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. It was a beautiful day in Hawai’i so, I took my cutter rig out by myself. The sea was flat and the Trade Winds gentle but steady. The breeze caught my sail as I raised it and moved my craft gently away from its mooring. As I sailed through the channel to the open sea, I waved to local folks on shore I had come to know during years of harboring here. It was like one big happy family – everyone looking out for each other especially during hurricane season when King Neptune was liable to pay a visit and do some mischief. It wasn’t likely he would be calling on a day like today. Besides, hurricane season was a few months off. Little did I realize how wrong I was going to be.
After several hours of sailing, I tired, cleared the mast, dropped anchor, and hoisted the ‘not under command’ day shape into the rigging. Then I lay down for a short nap. I had checked the weather forecast before leaving shore; there was no indication of any storm activity. But these were Hawaiian waters; I should have known better. Seagulls floated lazily overhead chattering among themselves as seagulls do, but in the distance I heard faint distress calls from their brothers and sisters as I dozed off.
I came suddenly awake when slapped with a wave of seawater engulfing my rig. I sat up and immediately knew it was too late to set sail for shore. I would have to ride out the menacing storm that was almost upon me. Sea mist came from every direction, obscuring my vision as thunder and lightning played in the roiling clouds overhead.
The gale of crosswinds snapped the mast and left me helplessly adrift in Neptune’s anger. The roar of the swelling ocean, mixed with the howling wind, and whipping rain made living the next moment doubtful as the deck of my rig turned and twisted in every direction, threatening to fly apart with each wave engulfing it.
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.
As the deck twisted to starboard, I pulled with all my might as a huge wave washed my unintended guest 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 overhead announcing the end of the storm and the prospect of a beautiful day. Their voices told me we were near land. My sea mate was still entwined around me. I wondered if he was alive as 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, 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 riding the waves with my hand.
He laughed and nodded, “Sí … seahorse.”
The tattered remains of his clothing revealed an athletic build which is probably why he survived his death-defying voyage to my rig during the storm. I could only wonder how he got lost at sea and found his way to my craft. His well-trimmed beard accented a handsome face framing dark intelligent searching eyes. He was taller by maybe four or five inches and carried himself with the dignity of a well-nurtured European. We stood arm in arm supporting one another as the remains of my craft teetered in the waves. As a distant searchlight came into view, we began to yell and wave our arms until the light caught us and the captain signaled he saw us with a loud blast of the ship’s distress horn.
The searchlight from the patrol boat illuminated the wreckage of what was left of my beloved rig as it pulled alongside. The ship’s crew reached out and helped us aboard where we joined other survivors they had picked up.
As we approached the shore, the morning twilight showed the crowds milling about the dock. My new companion preceded me off of the patrol boat and was immediately surrounded by a host of people who literally whisked him away. I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying but they were obviously overjoyed to see him. He looked back once with a plaintiff expression 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 either except for the name I gave us, ‘Seahorse’. What a perfect mystery – never to be solved. But, again, 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 which, fortunately, were clipped to my belt. I drove away still thinking of my sea mate, Seahorse. Where was he, what was he thinking? Did he miss me as much as I missed him?
I spent the next weeks putting my sea life back together. I collected the insurance on my lost craft and began looking for another second-hand cutter rig I could refurbish and make sea worthy. I attended every auction advertised, and finally struck pay-dirt with an exact model of the one I had lost. It had been in dry-dock for a number of years after the owner passed away. But I could see it was in excellent shape. It only required some TLC to bring it back to life. Within six weeks I was ready to launch this beauty. With the help of two friends, we set sail one sunny afternoon for a trial run.
The only thing missing … was Seahorse, my mysterious nautical friend. It would have been so perfect to have him on board during the initial voyage of this cutter rig which I christened ‘SEAHORSE’. The maiden voyage was successful and exceeded my expectations, but no one suspected how I mourned Seahorse’s absence. He would have been as thrilled as I was to be riding the waves once again.
More than a year after our rescue at sea, I was passing through customs at the Seville International Airport – on my way for a holiday when I heard it loud and clear, “SEAHORSE!” My heart leapt as 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 as I dashed into his embrace … as memories of that fateful night flooded back.
“Oh, my God. It’s you. I thought I’d never see you again.” 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.”
The young man informed me, “My master is José Antonio Fernández de Cadiz Garcia-Martínez.”
I looked at Seahorse, “You’re kidding?”
Seahorse smiled, “No. You 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, “Gracias,” and smiled. “My Spanish is horrible, Pepe.”
“My English is … comes along. I get better soon.” He smiled his beautiful smile, then 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 lay down for a rest. I wondered if the young man would be sitting behind Pepe as an interpreter. I need not have worried. Pepe’s English was far better than he led me to believe.
The restaurant was elegant and beyond my means. The wait staff was obviously solicitous of Pepe; 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, I reached across the table which he was eager to grasp. Memories flooded back again at the touch and grasp of his hand. As we released our grip, “I’ve thought of you so often, Pepe, and wondered where you were, how you were, and if we would ever meet again. And, here we are.”
“Likewise, my friend. I thought to search for you also, but when I realized I did not your name know, I abandoned the idea. We parted so quickly after the rescue. My heart sang when I saw you today. It was 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’d 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 where I waited and 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 servant 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 accounts for it. I’m very happy for you. Enjoy your stay in Cadiz.”
Pepe finished his purchases and moved toward me as the American lady smiled and 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 won’t 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 … 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 lay down next to him and grabbed his hand, “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 said something I did not expect. “We are brothers now.”
I tightened my grip on 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 took us over. The mainsail was 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 clouded 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 released his hand and sat up … 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 certainly do; I wonder why.”
“So do I.”
“Perhaps another lifetime.”
“What did you say?”
“I was just thinking that perhaps we were together in another lifetime and kismet brought us back together.” I laughed. “How about that?”
He wasn’t smiling.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
“Oh, my God. I just got a chill up my spine. Do you think it possible?”
“Why not. After that experience at sea … anything is possible.”
I lay down, closer this time so our arms touched. 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 a knife in the center.
“You bet I am.”
“All is about ready. Coffee?”
“Um, yes, please.” I sat 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 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. I was pleased to recount in detail the night I met her son on the high seas. She seemed truly amazed at our chance meeting at the airport and suggested it was indeed a miracle. After a few hours, she wished us both happiness, and left 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.
We began our trip at first light the following day. Passage 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. I would spend the final night in Cadiz before my departure for home the next day.
The evening was spent on the beach with hardly a word spoken. I finally broke the silence with a smile, “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 us together?”
He sat back, “Yes, we three are brothers.” He poured wine into two glasses and we saluted the great fish and then each other.
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 evidently had no resources to change it.
He took my hand, “I am so happy fate … or kismet has brought us together again.”
“And so am I … but I still 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.”
He looked at me, “Do you? I hope so.”
“Pepe.” I began to grin.
“What … you grinning cat?”
“I found another cutter rig.”
“You have a replacement?”
“Yes, I do. I found it at auction, fixed it up and launched it several months ago. I thought of you as we sailed out to sea.”
“I am so pleased for you.”
“And … guess what I named it?”
I saw the wheels turn in his brain as his expression changed from quandary to enlightenment.
“No.” He smiled.
I smiled and nodded head.
His expression was that of sadness in missing the event. I felt a twinge of regret in even telling him. “Perhaps you will come to Hawai’i again one day and we’ll sail her together.”
“Yes, a fine idea.”
The tone of his voice told me such did not seem possible. I suggested we walk along the shore before we retired for the night. He was pleased with the idea as we spent that final hour alone wading in the waters that had brought us together long ago.
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 asked him not to. “It would be too painful for me.”
He agreed and took my hand, crushing 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.”
“firstname.lastname@example.org … 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 thanked him for five wonderful days, then closed his car door. I stood for a moment as he drove away, 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 view. I put my hand to the window with the 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 and into my life. 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 and what the future held for us, if any.
Life returned to some semblance of normalcy, but the memory of Pepe haunted me and did not dim with the passage of time as one would expect. I never told anyone but I was feeling something akin to loneliness for this man especially when I was at sea.
The worst moment came on a beautiful sunny day. The sea was calm with a gentle Trade Wind giving my rig an effortless movement through the waters when I saw it in the distance – the dorsal fin of a great fish. My heart leapt as it approached my craft and began to swim alongside for more than an hour then it submerged into the depths.
It probably wasn’t, but I chose to believe it was the fish that brought Pepe to my craft, to me, that terrible night. I returned to the same place each time I was free to go sailing. But, alas, it never appeared again. I concluded it foolishness on my part and tried to move on.
Pepe and I did exchange emails upon my return, but they lacked the connection I felt in his presence. I’m sure he felt the same and soon they stopped. In a way I was relieved. They had become too much of an effort. His life as a courtier was probably filled with too many other exciting people he mingled with. His interests were there and I couldn’t blame him. I kept the disappointment I felt to myself.
It was almost two years since my holiday in Spain, and the yearend holidays were approaching – days I tried to ignore. I muddled through, wishing the appropriate holiday greetings if for no other reason than to camouflage my parched heart.
It was the Saturday before Christmas . . . twilight had given way to the first rays of the Sun peeking over the Horizon. I was going out to sea alone since none of my mates were available – just like the day I encountered the storm. The day Pepe arrived on a wave of sea water. I laughed to myself when I thought of the storm and how perfect it was. Had it not been for that storm, I never would have met my seahorse.
I was about to board my rig when I heard a whisper from behind, “Seahorse.” I thought it my imagination and kept working until I heard it again, only this time I recognized the voice and it wasn’t my imagination. “SEAHORSE.”
I spun around and there he was – a few yards away. I cried out, “Pepe,” and flew into his outstretched arms. We clung to one another as we had that terrible night of long ago. His strength and warmth overwhelmed me.
When I pulled back to observed his face, he whispered, “My friend,” and pulled me to him, kissing me on the mouth as he had done that night. But this time it was not an expression of gratitude. There was something else much more powerful which I did not resist.
“Why are you here? Why didn’t you let know?”
“I’ll explain everything, but first . . . may I join you?” He smiled and looked seaward.
“Oh, my God, yes. A thousand times yes. Come aboard. I’m ready to set sail.”
“I know nothing of sailing, Mike.” He smiled playfully.
“Not to worry. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
“Thank you. And what shall I teach you?”
I grinned at him and then turned and began hoisting the main sail. The breeze caught it immediately and pulled us away from the mooring. As we passed through the channel to the open sea, I shouted with all my heart, “Merry Christmas” to my friends on shore. Pepe joined in with bass voice “Feliz Navidad”. I was surprised and so was he when we began to get responses in Spanish. We laughed and waved farewell as we passed through and out to the open sea.
He explained that his Kingdom was making investments in the Islands and they needed someone to oversee them. “My father was reluctant when I volunteered for the task but changed his mind when my mother spoke with him.”
“How long will you be here?”
He smiled, “I have no idea but it’s going to be a long time.”
“You’ll probably be too busy to sail.”
“No, that is not true. I will be available whenever you are. And I hope we can see much more of each other besides sailing.”
“Yes, of course. I have so much to tell you but first . . .” I proceeded to relate the day the great fish swam alongside my rig.
With wide-eyed astonishment, he grasped my arm. What he said took my breath away, “Did you notice the shape of the dorsal fin?”
“Not really . . . other than it appeared to be missing the upper portion. Probably a fish fight or some such.”
Pepe began to laugh, “That was him.”
“That was our brother who brought me to you. I’m sure of it. I couldn’t see that night with the storm assailing me from all directions, but my hands remembered the shape.”
That day began a relationship that has lasted these many years. Pepe took to the sea and became an able sailor in a very short time. We spoke often of our brother each time we put out to sea with the hope he may appear again someday.
That day arrived several months after Pepe returned to my life. We had been out to sea about four hours when I saw the dorsal fin approaching. I yelled at the top of my voice which brought Pepe immediately to my side. As we watched together, I asked, “Do you think he knows . . . remembers?”
“I’m certain of it. He needs a name. What shall we call him?”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Is there a Hawaiian word for friend?”
“Yes, there is. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s Hoaloha.”
Pepe put his arm over my shoulders and pulled me close to him, “Perfect.”
When the dorsal fin disappeared, our hearts sank. We searched in vain and were about to give it up when Pepe grabbed my arm, “Wait a minute, wait a minute.” He was looking over the side of the rig. We fell to our knees as Hoaloha slowly breached the surface nose first a few yards away from us.
“What’s he doing, Mike?”
I began to laugh out loud, “He’s skyhopping.”
“He’s come up to have a look-see. There! His eye. It’s looking right at us.” I began to yell and wave my arms. Pepe began to laugh and joined me in our salute to Hoaloha as he sank back into the depths. But he wasn’t finished.
“Will he be back? Mike?”
“I think he will. If I’m not mistaken, he’s going to breach?”
“Over there, Pepe.” And breach he did. Not once but three times. We were in awe at the acrobatics of this beast. “He’s breathing air when he does that.”
“What an interesting way of doing it. But why jump?”
“There isn’t much oxygen in the water near the surface so he jumps to gulp in needed air.”
He disappeared for a few minutes and then slowly surfaced next to the rig, swimming along with us. I was leaning over the side so far, I was about to fall overboard. Pepe grabbed me and began pulling me back but not before Hoaloha opened his blow hole and doused us in a spray of water.
He continued swimming alongside for a time, gently bumping into the rig occasionally. We laughed when Pepe mused that he wanted us to come into the water and play with him.
As Hoaloha finally swam away and slapped his tail once before submerging into the depths, I began to feel an intimacy I had never experienced as the realization the three of us had found one another at long last.
As the day waned, we headed back to harbor, speaking only necessary words in making ready to bring the rig to the mooring, but the glances we exchanged spoke volumes few would understand. As we passed through the channel into safe waters, we turned seaward for a moment. I bid Hoaloha, “Aloha, e malama pono. A hui hou kākou.”
Pepe leaned up against me. “Now tell me what you just said.”
I smiled and put my arm through his as we watched the Sun begin its final decent. “I bid, Hoaloha, farewell, told him to take care of himself. A hui hou kākou means until we meet again. Would you like to add something?”
He smiled, shook his head, and drew me even closer to his side.