04 April 2012 | Martinique
Heidi / Pleasant weather
Once a year, when I was young, we were given a very large box of assorted chocolates called the "Whitman's Sampler." The box was filled with a multitude of chocolate surprises: a peanut cluster, chocolate covered toffee, mints, almonds, caramels and other delicacies. You often didn't know what you were getting until you took a risk, chose your piece and tasted it. I still remember my first discovery of the large piece with the rounded top which when I bit into it revealed a delicious syrupy cherry. I never met Whitman yet I thought he must be very special to have so many delightful confections made for him.
In a very small way, discovering the Caribbean Islands by sailboat is a bit like the travel-seeker's Whitman's Sampler - the best assortment for adventure. There are so many different countries, people, histories, stories, landscapes, coves and harbors to discover. Each is different and perhaps better than the last in many ways. And, the only way to really get to know them is to take a risk and taste what each island and its people have to offer you.
The other day, for example, we took a risk and left the peaceful anchorage of St. Pierre on the Northwestern side of Martinique to venture south of her capital, Fort du France. There we found a pretty little cove named Anse Noire, meaning small black bay. The head of the cove revealed a large cluster of palm tress creating a strikingly beautiful background to the colorful red brown rocks. The cliff edges that formed the cove rose sharply from the sea and were covered with lush green vegetation. Small brown birds, kingfishers, flew along the cliffs and disappeared into black holes along the sides. And if that wasn't idyllic enough, bright yellow butterflies flitted lazily across the topsides of our boat making the whole experience seem like a wonderful dream.
Shortly after we arrived a small wooden fishing skiff came into the cove and made its way to the northwestern edge, about 100 feet in front of us. In Martinique the most common fishing vessel is a type of pirogue, a handmade wooden craft about 12 feet long, some are dug out of one large tree. In many of the islands in the southeastern Caribbean the boats are painted in bright colors. This pirogue had varying shades of blue on the outside and bright orange and white inside. The fishermen had carefully painted her name on the side, "Balard Creteil."
The two fishermen maneuvered their craft expertly back and forth along the cliff edge, as if searching for a spot where they might find the largest catch. Stopping not far from our boat they began preparing their net and rolling the large unruly object into a neat, small package. Then "splash" they threw the small package into the air off of the boat and it instantly unrolled to form a circular net spread out in front of them. We then heard a second splash as one of the fisherman dove into the water and began to swim around the outside of the net. The second man who had remained in the boat began to hit the water with a five-foot-long stick as if he were calling to the fish, enticing them to swim into his net.
The swimmer made his way around the net while his partner continued to hit the water for perhaps 15 minutes longer. Then the swimmer clambered back into the boat and the two men began to pull in the net. As they pulled, fish jumped into the center of the net. Soon they had gathered what appeared to be about a 100 small fish. They were clearly pleased with their efforts. What a treat to watch! It was just a few moments in time but it captured the spirit of the day.
Over the last seven months we've had the opportunity to sail down the coast of America from Maine to North Carolina, and through the Eastern Caribbean, to sample a multitude of communities and islands and meet people of many different nationalities and walks of life. It has been a most amazing adventure for which I am grateful. Being on the sea, being somewhat self-sufficient and very much out in the elements, makes me feel fully alive. Capturing thousands of moments like these, around every bend, makes me truly joyful.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of this journey, other than dropping my son off for his first year of college which was intensely sad, was leaving our jobs, our homes and our friends, and taking the first step. In the United States we seem quite programmed to have jobs and raise families in conventional ways. And while we might appear quite content financially and materially on a world scale, we never seem to have quite enough compared ot our neighbors and peers, so we work harder just to keep up. While a more conventional life may work quite well for some, I wonder how many of us get caught up in what we "should" do, who we "should" be, or importantly how much we "should" make and "should" save for the future, as I did. I also wonder how many of us truly grab the opportunity to realize our true passions.
That evening as we sat in the cockpit, sipping inexpensive but wonderful French wine and savoring the local cheese on a baguette, we watched the glorious colors of the setting sun over the clear blue waters. I feel very grateful both for the experiences of our journey and also for simply taking the risk to begin. Looking out at the endless sky on that starry night, I make a wish that those I love, and anyone who might stumble upon this writing and read it, are listening to their hearts and taking risks to sample life at it's fullest. Relaxing on deck I smile knowing of a few who recently have.