The weatherglow

Frederic Fenger published these words in his book, “Alone in the Caribbean”, after his 1911 crossing of the Lesser Antilles in a sailing canoe.

“Crab pas mache, il pas gras ; il mache trop, et il tombe dans chodier.”
“If a crab don’t walk, he don’t get fat ;
If he walk too much, he gets in a pot.”

— From the Creole.

IS IT in the nature of all of us, or is it just my own peculiar make-up which brings, when the wind blows, that queer feeling, mingled longing and dread? A thousand invisible fingers seem to be pulling me, trying to draw me away from the four walls where I have every comfort, into the open where I shall have to use my wits and my strength to fool the sea in its treacherous moods, to take advantage of fair winds and to fight when I am fairly caught — for a man is a fool to think he can conquer nature. It had been a long time since I had felt the weatherglow on my face, a feeling akin to the numb forehead in the first touch of inebriety. The lure was coming back to me. It was the lure of islands and my thoughts had gone back to a certain room in school where as a boy I used to muse over a huge relief map of the bottom of the North Atlantic. No doubt my time had been better spent on the recitation that was going on.

One learns little of the geography of the earth from a school book. I found no mention of the vast Atlantic shelf, that extended for hundreds of miles to seaward of Hatteras, where the sperm whale comes to feed in the spring and summer and where, even while I was sitting there looking at that plaster cast, terrific gales might be screaming through the rigging of New Bedford whalers, hove-to and wallowing — laden with fresh water or grease according to the luck or the skill of the skipper. Nor was there scarcely any mention of the Lesser Antilles, a chain of volcanic peaks strung out like the notched back of a dinosaur, from the corner of South America to the greater islands that were still Spanish. Yet it was on these peaks that my thoughts clung like dead grass on the teeth of a rake and would not become disengaged.

So my craft was named before I put her down on paper. She must be large enough to hold me and my outfit and yet light enough so that alone I could drag her up any uninhabited beach where I might land. Most important of all, she must be seaworthy in the real sense of the word, for between the islands I should be at sea with no lee for fifteen hundred miles. I got all this in a length of seventeen feet and a width of thirty-nine inches. From a plan of two dimensions on paper she grew to a form of three dimensions in a little shop in Boothbay and later, as you shall hear, exhibited a fourth dimension as she gyrated in the seas off Kick ’em Jinny. The finished hull weighed less than her skipper — one hundred and forty-seven pounds.

From a study of the pilot chart, I found that a prevailing northeast trade wind blows for nine months in the year throughout the Lesser Antilles. According to the “square rigger,” this trade blows “fresh,” which means half a gale to the harbor-hunting yachtsman. Instead of sailing down the wind from the north, I decided to avoid the anxiety of following seas and to beat into the wind from the lowest island which is Grenada, just north of Trinidad.”

Over one-hundred years later, I am now asking his unanswered question of whether we are all essentially the same, some just better at resisting the urge, or if there is something truly different about an adventurer. But it is deeply relieving and exciting to empathize with his adventures from over a century ago.

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