Wow, liberty in Barcelona! I hadn’t even been in the Navy for a year yet, and here I was, about to pull into the same port that Columbus sailed from to go and find the New World. I stood and watched with fascination on the fantail of the ship as we pulled into the port.
Our mooring lines were laid out on deck, and our line captain was wetting the heaving line so that it would be ready to throw onto the pier when we were close enough. The tugboat was inching its way to us through the mottled brown waters of the harbor; waters that had floated more than their share of ships over the years.
The smells of Barcelona reached us before the sounds did. After forty some-odd days at sea, our systems had been flushed clear of the exhaust fumes, floating sewage, and other smells associated with pulling into a port. There is no fresher air than what is found far out at sea.
As we neared the pier, we could see Las Ramblas, the main street of Barcelona, which ran north from the harbor up to the new city. Then we made out the sound of horns honking, and the all too familiar sounds of street traffic. “Hey, wake up and get ready to heave around on the line!” The line captain shouted as we were pushed up close to the pier.
The heaving line and monkey’s fist dangled in loops from the line captain’s hand. In one swift motion he coiled his body and let go the line, which traveled in a giant arc over the expanse of harbor still left between the ship and the pier. The monkey’s fist struck the pavement behind the pier line handlers, allowing them to grasp the heaving line, and start hauling the big five-inch mooring towards the pier. After the pier workers dropped the eye of the line over the bollard, we began to pull on the line.
“Heave, Heave, Heave around Goddamn it!” screamed the line captain.
First, we pulled the slack out of the line, and then one of our crew threaded the line over the bits in a figure eight pattern.In a rhythmic pattern we began to pull, inching three thousand tons of floating steel closer, and closer to the pier. Once alongside of the pier, we wrapped the extra line around the bits to ensure that it would not come loose and that there would be no line left on deck to create a tripping hazard. After finishing with my line, I watched as the other lines were made up, and the brow was put over the side.
A Chief Petty Officer with a spyglass walked out onto the quarterdeck, and set the watch. We were now officially docked in Barcelona, Spain…my very first liberty port.
It was difficult for me to fathom the exotic place I found myself in. After all, I was just a kid from Texas, fresh from the farm so to speak. In the last few months since my escape I had traveled around the US, and now I was ready (hopefully), to tackle the world. The salty sailors aboard had filled us with stories of liberty on the shores of Barcelona. They spoke of the beautiful women, the beaches, the incredible food, the phenomenal shopping, and the once in a lifetime sights like the blazing glory of the bull fights at La Monumental, the famous Barcelona zoo the Parc de la Ciutadella, and the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished Cathedral –still in progress after 103 years!
Our bodies were literally twitching with anticipation. I cannot describe how anxious we all were to hit the beach after 40 some odd days at sea, but I’m hoping you can imagine. Hell I thought, I might even find time to pick up a few postcards to send home to those lubbers back in Texas!
I used to really be into geography when I was in school. Now, I’m in a foreign country. What a way to learn more about the subject. A shipmate hauling the lines with me, was planning to take a tour that would take him to three countries in one day: The medieval Spanish village of Baga, the heritage rich town of Mont-Louis in France for breakfast, and then some site-seeing and duty-free shopping in Andorra la Vell, up in the beautiful mountains between Spain and France, before heading back to Barcelona with still enough time to hit a bar before heading back to the ship, with a buzz and a life-time right to brag about the different countries we had visited, along with some souvenirs to prove it.