My eyes slowly adjust to the darkness; the starless night refusing to provide any clue to which way is land. Turning in hopes of seeing something, anything, I spot lights on the shore. Where the lights are interrupted, I assume are boats, and in one case a buoy, or possibly a head. The head/buoy is moving in the direction of the lights, I follow. After swimming twenty minutes, the lights aren’t getting any closer.
Every few minutes in the water, I pause to check my bearings and try to touch bottom. In this starless night, land, sea, and sky are one blackness. At least the water isn’t too cold, almost pleasant. Treading water now, not able to touch the bottom, I cannot see the lights on shore. I side-stroke a bit, attempting to regain my bearing when something hits me in the head. I prepare for a battle, wishing I had a weapon.
No need, I swam headlong into a old wooden tender. I cling to the side of the boat, catching my breath and summoning the strength to pull myself aboard. At once, the odour of roasted lamb and falafel floods my nostrils. An open hand reaches down toward me and the owner of that hand whispers, “My friend, my friend, let me help you”. The Middle Eastern accent sounds familiar, but it’s impossible for the hand to belong to Mohammed.
It didn’t. Zeki introduces himself, welcoming me aboard the skiff. I notice a body hidden beneath an old canvas in the bow, and although Zeki is rowing, a late model outboard engine hangs on the stern. He apologises that for circumstances beyond his control, he cannot take me ashore. Thanking Zeki for his hospitality, I’m about to return to the water and continue my journey ashore when chaos breaks out on the beach.
I hear shouting, and whistles. A parachute flare is fired and I see an army of sorts forming on the beach 200 yards away. There is more shouting, and now pointing. I see muzzle flashes. A couple of rounds ricochet off the water striking the boat. “Mu’allim, mu’allim, you better awake”, Zeki repeats as he shakes the body under the canvas. The outboard motor I assumed was inoperative, roars to life.
Another parachute flare, on the beach the soldiers are setting up a heavy artillery gun and I see the rocket plumes of mortars being fired our way. “Zig!”, the voice under the canvas tarpaulin shouts. The owner of the voice throws off the cover and shouts “hard to port!”. Zeki protests that if we don’t keep a straight line, we’ll run out of fuel before Europa Point. “Zag!”, the commander shouts. “What?”, questions Zeki.
“Hard to starboard”, is the command as a mortar splashes into the water ten yards in front to us. The underwater exposion of the mortar rattles the boat. “We don’t have to make it all the way across, just as far as…” the explanation is cut short as another mortal enters the water directly in front of us, exploding just as we pass over it.
The force of the explosion propels our small craft straight up, completely out of the water. The engine, propeller starved of resistance, screams for what seems like minutes, seconds really, before we splash down again. The explosion and hard landing have taken their toll on the once sturdy boat. Water leaking between the seams of the wooden hull, threaten to overtake the electric bilge pump with the sea‘s intrusion.
Zeki is visibly shaken, staring straight ahead, hands frozen to the helm. “You, steer!”, the commander shouts, pointing at me. I take the helm; Zeki starts shovelling water from the boat with a bucket. By the light of the Satellite phone held to his cheek I catch a glimpse of our doomed vessel‘s captain, it’s Jaxon! I thought I recognised that cool under fire demeanour. Jaxon does not recognise me, no time for pleasantries right now, I zig.
Jaxon punches in a number on the sat-phone, checks his watch and says to no one in particular, “Where are they?”, as if on cue, the called party picks up. The outboard engine, probably unhappy with the abuse it has taken is now louder than before. Shouting to be heard over the dying motor, Jaxon’s side of the conversation is: “Jaxon here… yes, I have him… where are you?” I zag, “… well, we’re under fire… isn’t there anything you can do… your prize is in danger, it would be a pity if anything were to harm the package… yeah, I thought so… copy, out”.
“Stop the boat, you’re going to want to see this” commands Jaxon gesturing toward the shore. I kill the engine just in time to hear the all too familiar high pitched whine of a torpedo slicing through the water. The wooden hull of our sinking craft reverberates the sound as the torpedo passes beneath us, or nearly so, and continues in the direction of our attackers.
I turn to face the stern, Zeki suspends his bailing activity, and we watch. About twenty feet from shore the torpedo detonates, the explosion rocking the beachfront. Stones, sand, water, and sea creatures erupt from the blast, pelting the solders on the beach. While the gunners are distracted, our motorboat is bumped sideways as we collide with a dull rubber coated metallic thud of a submarine surfacing to our starboard.
The HMAS Dechaineux, a Collins class boat, is a welcome sight. The stern of the wooden skiff is engulfed in smoke from the overheated and abused outboard engine. Jaxon reaches under the beleaguered boat’s console and retrieves a pistol. We are assisted aboard by RANSS crew members. Jaxon aims the pistol at a fuel tank in our besieged boat and fires; a flare, setting alight the remains of the craft. Tossing the spent flare gun into the water, Jaxon turns to me and nonchalantly says “Good to see you, Majes”.