Paradise Found by Captain John Borden
A San Salvadoran Thanksgiving
24.00 N. Lat / 74.32 W. Lon
As I approach the mid-century mark, I have found that my definition of paradise has evolved. In my 20’s, setting off on a life of adventure at sea, paradise was an infinite gumbo of Virgin Beaches, carnival jump ups and kick ass downwind reaches. Now, on the eve of my daughter’s 10th birthday, I can find paradise captured in the gleam of Alexandria’s eyes. It is different for everyone. My chiropractor, just celebrating his 60th, hopes that in December of 2012 (the end of the Mayan calendar) alien ancestors will return to take him to a paradise very far away. Paradise is a subjective perception and like everything is subject to change. The places you cherish are never the same revisited. Don Henley wrote that “if you call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye”. Paradise isn’t planned or predicted, it just happens.
Waiting for the opening of the Ben Sawyer Bridge on the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Charleston, I was hailed by another captive yacht: “Ahoy, remember us? San Salvador, 1992.” A flood of memories came back to me, recalling a most wonderful and serendipitous experience.
I hate to sound cliché, but it seems that in the community of cruising yachtsmen, it is indeed a very small world. Personally, I’ve never been fond of good-byes, and I am inclined to part company reminding fellow cruisers of this fact. Within the general cruising community, we are fortunate to share a common state of mind. This thinking is not grounded in the physical, governed by policy, recognized by borders or burdened by time schedules set for draw bridges. The state to which I am referring has no boundaries other than those of the vast waters that make up the greater part of our sphere. Sphere? Sphere indeed! That’s what the state told Columbus in 1492, when everyone knew the world was as flat as a tortilla. Yet, as any cruiser admits, while he or she will always listen to reason, as a species, skippers are stubborn as hell. This can work either for or against you and for obvious reasons. (At the end of the day either you are all to blame or all goes to your credit.) That is how the world was integrated, not by some massive large scale bussing plan, but by a bunch of mule-headed yet adventurous and adaptable individualists. The only order one must answer to is the natural order, and it is no small wonder that Columbus was a deeply religious man. Just as Columbus claimed that the world was round, I contend that the Earth-not just a fraction of North America-is and has always been “one nation under God”.
The first Thanksgiving did not occur when a handful of English colonists invited the natives to a feast. It occurred while some primal two-legged mammal, forced to make camp far from his cave, was greeted by another primal two-legged mammal making himself welcome at the stranger’s camp. “For when two or three are gathered…”
Almost exactly five hundred years after Columbus’ first sighting, while we were sailing to Charleston from St. John, U.S.V.I., we made only one stop, midway, at the island of San Salvador. This marshy twelve-mile island is rarely visited by yachtsmen cruising the Eastern Bahamas due to a lack of decent anchorages. Five hundred years ago, however, there were three vessels which found San Salvador’s lee shore quite welcoming.
Sport fishermen and coral reef divers also find the shores of San Salvador a welcome retreat for some of the best diving and offshore fishing the islands have to offer. Even with a modest hand line and bungee cord, we landed two large dolphin (mahi mahi) and several small tuna. My crew mate was Lesley Douglas, a most welcome addition. Lesley possesses the rare ability to emerge from the confines of the galley with creole fish and sides to die for. What is most remarkable is that she can do this in incredibly unfavorable sea conditions. Although we tried, it was much more fish than my mate and I could consume.
There are only a few hundred citizens of this outer island, seemingly forgotten by the rest of the Bahamas chain-and everyone else for that matter. After tying up at Riding Rock Marina in Cockburn Town, we set out to explore the island and invite every single native and passing yachtsmen we encountered to feast with us that evening. There is a relaxed and inviting nature that these self-sufficient locals share which inspired quite a number of folks to attend our gathering. That evening aboard our boat and all along the key was indeed a memorable one. Locals brought complementary dishes of rice, beans and native fruits and vegetables, and yachtsmen broke out sacred bottles of rum. Conversation went on into the wee hours of the morning and finally, when only a handful of us remained on board, we sat in our cockpit at Cockburn gazing at one another and asking why the world can’t be like this. Still, we have a lot to be thankful for, especially stubborn mule-headed sailors.
The next day we resumed our course for Charleston. After days of beating against the wind, I decided to change our heading for Savannah. When we reached port, we found sitting at the cay, a replica of one of Columbus’ vessels. She was headed back from where we had come, to commorate the first landing in the new world 500 years earlier. There is no doubt that when Columbus and his crew set foot on the Bahamian Island of San Salvador, they gave thanks!