Every couple of days I wrote on a little slip.. Hamam Soap, Forhans Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Cherry Blossom Shoe Polish, Boff and Face Vaseline.. handed the chit to Lefroy House Master Mr ( Baku) Malvea to sign off at inspection; then headed to the store room that lay adjacent to the Garam Pani Kamra to get my supplies (that for some reason dwindled to nothing, zilch in less than three days …).The deal with buddies was to loan boff measured as two bed lengths with an I.O.U to get the similar length back when mine was over ..😁
Back to the Pani wallah emerging from that blackened room stacked with koila (coal) for heating, this hard core khadu, resembling a chimney sweep hauling two steel buckets of steaming hot water hanging from a wide shoulder bow; staggering with the weight, bow legged he walked slowly towards the Master’s residences….Hot water for them… frikin ice water in the showers for us rascals( no sprinkler rose on the shower – who the fcuk broke-it-stole it ?) just a bleedin pipe spurting water…hard cold water doused us POWs that definitely toughened us, and that bloody awful Hamam soap*.. the only respect I had for that bar was‘cause it was a shade lighter than Lefroy Green..!
I guess Hamam soap started this one …
In Command of the Ro-Ro / Container vessel MV CARTAGENA I sailed out one fine summer evening from the Port of Cartagena Colombia ( God! I love that country ;my vessel was named after that very cool city .. the folk, the cuisine, the salsa and merengue clubs, the naughty boys and girls…. every two weeks Cartagena was one of my ports of call…..).
But now I was heading north towards Jacksonville, Florida With a near full container load of cavendish Bananas and a few containers of frozen shrimp for US markets.
The voyage was approximately 1400 nautical miles and at a moderate speed of 15 knots it would take me 94 hrs to cover the distance; my intended route was to skirt the western edge of Cuba, take advantage of the strong Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current heading north along the US East Coast; off North Carolina it sweeps right heading transatlantic in an easterly direction to the UK keeping that Island’s climate pretty mild compared to the European Continent and Scandinavia.
Hence my route with the help of the strong Gulf Stream passing Cuba pushed the ship’s speed upto 19 knots; for the Chief Engineer a negative slip ((advantageous)) meant less strain on the engine, increased distance on same fuel consumption.
My crew was Filipino, thorough professional seaman, short in stature but hard core, taking everything in their stride. They were dedicated, faithful and I respected them. They were happy go lucky souls in spite of being on board, away from home for months on end sending every cent ( well nearly every cent! )back home. The boys worked hard and when dashing ashore partied hard with their meagre balances ! Colombia was their beat and they enjoyed the booze, mariscos, the night clubs, the beaches and the mermaids ..!
I had warned them, read them the riot act, even put the fear of God in them to the dangers of greed… Colombia was known for the “white stuff” and cheaply available, but if caught with the stuff in the US, penalties and punishments were severe and extremely expensive. A wrong step could jeopardise careers, lives and even the shipping business of the company. The boys understood and stayed clear of the trouble spots, dark alleys of the ports of Santa Marta and Cartagena but having a good time on tierra firma before clambering up the gangway for another day of blood sweat and tears.. I loved my crew; respected them and they reciprocated.
Two days into the voyage and still navigating the Caribbean, approaching Cuba, alarm bells sounding just after breakfast, I rushed up to the Bridge to confront the Third Officer to query the alarm. Switching on my walkie-talkie I called the Chief Officer who was on deck; he reporting a huge hulk of a being was seen in no:1 hold by some crew members who were doing maintenance to the cooling water systems.
They hit the alarm button.
Six crew members including Rudy Bocala the Boatswain went into the hatch and after a massive struggle managed to shackle the hulk, twice the crew’s height, and pulled him up on deck. It took more of a Herculean effort to haul him up to the Bridge where I was….struggling ..he was very tall, muscular and looked like one of those wild and demented boxers who gamblers bet on in a snake pit.
A Colombian Stowaway!!
Goodness Grief. Besides Drugs, desperate folk from South and Central America were always trying to smuggle illegally on board ships bound for the USA( right to a land of milk, honey and the Big Bucks; a better life). Once discovered the Master had myriad obligations, stress and more to inform US Immigration, US Customs & Excise ( after 9/11 now renamed the Department of Homeland Security), ship’s agent, vessel owners, charters and ship managers at the next port, of a stowaway on board, sending maximum details, photos, finger prints, copies of any papers in possession; often they board with no papers to make Ship Captain’s lives more miserable; many apply for political asylum and do not reveal their identities nor nationalities and stuff attempting political asylum and some get to remain on board a vessel for years as no country accepts them without solid proof of their nationality (on an earlier vessel also bound for the US, we discovered fifteen stowaways on departing Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic; these sorry souls had been stuffed inside a container on chassis loaded with pineapples. The electrical containers were plugged on at departure and cooling of the pineapples commenced at 13 C. The blighters, including a pregnant woman started shivering and started jumping out from a hole under the container.. that’s another story..and an earlier one where my entire Chinese crew jumped ship in New York and vaporised into Chinatown …)
…So I got on the job… pretty upset, as we had carried out a thorough stowaway and drug search with Colombian Police, sniffer dogs and even underwater divers prior departing Cartagena after all shore side stevedores and other personnel had disembarked; nothing found!. .. and now this dude !! Bringing an illegal alien(s) into the US calls for heavy fines imposed on to the carrier, penalties on the crew, not to mention delays in cargo handling and more additional costs to fly these critters back to their homeland with US Marshals.
Questioning this hulk : Fernando Luis Sagrada Xavier was the bugger’s name.He had a Colombian passport and also! Yes also!! a valid US driver’s licence, a New York Yellow Cab medallion! He had photos of a gorgeous looking woman, his American girlfriend he said and a stash of around two thousand American dollars in his torn jeans. Meaning he had been living and working illegally in the US, had been caught by immigration and deported earlier, which he admitted to, and was now making MY life miserable by trying to enter the US again ..O N M Y S H I P !
I was enraged but maintained an outward cool expression, knowing if we unshackled /un cuffed him he could probably throw us all overboard to the sharks and hijack my ship.
Diplomacy was key here…..The man smelt like a skunk, was tired and hungry, AND angry too for having being caught. He spoke pretty good English with an American accent ..” Hey Skipper” he tells me …” please let’s just do each a favour Sir… I will behave, won’t riot, no revolt; you can lock me up in a cabin. All I ask is as per rules for stowaways….Head and Shoulders shampoo, a perfumed bar of soap, your best deodorant, a clean set of clothes and a full roast chicken with loads of potatoes, a few cans of Miller Beer and clean bed to sleep in. And use of some 10 kg dumbbells to keep fit. Once you arrive Jacksonville, after the Immigration and Customs leave the ship stamping your passports, cargo commences with the arrival of shore stevedores, look the other way..I will just walk down the ramp and disappear into the cacophony of America. In that way life would be cool, no hassles,no stress,no big fines Capi!”…. looking at me .. “and you will never see me again ..so just look away …what’d ya say Capitan?”.
I must admit for a brief second I felt tempted but as Master in Command I had to play by the rules. There was no way I would succumb to the schemes of Señor Sagrada Xavier.. I had to do what I had to do. And did just that ..
“Now listen carefully Fernando; I cannot accept anything you say when it comes to you slipping away into America’s heartland.. you have been discovered and you have to be documented, reported and are to be returned to Colombia. In fact I will have to keep you on board for the next twelve days until we return to Cartagena as my company will need to save the expense of you flying back to your country with two armed US Marshals with a return ticket and all other expenses. So no tricks, no pressure; I will provide you your comforts, Head and Shoulders shampoo and French Lavender soap, ( I wish I had Hamam in my dry stores to give this guy…)my Gillette MAC 3 razor, a spanking new toothbrush, a boiler suit / overalls as your size is only available in the Big & Large stores in the US; we have no size on board that will fit you, great food, sorry no booze. You have the freedom to roam the vessel, but any smart moves and you’re locked up in the paint store..all luxuries over, finito.. Is that understood ? Comprende?”.
The man was not happy with a perplexed expression, his silent words emanating something like “Capitan I’m doing you a great favour.. no hassles, no great fines, it ain’t no big deal”. “Sorry olé’chap” I conveyed in telepathy to him; “be grateful we are the humane type. Some other crew may have shackled you heavier and sent you to Davy Jones Locker ( they want no hassles, they take no prisoners ..and mums the word”.
Two days later we docked at Jacksonville.. I had no option but to lock up Fernando Xavier in a cabin. An armed US marshal was posted right outside in the alleyway; all fines and expenses had to be paid for bringing in an illegal alien into the USA. I had to sign an undertaking accepting full responsibility and consequences if Xavier escaped and I was committed to return him to Colombia. Of course the local newspaper Florida Times arrived, so did the Port Chaplain to Bless my crew ( and the stowaway ..) and even Amnesty International wishing to investigate if Fernando was being treated humanely.. ! I
mean Head & Shoulders, Lavender Soap and even Chicken Tikka Masala.. the same grub we all ate on board.
That was the story of the Colombian stowaway.. we kept him secure in ports and let him free to roam the ship when out at sea though keeping a sharp tab on him; although he made it to America he only saw the country from my ship and surely felt forlorn, dejected but on the other hand he had calmed down and behaved himself … my orders were to first call the Port of Santa Marta in Colombia and then Cartagena where he boarded, and where I was to disembark him. But this time the hulk reduced the length of my stress. He pleaded if he could get off earlier at Santa Marta and not Cartagena two days later “as Cartagena Cops and I go a long way” he said, “ I can dodge my way out from Santa Marta cops..”.
The Colombian authorities agreed I could release him in Santa Marta and the local Harbour Police would be on board.
We docked at Santa Marta around 1100 hrs; after immigration and customs formalities, the hulk was handed over to the local police. Before leaving he was escorted up to my office where I handed him all his personal effects. .. looking at me ..” Thank you for your hospitality Capitan” … no no there was no sarcasm in his tone … “ you take care Fernando, and please don’t try to snuggle yourself back on to my ship” I said… he smiled and handed me a crumpled note and turned away with the Colombian harbour police.
As he was led down the ramp, I saw the cops having a brief chat with him and then let him go… he looked back at the Bridge where I was standing; he stopped, smiled and freely walked out of the gate… just as he wanted to do in Jacksonville USA..( some crew members reported whilst ashore in Santa Marta they saw him in a bar have a cerveza Cristal, the local beer..waiting to jump on to another US bound ship…I assume.
That’s the last I ever saw of Fernando Luis Sagrada Xavier…. I was trading on that route for the next four years with good fortune, following seas and no stowaways…and no drugs.
(( I looked at the crumbled note Fernando had handed me… …..a scribble of a telephone number in the US: “+ 1 800 609 8731 / ask for Fernando Xavier”…..I checked .. it was the toll free number of New York City Yellow Cabs…))
Kindest Regards and Best Wishes,
World Travels of a Lefroyian
Old Cottonian ( 1961-1970)
21 Oct 2020
then : awful foul smelling and worse…
instead of palming it off to others like Sanawar, Doon, Mayo…
today :it’s a blend of neem, tulsi and aloe vera extracts.. and Lefroy Green with Hindustan Lever adding more mileage to the green bar, targeting safety to women and girls in their latest communication strategy campaign #GoSafeOutside.. 🙏
Well – Well, all’s well that ends well…