Dinah and Jim

“Whale! By God, look at the whale, Dinah, and never so close to port!”

Only a few minutes of the pacifying rock and teeter of the ferry ship had nearly lulled me to sleep in the bench behind the old man and his wife.  I opened my eyes to clarify the commotion and upon seeing me sit up the man said, “Look, man!  The whale! How close to shore he has surfaced!”  Across maybe one hundred yards of glistening green ocean I saw a powerful spurt of white water explode to what looked like only a few inches above the surface, but I knew was at least five or six feet.  The ejaculation was followed by the emergence of a large gray tail that rose and then slapped the water with a splash.  We watched this sequence take place maybe four more times and then noticed the same pattern of splashing happening some ten yards to the right of the first whale.  Just as I started to vocalize my observation – “Two whales!  By God, man.  Look at them!”

The man was standing looking over the port side of the ship with one hand resting on the bench in front of him and the other resting on the bench in front of me.  He wore a faded blue tank top with frayed edges and all of his skin was like the deep brown leather of a saddle.  He wasn’t actually an old man, the sun had just done significant bleaching to his hair.  The skin around his biceps had been stretched and worn loose by the sun and age.  On his upper arm the sun had turned a tattoo into a faded blur of letters.  On the hand facing me I noticed the faintest outline of an anchor.  In all my life I’ve never seen someone make faded tattoos and sun beaten skin look cooler.

After three or four minutes of watching the whales surface and then disappear, he turned to me, noticed my backpack semi-filled with patches from National Parks and such places and asked about my travels.  I told him I was with a friend from college and we only had a week in Puerto Rico and were looking to spend a night or two on Vieques.  He asked if I’d done much island hopping and I told him this was my first island trip, but actually my third if you counted Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques once we arrived.  I offered a rough itinerary of where we’d been and where we hoped to end up: El Yunque, Culebra, Vieques and hopefully Old San Juan for a few restful days at the end.  I told him we’d been tenting it most of the way, but had gotten lucky a few nights before.  He smiled reminiscently.  Or at least it seemed that way to me.

Respectfully, I’d earned the right to inquire about his travels.  They were from Canada, but for about the last year they’d been sailing from island to island throughout the Caribbean and neighboring islands.  I was immediately intrigued.  I think it showed on my face.  “Hey, that’s nothing,” he said. “On our last voyage we spent two years on the water.”  I was stunned.  Captivated.  I wanted to know everything about these fantastic people and their journeys.  “We stop in every so often and just stay in port for as long as we choose.”  Amazing.  “Last trip we just fell in love with Haiti and decided to stay for five months.”

I selfishly couldn’t imagine a better lifestyle.  They were doing what they loved and doing it with who they loved.  I was envious and absorbed every detail they shared during the remainder of the oh-so-short ferry ride.  I was thrilled to hear about some of their favorite spots and felt a mutual bond with these travelers as he recommended spots I must see in my lifetime.

When the ferry docked, he pulled a card from his wallet, which I still have tucked in my journal from the trip.  It had the picture of their boat floating against a sunset.  The name of their vessel, EVERGREEN IV REST, their names, mailing address and an email they could be reached at were placed in the left hand corner.  Nothing else needed.  No exaggerated titles or specialties or visage.  Just Jim and Dinah.  Sailors.  I shook both their hands as people began to leave the ship and prayed that God would see it fitting for our paths to cross again one day.  The last image I recall of them is Jim smiling as he walked past me to exit the ship.  “Get to Dominica if you can, I know you’ll love it.”

I emailed Dinah and Jim as soon as I got home.  They put me on their friends and family listserv that updates us every so often, through Dinah’s informative pen, of where they’re headed or have recently been.  They say things like “Headed for Puerto Real on the next morning, a little bay on the north shore of the Gulfo de Cariaco.”

Leaving port.


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