moments when we run the great risk of sinking.
    This was how we were saved. Relief filled our hearts and all of us, whether we were or not, immediately thanked and praised God.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, The captain's beautiful wife
    The storm abated and the horrible whistling of the wind had finally ceased. We were all exhausted by the rough sea and the intense rolling that tortured us for so many hours but mostly, we were exhausted by the stress during those difficult moments when the sea nearly drowned us in her deep waters. Relieved, and happy to be alive, we finished our shifts and went to bed. I lay down fully clothed, still in my dirty work clothes, and with thoughts of the tragic moments we had just endured still swirling in my head, I fell asleep, exhausted and fatigued as I was.
    I found myself still lying down late next morning, the sunshine streaming through the port hole blinding me. The curtains were open and outside, the sky was blue and without a cloud in sight. Seagulls were flying overhead, a sure sign that we were near land, and the rolling of the ship had ceased completely. I thought we had entered the straits and left the rough Black Sea that wanted to drown us behind.
    The Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits are two narrow and long canals joining the Euxine Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, and Europe with Asia. They are two well-known straits that are an extension of one another and connect the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and, further on, with the Aegean Sea. They are some of the most dangerous straits for sailing and, for this reason, by law, a qualified local pilot must always navigate the ships sailing down them.
    Pilots in English or Navigators in Greek, they are people with knowledge of the area. They know the usual weather conditions, currents, tides, depths and type of depth, as well as possible shipping hazards in the particular area where they operate navigating ships. Every time we sailed the straits, the Turkish Naval services would issue our permission to sail through and provide a pilot.
    Groggy from sleep and before getting coffee from the little galley, I scaled the tall door and went on deck to breathe in some air, full of salt and iodine. We had sailed two days ago in the evening as the sunset coloured the sky with shades of crimson. Now, here we were, almost noon, with the sun shining and reflecting iridescently on the calm waters. Here, at the end of the Black Sea, I stood at the bow and gazed at the land to my left and to my right. An amazing view, a view I admired every time we passed from these straits, beauty that could not be captured by the mind alone, all laid out in front of me, so beautiful, so wondrous. This view was compensation for all those shifts and sleepless nights inside the metal hull of the ship, all that unbearable loneliness. Human eyes very rarely came across such beauty. The shores were densely populated with majestic mansions and old buildings, towers, palaces and tiny islands containing beautiful buildings, immortal against time, and on the Asian side, an endless and thick greenery that tumbled right down to the land’s end and gently kissing the sea.
    The deck was spotless, washed by the enormous waves of the previous night’s storm and the hatches were hermetically shut over the cargo holds. The cargo in the holds was safe and protected while all cargo stacked above deck had been washed overboard and lost at sea.
    The second officer and the boatswain were inspecting the damages from the storm, while the captain’s wife, who was travelling with us, was leaning on the railings gazing upon the beautiful shoreline. She was quite short, but one did not notice her height because she had a perfect body accentuated by the blue jeans she was wearing and a tight blouse that showed off her pert perfect breasts exuding femininity and sexuality. Femininity is the only true form of beauty and there is no better nor rarer jewel. Maybe this beautiful lady understood that she aroused a longing within the male population and dressed in tight clothes that showed her beautiful curves. She hardly ever left the bow’s deck, but when she did, the whole crew was in upheaval, trying to catch a glimpse and admire her.
    Knowing she caused such arousal, she made a point of wearing clothes that outlined her firm breasts, radiating sensuality and sexuality.
    She turned and started walking towards me. I remained still, ecstatically watching her swaying figure approach, so aroused that my temples felt they were going to explode. I had seen her once before from afar and now she was here, right next to me. She stopped and greeted me.
    - Hi Cypriot boy, isn’t your name Kyriakos?
    She came so close, we almost touched, and she reached out and placed her index finger on my bare chest where my shirt was unbuttoned and slowly, almost like a sweet caress, she dragged it downwards. She saw the turmoil she caused and, pleased with herself, she continued touching me with her index finger. It was a touch that seemed innocent enough, a simple caress or a friendly touch, it may even have been pretence. But to my unfortunate younger self, it caused impure thoughts and my body shuddered. I thought, if just the touch of her hand could cause such arousal, the touch of her body would surely kill me.
    I did not however harbour any illusions. I believed she was toying with me like a cat does with a mouse. Maybe being aware of her sexual aura and her sensual expression she liked teasing men. It did not make sense. She was the captain’s wife. Why would she give attention to an unremarkable kid like me, a new recruit, a person nobody noticed? Unless she had a decadence, a naughtiness, and a lot of self-indulgence.
    When I think of her now after so many years, I remember the sweet contrast between her angelic face and her infernal shapely body. I remember her eyes looking at me. Behind their gaze I saw a vulgar sensuality.
    Many times afterwards when at various ports I laid down with women, I would close the lights and imagine holding her in my arms. Every now and then, when I nostalgically remember the good old times of my youth as a traveller over land and sea, she is one of my sweetest memories.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, The love triangle
    The gossip on board the ship was rife. Secretly and covertly among the crew, supposedly in confidence not to be heard by any snitch, the conversation was mainly about the captain’s wife.
    They said she was a woman with a voracious sexual appetite who had no inhibitions about casting her web over anyone she craved, with her husband’s tolerance who shut his eyes to the painful truth, thus avoiding consequences he perhaps did not want to suffer.
    They assumed that, maybe, she was having an affair with the captain’s spy, that blonde sailor with the huge muscles who was built like a brick wall. Perhaps that was the reason they allowed him to stay in the bow’s living quarters, with them. Maybe they had created a love triangle, an ancient phenomenon since the beginning of time, a sexual deviance deriving from animalistic and decadent instincts, with no ethical inhibitions and irrespective of social or educational status.
    They considered she had an infernal sexual appetite and in order to satisfy it she did not hesitate to engage in acts that left behind nothing but ashes and scorched land. Actions without ethical or social boundaries, a way of life free from any sexual culture.
    The rumours among the crew were out of control, each added his own bit and only God knew what was true and what was false. They called them unscrupulous vulgar deviants with no feelings.
    These were heavy accusations but quite usual among people with nothing better to do with their free time. Truths and lies, a favourite pastime and a sad hobby of hypocrites who love intrigue and deceitful machinations, the sole purpose being, apart from personal gratification, to cause harm to others out of envy.
    Infidelity is a painful situation that damages the relationship between a couple. The reasons vary, sometimes they are strictly personal and unique such as sex being one thing and love being another. Usually, what remains secret does not cause heartache, but once it comes out in the open, there are consequences. Many times, however, between some modern and advanced couples, there are certain beliefs that may reduce any feeling of guilt. They compromise and cooperate in relationships that exist solely for pleasure and gratification, without commitment or familiarity that could cause issues and rifts between the couple. Thus, there is no need for any party to lie and offer excuses, as there is complicity and even cooperation. By living this way, people do not go through painful separations, nor do they suffer soul-destroying feelings such as jealousy, anger and sadness.
    This was the conclusion reached by the second officer who, wanting to appear philosophical, gave a reasonable explanation and justified the people who acted in this manner. However, we all knew his personal story, and his destiny caused him to be an unhappy man with a fat and unlikeable wife who had made his life a misery. She would flirt in front of him with just anyone purposely to ridicule and put him down. It was evident that she was nasty and had the upper hand with him, with obvious results. She was well fed and plump, he was a thin man, mere skin and bones, wasted away because of her wickedness. She would come and stay with him from time to time, whenever she was bored with life on dry land and wanted a change. It was plain to see that he wanted to justify his own tolerance of her and, feeling guilty for being weak, was trying with philosophical treatises to justify the unjustifiable deeds of others.
    And so, the gossip spread and the crew had things to talk about and issues to discuss and pleasantly pass the endless hours aboard the ship.
    There are many true cases where stories armed hands and turned them into murderous weapons for no good reason, just because the untrue and misleading words of sycophants caused them to believe that dark conspiracies were being secretly woven against them.
    I want to say that all seemed to be true words, but they were words used by bad seamen to hurt other people. They tried to create problems for me and frighten me by carrying tales and gossip. They started badmouthing and saying that “I said this, and he said that”. The boatswain started it by telling me that the blonde sailor saw the captain’s wife take a shine to me and became angry and jealous; that I should be careful because he was a nasty piece of work. To make me believe him, he recounted that some time ago there was a similar incident and, having the same suspicion, the blonde sailor beat an unfortunate young sailor every day until he was forced to abandon ship at the next port.
    I did not pay much attention because I believed that I had not given any reason to be misunderstood, and I was certainly not going to allow myself to be drawn into dangerous sexual games in the middle of the ocean where anyone could easily be swept out to sea by a large wave and drowned. And so, I believed that any possible suspicions and jealousy of the supposed lover of the captain and the captain’s wife, would die down.

    THE NEW RECRUITS, The final clash
    Every day at noon, we gathered in the small mess for lunch. The cook was a small man, but he made up for his lack of stature with a great talent for cooking. He prepared amazing food and we all looked forward to tasting each dish. He had a natural talent for expertly cooking everything he touched, meals and treats that we all eagerly awaited not only for sustenance purposes but also to enjoy the food he prepared so well.
    Despite the pleasure of these exquisite flavours I eagerly awaited, I also felt uneasy at the same time. This was the only time I met with the captain’s musclebound snitch. He was one of the first to come and after eating in a hurry, we would head to the bow deck carrying a tray with food prepared by the cook for the captain and his wife who usually ate in their cabin.
    A great tension had built up between us and I always felt his threatening gaze upon me and I realized that a clash with him was inevitable. Some crew members, true gossip masters, carried tales that exacerbated matters between us. Taking advantage of his great attachment and the special Ibsenian relationship he may have had with the captain and his wife and following the sad, as it later transpired, incident of the self-indulgent conduct of the captain’s wife towards me, they gossiped and manufactured intricate schemes and scenarios out of nothing. They created a false stand-off situation based on a hypothetical emotional preference of the captain’s wife causing the unfortunate sailor to think that we were great enemies and relentless rivals. As time passed, an immense hatred grew inside him ready to spill over and possibly lead to a fight to the death, there, in the unknown vast and deserted sea where many sailors were swallowed by the black waters during dark and moonless nights.
    They planted and cultivated a great jealousy in his soul, a suspicion that I was his rival while on the other side, I was certain and understood that such a simple and innocent incident with the captain’s wife was enough to turn him viciously against me, just like a bloodthirsty wild beast.
    As he was much larger than poor me, I was aware of my inadequacy in comparison, so I made a point of going later for lunch at a time when all the crew was gathered. This method proved to be a good preventive measure and kept him away from me for quite a long time.
    Fear however had taken hold of my soul, and my terror, kept alive through the gossip of my lovely colleagues, grew in time into a panic and a nightmare, a relentless torture of my mind and entire existence. As time passed, I felt the confrontation lurking and saw the increasing hatred in his face.
    We all realized that a bad thing was soon to happen. Most could not wait. They looked forward to a fierce fight to enjoy as spectators and then for days afterwards to have something to talk about and break the monotony of their lonely life aboard the ship. My thoughts were also bleak. I finally concluded that there was no other solution; either he would cripple me, or I would be the first to attack him on a dark night, kill him in his sleep and then, covertly throw him overboard to be eaten by fish. As the days passed, I kept thinking of this solution and in time I became obsessed and believed that there was no other way. During my shifts I would endlessly think of ways to do it, I watched his movements and came up with scenarios. I made a plan but there was one major difficulty that bothered me; whether I would find the courage to go ahead with this heinous act because I did not have the instincts of a killer. This terrible doubt kept me from proceeding with the plan that would rid me of my daily nightmare, the torturous terror that had nested deep within my mind.
    It was a day without waves, yet strong underwater currents caused the ship to roll annoyingly. We had rinsed and cleaned the engine and the petroleum we had used filled the bilges. Bilges are the lower part of the engine room where the backwater accumulates. Because of the strong pitching of the ship, there was a risk of backwater overflowing and dirtying the floor. I was told by the second officer to hurry and eat my lunch and rush down to the engine to start the pump and drain the backwater.
    I donned my work overalls and went to the kitchen. I explained my situation to our lovely cook and being the sort of person with a perpetual smile on his face and a joke for everyone, told me to go and sit in the mess and that he would happily bring me my food himself, without waiting for the steward.
    I sat in a chair riveted to the floor and happy that I was going to eat before the normal lunch time and thus avoid meeting the nasty sailor, I placed my hands on the table and eagerly awaited the goodies that our cook was about to bring. I leaned back and watched the door in anticipation of the cook’s arrival and the best food ever….
    I first saw his shadow darken the door and there was something about it I did not like, it seemed different. I immediately realized it was not the cook but my relentless enemy, the captain’s private sailor.
    I was gripped by great fear but instinctively, in the manner I had planned many times in my mind in the event we found ourselves facing each other, I got up and immediately rushed him head first and grabbed his thick legs. The fear I had within me multiplied my strength and with this strength I lifted him. His body buckled, he fell to the floor and I fell on top of him. A strong thud was heard as his head forcefully hit the bulkhead that was on the wall, driven by the momentum of my attack. I immediately got up to kick him but was surprised to see he remained seated on the floor, with a glazed look over his eyes.
    He stayed on the floor for a little while and then groggily got up and dragging his feet on the floor, headed down the corridor that led to the deck on the side of the bow.
    A little further away, the cook watched surprised, not able to believe the sight he had just witnessed, the formidable sailor retreating with his tail between his legs.
    How I would have loved ending the feud and taming the beast, ridding him of his grudge against me! It was very difficult for me to believe that he got scared and, as simply as that, gave up the fight. I did not believe he was afraid, even for a second.
    It was true however that I had shown great fearlessness, I had managed to tackle him, however I did not believe that the battle was over. This was our first clash and I had won the first round. I could not compare myself to him, the difference in size was too great. I was a youngster, thin and short, he was in his thirties, almost two metres tall and was built like a brick wall, a thick mass of muscles.
    To be truthful, when I saw him retreat I felt a huge relief, I had been temporarily saved from a bad situation. I knew the story was not over and thought that he was simply in a lot of pain and had retreated for just a little while.
    Everyone admired and congratulated me, and everyone accused the tall sailor of being a coward.
    I was particularly happy that I was spared from suffering in his hands so easily, and my mind, stressed for days by the agonising expectation of our clash relaxed a little.
    I thought that from now on, my life as a new recruit had, at least, entered a better dimension, and I would no longer face hostile attitudes from the older sailors who were used to belittling the younger sailors…
    And it was true. Their conduct towards me changed, they treated me with respect and appreciation and saw me in a different light. All because I had exhibited unexpected daring during the clash.
    Days passed and all was well, except for the strange absence of the sailor who stopped circulating in the crew’s living quarters. He remained on the bridge with the captain and his wife. He did not even show up on deck for work. He even stopped carrying food up to the captain and the task was taken over by the steward. It was a strange conduct no member of the crew could understand and so, the assumptions and gossip started to come and go once more. One gave his version, another gave his own, and soon rumours were created and were gleefully discussed during their free hours, breaking the monotony of their daily lives.
    And they continued talking and referring to me sympathetically as the poor Cypriot new recruit who, for a loaf of bread, found himself in foreign lands and deep seas and oceans. Who left his country during war times and was saved from the Turks only to find himself in danger of being devoured by sharks during a dark night due to an unjustifiable, illogical envy stuck in the head of some crazy sailor.
    Days and weeks passed, and life on board the ship followed its usual course. Hard work and endless loneliness, with the eternally beautiful Black Sea and the Aegean whether rough or calm, cradling us in their mysterious waters. During our free time the seamen told stories of the sea to pass the time.
    The gossip dissipated slowly and in time, stopped altogether. Every now and then the bad sailor circulated among the rest of the crew, but he was always distant and quiet. His behaviour had changed, he looked at all the crew with an expression akin to that of a scared wild beast and when he came across me, he would not look me in the eye.
    Some said he had lost his mind and others that he had suffered damage by the violent blow on the bulkhead.
    In my mind however, there was a worry, and therefore I was always cautious. My instinct warned me that something bad was going to happen in the end. I thought that, as he was mentally disturbed, maybe at some point his mind could also react strangely since the thoughts of the deranged are very different to those of the sane.
    Many times, during the endless shifts down in the engine room, I mulled the situation over and tried to analyse it. I understood that his behaviour hid a silent danger and rued the time when his furry would explode. Always careful and without allowing the passage of time to make me relax, I avoided meeting him as much as I could and, on the rare occasion this occurred, I was always on standby and alert.
    In the engine room workshop I made a wrench in a specific size for easy use in my hands, not as a tool to use on valves but as a weapon for protection, if needed.
    So, as a trainee mechanic, I walked around with this wrench in my hands looking as if it was part of my work but, at the same time, wanting to appear strong enough to defend myself. Maybe this action was effective because many days, weeks and months passed, and nothing happened. I started revising my thoughts and was relieved to conclude that everything was in my mind and that it was over.


    THE NEW RECRUITS, The meaning of death
    Six months had passed, and all was good. Once or twice I tried to break the ice and spoke to him, but he remained silent. I did not see this as strange, he showed the same behaviour to the rest of the crew as well. I believed that his nastiness had gone, that he was not as vicious and dangerous as he appeared, that his previous aggression against me was momentary and caused by the sycophants within the crew. Therefore, while it had crossed my mind to disembark due to the situation, I had now changed my mind and wanted to stay on the ship longer. It was a small seaworthy vessel and it carried out short routes in the Mediterranean and every few days it entered a Greek port. Positions in such ships were scarce and seamen preferred them because they were not away from their country and families for long periods.
    My cabin was isolated and away from the others, on the stern deck and next to the ship’s funnel. The smoke from the funnel left a long trail behind the ship and when the wind blew haphazardly, soot scattered on the deck and doused my cabin to an extent that, despite being frequently washed by the high waves, its colour had changed from white to grey. Many times, when entering or leaving my cabin, pieces of solid soot fell onto me like gentle rain.
    I spent a lot of my free time standing next to the funnel thinking and watching the playful sea. I counted waves and watched dolphins happily swimming in the sea while the horizon from afar beckoned us to follow it to the ends of the earth. I really enjoyed sitting and admiring the coast of the Bosporus. We sailed the Hellespont frequently and every time, high up by the funnel, I stood and admired the exquisite shores that lay around me.
    My cabin was separated from the engine room by two staircases. One was small, about two metres long and led to the deck while the other, quite long, led to the engine room. Between these were the crews’ cabins, the galley and the mess. In the beginning, I used to count the steps every time I scaled them but with time I got over the habit. This was my usual itinerary and, for as long as I was on board this ship, I very rarely walked to the bow. This was a good way of avoiding bad encounters.
    However, as time passed and nothing happened, I became carefree. I started circulating freely on board and in the ports without being particularly cautious.
    And where I believed everything was forgotten, one evening, just as it began to get dark, I came out of the hot engine room and instead of walking up the steps leading to my cabin, my legs led me to the bow. I felt I needed the gentle sea breeze on my face and wanted to enjoy the view of the setting sun dipping into the horizon and disappearing. I had no intention to go any further, all I wanted was to walk a little.
    A few metres ahead and like a jack-in-the-box, the sailor suddenly jumped out from behind the first raised cargo hold. He was hiding behind the hatches and was lying in wait for me. He surprised me, and I had no chance to react. He grabbed me by the neck and I felt his hands tightening like a vice and lifting me off my feet. Without air, I started punching him as hard as I could, but he remained still and tightened his grip without feeling a thing. He was like a stone wall. With his immense strength he lifted me up to his face and I saw his expressionless eyes looking at me without any feeling, as if he was carrying out a chore and not murder.
    In the throes of death, when I had no more air and realized that life was leaving my body, the seconds became centuries. I felt my arms dangling downwards and my brain accepted that this was the end, I accepted death.
    With certainty I saw death approaching and my mind was filled with terror.
    The tight grip around my neck caused immeasurable pain, but the terror and agony of death by far exceeded this pain, and the feeling of being unable to react and resist desperately blocked my brain….
    And suddenly, there was nothing, there was no more life. I was taken over by a feeling of calm and the acceptance of my inability to react made me decide that the end had come. I calmly surrendered myself to inexistence, and felt peace take over.
    What is death? What does it feel like? Many ask this question. Most probably, this is the biggest question in life. What do we feel when our soul leaves our body? Does what we perceive as consciousness die with the body?
    I lived through it and felt it, and I am in a position to say that it is simply a black void. I had no thoughts, no consciousness, nothing. I felt I was not there. I was slipping into a black sleep-slumber with no dreams, and, when I woke, I felt that I had slept for a long period while, in reality, I was without life and in my death’s unconsciousness for maybe a few minutes or seconds. I woke and felt pain, I had difficulty breathing. I was left lying on deck, in the dark, and nobody realised a thing….
    I lifted my body with difficulty and leaned on the back of the hatch that kept the cargo hold sealed. I remained in that position for hours, looking up at the stars, trying to come around but also come to terms with the fact that what happened, was real.
    I experienced something. I experienced the feeling and agony of my own death. In the beginning and once I was certain it was imminent, there was a great fear of death, but afterwards I surrendered to the peace that comes with the end, when everything becomes different and life leaves the body delivering the soul to the absolute calm and peace imposed upon the body by death.
    And, what I felt was nothing. Ever since, I am not afraid of death. I do not wish it upon me because I love life, but when it is to come, may it come in the best possible way.


    THE WEDDING PARTY
    As soon as the ship docked at the port of Novorossiysk, Katsifakis, dressed in his best suit, jumped onto the pier and quickly walked towards the exit of the port, vigorously signaling a taxi parked to one side.
    Novorossiysk is the largest port on the Black Sea. It is not a tourist attraction, it is an industrial town producing metals and foodstuff. In the past, and until the October revolution, there was a strong Greek presence in the town.
    The thing that made the town beautiful now was the immense greenery and in the spring weather, with the snow having almost melted, the plants were abundant and the similarly built low-rise buildings were buried behind hedges and trees. Wherever one turned one’s eyes, there was greenery. It was a lovely sight, truly a sight for sore eyes.
    Equally beautiful was the sailor dressed in his best suit. During this trip, he was going to marry his beloved, a Russian lady who bewitched him with her beauty some time ago. He met her on the first day of his first voyage a while ago and had made her his lover for one night, offering her a blouse in the latest fashion that he brought with him from Greece. From that moment she was only his, and each time, she waited for him at the end of the pier. Every time he visited, he brought her gifts, mainly fashionable dresses and fine underwear that were scarce and very expensive in the, then, Soviet Union, as they were not considered essential goods and thus the regime discouraged their import by imposing prohibitive import duty.
    They began with a simple sexual relationship when he first picked her up from the docks where she was working but within a year it had developed into a relationship of true love, which now lead to marriage. At that time, the citizens were suppressed by the Communist regime and many girls dreamed of such good opportunities. Only she knew whether she truly loved him or not, but in any case, she agreed to marry him and leave with him for Greece.
    She was a true beauty, very desirable, with a heavenly body that would raise the dead. Tall and slender, she had a perfect face, white, fresh and plump. A wild beauty and an untamed attitude that caused us to wonder whether he would be able to tame her. She had all attributes for success in the American film industry but the bad fortune of living in Russia and not America. Therefore, we didn’t know who was doing a favour to whom. Katsivakis, who was marrying a woman from the docks and was to turn her into a respectable lady, or the beautiful Russian, Liouba was her name, who was offering her heavenly self with her gorgeous body and rare beauty.
    I believe both were winners. He was marrying a beautiful woman beyond his wildest imagination and she would be able to escape from the misery and tight restrictions of her home country.
    This was the only way she could obtain an exit permit. The rules were strict and did not easily allow citizens to leave the country because they knew that whoever left would not return. They preferred western countries where freedom was a de facto right, unlike in their country where everything was under the control of the state.
    How long such a marriage would last was anyone’s guess, but most of us gave it an expiration date. It was obvious that he would not be able to control her feisty temperament and that, when in Greece, the country of freedom, a slick guy with a lot of money could steal her from him. The woman looked like a goddess and had every potential of becoming a star. At the end of the day, she was a woman he had picked up from the dock, so what else should he expect? We were all thinking this way out of envy, but he was blinded by love, he glowed, and the whole world belonged to him.
    So, off he went with huge leaps and bounds, looking forward to meeting his love, and from the decks we egged him on but yes, deep down, we envied him for his beautiful bride to be.
    Liouba was a very beautiful woman, and we resented our lucky colleague who had her all to himself. He served on board the ship for two years without disembarking, for her sake. At least once a month the ship docked in Novorossiysk to unload mainly grains and take on timber. She always waited for him, excited and joyful because every time, apart from his love for her, he also brought her many gifts.
    So, since they were in love with each other, they decided to get married. The wedding was going to take place today, in this foreign land. Everything was arranged, the priest was waiting at the church, the bride’s family were dressed in their finest clothes. Surely the bride would look amazing.
    We were all invited, but I was not going to see the bride in her wedding dress as I was on the afternoon shift and would not be able to attend the religious ceremony. I would however be attending the party in the evening.
    I was not yet twenty and my experience with love was minimal. When we docked at ports, beautiful as well as ugly women waited for us in the bars and the streets so I expected that I would soon learn and gain experience so as to know how to treat my official lovers later on. This was my first ship and, as it was a freighter, we spent many days in ports and therefore had time on our hands to spend – how else – with prostitutes, drinking and having fun. In time, I would surely acquire a lot of experience.
    However, an incident happened to me during this voyage, during my first commission on this ship. I was unsure whether or not it was a pleasant experience, because I was drunk and did not quite understand how it happened.
    We had gathered, crowded and crammed, in a small Hall with a cassette player blaring music on top volume. All the crew was present, except the night shift and we were celebrating our colleague’s happiness, his wedding earlier that day to his beloved Liouba.
    We were all in the Hall together with the bride’s family and it was so small it could hardly accommodate us. We were inside, standing with our bodies against each other, listening to Russian music, drinking copious amounts of Russian vodka and dancing to the rhythm of the music. I was not used to drinking and had never drank previously in my life, primarily because, due to the poverty of most of the Cyprus population at the time, we never had any drinks in our poor household as we could hardly afford bread let alone alcohol and secondly, because I did not generally like the taste of drink. That day however, while celebrating our colleague’s joy and with the encouragement of the people around me, I had a few drinks. I stopped in time, when I realised that the alcohol was starting to affect me.
    At this point the nice mother-in-law who cared for all the guests came up to me to make sure that I continued drinking with the others in celebration of her daughter’s happiness.
    She was around fifty, perfectly made up and dressed, and looked very beautiful. I thought she did not need so much adornment to look beautiful. Nature had given her a shapely, well-proportioned figure and it was obvious that her daughter had inherited her body. Her face was a little wrinkled, maybe from life’s hardships in the then Soviet Union where most lived under conditions of poverty, or maybe due to her age.
    In broken Greek she started talking to me and poured vodka and orange juice into my glass. We started drinking to each other’s health. Mixed with the juice, the vodka slid easily down my throat, leaving a pleasant taste in my mouth. As much as I tried the next day, I could not remember how much I had to drink that night.
    After the first drink I found her attractive, after the second I lost all inhibitions, noticing her large breasts and long legs.
    On the third drink I saw her naked back and her big breasts floating in her huge décolletage.
    Wasted on alcohol, I looked at her longingly without daring to do anything because I was shy and respectful of her house; I was not even going to attempt a polite flirtation.
    So, we continued drinking together. At some stage, I remember dancing a slow dance with her in a tight embrace and after that, all I have are flashbacks. I was lying on my back on a divan and she was sitting astride, caressing me. I remember waking and falling back into a drunken stupor.
    Yes, I was well and truly drunk. Maybe she was also drunk, I don’t know. I only remember that every time I came around, I felt her moving on top of me and, feeling embarrassed, I would look around at the others talking, dancing and drinking. Nobody gave any notice to us, it was as if we didn’t exist, as if we were doing something natural.

    CONTRABAND: The Bosporus
    There are certain seas where dangerous unexplained phenomena occur and several ships sailing upon them never managed to reach a port.
    The Black Sea is one of them. It is an unexplored territory full of stories and myths frozen in time, a place where man cannot discover the great mysteries hidden by its deadly waters.
    The scriptures say that here is where Noah’s Ark came to rest. Some people say that there is no oxygen in its deepest waters, and this is the reason why shipwrecks and drowned seamen on the seabed remain in the same condition as they were before sinking, eerie ships and remains of drowned seamen unaffected by decay.
    The Black Sea is also known as the Euxine Sea. This is a compound Greek word comprising of the “eu” and “xenos” (meaning “good” and “visitor”), euphemistically meaning a sea that is unwelcoming to visitors. Again, there are references in the scriptures about it being bottomless and that nature on its shores is mostly dead and lifeless. Scientists give a scientific explanation. Some say that it is due to a nuclear explosion that took place during ancient times because, they argue, science was more advanced in the distant past in comparison to today and as a result, Earth was completely destroyed. Other scientists say that thousands of years ago the waters of the Mediterranean Sea in Marmaras rose due to a cataclysmic rainfall and spilled into a freshwater lake on the other side, forming the Black Sea.
    According to mythology the two seas were separated by the Symplegades Rocks, two huge moving boulders that crushed every ship passing the Bosporus until Jason, the ancient Greek hero, managed to pass causing the rocks stopped moving leaving the way to the Black Sea open.
    The ancient Greek name Bosporus is analysed into the ancient Greek words “vous” and “poros” (meaning “bovine” and “passage”) as mythical Io escaped through the straits in the form of a cow.
    Io was a priestess of Goddess Era and a lover of Zeus. When Era discovered the unholy affair between them, Zeus turned Io into a cow to protect her from Era’s wrath. Era however wanting to punish Io sent a cloud of horseflies to torture her. Io was chased all over Greece and was tormented by the flies until she managed to cross the Bosporus and escape.
    In more recent history, in the A.D. years, the Byzantines gave the name “Straits” to the Bosporus “Straits” and because of the strategic significance of this channel, the Roman Emperor Constantine built the capital city of his Empire there and called it Constantinople.
    The shores of the Straits are densely built and full of beautiful city buildings. The surrounding hills are adorned with Ottoman palaces such as Top Kapi. The city itself is full of monuments and buildings such as the Saint Sophia Church and the Blue Mosque.
    I was fortunate enough as a young recruit to sail this magnificent sea, the most beautiful sea sailed by so many sailors, myriads of times, a sea that was the birthplace of heroes where in its waters the history of the whole world was written. I was given the chance as a young man to sail this sea, become acquainted with her beauty, taste her saltiness and be lulled by her waves.
    I was aboard the ship “San Dennis”, a small freighter of two and a half thousand tons which was too small to undertake long voyages in the great oceans. She sailed the Black Sea transporting timber from Russia to the Greek islands and citrus fruit from Greece back to Russia.
    These were short routes and a lot of seamen preferred to embark on this ship to be close to their families as the trip lasted only five days either way.
    Employment was in high demand and pay was low so many crew members delved in the trade of certain items that we purchased in Greece and sold in Russia. These were women’s haute couture items and chewing gum from Chios, products very difficult to find in the Soviet Union because imports into this vast communist country were highly controlled. This trade therefore was classified as smuggling and anyone caught committing this offence would be subjected to strict punishment. We stashed the products in good hiding places not easily found by the customs officers and during our shore leave, we would take them ashore with the help of the guards who were bribed with a few rubles in cash. Rubles was the national currency of the country and the profit we made from our little trade was many times higher than the cost of purchasing the goods in the first place. This money however could not be used in any other country, so we spent all our profits on local shopping and a good time.
    During this voyage, a careless sailor tried to sell contraband to an undercover policeman. He was arrested immediately but thankfully, after an intervention by the captain, he was released after being given a serious reprimand. Being Greek sailors, we had this privilege in almost all the countries we visited, the locals and the customs officials were very friendly to us.
    After this incident we were all scared to trade in contraband with street vendors.
    The open sea is not controlled by any state, and it is free for anyone to sail. These seas are called international waters and the only state that may assert its control over a ship is that of the ship’s flag. At sea, the representative of this control and absolute commander is the captain. The captain of the ship, being the person in charge, has huge legal power and authority over the crew and any person on board the ship. He is also responsible for safety and order and has unlimited powers to the extent that at sea and in international waters he may even use deadly force if ever the need arises.
    On departure from the port of Novorossiysk and while sailing on the open sea, we were faced with a great surprise. The captain exercised his power and ordered all of us to hand over all the items we had in our possession and traded in the Soviet Union while carrying out our small-scale smuggling operation of luxury goods such as chewing gum and smart clothing. Their importation from other countries was prohibited and therefore these were items in high demand.
    He was angry because the sailor illegally selling chewing gum to Russian citizens was caught by customs officers in the port of Novorossiysk... He had not been charged and was only given a strong reprimand. It was just a small-scale smuggling operation we all did, even the captain himself, in cooperation with the customs officials. This is why we were surprised by his decision and considered it unreasonable; after all, we had the right to legally purchase goods from all countries and all we needed to do at each port was to declare them so that we did not trade in them illegally.
    So, we surrendered our goods, and nobody dared to keep anything, not even a small item, because we all knew each other’s hiding places and we also knew that the captain had an informant among us and therefore, if we hid even the smallest thing, he would surely find out through him.
    The contraband was stacked on the big table in the officers’ mess forming a small mountain. There was a wide collection of items ranging from small packets of chewing gum to larger items of clothing, and a lot of nylon stockings that were in great demand in Russia.
    We were all curious about why the captain went ahead with this action, even in anger. The value of the goods, when calculated in prices of other countries, was not high, so we concluded that it was because of his bad mental state at the time. We let it pass believing that within the next few days and before reaching our next destination his intentions would be made clear.

    CONTRABAND: In Alexandria
    Our next destination was Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great and is the ancient cradle of Greek letters. It used to be the largest port and the country’s capital. During its heyday it was one of the most prominent cultural centres, having the largest and most famous library in the world before it was destroyed by. This renowned library housed the works of the most prominent and wise intellects in the world.
    The city is also historically linked to the largest lighthouse considered one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The lighthouse was a tower standing at a height of one hundred and forty metres and was the highest building of its time. It was intricately structured and at the top stood a statue of Neptune. Designed during the reign of Ptolemy I during the 3rd century B.C., it remained in operation until the 14th century A.D. when it finally collapsed during an earthquake. It was built on the Faros island form which it took its name, and the name “Faros” has since been used as an official term for lighthouses throughout the world.
    We passed the ruins of the lighthouse and sailed parallel to the extension of the jetty connecting the islet with the shore, forming the renowned protected port of Alexandria.
    We slowly entered the deep port with the assistance of the Arab pilot sent by the port authority to guide us in, and we docked next to a Russian submarine which had surfaced and tied for refueling guarded by warships surrounding it. As soon as we docked, customs officers came on board for the usual inspection, accompanied by a number of street vendors who tried to sell us souvenirs and fake gold in an attempt to trick us. It seems it was obvious to them that I was a new recruit and they descended upon me first, trying in broken English and Greek to persuade me to buy fake jewelry.
    This trading was interrupted by an increase in the traffic of customs officers hurriedly boarding the ship. We realised that something was going on, but we had no idea. We saw them heading towards the middle deck on the bridge, where the captain’s office was located…
    Until our departure the following day, we did not know what had happened, none of the bridge officers informed us. Either it was nothing serious or it was, and they were ordered by the captain to keep it quiet.
    We didn’t stay long in port. We discharged cargo all day and night an departed the next day. We only just had time to go around the large city and visit the main sights. There were no bars with women because at the time Egypt was a strict ****** country and so, accompanied by a paid guide, we visited hidden prostitutes who lived far away from the port to avoid being targeted by the police authorities.
    The city itself was very impressive. During our excursion around Alexandria we noted that the whole city and its layout were similar to those of a Greek city, with archaic elements, orthodox churches and Greek signs on many buildings. This was the Alexandria of the Greeks until, under Nasser’s government a few years earlier, the authorities seized their properties and deported them from the country, dividing the Greek wealth to the poor Egyptians of Alexandria. This was the usual fate of the Greeks, their eternal persecution.
    The next day we sailed, and our hearts felt heavy, we felt bitter for the fate of the Greek refugees who, from the times of the Turkish Egyptians trough to the Modern Turks and, recently, the Egyptians, endured many hardships and were persecuted to a great extent…
    As soon as we were in deep waters, we got a message … and it was bad news. We found out what had happened with the customs authorities in Alexandria. The captain had forgotten to declare the goods he had confiscated from us. They remained spread out on the main table in full view of the officers who did not find them registered on the list of goods provided by the captain who had totally forgotten to declare them as duty free goods. In compliance with the law, they seized the goods and imposed a huge fine of thousands of pounds Sterling upon the ship for undeclared goods. This amount was paid by the shipping company through its agent and subsequently would be deducted from the captain’s salary because through his negligence he was the main person responsible for what happened.
    It is widely accepted that kindness is rewarded, and evil is punished. The captain, without any particular reason, took all the items we had in our possession wanting to punish us for our little contraband trade in the Soviet Union, a trade we knew he also carried out. Now, he was also punished, maybe even by the hand of God who does not tolerate injustice. Because he was called upon to pay, and in an attempt to avoid doing so, he assembled us and asked that we share the debt because, as he alleged, we all participated in the contraband.
    However, when one is called upon to pay for another person’s mistake, one cannot accept. So, on behalf of all, the boatswain explained to the captain that we did not accept this arrangement because he was the one who had illegally confiscated our items and rather than ask us to shoulder the fine imposed due to his own mistake, the correct thing would be for him to actually compensate us for our loss.


    THE FROZEN SEA IN ODESSA
    Ice forms when sub-zero temperatures slow down the molecular movement of water. This immobilization causes the molecules to adhere to each other and turn water into solid ice. Salty seawater however does not freeze easily in sub-zero temperatures because the salt crystals inhibit the slowing down of the water’s molecular movement.
    When water freezes its mass increases because it expands, contrary to other materials that contract under the same conditions. This happens because when the water is in a liquid state, its molecules slide over each other and their traction forces weaken whereas, when the water becomes ice, a void is created between the frozen molecules, thereby diluting its density. In this way, ice becomes lighter than water and floats on its surface. Seawater however freezes when its temperature drops below 20 degrees Celsius. On the northern coast of the Black Sea, when temperatures are dangerously low, the water near the shore turns to ice and this sometimes causes the ports to close. Such weather phenomena occurred in 1974 when the Black Sea near the coast of Odessa had frozen completely. It was a very rare phenomenon, which happened also in 2012.
    In 1974 I was working as a trainee mechanic aboard the ship “SAN DENNIS”, a small freighter usually travelling the route between Greece and Russia. On that particular voyage, we had loaded oranges from Kiato in the Peloponnese and our destination was the port of Odessa. When we entered the Black Sea and approached the Ukrainian port, we came across parts of the sea that had frozen over. As we approached land, the ice increased. In the beginning, the ice was just on the surface but gradually it thickened and became deeper. At some stage we were forced to stop because the sea was frozen to such thickness, our bow could not break through the ice. We put the engine on “idle” and waited for the pilot and the icebreaker to come and lead us into port.
    Those who could not tolerate the cold stayed inside and watched the sea and the swell of the frozen waves through the portholes. Others who were tougher watched from the deck. It was an amazing sight and despite previous knowledge from books, newspapers and television, it was beyond our imagination. Many people may have seen frozen lakes, icebergs and glaciers during their lifetime, but the motion of the waves in a sea that has frozen over is a unique and immensely beautiful sight.
    Winter on the Black Sea is a difficult season but at the same time very impressive as the frost and low temperatures change the face of nature and create rare and amazing phenomena. The water created fantastic formations as it lifted with the movement of the waves and then froze in motion. The sea looked normal except it had a white colour just like the pure white of snow and seemed immobile as if painted on canvas by a great painter or printed on paper by a famous photographer.
    The pilot arrived in his launch together with the icebreaker and we followed it into port, to dock.
    An Icebreaker is a particular type of ship with a sharp and reinforced serrated bow that, under full propulsion of the ship, first breaks the surface of the ice and following that initial break, the weight of the ship opens a wider path in the ice enabling the ship that follows the Icebreaker to sail through freely.
    The city of Odessa loomed a little further from the port, all white from the snow and the frost and the neoclassic Greek buildings that filled the whole city gave a touch of beauty to the old town of Greek émigrés. Odessa’s history as an important port in the Euxine Sea starts from ancient times when, as a Milesian settlement, it had close contacts with Greece. During the Turkish occupation of Greece, a big number of persecuted Greeks sought refuge in Odessa. Many dealt in commerce amassing great fortunes and financed the Greek revolution which liberated Greece from the Ottoman empire.
    It is a city flooded by historical memories and nostalgic images of its Greek past with great cultural and intellectual traditions. It was founded by the ancient Greeks and this is evidenced by archaeological findings as well as its subsequent history closely linked to the Greek émigrés who, visualising the liberation of their country from the Turks, founded a secret organisation for this purpose called the Society of Friends (Filiki Eteria).
    Being given the chance to travel there and knowing a lot about the history of this city, I intended to roam its streets and get to know but did not give due consideration to the cold. As soon as we docked and after the customs’ officials inspected our papers, I descended the ladder together with others and on foot set off for the city that was a few hundred metres away.
    I am sure most people cannot imagine the feeling of several degrees sub-zero cold. This is what we faced as soon as we set foot on land. We felt the immense cold penetrate our bones and as soon as we walked for a few metres our limbs froze and stiffened. The cold was so intolerable that we felt it scraping our skin like a whip relentlessly hitting us in the face.
    That day, the whole city of Odessa was in a deep freeze. All the residents had stayed indoors, and all work had come to a standstill. That year, 1974, the whole state had been hit by an unprecedented wave of arctic weather so cold that even the sea froze over.
    With these thoughts, and with my limbs already freezing to the point of becoming quite painful, I decided to return to the warmth of the ship. With a fast pace I started going back. The ship was not very far yet already I felt my legs freeze as I walked that I could hardly move them. I tried to run in order to warm up and reach the ship faster, but it was difficult as I felt my whole body freezing.
    I was heavily dressed in an attempt to protect myself from the cold but despite this I felt my body stiffening. The blood particularly in my hands and feet started freezing and the pain was intolerable.
    The pain in my body was so immense that I could not take it, it was unbelievable.
    With great difficulty I managed to climb back on board the ship with extreme pain to the extent that I wanted to cry out but was not able to do so as my face and vocal cords were also frozen stiff.
    As soon as I was on board and without wasting any time, I hurried down into the engine room near the electric generator. It was the only machine working at that time in order to produce electricity and I hugged it as tightly as I could, trying to pass warmth into my stiff body. I stayed there quite a while, I am not aware how long, until I felt my blood circulating, my body defrosting and my limbs moving again while the pain gradually got better.
    Next day and from my warm bed, I looked outside from the porthole and saw that the sea ice had melted. The weather was better, the arctic cold had subsided. I got up still feeling pain and numbness in my body. I saw people moving on the dock and workers on the ship’s deck unloading the cargo. Life in this foreign land had found its rhythm once again and the air was filled with the usual buzz of a big city.
    Taking into consideration the cold of the previous day, I took measures. I arranged with a colleague for a taxi to come directly at the foot of the ship’s ladder. He drove us around the city to all the sights, the monuments, the museums, the department stores and nice restaurants. Inside the warm taxi we toured the beautiful city and got to see its great history as well as its close connection to Greece since ancient times.

    (To be Continued)
    Last edited by Doc Vernon; 7th January 2020 at 04:28 AM.
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