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Sunday 21 April 2019
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TT’s very first Humming Bird

Harold and Kwailan La Borde are known today for their two voyages around the world in Humming Bird II and Humming Bird III. But who knows anything of the first Humming Bird built by Harold La Borde at Point Cumana right here in Trinidad. This boat was built of marine plywood, and was 26 feet nine inches long; it had no engine, no toilet and only oil lamps and candles for lighting, and was propelled by sails only.

Born on Basilon Street, Port-of-Spain, and growing up in St Francois Valley Road, Belmont, Harold always showed an adventurous spirit, so much so that at 19 he built an 18-foot sailboat and, together with two friends, sailed it to Grenada and back — a feat never before attempted in Trinidad and Tobago. His companions were Fong Lue Shue and Kelvin ‘Buck’ Wong Chong.

On January 29, 1960, Harold, Kwailan and Buck set out from Point Cumana bound on a voyage across the stormy North Atlantic to England, known at that time as the Mother Country. They flew the Federation Flag, a yellow ball on a field of wavy blue and white stripes.

Stopping off at all the islands between Trinidad and Antigua, they left that island on May 16, 1960, and headed out to face the challenge of the Atlantic Ocean. Harold’s dream was to study commercial art in the UK while Kwailan would work and look after the family, while pursuing courses in the evenings (both goals were accomplished). Harold knew the compass, but had never done any deep-water voyaging before using the sun and stars, so he had to learn it on the way.

After 36 days at sea, the trio made landfall at the Azores islands, 2400 miles northeast of Antigua. Their navigation with the sextant was spot on when the islands appeared on June 21. Kwai had helped with the maths, and Buck with his encouragement. They only stayed ten days on the lovely island of Horta, where they made many friends, most of them fisher-folk. The trip to Falmouth, England, about 1100 miles to the northeast, was very rough, the Atlantic living up to its notorious reputation, but the little Humming Bird stood up to the 20 foot and 30 foot waves, keeping her crew snug down below while the storms raged above. Nearing England, they came close to several cruise ships, with their passengers liming the rails to get a glimpse of the intrepid voyagers in their tiny craft — the craft that a reporter in Trinidad had written that “She could very well become a water-logged coffin in the North Atlantic.”

On July 15, 1960, they proudly sailed the Humming Bird into Falmouth Harbour, Cornwall, welcomed and escorted by the many passengers tripper-boats that had come out on that beautiful summer’s day.

Buck Wong Chong returned to Trinidad to take up his job as a customs broker, while the La Bordes lived aboard Humming Bird in Poole harbour for the rest of the summer and winter, studying and working.

The London’s Daily Mail newspaper had published a story about them that drew the attention of Raymond Snowsell, principal of the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre in Northern Nigeria, who was visiting England at that time. It was spring then and the La Bordes were getting their boat ready to sail back to the West Indies.

Appreciating their exploit of crossing the Atlantic, Snowsell offered them jobs in Nigeria to work with the Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, with Harold as an instructor at the centre and Kwailan as his secretary. The centre’s motto was “Character building through adventure,” a motto taken from the Outward Bound Adventure Schools in England.

Shortly after gaining its independence, the Nigeria government, realising the importance of this type of training for its young leaders, both young men and women, asked the Outward Bound Trust to set up an adventure school. The centre in Nigeria, based atop the Jos Plateau in Northern Nigeria, was very explicit in its aims and objectives of this type of training for their young people.

One of the important aims was to discover one’s self. Many of the trainees were among the country’s top young men in industry, government and the armed forces. The courses were designed to teach and prepare them to take the lead, from planning basic daily tasks to making group decisions and goal setting.

Are we wise to judge success in life on material things — on possessions? Should we not seek success in a job well done, in a character well formed, in a disciplined and unselfish approach to life?

CLTC had involved itself in projects all over Nigeria. There was a sea school, and the centre’s motto was “Build the man, build the community”. They were taught that there should be no limit to what man should aspire to achieve. Developing his will-power, courage and determination, he would be surprised to see what success he could make of an effort. The programme of training also included personal challenges like paddling, running, swimming, life saving, seamanship, manual labour, community development, rope handling, wall and beam climbing and abseiling. It was a test of inner strength, and an opportunity to set your own pace and succeed in your own time.

One of the greatest challenges of the course at Kurra Falls in Northern Nigeria was the Plateau Scheme, of which Harold La Borde, then 28 years old, was put in charge of. It was a competitive testing ground for endurance, determination, courage, tolerance, group work and leadership. During this expedition, students were divided into groups of five each, and covered over 60 miles on foot on the three-day trek. They carried with them light food supplies to assist them for the period, sleeping outfits and a water bottle. Their sole tools were compasses and maps as their guide. They could not use the roads.

For over 50 years, Harold La Borde has tried to get this type of training introduced her in his homeland — a soft of mixture of the Boys’ Scout and the President’s Award, but a bit tougher by taking safety controlled acceptable risks, and coming out of it a leader of men and women.

Harold, Kwailan and Pierre ran their own Citizenship and Self Esteem adventure summer school in Chaguaramas for four seasons. Although now in their late seventies, the La Bordes still hope that one day their ADVENTURE DREAM would become a reality. Was Masefield not right when he penned these lines?

Adventure on, companion, the attempt At high adventure brings reward undreamt. The raging sea is grim with reefs unconn’d’ there is a way, a haven is beyond.

Way for yourself, a harbourage for you, Where every quarry spirit can pursue Is, in the glory of the dream come true. Nigerians used La Bordes’ knowledge but TT

sailing school still distant dream


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