MANUEL DELGADO PADILLA

I met him in the middle of loading and unloading the catamaran ‘Volcán de Tirajana’, strangely enough docked at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as for a few days, the vessel could not operate at the port of Los Cristianos due to the strong undertow in the inner bay. He was wearing a simple white collared shirt, with nothing else on top but a reflective vest, which made him look just like another member of the crew. On El Hierro, a peculiar and familiar island, we almost always meet the captain who takes us on board, and also occasionally the pilot who transfers us by plane, as if he were a taxi or bus driver; but not this captain.

Someone told me it was the captain who came to help Santiago and Jaime during maritime rotations for special weekend connections between Tenerife and El Hierro. Later on La Estaca, I was told ‘His name’s Manuel and, like all the captains who come to El Hierro, they’re always good people. They send the best’.

And they were right, as Manuel, just like all the crew members on the ‘Volcán de Tirajana’, from the simple mooring man to the sailors, bosun, engine crew, pursers and all the crew on board, adapt fully to the circumstances and flourish in the face of adversity, a quality that they demonstrate on every journey. I can attest to this, because I travel very often by ship. They make every effort to ensure passengers are comfortable, regardless of whether or not it is a good crossing. If the sea is rough, they change course even if the times are longer; and in the end, at least in my case, they are not only workers or employees, but acquaintances and even friends to whom we owe our inter-island connectivity, which is no small thing.

As it happened, Manuel Delgado Padilla was making his debut on 16 July as captain of the ‘Volcán de Tirajana’, and as a trial by fire he had to cope with some powerful sea storms in the first half of August, with winds that exceeded 50 miles an hour. What’s more, the undertow was such that Naviera Armas cancelled all its shipping operations at the port of Los Cristianos, and diverted all its inter-island connections to the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

I remember travelling on one of those difficult journeys and arriving at the peculiar and complicated dock of La Estaca at night, with a strong undertow in the bay accompanied by extremely strong winds. In the hold and at the stern, all we could see was an impressive cloud of saltpetre splashing against us, and there was an unusual roar from the turbines that overpowered the wind and sea, pulling the ship closer to the dock.

My fondness for maritime activities, which I think comes from my great-grandfather Francisco Álamo Jiménez, the first dock keeper at La Estaca, in times when the sailing ships would dock outside and the passengers were taken ashore in rowing boats, led me to ask one of the moorers ‘Who is captaining the ship today?’ The answer was simple: ‘The new captain’.

Curiosity is sometimes a flaw and sometimes a virtue, but I must admit that this time I found it useful and enriching, because I was finally able to get to know the personality and career of a real man of the sea up close, someone self-made, warm, humble, sensitive and grateful. After a short conversation with him on board, I can confirm that ‘behind this captain there will always be a sailor’, and disavow the more well-known rhetoric that says, ‘where the captain commands, the sailor does not’. The chose the former headline to summarise part of his beautiful story, which extols values such as sacrifice, perseverance and self-improvement. These virtues, together with challenges, are essential elements if you want to achieve any goal in life that you set yourself, as good things come to those who wait.

Behind the personality of Manuel Delgado Padilla, now 40 years old, there is still the wide-eyed pupil, a child of barely six years old who back in 1990 was dying to climb aboard a small sailing boat at the then secluded bay of Radazul. He fell in love with sailing so much so that in 1998 he acquired basic knowledge in various sailing boats, and from that moment on his relationship with the sea developed into a kind of symbiosis between man and the sea that would last until the present day, from the perspective of a sportsman, amateur and professional.

His extensive sporting background is the hallmark of his love for the sea. He began sailing as a child, from the age of 6 to 18 (1990) in the small port of Radazul and competed in different classes (cadet, laser, Europe and cruiser) in different championships on the Canary Islands and at a European level, achieving countless records, distinctions, medals, etc., but his humble nature prevents him from going into details.

He holds the title of sailing coach from the Canary Islands Sailing Federation and the Royal Spanish Sailing Federation. He was a trainer until the age of 33 and his family was already pressuring him to find a more stable job, which led him to enrol at the Maritime Fishing School in Santa Cruz de Tenerife to start working at sea. But he also needed to earn an income to avoid his family becoming financially overburdened, so he found employment as a mooring worker at the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife for one of the Boluda Group companies, and from there he moved up every step of the professional ladder: sailor, student on the bridge of the tugboats.

He finally managed to become a Chief Technician in Maritime Transport and Deep-sea Fishing (2016), and with his income he paid for private classes to be able to study Nautical and Maritime Transport. This would finally allow him to achieve his dream of working in passenger transport. After three challenging years, from 2016 to 2019, his hard work, determination and courage paid off. He had now finished his university degree, which would lead him to his desired position.

This experience opened the doors for him, as he became a student, deckhand and officer on the Fred Olsen high-speed vessels of a large family of ships, which blazed the way for fast navigation on the Canary Islands. These were the express boats Bentago, Bonanza, Betancuria and Bencomo, and the Benchijigua, where he worked as second mate until July 2020.

But the sea has undertows, favourable and unfavourable currents, low and full tides; and there will always be good sailors who know how to steer the ship out of port and make the crossing. This is the case of Manuel, who returns again to the company that gave him his first break: the Boluda Group. Here he went straight to work as bridge officer and tugboat captain from 2019 to 2021, until Naviera Armas offered him the position of first officer on the fast ship ‘Volcán de Teno’. He then attained the same position on the ship that bears the name of our underwater volcano, until this summer season, when we were lucky to have him as captain of our ship, the catamaran ‘Volcán de Tirajana’.

Spanish seafarers are well known for their unwavering devotion to their patron saint, the Virgen del Carmen, but for Manuel Delgado Padilla it took on even greater meaning because on the 16 July, in different years, day, he fulfilled two of his life's aspirations: to travel as first mate, and later as captain of the ‘Volcán de Tirajana’.

Of Galician and Gomeran descent, two ‘G's’ that speak of his greatness, he grew up among his father’s magazines and newspapers. His father, from whom he inherited not only his name, but also his determination and work ethic, came from the Galician town of Cambeo, in the province of Orense, to perform his military service on La Gomera, which was known as the island of discovery. Here, on the Canary Islands, he set down roots with a career in communications, making his mark by founding the Tribuna Fórum and Tribuna de Canarias Communication Group. The hardest voyage our captain ever had to sail was undoubtedly losing his father to illness in May 2020, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic, which prevented him from being able to say goodbye.

‘No calm sea ever made an expert out of a sailor’: this is the story and life of a sailor, an adventurer from birth who loves the sea but also cares about what happens on dry land. He enjoys current affairs on the islands, understanding their issues, their needs, their aspirations, etc., and he appreciates the culture and traditions there. He himself acknowledges, ‘I owe everything I have, however much or little, to my parents, who instilled in me the principles of hard work, dedication and self-improvement’. And then there is, of course, his partner in life, Cristina, who set the course for him to enjoy his two children to the fullest, and for that there is only one port of origin and destination for this great captain and sailor.

Manuel Delgado