At dawn, after more than twenty five hours at sea, everyone
looked exhausted, worn-out. Almost no one spoke. Some that were strewn about
on the bottom thread boat looked like they were dead. The waves, though less
aggressive and high than those of the day before, continued to be a great danger. Given
that many of the containers with which we were emptying out the water were lost, our situation was still very delicate. By the light of the emerging day, we made out, before us, a distant and barely visible
spot that emerged from the sea.
---That's Desecheo Island! ---said Pedro confirmed by Leo and
Desecheo is a islet of 1.2 squared kilometers whose highest
point reaches over seven hundred feet above the sea level. At a little more than
20 kilometers to the West of Desecheo the solid Puerto Rican land mass begins. But
we were supposed to have Mona Island before us and not Desecheo. This indicated
that, as Papín suspected, we had been heading too much to the North in relation to Cabo Rojo, the destination of our fragile
craft. Frank said:
---Papín you're right! we're navigating too much to our left;
we almost got lost. We were before Desecheo and not before Mona Island which
we left far behind us to our left. Anyway, now we're well located; although we've
made the trip longer than it had to.
Frank was right. We
still had to travel a great distance to Desecheo and, more than that still, to arrive in Puerto Rico. But after so many hours without seeing land, to discover that isle brought us great relief and calm. Nevertheless, the relief and calm became panic when one of the women, hysterical,
started screaming loudly, which caused other women to faint and alarmed the rest of the passengers.
The woman was trembling while pointing out a few large creatures
jumping among the waves, swimming after us. There were seconds of uproar in the
yola. I froze as I saw the sea creatures and heard the terrified cries of the
women. But soon Frank intervened:
---Calm down, calm down! Those are not sharks! They're dolphins! And we should be happy because when dolphins are near there aren't any sharks in the
After Frank's words, every one began to calm down. Some women still sobbed; they looked like children whose toys are given back to them once they have been
made to suffer. Then, I took a better look at the creatures. There were six of them, of a dark color and reflected an attitude that, seen with calm, was harmless. They just seemed to enjoy jumping among the waves while following the noise of the
little motor. After a few minutes, we all became more calmed and a little later
the dolphins quit following us. For quite a great time people remained silent
until some one broke the ice:
---I'm starving! ---he said--- and this same phrase was repeated
by many other passengers.
I felt weak. I
had not had not even a crumb of food since we got into the sea. But I did not
feel too hungry. People were looking among their things. A young man still had three 12 ounces cans of evaporated milk; others found five cans of sardines. The young man who had the cans of milk decided to share them. The cans were rotating from hand to hand. One can arrived
at my hand and the guy who gave it to me reminded me:
---Just one sip, O.K!
I brought the small can to my dried and cracked lips. I had a sip. My throat hurt when I swallowed
and I noticed that my insides were fighting for the drink of milk. The cans of
sardines were also opened; but there were so many begging hands that only the smell got to me.
Desecheo remained before us like a promise left pending. But there was some comfort at having land within sight. Every one knew that Puerto Rico was near because the night before we had seen its lights. For this reason there was more cooperation to empty the water. Although
we were moving very slowly, we could already see something more than the elevated peak of Desecheo. We could distinguish some
green areas on what was, no doubt, a rocky islet. At eight in the morning we
were at about five kilometers from Desecheo. Soon after, we entered a very active
area of the sea. Here the waves produced a singular spectacle: They were coming from the North and the East, and from the
South and the West. Due to this, they formed swirls that stirred our yola violently. The illusion that we would arrive at
shore was alive until cries were heard. One of the lateral waves covered the
passengers and turned off the motor. In spite of all the cries and desperation,
almost every one helped to extract the water that filled half the yola. We did
not have enough containers, so most of the passengers used their hands to empty out part of the water. Other smaller waves continued to attack us. Without a running
motor, the yola became more vulnerable to the onslaught of the sea.
The sun started to burn and the men uttered damnation and laments. The believers clamored to God and all the saints.
Those who still had energy and wanted to cry out took advantage of this opportunity to do so. In the meantime, Papín and Pedro began to work on the motor; but it did not respond to the active efforts
of the mechanics. Two hours later, the sky sun clothed us with its fire. I looked, with sore, eyes at the islet like a starving man looked at a choice
bit of food through a glass case. One of my thoughts escaped aloud. Almost crying, I said:
-"If at least we could arrive to that isle. We could rest and maybe find something to eat. I'd eat any
thing, any thing"-
Time continued its passage.
Little by little, the waves and the wind took us more and more to the northwest.
Every one looked at the other with uncertain face.
---What time is it? ---asked one passengers denoting with his
words something more than boredom.
---It's already eleven ---answered one looking at his watch.
The sky continued clear and blue. The white hot sun was burning our skin and its rays pinched us like sharp needles; but the sea continued
calming down. Now the water was coming in just through the bottom and the sides. To work on the motor and to extract water continued to be our main tasks. Hunger, thirst, exhaustion and uncertainty weighed down on me. By
then, when I looked at the small island or in any other directions I perceived
that the space before my eyes became populated by moving lights. I saw spots, stars, and shining streaks as real as my miserable
presence in this place.
---We're fucked up! This yola is taking us to the doom of hell
-lamented a man. Another one said:
---God is great. If
we haven't perished yet...-
-"We could continue -I thought- at the mercy of the winds and
the waves for several days until we die of hunger and thirst"-.
I continued to think many ominous thoughts none of them encouraging.
I saw the sad and emaciated faces of the women and the men. In them, I could
read how uncertain our fate was. The captain's
pale voice could hardly be heard. Jose sitting next to me did not stop
praying: he pleaded to God, the Virgin and all saints to save him for his two children's sake, whom he claimed never to have
neglected. To hear Jose accelerated my anguish.
And, all of a sudden, I found myself crying with plentiful tears. My memory
activated and all my thoughts were an incentive to continue to cry. I thought
of my mother; I remembered a young lady that had been my girlfriend and all I
found was more anguish. But mainly I thought of Jose: my mind returned to his
house in La Romana. I could see his two children looking like two small turtledoves.
His daughter was about four years, his son almost three. When Jose left his house
the night of the departure I was with him. He repeatedly embraced his children tightly as if that was a good-by forever. Although they did not know what their father was about to attempt, they seemed to
feel it, because they both started crying, as Jose left. The man wiped away quickly
the tears that flowed from his eyes.
The first time I saw Jose was at Herman's. I did not happen to think that he would also make the trip, because the way that he was dressing made me
think that he had recently arrived from the United States. Later, out of his
very mouth I learned that an aunt of his had brought him the notorious and thick gold chain from New York as well as the elegant cloth that gave him the look of a Dominican--york, (one of those that pleased themselves
in showing off their luxury goods). But the young man had never been abroad. He graduated with a degree in accounting
and had been working for the Sugar Central of La Romana, but the little money he was making was not enough to cover the basic
needs of his household. If his wife had known what he was planning, she would
have opposed it strongly. She would have gone to her mother's-in-law, who would
have been successful in convincing Jose not to leave. He would not have left
with the opposition of his mother, who was old and very sick. Several times Jose
---My mother would end up dead if she finds out that I'm leaving
in a yola. Just as they feel my absence, I will already be in Puerto Rico. The
danger will have already passed and I will have saved my mother of anguish.
But anguish was what Jose was suffering in the yola. In that moment, Jose's, as well as everyone else's main goal,
was not to get to Puerto Rico but to survive.
I continued to cry. I thought again of my mother and of my uncle. Resigning myself to die, between sobs, I spoke to Jose interrupting his prayers:
---I'm bothered only by one thing ---I said. Jose said nothing but looked at me with attention and waited intrigued.
---I'm sorry that my uncle might feel he is to blame for my
death. I'm sure he'll torment himself thinking that he should have opposed stronger
my decision to come in a yola to Puerto Rico.
Then Jose put his arm over my shoulder and crying said:
---Have faith, Raul.
We're going to survive. A miracle has to happen. We're good and humble people and God can not allow us to perish in this horrible sea.
Then Jose told me how good he had been to his children, his
wife and his mother. I felt somewhat relieved because of the attention he devoted
to me, but not because of his naive words. But I did not feel like contradicting
him; I did not want to tell him that I believed the naked reality: -"It is good, poor and humble people who very often, in
these crossings, lose their lives in this horrible sea. In these circumstances
there is no guarantee for anyone"-.
Shortly before noon, our hopes that the motor would start was
interrupted by something new: A big ship appeared on the horizon. We could see it to our left at a great distance. One of the
men stood up and started waving his shirt calling for help. Leo's reaction was instantaneous. He reproached the man:
---Señor, sit down! What's your problem? Do you want us to
be arrested here?
This brought about an argument in the group. We all discussed whether it was good or bad to ask for help. Leo,
just like the passengers, had exhausted and hallowed eyes. When he tried to stand
up, his knees buckled to support his bony body. Though weak and emaciated, Leo
did not give in. He told us:
---We have already endured the most difficult part of our trip
and the sea is getting calmer. Let's get to the end...- Puerto Rico is so near. If they rescued us here, they'll deliver us to the authorities; all our efforts would
have been in vane.
In spite of Leo's words a few continued to oppose him. One man, who was said to be a lawyer, in tone of an address expressed:
---It's a stupidity to wait for death here. Neither of those two motors is going to start. It's been already almost four long hours that we have dedicated
to them and neither one has started.
Pedro and Frank kept silent.
But Leo continued speaking. He could hardly be heard. His voice was hoarse and very low from speaking too much all the way, encouraging people to empty out the water. Lacking the security with
which he had always encouraged the passengers, in a weak tone, he expressed:
---If we're not able to start any motor and we feel that it'll
be impossible, it'll be easy for us to ask for help here...- It's still early and this is a heavy traffic area for ships and
fishing boats. I, myself, have many friends that often come to fish in this area. One of them might show up and help us.
Opinions were split.
But Leo got enough support for what he proposed. We all wanted to be rescued;
but the majority thought that it was worth it to continue to persevere. Frank, Pedro and Papín, silent, persisted to work on the motor. I considered any thing to be a solution. I did not like the
idea of being put in jail; but my mind betrayed me; it felt more hunger than my stomach.
In a hallucination that seemed quite real, I pictured the food we were to be given in any ship that would rescue us. I could clearly see before me: a plate of white rice, stewed red beans, fried chicken,
a few slices of fried green banana and a big glass of milk. But I returned from
my daydream to find myself emptying the water from the yola.