A generation ago, before waves of tourism submerged traditional ways, Douglas Pyle spent half a decade sailing his small sloop from island to island in the eastern Caribbean, seeking out native whalers, fishermen, and traders to learn how they built their boats. Clean, Sweet Wind, his story of that time, is as much a portrait of an island people as it is a record of their work upon the sea. In these pages we glimpse a society as vivid as the aquamarine waters of the reefs and the patched sails of graceful boats.
As he explored the family traditions of the Antillean seafarers, Pyle found himself admiring one boatbuilder in particular, Haakon Mitchell of Bequia. Mitchell had been a fisherman until an accident cost him a hand; when Pyle met him, he and his sons were building a vessel for inter-island trade. Starting first as an observer, then as a helper, Pyle finally became one of the family, working on the new sloop each day and taking meals with Mitchell and his sons. Their lifelong friendship is a central theme of Clean, Sweet Wind.
But this is more than a lyrical evocation of a place and time. In his years among the islands Pyle collected information on all the different boat types sailing at the time. The second half of the book is a journey from Trinidad to the Virgin Islands, with a look at each type.
Clean, Sweet Wind captures Antillean speech, beliefs, and hospitality with as faithful an accuracy as it renders the graceful designs of Caribbean boats. The result is both a detailed study of traditional watercraft and one of the finest regional narratives yet written.
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"Clean, Sweet Wind is one of the very best books about boats ever written. . . . In its feeling for its subject, its understanding of not only how but why these island craft were built as they were, and its empathy with the remarkable people who built them, it is a classic of both maritime and Carribbean history." --Louis D. Rubin, Jr., author of Small Craft Advisory
"Clean, Sweet Wind takes me back to a time in the Caribbean when gliding through the harbor in a locally built Bequia Sweet was tantamount to heaven." --Steve Thomas, host of PBS's "This Old House" and author of The Last Navigator
"A fine book of nautical history." --Ocean Navigator
"When I found myself unable to separate the vessels from their builders, the people from their traditions and culture, and my observations from the enjoyment of observing, I realized that writing down the information still embedded within the experience of gathering it was my only hope to finish the exercise. When I finished, to my delight I discovered that not only had I accomplished the original scholarly goal, I also had both a store of how learning actually occurs and an organized picture of the islands and islanders in that time pocket of observation. It is my hope that in setting down this description of the watercraft, the builders, and their life as I saw it in its unique island setting, I succeed in conveying the uncommon pleasure of their acquaintance." --from the IntroductionAbout the Author:
Accident put Douglas Pyle in the position to write the story of the boatbuilders and boatbuilding in the island chain of the Lesser Antilles. After finishing his Master's degree and teaching at a college for a year, he went to England to buy a sailboat. He sailed Eider, a lovely 1939 Robart Clark sloop, back across the Atlantic, fetching up in the Virgin Islands in 1968. Short of cash and liking the place, he took a job teaching in St. Croix. He had intended to end his tropical sojourn at summer's end, but curiosity and a strong admiration for local wooden boats and their makers held him. This interest led to his five-year study of the boats and lives of Caribbean islanders and, ultimately, to Clean, Sweet Wind. Today Douglas Pyle is a rancher; he resides in Oklahoma with his wife Nancy Fowler Pyle.
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