As told by Mike Fischer
I rarely go to sea single-handed, but none of my usual sea mates were available and I needed to get away for a while so, I took my cutter rig out by myself. The sea was flat and the Trade Winds gentle but steady. After four hours of sailing, I was tired. I cleared the mast, dropped anchor, and hoisted the ‘not under command’ day shape into the rigging, and lay down for a short nap. I had checked the weather forecast before leaving shore, there was no indication of any storm activity. But, this was Hawaiian waters and I should have known better.
I came suddenly awake when slapped with a wave of seawater engulfing my rig. It was too late to set sail for shore. I would have to ride out the menacing storm that was almost upon me.
The gale of crosswinds snapped the mast and left me helplessly adrift in Neptune’s anger. The roar of the swelling ocean, the howling wind, and whipping rain made living the next moment doubtful as the deck of my rig turned and twisted in all directions. I don’t remember what I was holding on to but I had no intentions of letting go when I heard a faint cry. I instinctively reached out into the blinding tempest and felt the arm of someone. I put a death grip on it as a swell washed over us and dragged him seaward. His other hand found my wrist and grabbed it, sinking his fingers in.
The deck twisted to starboard, I pulled with all my might as a huge wave washed him onboard. He landed with a thud next to me. I yelled, “GRAB SOMETHING.” I knew this storm was far from over as I wedged myself behind the steering column, pulling my new sea mate close to me. He released my wrist and wrapped his arms around my waist. We clung together for dear life as the storm spent itself, lashing us to and fro with an unforgiving force — I wondered if we would survive.
When I opened my eyes, the heavens were filled with galaxies of brilliant stars, the sea was calm again. Dawn was breaking to the east as I heard seagulls and knew we were near land. My sea mate was still entwined around me. I wondered if he was alive. I moved to break loose. He responded, lifting his head. Our eyes met and I began to laugh. His face lit up as he began to laugh with joy and relief. We had made it. We were still alive.
He sat up, looked around, grabbed my head and pulled me to him, kissing me on the mouth, “Gracias. Ti debo mi vida.” He looked into my eyes and kissed me again.
I laughed for joy in spite of the fact I did not know what he had just said with so much feeling. I didn’t really need to know. I stood up, grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet, threw my arms around him and hugged the breath out of him.
“You Seahorse.” I laughed and pointed to him. “Me Seahorse.” I pointed to myself.
“We rode the waves last night.” I demonstrated with my hand, riding the waves.
He laughed and nodded, "Sí ... seahorse."
The searchlight from a patrol boat illuminated the disaster of what was left of my beloved rig as it pulled alongside. We were helped aboard and joined a few other survivors they had picked up.
When we reached shore I was surprised to see a host of people surround my sea mate and whisk him away. I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying but they were obviously overjoyed to see him again. He looked back once with a plaintiff glance as he entered a limousine and disappeared from my view as the first rays of a new day illuminated the chaos on the dock.
I felt a twinge of sadness when I realized I would never see my new friend again. Never again to share what we had gone through, and survived. I didn’t even know his name and, come to think of it, he didn’t know mine except for the name Seahorse I called each of us. What a perfect mystery — never to be solved; but I was destined to be wrong.
I dodged reporters as I made my way to my car. I had lost everything except a ring of keys clipped to my belt. I drove away still thinking of my sea mate, Seahorse.
I was passing through customs at the Seville International Airport about a year or so later — on my way for a holiday when I heard it loud clear, “SEAHORSE!” I turned in all directions but was unable to identify who had said it. Then I heard it again, turned to my left and there he was, “Seahorse.” He opened his arms and we embraced as the memories of that night flooded back. I could not believe my eyes. He seemed more handsome than I remembered, and taller. He was dressed to the nines and looked so distinguished.
The young man behind him leaned forward, “Infante?”
“Ah yes, Dile a mi buen amigo que le deseo a cenar conmigo esta noche.”
The young man moved closer, “My master wishes you to dine with him this evening. Are you available?”
I looked at the young man, “Infante?”
The young man seemed confused. He looked at Seahorse who nodded his head. The young man looked at me with a somewhat surprised expression. “Do you know who my master is?”
“Not really. We met a long time ago out at sea.” I laughed with joy, “I don’t even know his name.” I smiled at Seahorse, “And he doesn’t know mine.” I put my hand out, “I’m Mike Fischer.”
He took my hand, “Mike Fischer … I am much happy to see you again.”
The young man answered my question, “My master is José Antonio Fernández de Cadiz Garcia-Martínez.”
“I looked at Seahorse, “You’re kidding?”
Seahorse smiled, “No, you may call me, Pepe.”
I laughed, “Yes, I think I will.”
The young man asked again, “Will you be available to dine this evening?”
“Yes, of course.” I looked at Seahorse, “Gracia,” and smiled. “My Spanish is horrible, Pepe.”
“My English is … comes along. I get better at it.”
He bowed and hurried away. His man explained that he was there to meet a visiting dignitary. He gave me written directions to the restaurant El Rincomcillo. I agreed to be there by 7:30 that evening. He bowed his head slightly and hurried away, leaving me standing alone, somewhat stunned by the turn of events.
I checked into my hotel and laid down for a rest. I wondered if the young man would be sitting behind Pepe to interpret. I need not have worried. Pepe’s English was a lot better than he led me to believe.
The restaurant was elegant and beyond my means. The wait staff was almost solicitous to Pepe and I wondered why. But Seahorse was more at ease and closer to the man I had briefly held in my arms as the sea raged around us.
When coffee and chocolate were served after dinner, “I’ve thought of you so often, Pepe, and wondered where you were, how you were, and would we ever meet again. And, here we are?”
“Likewise, my friend. I thought of searching for you, but when I realized I did not know your name, I abandoned the idea. We were parted so quickly after rescue. My heart sang when I saw you today. It was as if un milagro.”
“Excuse, please. A miracle.”
Yes, indeed it was.”
Then he invited me to spend the weekend with him in Cadiz. I had no specific plans and agreed. He owned a bungalow on one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. There were no servants. We were on our own. I told him I preferred it that way. He understood.
We walked to the local food market. I watched as he efficiently gathered what we would need for our stay. The Island of Cadiz is a small community which I assumed accounted for his recognition as we moved about.
At one market I saw an American speaking fluent Spanish. I smiled, she came as if to rescue me, “You look as if you don’t speak Spanish.”
I laughed, “Is it that obvious?”
She continued with hesitation, “The man you are with, do you know who he is?”
“Yes, of course. His name is Pepe and he has a name about this long.” I stretched my arms in both directions.
“Yes, I know his name.”
“Seems like everyone knows him, but I am curious about one thing.”
“And what might that be?”
“He had a manservant with him when I met him at the airport who kept addressing him as infante. Is that customary?”
She looked at me knowingly, “It is … if you are of the Royal House.”
“José Antonio is the youngest son of the King.” My jaw must have hit the pavement and bounced back. “You did not know?”
“No, I didn’t.”
She smiled, “You referred to him as Pepe which indicates you are greatly favored and honored.”
“I saved his life during a storm in Hawai’i.”
“Ah, that will do it. I’m very happy for you. Enjoy your stay in Cadiz.”
Pepe finished his purchase and moved toward me as the American lady moved away. “Ah, you found a countryman.”
“Yes, I did and she seems to know more about you than I do.”
I could not help but laugh at his manner, “Yes, oh that. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It is of no importance between us.”
“Ok, I promise not to mention it again.” He seemed relieved. I truly wasn’t interested because things like that don’t matter to me. Just being with him again mattered more.
We settled into his bungalow and had our first meal together – alone. As the day faded to twilight he suggested we go to the seashore. I helped gather blankets and pillows and we walked to the Atlantic Ocean water’s edge.
“Which way is Gibraltar?”
He gestured, “Around the corner that way, and Casablanca is that way along the coast.”
I gushed like a true tourist which amused Pepe no end.
“There is so much history here, it boggles the mind.”
We settled down in blankets and pillows as the twilight faded and lights along the coast came on like so many jewels sparkling along the water’s edge. We talked for a while and then he became quiet. I knew he was about to say something so, I encouraged him in my American upfront get it on the table manner. “Come on Seahorse, what’s on your mind?”
He turned his head and looked at me, “My mother comes tomorrow.”
“Am I going to be in the way?”
“Of course not. She comes to visit with you.”
“With me? Why?”
Pepe laughed and looked up at the stars. “Because you saved my life.”
“I didn’t save your life. You just happened to float by and I grabbed you. It was a coincidence.” I began to laugh.
He raised himself on one elbow and looked at me. It was still light enough to see his handsome face which had changed. “We look at such coincidences differently here.”
“Pepe, why so serious?”
He lay down and looked up, “My life passed into your hands that night. You saved me from certain death. I am indebted to you for the rest of my life,”
“Wait a minute. That’s not how I look at this at all. You would have done the same for me. At least I think you would have.” I leaned closer. “Tell me you would have.”
He smiled and nodded, “Yes, I would have done the same for you.”
I laid down next to him, “You know … having you with me during that storm gave me the incentive to survive. For some reason, I felt responsible for your safety. I know that sounds crazy but that’s the way I felt at the time. It’s as though the spirits of the water brought you to me for your safety. I wanted to live to ensure that you lived also. Having you show up in the midst of that storm was indeed a miracle. I would hate to have died alone that night.
Then he did something I did not expect. He took my hand into his. “We are brothers now.”
I grasped his hand, “Yes, Pepe. We are, and I’m honored to be your brother.”
“In ancient times … I would have been obliged to give up my position in life and become your servant.”
I was so stunned and surprised at what he said, I was at a loss for words. What passed from his hand to mine at that moment still mystifies me, but there it was and I did not know what to do. All I could think of were those moments at sea when we clung to one another for life.
Then he said something that would never have occurred to me, “Did you ever wonder how I arrived at your boat that terrible day?”
“No, I didn’t. How did you?”
“I was with friends on a catamaran when the storm overtook us. The mainsail was still up when the wind caught it and flipped us over. I was thrown so far away I was unable to see where the craft was. The waves and driving rain obscured my view. I prepared myself for death when a great fish moved up under me. I naturally grabbed its dorsal fin.”
“Pepe, that’s amazing.”
“It began to move, staying at the surface of the churning sea so I could breathe. I had no idea where it was taking me until I saw your boat. It submerged as we approached and I had to let go. I swam toward you and cried out for help; the rest you know.”
I sat staring at him in amazement, “A real milagro – did I say that right?”
He turned his head and smiled, “Yes, you did. It seems they keep happening to us.”
“Yes, they do; I wonder why.”
“So do I.”
We said little after that. There was nothing more that needed to be said. The evening came to a close and we reluctantly returned to the bungalow. I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.
Consciousness returned as the smell of brewing coffee, and bacon frying invaded my nostrils. ‘Oh, my God, he can cook.’ I opened my eyes, jumped out of bed and headed for the kitchen. Pepe was all smiles as he set the table and placed a loaf of bread and knife in the center.
“You bet I am.”
“All is about ready. Coffee?”
“Ummm, yes, please.” I sat down at the table as he poured coffee into a cup. It was Turkish coffee, something I had never tasted before but liked very much.
Pepe served the bacon and eggs, sliced the bread, pushed a plate with butter forward and sat down opposite me. We discussed the day and what we might do together.
He talked in detail about his mother and what a great lady she was. When she arrived, I found her to be so gracious, I felt we had known each other for a long time. This elegant, gentle soul was genuinely happy to see me. She stayed a few hours and then was off in her chauffeured car.
“Tomorrow we can visit Gibraltar if you like, stay the night, and return through Bolonia.”
“Pepe, are you sure? This is more than I would ever expect.” His personal loneliness became evident to me in spite of his position in life. I was pleased to be with him and provide the kind of companionship he craved. The trip through the mountains to Gibraltar took my breath away. The weather was picture postcard perfect. We stayed the night in simple lodgings after dining on the local fare which I found inspiring.
On our way back to Cadiz we decided to spend the day in Bolonia and enjoy their beaches.
My time was growing short in Spain as we headed back to Cadiz for a final night before my departure for home the next day.
We spent the evening in Cadiz on the beach without hardly a word spoken. I finally broke the silence, “Are we still brothers?”
He sprang to a sitting position, threw a blanket at me, jumped on me and we wrestled, “Yes, for always.”
“How about that great fish that brought you to me?”
He sat back, “Yes, we three are brothers.”
When we settled down, he opened his heart to me about life as a royal that had me on the verge of tears. Personal happiness had eluded him. He knew it but had no resources to change it.
He took my hand, “I am so happy fate has brought us together again.”
“I am also. But I do wonder why.”
“Yes, it is mysterious and not coincidental, do you think?”
“I wonder. It seems too good to be coincidental considering the different lives we live. Do you think we’ll ever know?”
He smiled and shook his head, “I don’t know.” He leaned back and relaxed, “There is so much more I would like to say, but your departure tomorrow makes it impossible.”
“I understand, Pepe. I understand.”
We timed our arrival at the Seville International Airport a few hours before my departure, allowing sufficient time for customs. He wanted to join me in the terminal, but I said no, it would be too painful for me. He took my hand and crushed it in his. "Mike, I don't want to lose you. How can I stay in touch?"
"Here's my card. Use the email address. I'll always be there."
"[email protected] Sounds like you’re a detective." he looked up and smiled.
"No, just a sailor breaking those waves. Pepe ... if you ever come to Hawai'i again, you will let me know, I hope."
I thanked him for five wonderful days, closed his car door — he drove away. I stood there for a moment watching him fade from my sight. It was over and far too soon.
I passed through customs, had something to eat, and waited until the boarding call came. As the plane taxied away from the terminal, my heart sank. Seahorse had not left the airport after all. He was on the observation deck in plain sight. I put my hand to the window with hope he would see it. When he waved, my heart leapt. Was it the last connection I would have with him? I wondered as the captain applied thrust and the plane quickened its journey down the runway and into the air — away from my brother, my Seahorse.
On the final leg of my journey home, I thought of my other brother, the great fish that brought Pepe to my boat. I whispered a grateful thank you to this aquatic beast as we flew over Hawaiian waters in preparation to land on Hawai’i, the big island. I still wonder if it was all just a coincidence.