Story of 3 boys escaping a convent during WWII and their adventure.
|C H A P T E R 7
Knock, knock . Someone was at the door , I walked over and opened the door, it was two officers, one was the man that escorted George earlier, the other I had not met before. He walked into the room and told the other officer to wait at the door. I noticed that this officer was wearing a different hat. Before I could think, he said " I am Captain Alessandro ". My eyes opened wide. He continued " My first mate informed me of the trouble you two were involved in. I don't like these instances on my ship as I am responsible for the safety of everyone aboard and I am aware of the possibilities when such troubles arise. If I leave you here in 3rd class, you will be subject to vindication by your recent acquantance , and then if you should get hurt, I am responsible and would have all kinds of paperwork and hearings to attend making my already demanding schedule overbearing". Neither one of us said a word. The Captain continued, " do you have anything at all to say ?". I did not really know what to say , then politely " perhaps we can apologize to the young man " the Captain interjected " Apologize ! , you don't even know his name ?". I replied " actually, no, I do not" and then George "neither do I ". The Captain placed his hand on his chin " I see ". then continued " I see only one solution here, you will leave this cabin and come join the working crew in first class. You will need to perform duties like cleaning dishes and perform room services and whatever they find suitable for you". He then took his hand off his chin looking directly at us " Agreed ?". George and I were stunned, but at the same time I was kind of liking this idea. I said " Agreed !". thereafter, so did George.
We gathered our belongings as the officer waited for us outside, the Captain had left already giving orders for us to check in with him tomorrow morning as we would be assigned for duties on a daily basis. The officer escorted us into the First class area, which was adorned with all kinds of artwork and tapestries, decorative columns and majestic stairways. Quite a different ship on this side , people were all nicely dressed, some walking casually, some sitting and being waited upon. We quickly made our way into a hidden doorway where only the staff where allowed and we quietly exited the area reserved for the elites. Once in the staff area, it felt a little more like where we came from, except cleaner. I could see that this ship was constantly being maintained, painted and cleaned spotless. We were assigned to a small cabin with 2 bunks, the officer said dinner would be at 6 O'clock at the staff lounge and we were to report to the captain at 6:30 AM for our assignment the following morning. Further, we were only allowed in the Staff designated zones and not to venture anywhere near to the third class section for the remainder of the journey. We agreed and understood. After all the adventure we had transpired for the day , we decided to stay in the cabin and then take dinner back to our cabin when the time came. I continued with my Robinson Crusoe.
Following morning our alarm clock rang at 5:30 AM , we were ready for the day as we had been cooped up in this cabin for what seemed a long time. Washed and dressed in a staff uniform we made our way up to the Captains office. We knocked and we heard " enter ". The Captain was at his desk with a cup of coffee and some large maps on his desk. He seemed to have a lot on his mind and at first did not pay attention to us walking in. Then he looked to us " Good morning young men". " Good Morning" we replied. The Captain continued " I'm happy to see you are punctual , I dislike when people don't follow instructions and waste my time. Tine is a gift and one should not waste it". We nodded " Yes, Sir ". The Captain looked at me " You are Marco " and then George " and you are George , correct ". We both said " Yes Sir " and I added " correct ". The Captain sat with one leg on his desk and folded his arms together " well, it seems you ran into a little bad luck yesterday, I can see you are not troublemakers. But sometimes bad luck can bring good things. I've looked up your documents and the manifest shows you are traveling to New York for work. Well, this is a good way to start your training". Excitedly I replied " really !". " Yes " said the Captain, then he paused and continued " you seem to like the idea Marco... and what about you George " George replied " Oh yes Sir, I did not mean to cause any trouble yesterday, I was just trying to play some checkers". The Captain replied " Yes, I am aware of this". Then he continued " How would you two like to come up with me to the bridge and see how we operate this vessel ?." We both replied excitedly " Yes Sir, absolutely Sir". The Captain stood up, walked over to his closet and put on his jacket " Follow me mates, we are heading to the bridge".
The Captain walked briskly and we had to struggle a bit to keep up with his pace, we followed up a few flights of stairs and everyone we encountered saluted the captain with a Good Morning Captain. Once we made it to the bridge, the Captain introduced us as his guests and asked one of the officers to show us around the room. I was fascinated by the big open view of the sea and all the systems and controls. One of the officers announced " Captain, we are on schedule and on present course will arrive to Gibraltar at 10:18 hours". The captain replied " very well Officer Phillips, stay on course ". Then the captain turned to the intercom and sent a call to the radio room " Officer Jansen , initiate a message to Gibraltar harbor master that we will arrive this morning at 10:18 hours and to have the tender vessel ready for us when we arrive. We have twenty eight passengers that will disembark via the portside aft doorway at level 2 ". Then the captain turned to the First Officer " Scott, what weather forecast do we have ahead ". Officer Scott looking at his weather chart replied " we have strong headwinds past the Canaries, I suggest charting on a northern course". Captain replied " request granted, chart a course for northern crossing ". The captain now turned to us " have you enjoyed your tour of the bridge ?". we both replied " Yes , Sir. Thank you". The captain replied " any questions ?". I thought a little, then I said " I would like to learn how I can work on your ship Sir ". The captain chuckled and smiled " already you've made up your mind to work on a ship ? ". he continued " well, you must really like being at sea and obeying orders ". I replied " I don't mind orders Sir ". The Captain walked over to a ledger and ran his finger to a point " okay, I have a position for your duty today, motorman assistant !". I didn't know what I was getting in to but I agreed. George wound up as assistant in the kitchen, he didn't seem to mind. My first duty was to carry some mechanical room supplies from the storage room to the engine compartment. It was interesting seeing all the equipment and I even got a close look at the engine shaft as it cranked the propeller up and down. I could only imagine the amount of force it required to turn that propeller and move this massive vessel. I was truly fascinated. Then my crew boss called me " better come back up here Marco, we are at Gibraltar and we are shifting propellers off. We will need your help assisting passengers onto the tender vessel. Quickly I climbed up the ladder off the engine compartment and followed the crew members to the portside aft door on level 2. The door was open already and I could see the water not very far from the door level. The tender vessel was maneuvering it's way to the door entrance against the current and a crew member was standing at the doorway holding a rope. As the vessel got closer, he threw the rope to the tender vessel cree and they tied it to their cleat. Both crews worked swiftly to secure the tender vessel to Vulcania's side and we then placed a gangway in between the vessels. Then they asked me to go open the door to the passenger entrance and let the transfer passengers in. Customs checked their documents one by one and asked a couple passengers to open their bags. As they were released they were sent to the gangway. The tender vessel was bobbing up and down a bit and the gangway moved along with the movement of the vessels. We were asked to assist the passengers to disembark at the point when the two vessels were most even and could make a safe transfer. At first I was a bit nervous about it, but once I saw there was a rhythm to the movement, it became a matter of taking the passengers hand and pulling them through on the bounce back up. It worked out well, and I was beginning to feel like a seaman.
The shift ended at 5 o'clock and I went back to the cabin and found George. He was laying on the bunk with his hands behind his head and I asked " how was your day George ?". He replied " well, I spent most of the day cleaning dishes and floors, but all in all, it was a good day". I smiled " sounds like work". George continued " it's a good thing Domenico trained us well. This work was easy compared to farming and clearing fields". We both chuckled. Then I said " I was assisting with unloading passengers at Gibraltar, it was interesting". George opened his eyes " wow, that must have been exciting. Did you get to see the rock of Gibraltar ?". I replied " No, we were on the other side of the ship". George replied " I got to see it as I was carrying trays from the dining room, it is a big rock. You can see 2 countries, Spain on one side and Morocco on the other". " Seems pretty interesting , I wish I had seen it, it is the doorway to the Atlantic ocean". George continued " I met some guys of the crew , they were pretty nice. They said that Captain Alessandro made the right decision in bringing us up front , in the past there were similar situations where the trouble escalated and then the police got involved at destination. I nodded my head " well , we certainly don't need that. I'm glad to perform some chores and learn a few things. I wonder what duty we will have tomorrow ?". George got up off the bunk " I don't know, but what do you say we go over to the crews lounge and see what is going on". I agreed and we made our way there. We met a crew member that George worked with today, his name was Nazzareno. He wore a key around his neck and I wondered what it was for. " Hi George " said Nazzareno. George replied " Hi Nazzareno, this is my brother Marco". We shook hands. Nazzareno said with a smile " I heard how you guys wound up as part of the crew". I also smiled " Yes, well, I always wanted to learn how a ships crew functions, so I guess this is one way to do it". Nazzareno chuckled " Yes, become part of the crew !". And then I asked " what other duties have you performed on board ". He answered " well, this is my first voyage on this vessel, although I have been on many others. On my last tour I was at sea for 9 months, then I stayed in Genoa for a month and now I am on Vulcania". "Interesting" I replied. And he continued " I have done all kinds of maintenance and even worked as a table server". " What is your favorite duty " I asked. He thought about it a bit, and then said " I like to paint and be outside on a sunny day. You kind of get into your own thoughts and enjoy the quiet time by the sea". I replied " hmm, I can see that being enjoyable". Nazzareno continued "well, I am on duty for painting tomorrow, if you like I can request to have you join as my assistant". With surprise I answered " Really !, that would be great, yes, I would like to join you if you can arrange that". Nazzareno replied " wonderful, I will ask the crew master when he comes in for dinner". And then he asked George " and what about you George ?". George thought about it, and said " hmm, I think I will stay in the kitchen if the captain allows, I kind of like being around food". We all laughed.
I made my way to the crews lounge following morning watching the sunrise starboard aft, it was quite mesmerizing watching the sea turn orange as the sun made it's first glimpse. Nazzareno, George and I were with our morning coffee in hand. Nazzareno opened " So, you guys ready for the day ?". I replied " well, am getting there with the help of my coffee ". George raised his cup " Cheers !". We all laughed. Nazarene continued " what duty will you have today George ?." George replied " I am going to have the same duty as yesterday, I kind of like the kitchen". Nazzareno replied " Good , it's important to enjoy what you do ". The crew master came over " hey guys, better go have your breakfast, your shift starts in about 10 minutes". We all got up and followed him to the breakfast table. The crew master continued " We will be passing the canaries today, it will be calm and sunny. However, most likely the head winds will pick up tonight as we go into open ocean, may get eight to ten footers. Ship may be rocking a bit tonight". Nazzareno replied " Good, this way I will sleep as a baby". We all chuckled.
It was a great day for painting, sunny and dry , in the open air the paint was drying almost as soon as I brushed it on. We were in charge of the forward portside railing, Nazzareno placed me on one section as he handled another. I was careful not to spill paint as there were guests walking by , I noticed one young family with two young children. The mom was holding hands with her young son and the dad doing the same with their daughter. They all seemed to be happy and enjoying the view of the ocean. With the sound of the wind blowing, I did my job almost without thinking. I was lost in my thoughts as the day progressed and I started to drift back to the days of the orphanage. I remember nothing of my parents, so at the time I thought of Sister Mona and Father Buckius as being my parents, as they were in charge of me. But there was no love. I remember wanting to escape from that orphanage, not knowing where I could go, I just wanted to get out and find, I didn't know what. But I knew something was missing. It was a time in my life where I became aware, somehow I knew being a child was not supposed to be this way, and I wanted to escape. So , I talked my brothers into escaping with me that day, and actually, I had no intention of returning. Somehow God was watching over us and crossed our paths with a kind man as Domenico. He and Elisetta were the first glimpse of caring adults we had ever known. And then I thought back to how empty my heart was when I was a child, never having a mother to hold me or a father to provide my security. I had to go out and find my own strength and stand on my own, and learn how to be an adult. It made me a strong person , but left a hole in my heart.
C H A P T E R 8
Crossing the Atlantic was now becoming reality and it was all that I had imagined and more. I was now experiencing being part of the crew. Nazzareno and I painted during the entire voyage and George learned a lot of kitchen skills as well as being assistant waiter. During the voyage we did experience couple days of of big swells, Captain Alessandro said they were 10 to 12 feet and the ship did bob up and down front to back quite intensively. Some of the passengers became seasick and remained in their rooms. As for myself, I was captivated by the power of the ocean , the force of its waves and the scent of its mist in the air, all of this force arising in short time without notice. I was convinced the ocean was alive and had a mind of its own.
It was now our last night on the ship and the crew was having a party in the crew lounge. Captain Alessandro came in to thank all of us for doing a great job during this maiden voyage for this new transatlantic route for the Vulcania. He opened “ my friends and crew of Vulcania , thank you for making this maiden voyage to New York possible for Vulcania and allowing our passengers to have a safe voyage. It is the Captains responsibility to accomplish his duty to his ship and passengers, and only his crew can make it happen. So without all of you, this would not be possible. Thank you and God bless you”. Then he turned to the first officer and asked him to take over. The first officer announced that there was a buffet table and we should all serve ourselves and enjoy the party. And so we did.
I sat next to Nazzareno, George was sitting with another crew member he met on his shift. Nazzareno looked to me “ So Marco , how does it feel to have crossed the Atlantic ?”. I looked to him and thought a bit “ well, actually we have not quite made it to the other side. When I see the Statue of Liberty , then I will let you know”. Nazzareno leaned back “ Yes Marco, you are correct. Lady Liberty is very special. She stands boldly guarding the gates of the land of Liberty, and at the same time she is welcoming newcomers with a guiding light. When I saw her the first time, I knew I was arriving in a special land. America is a land that protects a person’s freedom to live their life according their own choices. And with the gift of freedom, bringing out the very best in people. America is a blessing by God. It is a country where you can become who you want to be of your own will according your God given gifts”. Listening to Nazzareno reminded me of Domenico, he also told me similar ideas. I found it interesting, but I don’t think I understood fully. Then I looked at his key around his neck that I carried all the time, and I asked “ Nazzareno, I noticed that you wear that key around your neck all the time , what is it ?”. Nazzareno touched the key with his hand “ well , I have done a lot of travelling since I became a seaman, I’ve seen many ports around the world, from South America to Africa, Asia and even Australia. At first, I felt alone and so I spent my free time listening to others and entertaining myself by meeting new people at all the ports and observing different cultures and their unique creations. I made friends and I became close with some, I learned quickly that we all have to follow our destinies and that unfortunately, friends often come and go. I realized the only thing that really belongs to a person are the memories they create, so I decided to write. Everyday I try to write what I encountered that day, or sometimes I will write a poem. I do it mainly for my own satisfaction, I often go back and read something from the past and enjoy it as it will help me get through a tough time. Anyway , the key is for the box of poems I keep, they are my prized possession so I carry the key with me to remind me of who I am and that I have the key to my thoughts”. I listened very attentively as I found that concept enchanting. Then I asked “ may I read one of your poems ? “. Nazzareno chuckled “ I am flattered that you would want to read my poem. Normally I don’t tell people that I like to write, as I said, it’s all personal thoughts. But for you Marco, I feel comfortable enough. Sometimes you may need to read them few times before you feel what it means to you. I try to write my poems so they mean different things to different people. As we all perceive things differently. He stood up suddenly and said " Let’s go back to the cabin”.
Back at Nazzareno’s quarters, he walked over to his closet and pulled out a metal box, placed it on the table. It was green and big enough to hold several notebooks. He pulled his key off his neck and opened the box. He took out a few books and then one marked Poem’s, removed one of them and then put everything back in the box. He handed it to me and said, “ here, this was one of my first poems. Take it back to your room and read it , let me know what you think in the morning if you like”. I put it in a folder he had on the side table and said “ Thank You Nazzareno, I will return it to you in the morning “. I said goodnight and returned to my cabin. George had not yet returned, so I sat down and pulled out the paper.
Passing clouds left behind,
new horizons soon to be.
Sounds of crashing sea ,
bring my soul to me.
Every course will be churned away,
lest clouds behind choose my way.
Love in my heart guides my passage,
strength of my soul conquering challenge.
Clear sky with bright sea lie starboard,
rain squalls chasing aft.
Force of my soul thrust me away,
sound of calm seas carry me today.
I found this poem inspiring, providing me with both a sense of inner peace and at the same time proving strength to endure life's challenges. I liked it. I could see how being out at sea could inspire one to write, and I thought that perhaps I could give it a try as well one day. I placed the poem back in the folder and fell on my bed, it was a long day and I was duly tired. In my last conscious thoughts of the day, I was envisioning the Statue of Liberty. I had never seen her except for in magazine pictures, to me she symbolized strength and freedom. Thinking further, she is welcoming newcomers and at the same time holding a book. So she is there to teach as well as protect. What a beautiful symbol I thought. It reminded me of what it must be like to have a mother as a child, which I never had. I was now ready to see Lady Liberty and receive her welcome in my heart.
I woke early following morning, went to the crew lounge and was told we would arrive to New York around 1 o'clock. It was quite exciting to finally be arriving. I went back to the cabin and found George packing his things. He looked at me " well, are you packed ?". I looked at him " Yes, pretty much ". Then George replied " I hope we find uncle Luigi at the terminal ". I replied " I'm pretty sure he will be there, otherwise, we can always ask Nazzareno to help us find a place". George shrugged his shoulders " hmm, I guess that is an option too". then he continued to pack and said " But I really want to get the job uncle Luigi had wrote about. I think I am done with this ship for now". I replied " I kind of liked it George, actually, I think I want to get a job with a vessel operator and apply to be a crew member". George looked at me seriously " come on Marco , we are just getting here now... give it a chance ". I replied " It's not that I don't want to stay here in New York, I just like the idea of traveling the seas and seeing the world. America I am sure is great and like uncle Domenico said, America is here to keep the world a safe place. But I want to see what else is out there too". George looked to me seriously " You are leaving me here ! , I can't believe you". I looked at George " Don't worry , you will be fine. First let's meet Luigi and then we will see. I didn't even get the job yet. You will be fine, relax".
After lunch, we noticed a heavy mist in the air. There were a lot of gulls approaching the ship and flying all around, sometimes diving for food. I guess we found new friends and they were welcoming us to their land. The horn blew, folks started making their way to top deck. The mist was quite heavy and we could not see very far. Suddenly, I could see a tall shadow appear over the sea, and then I saw her face and crown, and then the torch. Just like I envisioned her, holding her book on one arm representing education and discipline. And the torch raised high in the other to show us the path. Uncle Domenico was right, this was truly a special land, and I could see now it was blessed by God. America's ambassador Lady Liberty greeted us simultaneously expressing her duty to protect the life of God's creation in the way the Lord intends. An enlightenment to the world.
New York harbor appeared soon after our reception by Lady Liberty , I was in awe of the skyline. This was almost a dream , I had never seen buildings so tall nor ever dreamed of them. It was like stepping into the future. The harbor had so many enormous berths with all kinds of machinery to handle the cargo ships. I believe that day I was in a trance absorbing my new surroundings. It felt like I had lived a fantasy up until this moment and have only now awoken to the world , the New World. It was clear that the world I had lived in was ancient and that a new world was born on this opposite side of the ocean. How was it able to grow to these enormous proportions I wondered. Everything was big and modern here.
The tug boats pushed us into our berth, George and I stared at the docking operation. It was fascinating to see the coordinated work being performed. The crew made it look easy, however, I was sure it took them a lot of practice to make it happen safely. George put his arm around my shoulder with a big smile on his face " We are here Marco , New York ! ". I looked at him in silence with a smile. George said " well, don't you have anything to say ?". I grabbed the railing and leaned myself back, shook my head back and forth and took a deep breath , then let it out " It's hard to explain George, I have so many emotions going on in my head. This city is more than I had ever imagined, I almost feel I am born again ". George looked out and up and all around " Yes Marco, I have to admit I am also very excited. This is my new home and I am going to work hard and follow my dreams and pledge my life to America. The first thing I am going to do is apply to become a citizen. Then I will work and go to school and learn a trade and eventually have my own business and be my own boss. I looked at him, and then I looked out to the city and all it's energy, and then I looked back " looks like you are in the right place for that George, I'm sure you will reach your goal, no doubt".
We heard a ships horn , it was not Vulcania's. We looked out to the harbor and another ship was approaching , this one was a cargo ship.
There was so much happening here, so much energy being emitted. Suddenly I felt the need to get off the ship and go experience the city, I looked to George " come on , let's go find Luigi ". We bolted off to get our things and make our way off the ship. We met the captain in the crew area , he walked over to us " Hello young men ". We replied " Hello Captain ". He continued " what do you think of the city ?". We both replied " Amazing Sir ". He chuckled " Yes, it is. Even for me after being here many, many times". He put his hand on my shoulder , " Since you guys became part of the crew during this voyage, I have a courtesy suggestion for you, meet me at the crew gangway portside aft and we will get you off the ship without thorough Customs exam, okay ?". We both looked at each other , and then turned to the captain with a salute " Thank you Sir !".
We met Nazzareno at the crew gangway, he looked to us and waved us to come over " You guys got smart, yes, this is the faster way off the ship. Otherwise the clearance process can take a lot of time. So, you are going to meet your uncle now ?". I replied " yes, he is coming from Baltimore to meet us". He then opened his bag and took out an envelope " Marco, I want you to have this poem, the one I gave you to read. So you remember me". I was taken by surprise " Nazzareno, that is so nice of you. I'm sorry, I do not have a gift for you, I was not prepared". He smiled " That's okay Marco, for me , the experience we shared is what counts, and I won't forget. It was very nice sailing with you guys. I hope you both find your dreams and they are a happy place". We both replied " Thank you". Then I noticed Captain Alessandro arriving , he waved us to come over. He handed us a paper " Guys, once they open the door , you will get online to meet the Customs officer, he will ask you for your documents. Hand him this paper together with your passport documents, he will give you his blessing quickly. Marco, remember, if you wish to become a crew member you should contact the New York office of Zim Lines. They are a new company and growing very quickly. You can work your way up the ladder quickly there and they will treat you well. I have a friend there , his name is Sidney and he can get you a job quickly, mention my name". The captain shook my hand and I graciously thanked him. George thanked him as well and we both parted from the Captain with a salute.
We found ourselves in a grand terminal station , the crowds of people was a little overwhelming. There were all kinds of lines for Customs and baggage and transportation. As the Captain mentioned, we would be cleared quickly, and looking at this chaos, I was very grateful. George asked me " Do you see any sign of Luigi ?". I replied " well, I really don't know what he looks like, so that will be difficult". George looked at me " He must be holding a sign or something with our names ". I looked around and then I said " Let's try and find a clear spot where we can actually be seen ". So I saw a staircase next to an information desk and decided to go there. I asked the girl behind the desk " we are trying to find a Mr. Luigi from Baltimore ". She replied " what does he look like ?". I looked with a confused face " Actually, I don't know". She smirked " Then how do you intend to find him ?". Then I turned to George " Do you see anything ?". George looking into the crowd " Nope ". Then I told George to stay there next to the information desk and I would go up the stairs to have a look. At the top of the stairs I looked around and saw hundreds of people going in all directions. With this scenario it will be difficult to find each other, so I thought, where would I go if I was looking for someone that just came off the Vulcania ? Ah ! the baggage claim. So I ran downstairs and quickly went to the information desk. Asked the same girl " where is the baggage claim for Vulcania ?". She replied " let me see your baggage tickets ". I replied " we don't have any ". Then you cannot go in the baggage area, not allowed, sorry". Frustrated I replied " So how do we meet our uncle ?". She just shrugged her shoulders. George tapped me on the shoulder and we walked away. He said " I have an idea, why don't we go to the main entrance to this place , maybe he is waiting there". I agreed. We walked and followed signs for exit to street, through a large tunnel and then more crowds. Finally I could see some large doorway openings to the street. First thing I noticed were the large luxurious automobiles. Once outside there were automobiles everywhere, horns were honking, engines were humming. The amount of steel used in construction here was extraordinary. I could see now how America won the war, there was nothing like this in Europe. There was a man with a black coat and hat standing in the corner next to a paper stand holding a piece of paperboard, we walked over to read and it said " I am Luigi from Baltimore ". We cheered " Luigi ! " he smiled and cheered " Are you George and Marco ?". "Yes" we replied. He gave us both a big hug " I was getting a little worried, I thought maybe you had some problems with Customs so I had gone to look for you at the office, but they said you were cleared already with the crew, I didn't know what to think". I kind of rolled my eyes and said " it's kind of a long story, ahem, the Captain of the vessel took a liking to us and we ". Luigi interrupted " The Captain ! , he took a liking to you ?". George abruptly " I will tell the story Marco , well , the first night of the sailing Marco and I went to the lounge and started playing checkers. One fellow talked me into betting with him against our checker game". Luigi sighed " Ahh, I think I can see where this is going, okay fellas, well, the main thing is you made it to New York. Let's get the bags and head to my car. It's kind of hectic around here and we can talk better once we can relax somewhere". We picked up our bags and started to follow Luigi , there were people walking around everywhere, Luigi walked quickly and it was kind of difficult to keep up. I could see that in New York you need to move quickly, otherwise you will become an object that gets in the way of the current of people making their way. Luigi pointed his finger ahead " We are almost there , I'm parked at then end of this street. We arrived and he opened the trunk " put your bags in guys, yo should have plenty of room ". I was in awe of this automobile , it was huge and built solid. I walked all around it looking at the beauty of the shape and color of this blue automobile. I asked Luigi " What kind of car is this ?". He grinned " This my friend is a 1941 Packard 120 ". Pausing, he looked to the car, " beautiful machine ". George and I both agreed. Luigi opened the passenger door " come one , let's get in, I'm going to bring you to my business manager's home here in Brooklyn, his name is William". We got in the car and Luigi started the engine , it was an experience riding in that car looking at the streets of New York. I had seen it in magazines, however, pictures could not explain what I was taking in on this first drive around New York. Luigi drove confidently, we came to a tremendous bridge. He pointed " Here we are to the Brooklyn Bridge ". I had never seen anything like it. Everything seemed so big here in America. I looked to the arches of the bridge as we drove under them, I wondered how people managed to build things so high off the ground. Luigi continued " I will stay here in New York for few days, after that I will need to return to Baltimore. William has a room where you can stay until you are settled in your jobs. William can drive you to work as you will be working with him at the warehouse cargo terminal in Brooklyn, it's actually very close to where he lives". I replied " Thank you sir for helping us ". Luigi replied " Nonsense , first, Elisetta and I are very close, that makes you family. However, putting family aside. Here is how Americans look at it, this is a country with business values. You give your employer an honest hard days work, and your employer gives you an honest hard days pay. This way , you both go home with your heads held high. And that is the best one can ask for in this life. So you see, there is no need to thank me". I dared not mention to him that I was actually planning to go out to sea, I didn't want to hurt any feelings. So I thought I would save that for a later date.
That night, after meeting William and getting settled in our room, I was thinking of Nazzareno and I decided to write a poem. I thought about what I had seen on this first day in New York, and this is what came out.
City streets, bright lights,
working folks and entertainers.
Fire trucks and horse drawn carriages,
homeless folks and five star savages.
Motor cars and limousines,
jaywalkers and pedestrians.
Their paths are disordered,
yet they all find their quarters.
Every time I cross this way,
my troubles seem to fade away.
Moving briskly, no time to speak,
all these people, what do they seek.
A place like this, is like no other,
for here we have become a number.
No names spoken, no hometown,
only meandering and looking around.
I try to come here from time to time,
for this reminds me, this time is mine.
And like no other, perhaps unordinary,
this time is only momentary.
C H A P T E R 9
We learned a lot in the following weeks, New York was a place where life was constantly on the move. We met new people everyday, each of them with their own mission. The one thing people around here seemed to have in common is they were quite open minded and willing to talk openly about their lives. But then, I'm not sure if what they spoke and what they thought were the same thing. People did work hard every day and were proud of their work. People primarily were concerned with work and money, and this would often be the most common topic in any conversation. George quickly made his way into working in the office preparing documents for exports and imports , while I preferred to work outside. I spent a lot of time loading and unloading cargo, preparing manifests and inventory for the goods being received and shipped. It was good work, but every time a vessel arrived from overseas my mind started to wonder. I felt if I stayed here I would fall into this materialistic realm that seemed to dominate ambition.
That night at dinner, I asked William for a day off. He looked at me with surprise " why do you need a day off Marco ". I replied " I want to go visit Zim lines and see if I can get a job on board a vessel". George had a look of disbelief on his face. William leaned back in his chair with his hands on the table " Have you mentioned this to Luigi ? " I nodded my head back and forth and let out a sigh " No , I did not have the courage". William stood up and started to pace a little " I kind of feel you are not giving this job a chance, you are only here a short time. Luigi will certainly be disappointed". I clasped my hands together and put them on the table " I appreciate what both you and Luigi have done for me, and I will never forget the opportunity you have provided to both George and I. It's difficult to explain but I feel at this time of my life I want to go out to sea and learn more about this world we live in". William put his hand on his chin " You know Marco, I do understand, and you are a courageous young man. You may have your day off , if you are able to make it to work later in the day, we won't dock your pay for the day off". I nodded my head and said " Thank You ".
William dropped me off at the train station early in the morning, George waved goodbye rolling his eyes. I guess he was disappointed in me. I didn't blame him, but it was just something stronger than I that I needed to follow through. So I followed my directions and made my way to downtown Manhattan, near what they called the "Battery". I took a couple of buses and walked around a bit , there was an impression of wealth in this area. I passed by a building that looked like it was a copy of an ancient greek temple, only larger and bolder, I read the inscription " New York Stock Exchange ". I didn't know what it was about, but something told me that there was a lot of money involved. Then I walked upon another building, it looked like a modern day castle , or better yet, a fortress. I stood on the corner staring and studying it , a passerby stopped and said " are you lost ?". " No " I replied. He answered with a smile as he walked away " well, if your'e looking to rob a bank, you found the right place, that's the Federal Reserve , they got plenty gold in there". I stared at him as he walked away , why did he think I wanted to rob a bank. Then I looked back at the building, I just thought it was an interesting architecture, but now that I looked at it again , I suppose it could look like a large bank or fortress. Wow, it held a lot of gold... I had no idea. Anyway , enough playing, I had to get where I was going.
I arrived to the Zim lines office , it was a lot smaller than I had anticipated. Sidney was not available, so they gave me an application to fill out and they said if I wanted they could assign me as soon as within 2 weeks going back to the mediterranean. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go back to Mediterranean , however, I handed it in and they said they would contact me in couple days. I was a little disappointed not to be able to find Sidney, all in all, at least I handed in my paperwork. It was a beautiful day so I decided to walk , I was enjoying the scenery and I had in mind to go see the Hudson river where we entered this city and perhaps see if I could see Lady Liberty again, from another angle this time. On the way I passed by a cemetery, it was very interesting as it seemed to stand out from the other surroundings. It was the Trinity cemetery. I stopped for a moment and went in to look at the graves. I read some history and there were some famous people resting here, people that were founders of this country like Alexander Hamilton and many signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as well. I felt I was in a special place and I was honored to have this opportunity. I sat in prayer for a few moments. And I thought to myself, what an experience it must have been for these people to be a part of founding a nation. And here they rest among all these great buildings , I wondered how proud they would have been to see what they created. Then I heard a car horn blast and I came out of my thoughts, it was time to move on. It wasn't very far and I made it to a park on the Hudson , I walked my way in and found an observation point, from there I could see in a distance Lady Liberty. It was different to see her this time, when we entered, I felt she was showing us the way into her shelter . Now that I arrived , it felt comforting to know she was there to remind us of what this land is about. We have all been gifted with a nation founded for and by it's people to live Life in Liberty. She stood out in the harbor reminding us that with Liberty we must have unity, and very importantly, she was there to remind us to respect one another. Like a good mother would do for her children. Without respect for one another, Liberty will no longer exist. She is a symbol of integrity, an attribute all people endowed with the gift of life should learn to live by and teach others.
It was a fulfilling day, I was grateful for being able to make time for myself to follow my dreams and reflect on my life. I made it back to work very late in the afternoon. I told William there was a long line at the terminal office and he didn't seem to mind. I finished up my day at work and helped loading a truck with coffee from Brazil. I wondered what kind of place Brazil might be, seemed exotic from my understanding. I was speaking to a crew member of the vessel that brought in the coffee, he said there were job openings if I was interested. I told him I would inquire about it. That night I was relaxing on my bed going over my day, I was excited and eager towards going back out to sea, but then I also had another craving. I realized I wanted to become a citizen of this land of liberty. I had only been here a short while and I already was feeling the sensation emanating from this land, a sensation of being in charge of my own life, to live by my decisions, for better or for worse. In the short time I had been here I felt there was a feeling of freedom in this land. People treated each other as equals, not according what family you came from or what you did for a living or how you chose to live your life. I believe this is why this place was named Land of Liberty, and I wanted to become a member.
Next morning before work we were preparing for some breakfast as usual. George was frying some eggs and I was toasting bread slices. William was at the table with a newspaper. We brought the food to the table and I sat down. I asked William " what is the process for becoming a citizen here in America ?". He looked at me with a smirk raising his eyebrows " I thought you were anxious to go out to sea... now you want to become citizen ". George looked at me with a concerned look. I replied to William " well, just because I will work out at sea doesn't mean I can't have a home , I want to make this country my home". William replied pouting his lips and nodding his head up and down " you are a smart young man , very smart for your age". He paused a minute " well, the easiest way is to marry an American girl ". George looked over with interest. I replied, well, I don't think I am ready for that at the moment". William smiled and replied " Agreed, that is a long commitment, well, there is a lot of talk about the Displaced Person Act, being you are orphan and from Italy, it may work for you...will take some time, but will work out". Excitedly I replied " I want to apply, do you know what I need to do ?". William replied, " Let me speak to Luigi, he knows a little more than I do about this subject, as far as I know it's a new Act by Congress and I'm not sure of the details yet, but I'm confident by next year you can be well on your way to citizenship". I stood up and got my self ready to make the trip to work and replied " Thank You William, I really appreciate your kind help". And with that off my chest, we made our way to work. It was a great feeling just to know that I too could become a citizen of this country , and I would not give up until I officially pledged my allegiance.
The aroma of Brazilian coffee beans was overwhelming at the warehouse today, I spent the day loading trucks with coffee destined to cities across America. I thought about how many people it would take to drink all this coffee and I concluded this was really a large nation. I decided to take a break and went in to see George in the office, he was sitting behind the telex machine typing a message. I walked over to him "Hi George, who are you writing to ?". He always looked like he was concentrating when at the telex. Without turning his head he mumbled " I am sending a message to the agent in Brazil confirming the coffee arrived and being broken down and being sent to the various wholesalers or consignees on the manifest". I looked at him smiling " oh, you mean you are telling them what I have been doing all day out there in the coffee warehouse". This time he looked at me " haha , you are the one that didn't want to work behind the desk. Believe me, it's not as easy as it looks in here either, there is lot's to keep track of and if you don't pay attention, you will be sending someone else goods to the wrong place. And that would cost lot's of money... not a good thing". I then realized George was enjoying this work and seemed have a natural ability, to be a merchant let's say. So I answered him " You know George, I think this shipping stuff fits you well, I think one day you will own your own shipping company, an American shipping company". George looked to me " yes, that sounds nice... maybe we can do it together ?". I turned around to go back to work and said " we shall see George, in the meantime, I am going out to sea and visit ports around the world to see how things work over there". George went back to his telex typing deep in his thoughts.
Luigi arrived from Baltimore next day to visit and attend some business meetings, he stayed with William, George and I over the weekend. We all went to visit Newark, New Jersey as Luigi was interested in buying some land there. He said that the port where we were now working will soon become obsolete and this area would be built up and made into a busy port with modern facilities. The shipping technology was changing as the demand for shipping was growing now that the war was over and international trade was booming. We met a man at a diner and he took us out to a field where there were lots of heavy construction machines. It looked like they were clearing the land to build buildings. I looked to the grass fields that were left untouched and was amazed at all the open space. I could see why Luigi wanted to buy land here adjacent to the ocean, with all this space they could build a port terminal free of the congestion of New York City.
On the way home , Luigi was talkative , he was saying how when he first came to America he felt like a pioneer in a new land and that now it was already so built up, the ports are old and congested and need to be modernized. The he looked to George and I " you guys are coming here at the right time, there will be lot's of growth here. By the way , both of your citizenship applications have been submitted by my attorney and now under review. My attorney said he is confident you will have your citizenship granted within the year. I am very happy to help you guys out with that, it is something you won't regret". Then he looked to me " Marco, I have been thinking about your wanting to work on shipping vessels as a crew member. I think it will be a good experience for you, if this is what you feel is your passion, then you should do it now that you are young. I do recommend that you work for an American company, it will be good for your citizenship path". The he looked to George " George, you are doing a really good job , the agent oversees are telling me that since you arrived , the information they receive is much more responsive and detailed. I like to hear that when a young man has good work ethics, Domenico taught both of you well, and I am going to tell him that in my letter that I am writing to Elisetta". He paused " you know George, I think it would be a good idea if you took up some classes at a local University, you can attend part-time in the evenings" George looked at Luigi " well, yes, I could do that, but I am not sure I can afford the tuition". Luigi took a deep breath " well, I suppose the company can afford part-time tuition at a community college. But you will need to keep good grades !". George was a little surprised and overwhelmed and then he said " Oh my, thank you... I don't know what to say". Luigi smiled " no worries, this is my pleasure. I like to give back my good fortune, especially to good people, such as yourselves".
Couple weeks passed, Luigi closed the land deal, George signed up for a couple classes in international trade and William had to go on a business trip to visit a client in California. So, Luigi came back to New York to take William's place for few days. George and I went to the train station that evening to pick him up at Penn Station terminal. It was a busy evening with light rain so we made sure to leave a little early. George was a good driver and got us there in time, parked the car and we made our way inside. The train was little delayed so we got some coffee at a shop, I took a sip " I wonder where this coffee came from ?" I said. George smirked " well, who knows, maybe it's part of the coffee you off loaded on the last shipment from Brazil". I put my nose over the cup and took a sniff, then a taste.. " nope , that Brazilian coffee was much stronger". The announcer came on over the speaker " Amtrak 505 from Washington and Baltimore arriving gate 3 ". We left our coffee and made our way to gate 3. We stood in back of the crowd so we would be able to spot Luigi as he walked his way through the terminal. We spotted him and waved, he didn't see us at first but George walked closer up and then he waved back. George opened " how are you Luigi, how was the ride ?". He replied " Oh, not bad ... we were delayed due to an issue with the engine, but they fixed it pretty quickly". I found my way through the crowd " Hello Luigi " He replied "Hi Marco". We started to walk out of the terminal quickly in order to get out of the crowd. Luigi, speaking and walking swiftly " I have some news , some good, some not so good ". I had heard this before, so I said " what is the not so good news ?". Luigi stopped walking and put his hands on both of our shoulders , it was raining hard. " I received a letter from Elisetta, Domenico has suffered a stroke". George and I were silent at first , then Luigi continued " he is okay and stable. The doctor told him it was a warning sign that he needs to slow down a little". George said " Do we need to go back and help them ?". I looked to George knowing that was not going to happen. Luigi replied " George, Elisetta said that Domenico does not want anyone going there to try and help him. Dario and his girlfriend Isabelle have been there to help Elisetta in this time of trouble, but now Domenico has stabilized. He will have to adjust his lifestyle, as you know he has always been very active, so he will need to adjust. George looked to me and we both knew what each other was thinking. Luigi started walking " come one , let's get out of this rain".
George started the car and we were looking forward to having some heat as it was kind of chilly in the rain. Luigi made himself comfortable and I sat in the back. Luigi opened " well, we have some more coffee arriving at the terminal in a few days, so we are going to be busy. It's good business and I'm going to ask you guys to work overtime as we need to impress the client. Then he continued " Marco, I have been talking to the captain of the vessel carrying the coffee beans and he has reserved a position for you in the crew. You will need to go to their office and fill out the forms. You can join the crew and set sail in as little as 3 or 4 weeks". I was taken by surprise " Really ? " I responded. Then I continued " Is it the same vessel that we are offloading tomorrow ?". Luigi responded " They own a few vessels, but it will be similar. You will be stopping at Savannah and then onward to pick up the cargo in Brazil at Rio de Janeiro, then Buenos Aires and then Santos on the way back. Afterwards you will come back to New York and start all over again". Somehow it didn't seem very romantic as I had imagined, but I was in too deep to back out at this point. It was a long rainy ride back to the apartment.
C H A P T E R 10
The sea was rough leaving New York Harbor, winter was setting in and the days were short. We had to take advantage of the shorter daylight for outdoor ship maintenance. I had some painting duty on the aft railings and it was very cold and windy out on deck. I tried not to think of the harsh environment and painted away looking at the sun and the ships water trail. The gulls were flying low following us and diving into the sea for their breakfast. I was on my own back there with no people around and absorbed in my thoughts. I thought of Elisetta and Domenico and wondered how they were doing. I hoped Dario and Isabelle were able to comfort them, and then I felt guilty I was not there to help. I learned that the choices we make in life always have a price and you can never make everyone happy. I felt the need to search the world, although I was not sure what for. Then I thought of Dario and Isabelle, now that apparently they became a couple. In a way I was envious of Dario because Isabelle was a very special girl , woman that is. But then , that was their destiny of choice. They would make a good couple, Dario was very needy and Isabelle was very capable and giving. I on the other hand aspired for something different, and so I travel the sea with my gull friends following.
That night at dinner, the chief crew captain approached me and sat down next to me. " Hello Marco , how was your day ?". I replied " it was a good day's work, I made good progress painting the aft railing. Tomorrow I hope to continue, weather permitting". The crew captain replied " the forecast calls for no precipitation, it may be little windy but looks like a sunny day for tomorrow". Then he continued " Your uncle Luigi asked me to contact you. He has some business in Rio de Janeiro pending and he wants to know if you are willing to say there for few weeks once we arrive there on the final leg of this trip. We would pick you up on the following voyage on our return back from New York". I was kind of surprised " Really ! , well, what will I be required to do there ?". The crew captain said, " I don't know exact details, but I know that your uncle is involved in a sugar transaction and he wants someone there to supervise the loading and make sure the supplier delivers the correct amount as per the contract". I was kind of liking the idea , few weeks in a new land , Rio de Janeiro sounded like a nice place to visit. " Well, I think I can handle that , I was doing similar work in New York". The crew captain smiled " you won't be sorry, Rio is a beautiful city with lot's of pretty girls. I will let your uncle know by telex, he will be happy to hear your decision".
Next day was fair weather as the crew captain predicted. I suppose after being at sea one becomes able to feel the weather pattern before it changes. I spent the day on my rail painting duty together with the gulls that seemed to follow and watch me as I brushed the white paint. Perhaps they liked the color, or perhaps they liked my companionship, or perhaps they were waiting for someone to throw them some food from another deck. In any case, we kept each other company. As I delved within my thoughts, I wondered about Rio de Janeiro. I was told of it's beautiful beaches and landscapes, but I really could not picture it in my mind. That night I visited the ships Library and found a geographical encyclopedia and found a chapter on Brazil. I did not realize how large this country was. No wonder they can produce so much coffee and sugar. The country holds the largest tropical rain forest in the world, the Amazon. This river carries more water and actually feeds more fresh water into the oceans than any other river in the world. It sounded like the Amazon was a very important part of the worlds ecology, especially to the oceans which I found of great interest. I was looking forward to visiting this land.
That night , I was up pondering about my past. From the days at the orphanage, to the love we were blessed and shared with Domenico and Elisetta. I thought about them a lot and I hoped they were okay. I knew of no other family or parents. I was feeling as if time were standing still and I was wondering if I would ever see Domenico and Elisetta again. I had a loving family back in the hills of Italian Abruzzi. However, my destiny brought me to make this choice of exploring and searching. I was following my urge , I wanted to see what other experiences the world held fo rme to absorb in my senses , whatever it might be. That night I decided to write my thoughts.
I carve the sea,
standing on two feet.
The sun lights a path,
A course I must take.
I look toward the horizon,
The suns path follows.
White caps crashing,
becoming blue sea.
Steadily the wind takes me,
My horizon unchanged.
The Suns path guides me,
in course seeking change.
The sea carved has no name,
horizons all look the same.
White caps crashing,
becoming blue sea.
In course my soul inquires,
horizons will I connect.
Winds providing guidance,
My heart providing strength.
We stopped at Savannah to pick up some cargo going to South America, mostly cotton and peanuts. There were also some aircraft parts being loaded on board, crated propellers. It was interesting to see the goods and products being shipped around the globe. I got off the ship for a few hours to have a look around. There was lot's of construction going on. Apparently the port was being updated from a cotton barge wharf to a large container terminal, just like was happening back in New York. I could see America was becoming prosperous after the war. Domenico was right. I recognized one of our vessels crew, I said " Hello ". He looked to me " Hi , I've seen you onboard , my name is Joe ". I put my hand out to shake " I'm Marco, nice to know you ". Joe looked out to a ship that was docked next to us " They are heading to Asia, and then India, through the Panama Canal". I replied" Sounds exciting". Then I continued " Have you been to Brazil before ?". He nodded and smiled " Yes ". I asked " How did you like it ?". He replied " well, I am Portuguese by descent, my father was born in Portugal, so, in Brazil they speak the same language , Portuguese . So I am familiar with the language and culture somewhat. It is a beautiful place, especially Rio is nice". I replied " I am glad to hear that because I will be spending some time there once we dock". Joe replied " Good for you , this is a good time of year, it won't be to hot because it is going into winter down there. The summers are very hot". He continued " You will enjoy Rio, it is a fun city with lot's of tourism. What will you be doing there ?". I replied " well, I have been assigned at the terminal for loading a project cargo". He replied " Well, that sounds like a nice opportunity. If you need any help when you are there, let me know, I have some contacts and friends there". I replied " Thanks". He gave me a note with his contact info and I placed it in my pocket. The vessel going to the Pacific was now getting ready to leave, the crew were removing the ropes from the tie downs. We walked over and waved them off , in a moments glance, they were on their way. We watched them drifting out for a while, they would be out at open sea shortly , in their own little world.
Our ships horn sounded, it was the call for us to return. The crew master was waiting at the ramp doing a head count. " Hi Joe, I see you've made a friend". He smiled " Yes Sir, Marco Polo and I seem to have found each other on this vessel". The crew master continued "well, next stop is Rio ... better get ready boys". I smiled and wondered what he meant by "better get ready". That night at the crews lounge, I heard lot's of stories about Rio de Janeiro. Apparently they do a lot of dancing and singing and drinking and gawking at women from what I heard. I just wanted to see the city for myself and learn the culture a little. Joe tapped my shoulder " hey Marco , what are you up to ". I replied, " Oh, just listening to all the sailor stories ". Joe laughed " Yea, you will hear all kinds of things from a bunch of lonely guys at sea. They are all storytellers once they stay on this ship for a while". He smiled and paused " Just wait and see the stories they tell after they spend a couple of days at the local Rio port taverns drinking Caipirinhas". I smiled " I can imagine , what is Caipirinha ?". Joe smiled " you'll find out when you get there my friend ". The crew master came over " Joe, what are you trying to do to my new friend Marco, are you trying to corrupt him " Joe smirked " me ? , no Sir, I would never steer a good friend into the wrong wind ". The crew master raised his eyebrows " that's a good one , steer a friend into the wind.. you're starting to sound like the Captain". He continued " How long have you been a crewman Joe ?". Joe raised his brow " well, let's see , I think about 8 years now". The crew master replied " that's a pretty long time, did ya ever think of going back to land life ?". Joe lost his smile " actually Sir , I do think about it lately. Settling down and starting a family and all that. But this life at sea kind of grows on you". The crew master replied " You should take a break Joe, 8 years is a good number. We all should make a change in our lives every 8 years". Joe nodded " okay Sir, I appreciate that. Maybe you are right ". Joe got up , " have a good night, I'm gonna hit the sack, got to get up early". The crew master and I both wished him a good night. The crew master looked at me " and you Marco , how do you like being at sea ?". I replied " I like it a lot Sir, I have a lot of time to get to know myself out here". The crew master replied " I understand Marco, it does put you in touch with your soul. But you have to be careful. Sometimes when you spend a lot of time at sea , you forget there is another world out there. It's good to spend time out here and have the sea touch your soul. But life is meant for living and conquering our challenges. Most of us come out here to run away from our realities. We are on this earth to live our life and create our destiny". I listened to the crew master and nodded " I understand Sir". The crew master replied " I don't believe you do Marco , but we all are here to learn something. As for me, I spent my entire adult life at sea, I married once. Life at sea does not mix with marriage and family. She finally left me and I never tried to find another". I didn't know what to say. He continued " Marco, I am 56 years old. When you get to this age you are able to see through young people, you develop an insight. Because you have been where the young people are and you can see what they are thinking. As you get older you start to appreciate different things, you will see. As for me, youth was wasted on the young. I thought I knew everything, lived only for today. Didn't want to make commitments to anyone or anything, kept changing my course as the wind blew. Seeking and finding new things that were really all the same. He paused. I can see through you Marco, you have the same look in your eye that I carried in my youth. You want to see the world and all it has to offer, you are on a search. You don't know what for...perhaps , perfection". I was listening as if he really knew who I was, he was telling me things about myself that perhaps I did not even know myself". The crew master continued " There is no perfection Marco, there is only the destiny you create. It is not meant to be perfect , it's about being true to yourself, true to your heart. True to your word, Marco. That is all we have". I was in awe of how the crew master opened up to me. He continued " Marco, listen to me. Find yourself a good woman with a loving heart, love her , respect her, make a family with her and give them the love they deserve. Guide them to live there lives in the way the Lord intends. You will have no greater satisfaction in the end greater than the satisfaction of having been true to your word". I looked at him " Thank you Sir". The crew master replied " you won't find that out here Marco, you won't find anything". "The sea without land is like a woman without a man, they are both very different, but they need each other to exist". Then he got up ... " well, don't take this old man too seriously... you are young yet". Pausing " But don't forget what I said". with his index finger pointing upward , he walked off.
I thought a lot about the crew master the next day as I continued my painting duty, I looked to the sea , her waves undulating and crashing into the blue. A beautiful deep blue color I observed, this was the caribbean sea. I had heard others speak of this sea and it's beauty, I could see there was some truth to it. I wondered what other secrets it held. From a corner of my eye I glimpsed and I could see land. I put my brush down for a minute and looked out, I could see some buildings and a city. Then I looked out to the forward deck and saw some other crewmen looking out to sea as well, I pointed at the land, they waved to me. I walked over to them " Do you know what that is ?". They replied " it is San Juan ". I looked out " Puerto Rico ! " wow, I did not know we would come so close. one crewman continued " tomorrow we should be able to see St. John". Exciting I thought to myself. He continued " the water there is beautiful ". I waved goodbye and went back to work. The water was indeed getting more beautiful, together with the sky and puffy clouds, it was almost paradise. Or perhaps this could be paradise if one wished it to be. Although the reality was that beneath all it's beauty lurked also the dangers such as sharks and barracuda. I was starting to learn , Life is what you make of it.
The captain slowed us down as we passed St. John , I must admit this island was particularly mesmerizing. Everyone was spending extra time gazing around at all the little islands. The water was a light crystal clear blue and turquoise , against the rolling treelined green hills jutting out of the sea. I found this place to be inspiring to my soul. As we passed by some smaller islands, we could see far down throughout the clear water. We could see turtles and starfish and stingrays. The captain was careful not to get too close as there were some coral reefs around the islands as well. It appeared the Lord truly gifted this place when it was created. The day passed serenely and at sunset most of the crew went on break , the day was so peaceful, it just took away the mood to work. That night at the lounge, everyone was rather quiet. The crewmaster stopped by " I hope everyone enjoyed the day ". Most of us replied " Yes, Sir ". He continued " well, I have been passing through this blessed placed many many years, and still to this day every time I come here I feel refreshed, it just seems to take away all your troubles". I had to admit I also did feel relaxed after being here today. He continued " From here on we will be at open sea for couple weeks until we reach east coast of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro that is. Rio is also a special place, we will spend a few days there to unload and load cargo". Then he looked at me " Marco, you will stay longer as you will be on assignment". I nodded. He continued " well gentlemen, tomorrow the day starts early, and the Captain has a full list of duties for all of you. Please check your assigned schedules at 06:00 posted on the bulletin board as usual. I am turning in early. I wish you all good night". we all replied " Good Night Sir".
The next days at sea were exciting for me, I got to know much of the crew and I learned all kinds of new duties such as being lookout , engine room maintenance, rope mending, and I even learned to navigate by the stars. It was really quite fascinating, Being out at sea we became solely dependent on our knowledge and skills, and there was not much room for errors. One had to think and make well planned decisions, as not only your own life was at stake, we were all responsible for each other, as a team. As for the captain, well, most of the time he had a serious look on his face. And understandably so, a lot of responsibilities came with that job and more often than not the Captain was required to sacrifice his needs for the benefit of the crew and vessel. Without a healthy happy crew, the voyage could easily become perilous. Every Captain needs a crew that respects him and knows that their assignment comes first, and vice versa, the crew needs to know they have a Captain that is looking out for them and the vessel as well.
I was on lookout the following morning, the captain decided to take a route which kept us close to land of the islands of the southern Caribbean due to a storm in the south Atlantic which was whipping up some turbulent wave activity. We could feel it even being a few hundred miles away. The visibility was clear and I could even see an island from time to time. Being a lookout can become tedious after a while and was not my favorite duty, but it was my job so I did my best to stay alert and keep an eye on my sector. I tried counting waves and estimating wave heights, I would get excited when I would see a dolphin or a gull diving for fish. More often than not I would look at the painting I had done and how much more needed attention. I learned quickly that a vessel required lots of paint maintenance in order to prevent the sea salt from corroding the metal. I was thinking of asking the crew master if I could spend the afternoon painting while looking at some corroded spots on a lifeboat lift , and then I saw something. At first I could not make out exactly what it was, but it was not a wave or a dolphin and it was drifting in the ocean. I walked a little towards mid-deck to try and get a better look with my binoculars. Took me a while to get a focus on it , it was a small boat with a few people on it. My first thought was what are they doing out here a couple hundred miles from land, then I thought there must be an island around here and maybe they are fishing. Quickly I got on the speaker phone and called the navigation room and reported the boat holding some people located maybe a mile away off the starboard bow. There did not appear to be a distress signal, however, they were too far away to make any judgment as to why a small boat would be way out at sea. The Captain decided to change course and try to get closer in order to make an assessment. As we drew closer to the small vessel, we saw people waving. An alert siren blasted a call and most crewmen reported to the crew masters office. Orders were given to proceed to deck 1 door opening and also to prepare to lower a lifeboat into the water. I was assigned to the deck 1 door opening and waited for confirmation to open the door. I arrived to the deck 1 door and there were already several members of the crew there, including the crew master. We got our call to open the door, We placed some safety ropes and I pulled a ramp out with a rope ladder. The door opening was very close to sea level and if the waves had been higher, it would be very dangerous to attempt this rescue. I could see the small boat, there were 5 people and the boat appeared very low in the water, It was close to sinking. The ships motorized life boat was cautiously approaching the sinking vessel and attempting to communicate. I noticed Joe was on the life boat and ready to throw a rope onto the sinking boat. They managed to tie up and quickly the passengers came aboard the life boat with some of their belongings. They then untied from the sinking boat and made their way to our door. We all were concentrated on the rescue effort and did not speak unless necessary. The crew master asked me to tie down the rope ladder and throw it over the side. The crew master asked me to get some blankets ready. Another crewmen was waiting for the lifeboat to get close enough to throw a rope to the lifeboat as it approached carefully while we were all moving together with the current. The rope was thrown, Joe caught and tied up. We threw couple more ropes and secured the vessel as close to the ship as possible. Each of the five men were tied up to a safety rope as they climbed aboard. Once they were on board, I quickly gave them some blankets. The crew master asked me to bring them to the infirmary where the ships medical officer awaited. The 5 men were shivering and a couple of them seemed in shock. The crew master ordered us to untie our life boat and Joe took it back to be lifted back onto our vessel. I have to admit Joe did a great job and I could see he used his training and skills effectively. We closed the door and secured it, the crew master said " Good job men , you make a nice team". He paused as he threw a rope to the side. then continued " please put all ropes and accessories back where they were and clean up this room, once you are finished please report to my office for further detail". we all replied " Yes, Sir ". Then he continued " Marco, these men need attendance by the medic, bring them over to the infirmary and report to the office afterwards. I replied" Yes, Sir ".
As I guided the 5 men to the infirmary, one of them came up to me with his hand open, " for you " he said. It looked like a shiny ring. I didn't pay much attention and I said " No, thank you, this is my job". He insisted and placed the ring in my pocket as we arrived to the infirmary. The medics assistant quickly intervened and took the men into the infirmary. They quickly took the two men that were in shock and lied them down on the patient beds. I was relieved of my duty and I continued my orders and reported to the crew masters office, the first mate was there as well. He questioned me regarding what I had seen, where I was when I spotted it, what did I see, what time did I first see the object. He needed to make a log of the event for the record book. From Joe's account, one of the rescued men told him they were refugees from Venezuela , they had been at sea for many days and the currents took them way off course. They were trying to get to the northern coast of Brazil, the current took them a few hundred miles out to sea. Their boat was sinking and they were very tired trying to keep it afloat. Apparently I had saved their lives by spotting them as they were actually quite far away from our vessel and no one else had noticed them. The first mate commended me and logged this event in my file for future references. I have to admit I kind of felt good about being able to help save the lives of a few men, if we did not rescue them, they probably would not have survived another night at sea. Sometimes life's path brings us places where just by chance, unusual things happen, and sometimes they are very special. This was one of those moments. Kind of like the time Domenico crossed our paths along that river bank.
I became kind of popular on this voyage since my keen vision brought about some excitement. Well, the truth is that we were now behind schedule due to the time it took to rescue the refugees. My crew mates started to call me " The Hawk " . I was getting used to walking about and hearing " Hey, Hawk ! ". Some of the crew did not speak english clearly and it would sound like " Hey, Ak !". it definitely was a little strange, but they meant well. The first mate decided to put me on duty in the navigation room, I learned some basic navigation skills. We plotted a course to try and save some time. It took us a little further out to sea at first, moving towards to northeast coast of Brazil. We would pass close by to Natal and Recife, and then straight south to Rio de Janeiro. This would likely save us the time we lost in the rescue considering the weather was favorable according the latest weather report charts. We calculated 9 days under current conditions.