CAPT BLOOD GAVE POPE’S BLESSING TO FELLOW FISHERMEN.

THE HUMAN RACE

 THIS FISHERMAN TOLD IT AS HE LIVED IT!

     Gerrard Fiorentino made the sign of the cross with his left hand, blessing one of his own, fisherman Turk (Flame Eater) Emirzian. After seeing action in the South Pacific as a sailor aboard a mini aircraft carrier during World War II, a clergyman aboard ship “brought me back to God,” said Gerrard, adding, “Them Japanese kamikazes helped, too!”

     When he returned to commercial fishing at the docks in San Pedro, California, he began blessing his fellow fishermen, their boats and their catches. Since then, he was known by many on the waterfront as Father Gerrard.

     Yet Gerrard would be the first to admit that he was never 100-percent saintly. Proof: As a young fisherman, he was also known on the waterfront as Captain Blood.

The last time we talked, the (at times) cantankerous, white haired mariner was pushing 80.

     “I’m not an ordained priest,” said Gerrard who was standing at a long table cluttered with paper in the office of his waterfront marine supply store. “But when I bless these guys, all kinds of fish come.”

     The husky seafarer folded a pair of powerful hands across his chest. Anchored to thick wrists and muscular forearms, the hands were heavy and calloused from pulling in a lifetime of shrimp, tuna and other fish from the sea, splicing rope and cable, mending nets as well as handling the wheel and captaining his own boat.

     “The blessings seem to work,” claimed Turk, a commercial fisherman who operated The Fortuna, a gill-net boat. “Just like the Pope, Father Gerrard gives me his blessings and I come back to port with a boat full of bonito or shark.”  

     “Don’t laugh,” Gerrard warned, pointing a threatening finger. “We were all put here for a reason. The good Lord gave me this gift. I’m very religious. I bless everybody, even the priests at St. Peter’s in San Pedro. That’s a poor man’s catholic church. I don’t go to Mary Star of the Sea because that place is for aristocrats.”

     “Fishermen are like children,” Turk explained. “We need to have faith because every time we go to sea we face the possibility of death. It’s a very tough life.” He also noted that Father Gerrard’s blessings “miss sometimes. But so do the Pope’s! “

     Gerrard recalled an incident that happened many years ago on his own boat, the Santo Antonino, off the coast of Mexico. “We had been out on the water for 45 days and couldn’t find nothing. I was alone at the wheel, feeling very depressed, while everybody was down in the galley eating.

     “I go, ‘Please God, let me find a mountain of fish.’ I no sooner say that when I see the silver in the water right under the bow. I yell to the guys, get ready, we’re going to lay out a seine (large fishing net)! We pulled in 60 tons of tuna. No joke. Now that was a miracle. Think about it!”    

     “Go ahead, ask your questions,” he snapped restlessly.

     Did you go to college?

     “I went to San Pedro High School to eat my lunch. When I was 14, they took me off the dock and I went fishing on the St. Augustine. They told me, ‘Boy, this is temporary.’ Ha!” he bellowed.  

     “Fishing is in your blood. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s born in you.   I had the pride, the talent, the desire to succeed. You got nothing if you don’t have those. They used to pay me extra money to keep me on the boat. I was an animal. I mean it.”

     He pointed to several huge black-and-white photographs covering the walls behind him.

     “My entire life’s on these walls. See there,” he pointed to a young muscular man cradling a huge Amberjack. “CAPTAIN BLOOD” was printed in bold letters at the bottom.

     “That’s me!” he said proudly, pointing a thumb at his chest. “One time we were sitting on a school of tuna off the San Pedro Channel and the fish, they were getting out of the net. In my apron and boots, I jump overboard.

     “This is true. I go down into the net, get hold of the purse lines and bring them up so no more fish can get away. I was down there so long, my brother (Lorenzo) thought I drowned in the net. When I got back on board, that’s when they started with Captain Blood. They took the name from an old Errol Flynn pirate movie.

     “When you’re young, you take chances because you don’t know no better,” he said. “In those days I could do the work of five men. That’s the truth. Even today, if I thought I could handle it physically, I’d be out there fishing, right now. That’s how much I loved it.    

     “So now I’m Father Gerrard,” he said. “I do blessings with my left hand. It don’t work with my right. Go figure. I’m an Aries. A born leader. I hate monotony and routine work. But I am a humble person. I mean it! I care about the poor. But I’m still attracted to women. ‘Course, I’m not the man I used to be.”

     He recalled an incident from the past, long before he married his first wife, Kay: “I was a wheelman aboard Matt Flamingo’s boat, The Discoverer. Matt’s still around today. We had been to sea well over a month.

     “When we put in to Costa Rica, I took on eight prostitutes in eight hours. I’m serious.

     “I don’t know about all this infidelity; all this sexual harassment people talk about. When I was married, I never cheated on my wife. I loved her. She died a long time ago and went right to heaven.  

     “But when I was single, sure, I chased women. I still chase them!” He laughed harshly, then added, “You know, prostitution and commercial fishing are the two oldest professions? That’s why I’m proud to be a fisherman. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She became a saint! That tells me one thing: God forgives everybody. I don’t care where or how you worship. In God’s eyes, we’re all the same.”

     Gerrard believed that all fishermen go to Heaven. “When I go, Heaven will be filled with sardines. I love fishing sardines. They got more brains than some people. I used to call them my brothers. I’d kiss them whenever I’d see them. In my lifetime, I must have brailed maybe 16,000 tons of sardines… And lots of the other fish, too!”

     The sea, he said, is like a woman. “She smells good. She makes you laugh. She makes you cry. She feeds you. She humbles you. She is so beautiful, you can’t take your eyes off of her.”

   — Boots LeBaron —      

 

(THE HUMAN RACE, by Boots, is an inspirational self-help book interspersed with humor and light poetry for those who are in search of themselves. It’s available on Kindle as well as in paperback on Amazon)

 

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