On a beach by the tropical water stands a boat
Anonymous, un-named, derelict and un-remarked.
It was assembled in make-do fashion in metal.
Over the rivets tar has been used against the leaks,
Oozing through the holes under the baking sun,
And dis-figuring the side of the boat.
The old petrol engine, once painted green
Is now a mottled colour, specked with rust,
An ugly mass of metal, open to hurricanes and blazing summers.
What is its secret? What is its history?
Why is it here, where the tide laps and deposits the seaweed?
Despite its dereliction there was a hint of romance about it.
This is no vessel from a fancy shipyard,
Or playboat for the recreational fisherman;
Its shape betrays it .
Imagine an Arab dhow with mast and lateen sail,
And you begin to piece together the story of this sad, decayed craft –
The curve,the high prow, the low stern
All speak of Spain, of Andalusia, of Araby,
A design transported centuries ago to Cuba,
Which is but eighty miles away to the South
As the pelikan flies.
In my imagination this boat without a name
(we will call it “Raul”, for want of better)
Belonged to a poor Cuban fisherman,
Ekeing out a living on Cuba’s northern coast.
The owner could not afford a marine engine
And made do with a motor from an early Model T Ford.
The only concession to style was the Moorish bow;
The rest of the work, that of a rum-drinking local blacksmith.
No arduous ocean adventure was expected; none taken.
Raul puttered in the shallows, stopping while nets were raised
And fish hauled in, wriggling in the oily water of the bilge.
Short trips, safe, avoiding storms, with catches sufficient
To feed a growing family. “Raul”, the loyal and faithful guarentee of
And then – migration! The lure of a better life.
The children grown, the Cuban future uncertain.
Was this the decison of a moment, or was it a family decision
Talked over for months in whispered voices? We will never know.
Come what may, they embarked, old and young, as the sun set,
Steering hopefully into the night, trusting to “Raul” and fortune.
The wind came up in the early hours, and with it rain.
It came from the East, to the starboard side,
Whipping the blue Carib waters into froth.
The humans, sick and fearful, huddled from the wind,
While the old engine coughed and spluttered
And the skipper struggled with the beam-on waves.
Would they reach the Florida Keys alive, or perish like others?
For two whole days they tossed upon the water.
Fearful of foundering, the bow was turned into the wind
To face the oncoming waves. And there they sat,
Carried by wind and current, wet to the skin,
“Raul” struggling, half submerged, until the wind abated.
Early in the dawn light “Raul”, battered and drenched,
Brought his family to the reef off Islamorada.
In the shallow water the young men disembarked unseen.
They hauled “Raul” over the sandbank to the beach.
He had brought the family safely across the water.
Faithful servant! Good old friend! Great!
“Thank you and goodbye”. In an instant they were gone!
Vanished! Disappeared! No one knows what became of them.
Disconsolate, “Raul” sat on the sandy beach, only one of the Cuban many.
Feeling lonely andbetrayed, and in a foreign land, depression soon set in.
His rivets began to rust, the transmission seize up,
The wooden gunwhales rot in wind and rain. A sad picture, barely noticed.
But then fate stepped in, as if to admit the raw deal dealt out.
“Raul” found a new career. Yes!
Unseaworthy though he is, he is now a prop for mass-market catalog photo-shoots;
For mood views of the latest fashions for magazines from
New York, London, Milan and Paris.
Beautiful girls in swimsuits drape themselves upon him
Or suggestively, against a nearby palm tree, with “Raul” as backdrop.
“Raul” is now world-famous, featured in movies and photos,
Drooled over by those dreaming of the good life and the South Pacific
(which is the illusion intended).
He no longer has to brave the shoals and rocks, even less rough seas and
Actual daily work.
No. He simply sits on the beach by the tropical water and the white sand
and coconut palms, surrounded by Directors, Assistant Directors, cameramen,
Property and Costume assistants – and those beautiful girls,
No longer anonymous, not longer unremarkable.