A small fishing boat puttered into our cove steered by a burly man whose skin was dark mahogany. He wore a Captain’s uniform and I recognized him immediately. Sometimes Luis Felipe’s friends and guests paid him to take them out on fishing excursions, always returning with pails full of freshly caught fish.
The Captain called to me as he slipped the motor into neutral. .
“Hola, Señora Julie,” he called, taking off his cap and jacket, stripping down to a white t-shirt and pair of blue shorts that he wore under the uniform.
“Hola, Pedro. Como esta usted?”
“Bien, bien. It’s a beautiful day! Good for the fishes. They are happy. Wanna go and get some? I have no customers today. I take you for free on my day-off. What is better than a beautiful lady out on my fishing boat with me?”
The last time I went fishing in Mexico I was sixteen years old and caught a 6’ sailfish near Acapulco. Or rather, the fishing guide helped me reel it in with my hand on the reel under his. Even if I didn’t pull the fish in by myself, I had the thrill of watching it break water and leap into the air, the sun glimmering on its back. It turned from a dull grey to a spectrum of purples and greens as it lay on the floor of the boat. But mostly it was the ride that had thrilled me; the wildness of the wind, the pitching of the boat on the waves, the briny scent of the water so far from land. I had never felt such freedom and now with the captain offering to take me with him, I wanted more.
“Can we be back by the middle of the afternoon?” I asked.
“When you say, we go! I am your guy! If you want, we find the little fish here, barracuda, maybe tuna. But out there where the water turns navy we can find a marlin. I feel it. We’re gonna get one today. I got salt in my veins and a strong back and hands.”
I climbed into the boat and took a seat on the bench next to Pedro. The motor revved up drowning out the sound of his booming voice as we sped along. I felt his silence, the misty spray and the thrill of being on the water again with someone at the helm who knew what he was doing. We went out a long distance into the open water until the Captain seemed satisfied and cut off the engine. The boat rocked us gently on the waves.
“I’m loving this,” I said, offering my face up to the sun. Pedro grinned, grabbed the fishing rods to put on the bait, then dropped the nylon lines over the sides of the boat.
“The sea doesn’t care what color is your skin, what is your religion, how much money you got or where you come from,” he proclaimed.
I was hooked listening to him. Pedro was a natural-born story-teller and I was hungry for stories. “I was born in Cuba. After Castro, we waited for Kennedy to do something for us. But when he was assasinated, we knew there was only one way out—-by the sea. Three amigos and me from school stole a little boat and told them we were going to buy fish. We got our fish, but then we kept going and sailed all night, all the way to Cayman Island. Those guys from the school are still looking for us almost 40 years later!” he laughed. “Now, if a big wave comes and slaps over the side of my boat, even if I’m wet and cold in the wind I say thank you! I love you, sea, and I know you love me too!”
By noon that day I’d caught one small barricuda and a tuna. But my biggest catch of the day was the story of the Captain’s life-long love affair with the sea. The sea is his doorway to the world, just as stories always have been to me.