Bequia is a whaling island, and the men that do this work on the tiny sailboats are allowed to kill something like 2 a year. Some days the whales win. Some days they don’t. Today wasn’t a good day for the whales. So I’ve pulled out a piece of writing I did the very first year we came here, to celebrate the whales that got away.
March 21, 2002
I should have known something was up when I saw all the cars. This island has basically no cars except the open-backed trucks known as Bequia taxis. But this morning when I went for an early run, the street in front of our house positively heaved with cars. Perhaps a half-dozen people had their faces glued to binoculars trained at something happening out at sea.
“What’s going on?” I asked our Rasta neighbor.
“They after a whale,” he said, pointing to the water. Why, I wondered. What did he do? For someone who classifies whales as large mammals watched (for a fee and from afar), the idea that someone was “after” one seemed surreal if not suicidal.
I could see a small white-sailed boat in the distance. Not a pleasure kind of sailboat, but rather something that looked more like a rowboat with a sail. And oddly, it sat in one place. Then I spotted a plume of white spray near the boat.
“Blows mon!” screamed the guy next to me, hopping up and down as if he had spotted a celebrity. Everyone started yelling. The spray of the whale and the boat were not far apart, and that’s when I realized that the little boat had other intentions than watching for pleasure.
The boat moved to the left, very slowly, toward the last spray. Then another spray – poof – on the other side of the boat.
“The whale pass de bot (rhymes with oat), the whale pass de bot!” screamed my play-by-play announcer. Another man further away hissed, “You bastard!” Everyone talked at once, and I couldn’t make out much. They seemed to be saying the names of some of the guys on the boat, and how dumb they were to have missed the whale.
“De bot turning! De bot turning!” shouted another. Sure enough, the boat tacked. Apparently this animal was smart enough not to swim in a straight line.
I dismissed the idea of a run, and sprinted back up the driveway to wake Anders and Hans. From our patio high above Admiralty Bay, we watched a teeny, tiny sailboat and every so often the plume of white spray coming from a surfacing whale. When the whale changed direction, the sailboat would tack, and all the time the crowd roared its approval or dismay. The slow-motion macabre ballet ended (thankfully, I might add) with the whale using his speed and the vastness of the deep blue sea to get away.