The first time I met Kwailan La Borde I was struck with how petite she was, and I wondered how she had survived out there on that vast, treacherous sea that she had once made her home. Her book, Wind, Sea and Faith, tells that story. It is a remarkable journey of an amazing woman with a sense of adventure and commitment. Wind, Sea and Faith demonstrates how far one woman would go to support her husband's passion for sailing, but it is also the story of what Kwailan learned about herself and the world while she was on that journey. It is a woman's vision of life, marriage and family. The book begins with a moving foreword by Prof Courtenay Bartholomew. In one page he captures the essence of Kwailan Ye Woon who was "wooed and won" by her adventuresome husband, Harold La Borde. Bartholomew tells us that Kwailan became an excellent helmswoman and for 5,000 miles and 50 days they lived in complete isolation.
The book, he says, was written by "the once reluctant debutante of these perilous crossings of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans." Prof Bartholomew dubs Kwailan "the bravest Caribbean woman that I have ever personally known." As Kwailan La Borde tells us in the opening of her book, she was christened Mary. Her description of her Chinese family evokes a rich history that reaches from the Zhongshan in mainland China across the sea to Trinidad where she was born. Every turn of the page features pictures from the family album. There's a dashing young Harold La Borde dressed as a Roman soldier in a copper-plated Carnival costume and a picture of Kwailan-all 97 pounds of her-smiling as she relaxes under the sails. There are newspaper clippings and pictures of bare-chested women rowing canoes in remote islands that most of us will only dream of in life.
Her story of sailing the world is a riveting tale and it moves at an exciting pace. A history of Trinidad, particularly Belmont, unfolds as Kwailan tells her own story. She is a master at recreating scenes with vivid imagery and conversations that almost make the book feel like well written fiction. There are fine details that offer interesting insights: her job at the French consulate, the love of reading that she shared with her husband that led them to "devour anything to our liking that the Public Library on Pembroke Street had to offer." Of course there is the story of the first time she went sailing. There are hair-raising anecdotes like the time Harold broke away from a group sail to have a look at the open sea, much to Kwailan's horror. There are so many precious anecdotes. In many ways the La Bordes' lives were a fine line between risk and adventure. Kwailan questions this herself sometimes-like in the first decision to sail a tiny boat to Grenada.
With great panache, Kwailan explains her growing relationship with Harold, even her attempt to date other young men when she thought she couldn't handle his passion-or perhaps obsession would be the better word-for sailing.
The chapter "Building Dreams" is a priceless look at Harold and his development as a sailor and boat-builder. It has just the right balance between anecdote and technical information. Wind, Sea and Faith is frank, funny, poignant and powerful. There is Kwailan's constant struggle of deciding between excitement and adventure or stability and normalcy. Life is a balancing act between supporting her husband's dreams and encouraging him to be safe and responsible. Kwailan does not gloss over issues such as money. She has a remarkable ability to condense information. A year-long trip to Venezuela before she married Harold is merely three paragraphs.
The real story is how she became part of her husband's dream and it unfolds in a magical journey of self-discovery. Kwailan is able to make readers feel like they are on that journey with her. It is not a story laden with nostalgia. Rather it is a sailor's yarn that balances exploration with self-discovery.
There are unexpected adventures, offers that delay sailing, but discerning readers soon realise that it is not so much the sea calling as the sense of adventure which lures Harold into any given decision. From the giant lizards of the Galapagos to King Taufa'ahau Tupou V of Tonga, every adventure is here-including my favourite, the one in which Kwailan searches for her roots in China. Wind, Sea and Faith is a touching story of the ups and downs of one woman's life on the sea. The story takes place during a kinder, simpler time when we could all dare to dream of pure adventure. It's a book that will make you smile and cry. And in the end, when you see the Humming Bird II at Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, you'll surely gasp and then sigh.
You can find Wind, Sea and Faith in all major bookstores.