Sailing legend Kwailan La Borde laid to rest

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The casket of Kwailan La Borde is carried out of the Church of the Assumption on Long Circular Road, Maraval on June 6. – Photo by Faith Ayoung

PIERRE La Borde called his late mother, sailing legend Kwailan La Borde, the driving force behind his father and described her as the bravest woman, with an indomitable spirit and perseverance.

Speaking at her funeral on June 6, at the Church of the Assumption, Long Circular Road, Pierre told mourners, “If you go outside tonight and look up to the sky and see a little star twinkling brightly, one that you never saw before, that’s my mother.”

She died on May 30 at 91. In a Facebook post, Pierre said La Borde died peacefully in her sleep.

He described her life as illustrious, saying the Belmont native grew up selling in her father’s shop and studied French and Spanish.

He said La Borde began sailing with his father, Harold, when they were in their twenties. Harold and Kwailan were married in 1959. He died in June 2016.

Sailing legend Kwailan La Borde is seen in this photo posted to her son Pierre La Borde’s Facebook page. – Photo courtesy Pierre La Borde

In the 1950s, Harold started building his boat, the Hummingbird, and by the 1960s, they had begun sailing the Atlantic.

“It was a tiny little boat with no engine, no kitchen, a bucket as a toilet, and had little storage.

“They became the first West Indians to sail across the Atlantic in their own vessel.”

He said during the family voyages, his mother became his schoolteacher, the ship’s navigator and cook and filled many other roles.

“In those days, there was no GPS. She had to use tables and calculations.”

He called La Borde an income-earner who often took odd jobs wherever they docked.

Kwailan, Harold and Pierre set out from Trinidad on February 2, 1969, in their 40-foot ketch Hummingbird II. He said she gave birth to his brother, Andre, in 1970 in New Zealand during the four-year voyage.

They became the first Trinidad and Tobago citizens to circumnavigate the globe. When they returned to Trinidad and Tobago, Harold and Kwailan both received the nation’s highest award, the now-discontinued Trinity Cross.

The government bought the vessel, which is on display at the Fort San Andres Museum on South Quay, Port of Spain

The La Bordes sailed the world a second time via Cape Horn in 1984 on board Hummingbird III. This voyage was completed in 1986.

Pierre said in 1987, the family visited China, where they met family they had not known. They stayed there for six months and La Borde taught English.

The La Bordes also wrote several books, including An Ocean to Ourselves (1962), All Oceans Blue (1977), and Lonely Oceans South (1987). Kwailan later wrote an autobiography, Wind, Sea, and Faith.

She also taught at various schools, including St James Secondary and St Anthony’s College.

Speaking with Newsday via WhatsApp after the funeral, Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne said it was important for him to attend La Borde’s funeral.

Pierre La Borde speaks with Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Amery Browne at the funeral of his mother, Kwailan La Borde, at the Church of the Assumption, Long Circular Road, Maraval, on June 6. – Photo by Faith Ayoung

“I grew up hearing stories of the exploits of the La Bordes and always admired their patriotism and focus on family. As a child, I would dream of accompanying them on a trip circumnavigating the globe and have maintained a love for the ocean and fishing since then.”

He said despite never having the opportunity to sail with the La Borde family, he was able to hear firsthand accounts of their adventures and wanted to thank them for their life of inspiration and example to him.

“This nation is blessed to have raised and offered to the world a lady of the calibre of Kwailan La Borde. Today’s service was a fitting and touching tribute, and I am one of many who will miss her dearly.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Amery Brown hugs Pierre La Borde, at the funeral service for his mother Kwailan La Borde at the Church of the Assumption on Long Circular Road, Port of Spain on June 6. – Photo by Faith Ayoung

Fr Ashton Pierre, who officiated at the funeral, said those who persevere in spite of challenges are rewarded beyond their imagination. He reflected on the importance of pursuing virtue and understanding each other’s humanity.

He called on people to treat each other with respect and kindness, which he said could transform society, allowing people to embrace uncharted worlds with faith and hope.

The example set by the La Bordes, he said, inspired others to dream and achieve beyond their expectations.