In 1998 Marguerite Welch left Annapolis, Maryland with her husband Michael and their black Labrador Jack to begin an extended voyage around the world that lasted 14 years. As she writes in her opening chapters, “The day we bought the wind vane steerer we really didn’t have a plan. As a matter of fact, we never really had a PLAN. We just thought, let’s head out in a generally westerly direction for a couple of years and see what happens. We imagined we’d be gone for three years maximum, vaguely thinking about circumnavigation but not committed and certainly NOT telling anyone we planned to sail around the world.”
I met Marguerite in a fiction workshop taught at St. John’s College in 2014, two years after her return . She wrote beautiful prose. I remember being impressed by her colorful description of her grandparents and their residences in Mexico City and Venezuela. Already she was culling through her notes, putting together a manuscript, a memoir so to speak, of her travels. In the first chapter of her book, Waterborne, A Slow Trip Around a Slow Planet she writes about her mother, her grandparents and her family connections to the sea, “as a newborn, I slept to the lullaby of tropical rain on a tin roof. Still one of my favorite sounds.”
Immediately I identified with the word “slow” in the book’s title. My tendency is to move through life too quickly. Moment by moment I remind myself to go slow and take my time. Waterborne and the story of Marguerite’s journey emphasizes the benefits of taking your time. Marguerite and her husband Michael were in no rush to get to any particular place. They went to many exotic nations that included Cuba, Panama, New Zealand, Indonesia, Turkey and Italy. When not actively sailing, Marguerite took time to journal and painted watercolors, keeping a log of her travels with the ultimate goal of sharing what she’d felt and observed.
The task upon her return, was to compile her experiences into a book—a task that would take more time, several years to write and rewrite. Producing a manuscript for publication is slow work, particularly memoir writing. As a writer myself, I know firsthand we want to remember everything, all the facts, but because we’re writing about real people we have to be careful to respect other family members’ privacy. How much should we reveal? How much of ourselves are we willing to expose? We take great efforts to put it all down on the page and then we change. Something changes and we start to recall things differently. Over several years, I read passages from Marguerite’s book, noticed various changes, then read a complete version; but it would be two more years before the book was finished.
Now you can buy your very own copy. Waterborne, takes you around our planet and gives you the sense that you are standing right beside Marguerite, as in this passage describing her visit to Myanmar:
We cruised up the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay; visited the extraordinary 100-temple-site at Bagan, and poled through the watery, floating islands of Inle Lake. All scenically captivating, but the most memorable image I will always carry with me was the sight of women and children bent over along the road, picking up a landslide of rocks by hand in the heat and depositing them in wicker baskets which they then carried on their heads to a waiting truck bed. A sight I was clearly not supposed to witness, much less photograph, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when my camera bag with all the film from the trip mysteriously disappeared on the flight back to Bangkok.
Through Marguerite’s memories you sense the intimate connections between people she encountered all over the globe. Whether she is sitting observing orangutans at the Leaky Wildlife Preserve in Borneo or describing her tour along the Katherine River led by a Maori guide who tells them not to worry about the Freshwater crocodiles, the stories are told with wit and humor. The other important word in the book’s subtitle is “small”, describing the planet. The world is not so large, after all. It’s a spiritual journey.
Waterborne: A Slow Trip Around a Small Planet, Seaworthy Publications. 2019
Available at bookstores, at Amazon or directly from the publisher at http://www.seaworthy.com