Recently, somebody recommended watching a moviecalled The Sailor. Knowing nothing about it and having zero expectations, I did, and it tapped right into memories of cruising in the early eighties and the people I knew then.
Very slow paced, it opens with Paul Johnson, an elderly gentleman pushing his dinghy into the water from a beach, rowing back to his ramshackle boat in Carriacou’s Tyrell Bay. His hair is yellowed and unruly, he wears a faded Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts. Unsurprisingly, he is also barefoot.
I never met him, but I knew that kind – a character film makers decided to explore further. “He loved, drank, lived foolishly, and never truly lived on land,” repeat many of The Sailor’s online reviews. Born in 1938, Johnson had the sailing storybook life, heroic in his own way. “Never be afraid to be terrified,” he’d say, having been absolutely terrified on too many Atlantic crossings to count.
In 2017— the year Hurricanes Maria and Irma thoroughly terrified and devastated several Caribbean islands—the movie was filmed in Carriacou, as he was getting closer to eight bells, and still drinking heavily. Voiced over recollections are used to tell his story, in his own words. Some of the action is about moving his relic of a boat to the mangroves as Maria passes to the north. Or shopping and grumbling about an ugly new shopping center. He says things like: “I could take this boat of mine down to North Africa in five days,” in the scene before his engine is revealed to be quite seriously kaput and unusable.