The bathrooms don't smell too great, the beds are narrow and small but the food is great all due to one man - Bubu.
Bubu is the ship's main chef, a burly guy in his mid-thirties who chops frozen chickens in half like he was cutting water in a swimming pool. Every day aboard the INS Eilat, this reporter ate three well-rounded meals in the Officers' Mess. In between, Bubu baked pastries, cookies and had other delicacies just lying around for the officers to munch on in their spare time.
The ship is like a dormitory. The troops live in big rooms on the bottom level of the ship near the engines and the turbines. The officers sleep in rooms 4 by 4 meters with four beds lining the walls on each side. To get into the bed, you need to roll on your side while being careful not to pick up your head more than maybe 20 cm. so as not to bang it against the bed on top.
At night, after the day of exercises is over, the troops retire to their small quarters, all equipped with televisions and DVD players. The highlight of this voyage, the troops said, was Minority Report starring Tom Cruise.
The Navy is certainly different than your average infantry unit in the IDF. Here, all of the soldiers are trained professionals. Some are engineers, navigators and munitions experts; there is also a doctor on board charged with the welfare of the close to 100 sailors sailing across the Black Sea. Everyone here has a job and no one is allowed to stand around idly. The soldiers man their stations in shifts throughout the day and at night, when the ship goes dark so as not to be spotted by the enemy, the soldiers move about at a quiet pace trying their best to get in a few hours of sleep.
There is a clear division of hierarchy between the officers and the sailors - the officers sleep on a different level, eat in a different mess and shower in a different bathroom. But overall, everyone works together and is treated equally. Each and every available hand on board is put into play. Even this reporter helped out by writing transmissions in English for the Navy that were sent to the other NATO ships participating in the drill.
"We are like one big family here," one of the officers explains. "Everyone takes care of one another."
But there are some tense times. While in the middle of the Black Sea on the first day of the exercise, the ship was informed of the attack on an IDF outpost near Gaza and the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Even thousands of miles away from home, the events in Gaza were not ignored and the feeling on the vessel grew tense as word traveled throughout the various decks about their kidnapped comrade.