Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (copy)

Nothing is better than sitting in a cool theatre, watching a summer blockbuster; one gets a break from the heat and entertained at the same time. Well, after viewing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, the second best thing is to read a nautical tale.

This week I chose The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This true story first appeared as a series of articles in a Colombian newspaper, El Espectador. Sailor Luis Velasco was tossed overboard the Colombian naval destroyer Caladas, during a routine trip from Mobile, Alabama, to Cartagena, Colombia. He was at sea, devoid of food and water, for ten days.

Once on dry land, Velasco became an instant national hero, “kissed by beauty queens, made rich through publicity,” but unable to tell his real story. After a year of publicity rounds, sporting his unstoppable watch and inedible sneakers, he showed up on the steps of Bogota’s El Espectador.

At the time, the newspaper was in its infancy with a director, editor-in-chief and staff reporter all under the age of thirty. Colombia, ruled by military and social dictator General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, played down the true events and Velasco’s vastly publicized story had a certain sugary taste.

Author Garcia Marquez was the lone reporter assigned Velasco’s story—a story, which eventually saw the demise of El Espectador, not because of Marquez’s writing ability (he became a Nobel winner in 1982) but rather Velasco’s proof, as in photographs, to damage Pinilla’s government.

Apparently, there was some contraband loaded on the destroyer’s deck, which added instability to the craft. Were they transporting atomic weapons? Not really, they loaded on the regime’s refrigerators, washers and dryers, televisions and air conditioners. So much so, the weight and balance was out of kilter, and the ship began to list.

After midnight, an order came from the loudspeaker, “All personnel to the port side.” At 11:30 the following day, the order again reissued. This time Velasco and shipmates were on watch, not safe in their bunks. At 11:50, one of the many forceful waves knocked some crates loose, and as they began to slide into the sea, eight sailors seeking shelter from the waves went with them.

On February 28, 1955, seven crewmembers lost their lives because, “ill-secured moral and political cargo,” repressed the large destroyer from maneuvering to save them.

This is the story of one man surviving ten grueling days at sea. These few paragraphs are just the beginning; it is up to you to read a budding master at his craft.

“Aye, ‘tis good reading to be sure.”