Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Sunday morning dawned particularly sunny and warm. Fernando considered this a good omen for the first day of their return trip to the U.S.A. He and Ignacio had spent the previous two days arranging a wire transfer of the money to pay Captain Winchester. They arrived at the port office at 6:55 a.m., thirty-five minutes early. 

Rufino and Serafín assisted them in arranging their luggage near the main entrance; surprisingly, they were the only ones there. Fernando turned toward the two drivers. 

"Caballeros, tanto lo agradecemos lo que han hecho para nosotros. Por favor, que tengan un viaje a Oviedo sin problemas ningunos. Esperamos que las cosas mejoren en España."

Fernando thanked them for all they did to assist them. He wished them a return trip to Oviedo without any problems, and hoped that the situation in Spain would improve.

Fernando and Ignacio paid them the amount they had agreed upon, plus a bit extra. The two drivers were visibly moved, hugging and kissing each of the Tampeños. They shared a bond that was forged by adversity and danger. 

A few minutes before 7:30 a.m. the agent with whom they had dealt opened the doors. By now, there were several more small groups in line. She escorted the Tampeños to a desk located toward the rear of the large office. She quickly inspected their documents, making entries in a large book. Smiling, she returned their papers, along with their "tickets", which were merely letters typed on the Port of Vigo stationery, stamped with an official looking seal. 

"Todo en orden, gracias. Su barco, el "Phoenix", saldrá a las once de la mañana, con la marea alta. Pagan al Capitán Winchester cuando lleguéis al barco. Os llevamos ahora en unos minutos."

The agent explained that all documents were in order and their ship would leave at 11:00 a.m., with the high tide. They were to pay Captain Winchester when they arrived at the ship. They would be taken to the ship in a few minutes.

The agent escorted them out of the office, pointing to an open area a short distance away. They would be picked up there and driven to their ship. They thanked her, shaking her hand. Rufino and Serafín assisted them in moving their belongings to the area indicated by the agent.

Within a few minutes a rather large van stopped next to the Tampeños. The driver got off the vehicle and introduced himself as Manolo. He verified they were booked on the “Phoenix” and began loading their baggage. Serafín and Rufino said their final goodbyes and departed. Manolo helped the travelers into the van. Basically a cargo vehicle, it had been outfitted with crude benches for passengers. Vigo was a large port and the "Phoenix" was docked quite a distance away, too far to walk. The van proceeded very slowly.

After a few minutes the van stopped at a military checkpoint prior to entering the dock areas. The passengers were asked to get out of the vehicle and have their papers ready for inspection. Thankfully, the process was uneventful and anticlimactic. The officer was polite and wished them a safe trip home. Fernando and Ignacio expressed relief at passing this final hurdle. After another few minutes the van stopped again. Manolo spoke to the Tampeños.

"Bueno, aquí estamos. Su barco os espera."

He said they had arrived and their ship awaits them.

As the two families exited the van, Captain Winchester greeted them with a smile. 

"Greetings! We couldn't have a nicer day to set sail. I expect a smooth ride out of the harbor."

The captain's words were reassuring. He escorted the Tampeños onto the ship and gave them a tour. The "Phoenix" was a medium-sized freighter, and relatively new. Their cabins were spartan, but more than adequate. They would occupy four cabins; the two boys would share, as would the two daughters. They could choose to eat with the crew or separately. They chose to eat with the crew, much to Captain Winchester's delight. Luciano was completely intrigued with the ship's bridge, the room from which the ship is commanded. The captain assured him he could observe the process as much as he would like. Luciano was secretly grateful for the outbreak of the war, something he wasn't willing to share with the others.

Fernando and Ignacio paid Captain Winchester their fare, handing him an envelope with cash. He thanked them and said he would leave them to get settled in their cabins. They would depart in two hours. 

At precisely 11:00 a.m. the "Phoenix" sounded three short blasts of her horn. The ship began to move slowly as two tugboats nudged her away from the dock. The Prendes and Suárez males, at the invitation of Captain Winchester, were gathered on the bridge. The women declined, choosing to relax on deck on chaise lounges provided by the crew. Luciano could hardly contain himself, asking a myriad of questions faster than anyone could answer them. Fernando moved toward his son.

"Hijo, por favor. Deja que Capitán Winchester haga su trabajo, después quizás él puede hablar contigo." 

Fernando cautioned his son to save his questions for later and let Captain Winchester do his job. The affable captain smiled, glancing toward Luciano. He continued explaining what was happening.

"This gentleman next to me is a harbor pilot. Major ports require that someone intimately familiar with a particular port command the ship into and out of the harbor. Depending on the specific geography, they are in charge of driving the ship a certain distance into the open sea. Vigo is a challenging port, with a very rocky coastline and strong currents. This gentleman will be in charge until we are well into open seas."

Captain Winchester stepped back and joined the visitors. Luciano couldn't absorb all this fast enough. After almost one hour of slowly maneuvering through the harbor, the ship passed the entrance to the port. The harbor pilot shook Captain Winchester's hand, and stepped aside. The captain took over the controls. The men watched as the harbor pilot descended a ladder and stepped onto a tugboat that was running parallel to the huge freighter. As the tugboat pulled away, Captain Winchester sounded three blasts of "Phoenix's" horn, the traditional final "thank you" to the harbor pilot. Luciano was enthralled by both the science and the ritual of what he was seeing. 

Captain Winchester issued orders to the engine room. Their speed increased quickly as the ship turned toward the northwest. He then turned toward the Tampeños.

"Next stop, New York harbor! Gentlemen, take a turn."

The captain gestured to the men to take turns at the wheel. Luciano, never shy, quickly grabbed the controls. After a few minutes, he reluctantly allowed the others to share in this incredible adventure. It appeared Luciano would be spending most of the trip in the bridge.

Captain Winchester and the crew were most accommodating to the Suárez and Prendes families. Meals were incredibly good, and dinner conversation was lively and engaging. Luciano and Rafael especially enjoyed the mariners' tales of adventure in various exotic ports. The boys felt as if they were living a serial from Saturday afternoons at the movies. Time was passing more quickly than expected. The weather had been cooperative and the "Phoenix" was a bit ahead of schedule. 

In the afternoon of the fourth day, Captain Winchester asked Fernando to join him for a cup of coffee in his room. Initially concerned that something was amiss, Fernando was more than relieved when the captain revealed what was on his mind. The proud father listened intently as Captain Winchester, speaking slowly, explained how impressed he was with Luciano. The young man's ability to grasp the basics of navigation was astounding. Fernando was aware that his son was excelling academically but hearing this from the captain was rather unexpected. The captain concluded by suggesting that Fernando should encourage Luciano to pursue an education beyond high school. Fernando thanked Captain Winchester for his kind words and encouragement. 

At dinner of their sixth and final night at sea, Captain Winchester announced they would be arriving in New York the next morning. The exact time depended on the amount of maritime traffic and exact sea conditions, but they should be prepared to disembark by 9:00 a.m. at the earliest. 

Fernando had contacted a few Spanish friends in New York who were involved in the cigar business. They were buyers and distributors who regularly visited Tampa when Fernando was employed at Sanchez y Haya. He hoped they could recommend a hotel in New York. The Alonso and Cuesta families had insisted on hosting the Tampeños until they could arrange transportation back to Tampa. None of the Tampeños had been to New York before, and they welcomed their hospitality in such a large and fast-paced city. Their host families lived in the West Side of Manhattan, in an area known as "Little Spain". This neighborhood, centered around 14th St. between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave., was home to about 15,000 Spaniards and was the center of Spanish life in the Greater New York area. Because of the cigar industry, there were strong connections between the Spanish communities of the two cities. The "Phoenix" would be docking at the wharves of the lower east side, where they would be met.

The Tampeños awoke early the next morning and prepared for their arrival. From the decks of the ship, land was now visible as they paralleled the coast of Long Island toward the Port of New York. Luciano had been in the bridge with Captain Winchester since 5:00 a.m., not wanting to miss a thing. Just before 8:00 a.m. the ship slowed noticeably as the harbor pilot climbed aboard. 

As the "Phoenix" gradually turned to the right, the skyline of New York was clearly visible. The Tampeños could hardly believe their eyes. Awe turned to raw emotion as they caught their first view of the Statue of Liberty. They were grateful to be "home".

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This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020