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Spear-fishing in Sicily

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The speedboat growls angrily before its incessant two-stroke chatter is chilled by the warm, blue sea. It is evening and the hot day is fading slowly, dripping off the barren land in swathes of glorious colour.

Bigger Blue

We are about a mile from Termini Imerese, on the north coast of Sicily.

I cannot see the bottom of the ocean and, as I stare downwards, all I can think of is the Great White sharks which infrequently cruise through these waters.

"Il est dix ou quinze metres," Lui says in French - our language of conversation. "D'accord?"

"Oui," I say, as casually as possible, trying to appear more than able of plunging into the sea and swimming a house-and-a-half's depth towards the rocks at the bottom.

I gaze westwards towards Cefalu, which we had visited previously; threading our way through the narrow, medieval streets, cooling ourselves with a delectable blend of sweet ice-cream and washed down with the bitter fizz of Coca Cola.

Pierro shrugs and turns his dark shoulders away from me, as if to say 'we shall see'. He reaches under a vinyl seat and pulls out a black, smooth-skin wet-suit. It is just like Jean Reno's in the movie The Big Blue.

His brother, Lui, leaps backwards off the boat and spins 360 degrees, so his feet flip over his head and pass the latitudes of the entire earth in about three-quarters of a second. He appears in a glorious pool of white foam that bristles through the ocean as if the sea were blue ink liquidised in a blender.

About 100-metres to our right is the huge spidery framework of a pier, so the oil tankers can dock in deep water. Rachel is in the boat, looking pensive.

"How deep did he say it was?" she asks.

Her skin is as dark as any of the Sicilians in the boat but she is, without a doubt, English. I tell her what Lui said and, in answer to her next question, inform her that I will reach the seabed.

I then roll backwards off the boat. There is a gentle bang as my body hits the surface of the water, followed by a pleasurable moment of disorientation. The water is cold. At least if feels cold after leaving the balmy heat of a summer's evening.

Below the surface is a thick, concrete pipe that erupts vertically out of the sea bed. It is about five metres in diameter and ten metres tall. Half of its length is formed from dark, tubular, rusting metal bars, capped, about five metres below the surface, by an enormous concrete disc.

I am shocked that we are diving here, thinking that maybe we shall be sucked in by a mighty man-made current - if the sharks don't get us first.

I touch the rocks at the bottom of the sea and look furtively for fish, or octopus, or whatever other creatures may be lurking in the crevices. The search yields nothing and, as I have no spear gun, it is perhaps pointless.

My ascent is halogen-lit by the potent rays of summer sunshine, streaming through the water in bar-like sections. I keep my fins next to each other and, in a series of wave-like motions, undulate to the surface; bursting into life as I hang momentarily; allowing my body to flush away the carbon-dioxide and to replenish itself with oxygen.

Lui's father, who is in the boat, passes me a spear gun. He says nothing as he knows none of my language (whereas his brothers are familiar to 'ouse, in reference to music) and I know little of his.

Under the cover of silence I drift beneath the waves again, nervously finning downwards towards the water intake, aware that my body could just fit between the bars; if I had the crazy inclination to try.

As I have never speared a fish in my life, I try the same approach as Pierro; starting at the bottom of the intake and swimming up, looking for anything hidden in the shadows. I expect to find something worth shooting, but find nothing so, with my heart pounding hard, I swim to the surface.

The rich light has almost gone as we search amongst the piers looking for anything worth eating; but find nothing, except for a small octopus speared by Pierro - an interesting acquisition in the land of the casa nostra.

Termini Imerese will soon be lit up on the rocky, coastal hillside and that is where we are heading.

We get back in the boat and ride to the harbour, skimming across the blackening water, thankful that the only sharks I saw today were swimming inside my head.

By Carl Appleby.

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