It was this tale, among a thousand others, that Scheherazade told one summer night to King Shahriar. It happened in the days of the famous Caliph known as Haroun al Raschid.
A wealthy merchant lived in Baghdad, and when he died, he left his wealth to his son, whose name was Sinbad. Alas, Sinbad was careless with his money, and before long, he lost everything. All those who had pretended to be Sinbad’s friends while he was rich disappeared once the lad lost his fortune.
Not knowing what to do or where to turn, Sinbad thought he might try his fortune at sea, and so, with his pockets empty, he traveled to the port of Basra. There he boarded a merchant ship, and within days, the new sailor was out at sea, going from ocean to ocean. Like his father, Sinbad proved to be a hardworking, fine sailor and a talented merchant. He began to dream of making his fortune at sea and leading a life of leisure once he had returned to shore.
But fate had something else in store for Sinbad. One morning as the ship traveled across the wide, blue sea, the sailors spotted an island Sinbad had never seen in any of his other voyages. The men searched logs, but they could find no record of this island anywhere. The closer they came, the more beautiful the island seemed. Scents of the most magnificent blooms wafted toward them, and as they came near, they saw that the island was garlanded with flowers.
“We’ll anchor here,” the captain cried. And the men lowered the anchor.
The crew quickly rowed to shore, eager to see this new world. When they stepped upon the land, they found that the strange and mysterious island was filled with the ripest, most exotic fruits they’d ever seen. The men agreed that it was strange to find no human beings in such a rich land, but they soon forgot this worry and began to pick and eat the fruit, thrilled at their marvelous find.
“We’ll spend the night,” they all agreed, and Sinbad built a fire so that they all might stay warm.
As the sun began to move lower and lower in the sky, the men gathered around the fire. Sinbad threw more wood atop the heap, and the flames danced high into the beautiful summery sky. The men began to sing their sailors’ songs.
Suddenly, and without warning, the ground beneath them heaved. The palm trees and the fruit trees began to sway wildly, and all around the shore the sea fumed and spouted and sprayed.
“Everyone back to the ship!” the captain cried. “This is no island!”
“What?” the men cried in astonishment as they tried to stand. The shuddering island tossed them this way and that, sending them flying into the air.
“It’s a whale!” Sinbad cried, for now, he saw the great creature rising, higher and higher, and he knew that it had felt the heat of their flame and was readying to dive below the surface to cool its steaming back.
A moment later the island began to sink beneath the roiling waves. The sea whirled around the whale, and the whirlpool sucked the sailors down below the watery depths as the whale dived deeper and deeper. Sailors cried out for rescue, but alas, they were soon pulled beneath the waves.
Sinbad somehow managed to swim away from the whirlpool’s mighty pull. Gasping for breath, he swam with all his strength.
Suddenly Sinbad felt the edge of something hard against his palm. He peered up above another crashing wave and saw he had touched a barrel. He gripped it as tightly as he could and, with all of his remaining strength, pulled himself aboard. There he managed to stay afloat.
When once more the sea was calm, Sinbad looked around and saw that everything was gone. There was no ship; there were no sailors. All had been sucked down to the bottom of the deep, dark sea, and so, exhausted from his struggle; Sinbad closed his eyes and fell asleep aboard his barrel, rocking this way and that like a child in a cradle.
At dawn, Sinbad awoke to find his barrel wedged against a sandy shore. Amazed at his good fortune, he looked up and saw two men. “Welcome to our land,” the men said, and they took him to their king, who listened in amazement to Sinbad’s tale.
“Stay with us, and I shall put you in charge of our port,” the king said, and Sinbad happily accepted this post, for now, he was recognized as truly a man of the sea.
Sinbad worked hard, and the king gave him many gifts, but after a while, he grew homesick. One day Sinbad recognized a ship sailing into the harbor. The captain was from his own hometown of Baghdad, and the very next week, with many sad farewells, Sinbad sailed home, taking with him all his many gifts and his gold.
After the ship docked in Basra, Sinbad hurried back to Baghdad.
And that was how Sinbad first became known as Sinbad the Sailor, and though he was a man who loved his home, he never could resist the lure of yet another adventure at sea.