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Diving with the Navy in Mocambique

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South African in Canada
Oct 21, 2002
<A none too reliable account of an SA Navy African East Coast diplomatic mission - July 1995>

A seagull wheeling overhead screams its approval of the tight ranks of sailors, gleaming in their immaculate whites.

The warm breeze caresses the crew mustered on the foc'sle and carries the unmistakable scent of tropical Africa - musty from the red earth, sweet and alive.

The young Seaman momentarily forgets his preoccupation with not smudging his perfectly polished white shoes, his face oddly distorted in their reflection. Glancing to starboard as the huge icebreaker negotiates the cluttered harbour entrance, he is amazed to note the masts of numerous sunken ships littering berths adjacent to the dock. A particularly large seagull is perched fatly upon the radar array of one the sunken vessels - judging by the mast it was once a naval vessel, he notes with a disapproving frown. "Atten-shun!" the Officer of the Day thunders as the ship is piped by a South African Minister class strike craft, already comfortably alongside. The quatermaster returns the compliment with an equally shrill pipe, whilst with perfect form the Lieutenant sharply cuts his salute. Tropical paradise beckoned.

"It's the most amazing peri-peri chicken you'll ever have, bru!" exclaims the tall, blonde Able Seaman. "And they've got South African beer - lekker cold too man!"
The dusty streets were littered with debris and small children. The sailors were hounded by the kids - scatterlings of Africa - orphans, cast aways of the past conflicts in the area. Their grubby fingers left marks on the white sharply creased trousers of the sailors as they tugged, each trying harder than the previous to get noticed. Dirk clicks his tongue in irritation and after attempting to shoo away his new disciples in faltering Portuguese (that only evokes toothy grins and a few shrill laughs) resigns himself to tossing a few coins in the dirt. The tattered youngsters fall upon the coins in a tangle of limbs and an explosion of interjections. The group of seven Ratings enter a bar - identifiable as such by a stained wooden sign above the doorway.

Cafe Mundo's is favoured by South African sailors for it's extra cheesy pizzas, spicy Portuguese style chicken and cold beers. The interior is a bit barren, but the lack of ambience is soon compensated for by the roars of laughter from the sailors within the gloomy interior. The thirst of having been at sea for a week is soon slaked by cool beers - "Castle" from home and the Mocambiquan "Raiz".
A few hours later and the sailors jovially remove ranks, mustering badges and belt buckles to adorn the walls and serve as a memorial to their visit. A cap gets passed about for signatures, and the Seaman chuckles through an inaebriated mist whilst he signs the cap "Admiral Dave was here!"... uniform caps are not keep in stock onboard ship and the badges are a nightmare to sew on... whoever donated this cap would regret it in the sober light of the following day. Dirk turns his large frame toward a shipmate and swung his arms wildly in the air to emphasise a punchline and promptly falls off his stool, lying giggling like a little girl on the crusty floor whilst massaging a steadily growing bump on his head. As they unsteadily get up to leave, the Seaman notices for the first time his cap his no longer on the stool beside him where he left it... his eyes are drawn to the freshly defaced cap on the wall... "awww shit!"

Outside the sun was sinking and the African night approached...

Squinting into the the bright morning sun, Dirk pulls on his mask, purges his regulator and rolls backwards off the grey deflatable surface boat alongside the SAS OUTENIQUA into the muddy, uncertain depths of Maputo harbour.
The Seaman watches from the brow of the Port side, the routine bottom search providing a welcome distraction from the painful drudgery of pulling duty. His black beret is too tight, and he plucks it off and wipes the sweat off his brow with his sleeve, replacing his beret before the Coxswain should see.
"No way - only a bubblehead would go anywhere near that water... I rate this harbour is teeming with sharks. Crazy man - crazy..." He shifted the weight of the 7.62mm FN hanging over his shoulder by a green strap.
"Dirk's got more to worry about from your poor aim than a shark, boet - why'd they assign you shark sentry? You couldn't hit the side of a barn.." Andre says with a guffaw to the Seaman whilst leaning over the side to get a better view.
The Seaman muttered an execration and stifled a yawn. His head still ached dully from the previous night's overindulgence.
"So'd you get permission to go diving with the guys tommorow? Taking both of the harbour patrol craft and zodiacs apparently."
The Seaman nodded, "Yup - wouldn't miss that for anything - a paid diving trip to the tropical paradise of Isle de Inhaca... all we need now is some babes with dacquiris and we're made. That's why I joined the Navy."
Andre flicked the toothpick he had been chewing overboard and glanced at the Seaman, his eyes screwing up in the afternoon sun, "Oh - I thought you joined because chicks dig the uniform?"
"Ja - that too..."
The Seaman followed the trail of bubbles from the murk below, wishing that his duty were over and the next day could dawn...

"Ow! Ahhh... think I broke a rib bru... " wheezed the Seaman with a pained grin as the zodiac crashed through another swell. "Yee-ahh!" The water was gradually clearing from the muddy brown of Maputo harbour to an azure blue. Half an hour from Maputo and the shoreline had receded to a barely distinguishable line on the horizon and then disappeared. The two customized 15 foot zodiacs diced each other with what appeared to be reckless abandon. Only the narrowed eyes of the Navy diver cox'swains betrayed their concentration as the boats weaved in and out of each other's wake and jostled each other for position. The first glimpse of the pristine reef 30 feet below was a thrilling sight - that electric rush of excitement the Seaman felt everytime he saw clean, clear water in anticipation of a dive never failed to make him feel like a five-year-old on Christmas Eve. The Zodiac cox'ns pulled back on their throttles, and the twin 120 hp Mercruisers grudgingly reduced their roaring to a purr, the wave of displaced water from the bows of the grey craft coming to rest rippling toward the ivory white sands of Isle de Inhaca now only 50 meters away.
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