As with many in the past, destiny brought me on a winter day to the harbour of Liverpool.
The face of this tiny city, always turned towards the sea, had been appearing in my dreams for years, since those distant times when we imagined but we didn’t perceive, when we wished but were too young and immature to understand.
When should a man realize that his dreams are leading him to the sea? When in life does a man start to understand something about the winds?
I’ve been talking with the old man the sea for a long time. I know the way he talks in sad and lonely days, I know his smell, the way he behaves - in his moments of fury and those of tenderness. But when...when does a man finally understand he is ready to become a sailor?
I’ve grown up near the coast. Since my childhood the sea has always been near, close to my innocent eyes, staring at me in those foggy mornings, darkening at the new moon and hiding behind the sunset. Many times too close, but always so truly far.
As long as I called myself a man, I’ve been a traveling pirate of the skies. I’ve spent endless days dreaming with battles, fighting for my purposes and making justice in the insane world of my mind. But I was no more than a fool, a sailor of my dreams.
I knew one day my mission would change. Not necessarily in a planned way, but I knew a special moment was going to happen. I packed my bag, full of nothing but dreams and ilusions, and I made my way to Liverpool.
The day after my arrival, I presented myself to that centuries-old institution where I officially enlisted in a journey towards the overseas.
All of this happened in the same year the world feared to disappear. Myself along with the others who had also enlisted, knew it from the beggining, but our dreams were much bigger at that time to give up so easily and to decide to go back home. Old dreams were pushing me forward and there was nothing I could do.
I don’t remember those faces that were on my side on that first day, coming from all over, newcomers to the city and strangers to each other. Most of us knew nothing about salty waves, and those who did a little, knew nothing about sailing for endless months in the high sea. We couldn’t know what we had in common but for the wish to discover a purpose for our future. Most, or probably all of us, couldn’t have been aware, but from the very beginning the sails were longing to rise and the mooring ropes yearning to be set free.
The ship was anchored in the dock and not prepared to set out to sea. Time was needed. There were maps and routes to be learnt. There was a crew to be formed.
Day after day, we filled the ship with goods. From the dawn to dusk, we were labouring the best we could, all kinds of tools for any type of storm. We would need provisions for a journey with no end assured.
In the twilight hours, some of us gathered after work. The costal wind was too strong for freshwater sailors, and the hard days in the dockyards were demanding some fresh breeze at the end of the day.
Like any sailor, a great friendship is always born around a handful of pints:
“Dr. Duncan!”, they say.
But in many others we keenly sway.
From the old man corsair stories,
To the fantasies of a promising tide;
Selkirk and Lopes’ legends,
For mermaids and pagan Gods we cried.
We drink! We drunk and sang - well, not as much as we should have sung.
And the following day, there we were, back to work again, willing to face all those monsters that scare the human faith.
Windy Liverpool: city of sorrow, city of remorse, strange place where dreams are married with tyranny. Dear place of contradictions, where the distant horizon seeps into tender hearts and promptly flees leaving no hope behind.
The worries about the end of the world were becoming more real. Country after country, the earth was shaking and falling to pieces. Yet, around us, the port was disguising as a sneaky thief, and all behaving like in a normal day: drunkards mocking at tramps, burglars waiting their chance, masters of cotton flaunting their servants and witches escaping from Lancaster’s gallows.
As for me, I also pretended life to be the same. I already had much to be worried about. It wasn’t easy to fall asleep at Liverpool Sailor’s Home, when every night I was remembering our daily conversations on those tricky fevers people have in the South. Calenture that makes people mad, bleeding mouths and rotten teeth affecting the entire ship, the longing fasts where all are forced to shred leather satchels and their own belts, these and many more were part of the frightening talks we used to hear near the docks.
I can’t deny how stunned I was every time I went back home. The more I realised the amounts of disease I will inevitably face, the more unprepared I felt myself to board. Strangely, the lack of expertise was making me work arduously, to an extent I’ve never done before. I was scared, even frightened, but I hadn’t been so sure, as in that moment, that all I wanted was to embark as far as my imagination could take me.
The loads were piling up, the ship getting heavier and, finally, the crew was taking its shape. It took some time, more than I had expected, but the “Beer Meetings”, as I ended up calling them, became so meaningful that, as time passes, the more I understand how crucial those moments were.
We were enjoying the best we could, mostly in the days off, away from the stench of sweat and gunpowder. In those last times there was something, a kind of intuitive feeling that we couldn’t be perfectly aware, which was bringing us closer and closer. In truth, we knew it but we didn’t want to recognise it.
In a very shining morning, when we were all learning how to clean our water with some drops of rum, the captain of the port came to give us the unavoidable news. The rumours were already spreading around. There was a large but sad smile in the captain’s face. And the truth couldn’t be more painful: the rapid advance of the end of the world was shutting everything down in the country, the port should also be closed and we needed to pack our stuff. It was time to go!
“To go? We had just arrived… To go where?”
Obviously, to the sea!
Our Ship wasn’t supposed to leave the harbour this early. There was still load to carry, knots to learn. It wasn’t stocked as we wished, but we had no choice than look ahead and accept our own fate.
This was the moment when everything we got, everything we had learnt onshore, had to be enough for the voyage that is waiting for us. After all, the capacity to adapt and the will to find solutions in an adverse situation were the heart of all we have been taught in that old school of life.
We can try to drive the ship’s course, but the waves and the winds are the ones who will always decide our journey hereafter.
The day arrived sooner than planned, I confess, but, from now on, each one of us is the master of his ship. No one knows who will sink or who will reach another world. Does it really matter? The miles of coast discovered will be mentioned in History books and by generations to come. They will be important in the unavoidable future, in the days to come, after the end of the world as we know it today. But, at this very moment, I simply cannot care about my destiny - I became a travelling pirate of the seas, and all I want is to sail away, to sail towards my beautiful dreams.
There are brothers and cousins that I leave behind, hugs and tears I will keep in my heart. In the end, a crew are not those you met onshore, but those you take with you in your ship; not those who were more skilled, but those who made you feel safer and wiser. A crew are not those who will shake your hands, but those who’ll be in your thoughts during your crossing through the seas. Sometimes you will feel alone in your own ship, but now that you know about the winds, just let the breeze fresh your face, just let it blow…
I turned my back, raised my eyes to the horizon and I cursed with a whisper voice: “To an unpredictable future!”