|Israel Ben Ami (Solly Blecher) of Israel|
Towards June 1948, Zvi Infeld of the SA Zionist Federation asked for volunteers from Northcliff to man a minesweeper - whaler, called the Hectore TV, which "Afrika Palestine Fisheries" had purchased for the planned Israeli Navy still to be formed. I volunteered as did Jackie Kaplan from Bertrams group of the Z.S party, as well as a motley crowd of non-party affiliated Zionists.
The full list of volunteers to join the experienced hired seamen was as follows: Cecil Abrams - our appointed leader, Solly Blecher, Sydney Goldman, Jack Witkin, Peter Silberstein, Harold Levitan, Solly Meltzer, Jacky Kaplan, Mike Shakonevsky, Max Abramowitz (Australia), Cyril Spilkin, Harry Milner, Barney Smith, Zamir Reef, and Arthur Rich. The Captain was a drunken Welshman, the Chief Mate was a drunk addict but a gentleman, the Bosun was a colored man from Cape Town, the Chief Engineer was an anti-Semitic Englishman, The Second Engineer was a sensitive Dane, the Cook was a colored man with a heart of gold.
We went down by train to Cape Town to prepare the ship for its long journey and spent two months chipping and scraping and getting to know the ship. We also got to know the Cape Jewish Community and the pretty girls! We showered at the seaman’s mission and generally tried to act as experienced sailors.
The " Hector IV" was renamed "Drom Afrika II" and a Magen David was attached to the funnel. The foc'sle originally had a 6 pounder, and our first job was to paint over the base on which it had rested. The Jewish Community of Cape Town viewed us as heroes-in-the-making and were most hospitable. The mission was supposed to be secret, but I'm afraid the crew could not shut their mouths, and friends and relatives came to view the very unimpressive boat and motley crew!.
Finally, after a few months we weighed anchor and started our journey via the
West Coast of Africa. However, before we got to Walvis Bay, we sprung a leak and limped back to Victoria dock bailing water throughout the night. The Cape Argus headline - "Drom Afrika II makes a false start.”
After a month of repairs we set sail again, and this time made it to Walvis Bay. Here we were entertained by the Jewish Community as heroes. After a week we continued our journey but a terrible feud broke out between the Captain and Chief Mate, the latter accusing him of drunkenness and incompetence, and the former accusing the mate of being a drug addict.
When we reached Boma (at the mouth of the Congo River) they decided that the British Consul at Matadi would settle their dispute. Therefore we sailed up the Congo River via Boma, Petracongo, Ungu Ungu to Matadi. In the meantime the British Consul had gone to Elizabethville, and we anchored at Matadi for a few weeks waiting his return. To pass the time we played soccer against the Belgian and Bomla teams (we lost 4-0). Finally, we continued (the consul having returned and arranged a "Sulcha") and our route was as follows: Back to the mouth of the Congo (where a terrible storm hit us and almost capsized the ship) and on to Takoradi; Lagos (where Cyril Spilkin went crazy and was sent back to SA); Dakar (where we met the ship "Captain Markos" with Shanghai Jews); Oran (where we were almost attacked by the Moslems) Valetta (where the British took an interest); Limasol and Haifa (where we were fired upon prior to identification).
Our nine knot speed and the problems we faced at the various stages of our journey resulted in an extended journey of approximately three and a half months. We arrived in Haifa on April 7th, 1949, and were taken to St Lukes camp. After a few days the Ihud Leumi sent us to sign off before the British Consul in Haifa, and put Peter Silberstein, Jackie Kaplan, Sydney Goldman, Arthur Rich and myself on the bus to Mayan Baruch.