|Javier Velázque Euan|
How do you load six or seven head of cattle onto a passenger boat? You grab the bull by the horns, of course!
In a fascinating three-way conversation, Javier Velázque Euan recounted his experiences as the captain, for twenty-two years, on the Sultana del Mar. He and I chatted at our kitchen table while his son-in-law Freddy Medina provided a running commentary and translation.
Born sixty-nine years ago on Holbox Island, Javier Velázque grew up in Campeche, and moved to Isla Mujeres when he was a strapping seventeen-year-old: a young bull. His first position on the Sultana del Mar was in the engine room, and then as a mate, finally taking over as captain of the ship from his uncle Captain Titio sometime in the mid to late-1960’s.
|Sultana del Mar - Dan Kane photos|
Javier’s eyes twinkled with mischief when he recounted loading live animals onto the boat. Each “res” (cow, bull, steer) took three strong men to drag and push it on board; one man on each horn, and a third man pushing the terrified animal from the back. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the back-end person on that job. Javier, as the Captain, assigned that treacherous task to his deck hands.
At that time the Sultana del Mar did not have the second level, and it had an open deck in the back. In the years before the car ferry service started a small car and perhaps a truck could be loaded on the back deck. The island streets were mere ruts in the sand, and there were not a lot of vehicles, so once or twice a week handled the vehicle traffic.
Live pigs, crates of chickens, fruits, vegetables, and stacks of glass bottles containing beer, water or soda pop – anything the islanders needed came across on the boat. Pet monkeys bounced around in the rafters tormenting and teasing the passengers. Javier worked from two o’clock in the morning to eight o’clock in the evening seven days a week for the sum of $180.00 pesos per week. (That’s about $15.00 dollars a week at today’s exchange rates.) During the summertime, when students were out of school and families ventured on day trips to the island Javier and the crew worked almost twenty-four hours per day for six to eight weeks. Their bonus was an additional $150.00 pesos for the entire summer.
|Sultana del Mar - courtesy of Abby & Neil Fox|
The forty-five minute crossing was done without a radio, or navigational equipment other than a compass.
The city of Cancun had not been built. It was only a small fishing village, and the main port was Puerto Juarez, where buses from the cities of Valladolid or Mérida would discharge their passengers.
The buses would drive to the docks, and flash their headlights three times, in the direction of Isla Mujeres, to signal the boat captains that there were passengers waiting for them at the port.
In the fleet of passenger boats owned by Ausencio Magaña the first boat was the La Carmita, a banana-shaped boat that rolled and wallowed in the seas creating havoc with the tender stomachs of landlubbers and tourists. Freddy Medina remembers standing in the back of the boat, well away from any seasick passengers, enjoying the salty breeze.
The next ship was La Novia del Mar and then La Sultana del Mar. A fourth boat, La Dama Elegante, was equipped with a six foot (2 metres) by two foot (60 cm) glass insert for viewing the sea life. A sunken shrimp boat, the Blanca Beatriz was rescued from near Isla Contoy, and refurbished. That boat was primarily reserved for circumnavigating the island with sightseers.
|Sultana del Mar 2013 - half sunken live-aboard|
Amongst our North American friends there are many people who have had a long term connection with Isla Mujeres, and I asked them about their memories of the Sultana del Mar. To a person they remember the “sign in sheet.” Most of them thought it a great joke to sign in as Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, James Bond, Goldie Hawn, or Frank Sinatra – any name but their own.
Vivian Reynaldo fondly remembers gazing at the sea life during the crossing; dolphins that followed along, starfish on the sea bed. Michael Feldman remembers crossing the in open boat – probably the La Carmita – during a rain storm. The passengers and cargo were soaking wet, but everyone arrived safely in paradise. John and Cathy Stuckless remember riding in the Blanca Beatriz as well as the Sultana del Mar.
Steve and Lindell Lehrer have a fond memory of his elderly Aunt Honey – a very proper Palm Beach lady. When faced with a weather delay, and then a wet, dark and crowded trip across the bay, she pulled out from her stylish Chanel travel bag a small bottle of Vodka. Aunt Honey passed it around for everyone to share. Guitar music started and the forty-five minute ride passed very pleasantly.
|Abby Fox on the Sultana del Mar|
Other friends, Abby and Neil Fox chuckle over the ownerless dog that rode the boat, by itself. It crossed to Puerto Juarez and disembarked, presumably to visit a girlfriend or two. Later in the day the dog would reappear and board the boat to return to Isla Mujeres. He was completely at ease with the boat, the boarding routine and the workers.
On one of these trips an islander was crossing to Isla with a large sack of pig knuckles to sell in his store. While the man was chatting with another passenger the dog took a pig knuckle and settled down to enjoy his treat. After a few minutes the man noticed the dog, and retrieved the pig knuckle, placing it back in the sack with the others!
No worries, a little dog saliva won’t hurt anyone.
Thank you everyone for sharing your island stories. I have much more information – enough to write a second article another day. And thank you again Dan Kane for starting me off on this tangent.
Javier Velázque Euan and Freddy Medina - I take full responsibility for any mistakes between what you told me, and what I heard. I am still giggling at the mental image of loading cattle onto a passenger boat.
That’s really taking the bull by the horns!
Lynda and Lawrie