» Read the Herald-article about Sean: An Englishman in Bonaire by Sanny Ensing

By: Sean Paton

You probably all know me by now - by sight and sound: but you might like to know a little bit about me and my background.  You might not… you know where the delete button is!!

I grew up in England and spent the best, and the worst, of my childhood in the southeast, on the shores of the Thames Estuary, in Essex.  It was there that I learned to love the sea with a passion that remains with me to this day. Along with music, nature, the environment and family, I became the person I am… a music-loving, family man with big ideas about keeping man in tune with the environment that. An environment that we seem to have become so intent on destroying.

So how did I get to Bonaire?  It’s a long and tortuous story and I have picked a few titbits from my autobiography.  They might go some small way to explain how and why you have me and my soapbox to contend with on Mega.

After a decade of working with environmental groups, contributing both financially, and physically attending rallies and demonstrations, I felt we had achieved nothing. The toxic waste was still flowing freely into the Mediterranean Sea slowly killing its fish and coastal residents. The fish stocks were so depleted that each country was at loggerheads with its neighbour as to what amount and which fish the other could take without bringing the whole story to an early end. I was living in Gibraltar, a small British colony laying on the southernmost tip of Spain. It overlooked the only passage from the Mediterranean through to the Atlantic Ocean. Gibraltar was a fantastic place to live, steeped in history, its people a wonderful blend of European and African blood and culture.

I had made it my home for ten years and had taken an active interest in local politics and current affairs. At the time, the people were pushing for their right to self-determination. I like to think I contributed both officially, and in every bar I could find a local whose ear I could bend. I felt very much like one of the chaps. You know - one of the people of Gibraltar. The thought of leaving was not even in my mind. Then came a series of events that would change both my mind, and probably my mind set, for the rest of my life.

Firstly, a tanker carrying crude oil ran aground off the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The effect was devastating both for the environment and the fishermen. I found it devastating. The second blow came when the Government of Gibraltar decided to install an incinerator to take care of the municipal waste and provide electricity and fresh water. This hit me hard! It was bad for the environment, bad for the people of Gibraltar and extremely bad for me. I had spent time and money in setting up a recycling operation that separated out rubbish from things that could be recycled and sold.

They tipped more and more detritus into the water around Gibralter. Pollution was so evident. One morning I could take it no more! Hundreds of fish looked up at me in the final throws of dying. That was it! Now I would make my escape once and for all, and quit the Mediterranean forever.

My escape vessel, he "Confidence" was a mighty little ship, sixty feet and 80 tons dead weight. Crossing the Atlantic would be no great event - people were doing it in bathtubs. So minds made up! We made a brief stop over in Los Palmas Gran Canaria. It was long enough to join up to the Atlantic Challenge, which was hosted by Mount Gay rum and would finish in Barbados. The Caribbean was so unspoiled - or so I thought! Clear blue water surrounded us. You could see the bottom, sixty feet below.  The fish were alive, and I felt great!  My only problem now was to earn some money in this newfound paradise.

Our first paying job came along some two weeks later.  "Our Confidence" was pulling a sixty-foot barge and crane to St Lucia. Waking up in the morning was a joy.  This was the life I wanted - swimming with the fish every morning instead of netting them to find what heavy metal had killed them. I had other things on my mind - not the least being several hurricanes, and making a living so that I could support my sixty-year old wooden boat.  "Our Confidence" was not as happy about the Caribbean sun as me. She demanded constant work just to stop the sun from shining through her decks.

Next stop St Marteen. It still had its beautiful clear blue waters and white sand beaches.  However the fish stocks had been reduced to a fraction of what they had been, helped in no small way by their own Government allowing the exploitation of the flag and natural resources. I made many friends in my time on St. Maarten, one of whom would be responsible for the next chapter of my life. His name is Jaap Ensing. He had been the resident pharmacist on the Island for some twelve years, and was a well-known and respected figure. Over a drink one night he told me of his intended move to Bonaire, and suggested that we could use the Confidence to shift his worldly belongings to the Island. Why not I thought.  By now much had changed in my life. My wife had left the ship and me. She would not return. My ship mate and friend of over fifteen years, Hamish, had also returned home to his beloved Gibraltar. But, all was not doom and gloom!  A Dutch lady by the name of Marjolein had entered my life and spared me from solitude and loneliness. We had been through five hurricanes together.  Money was tight and I needed the work - so lets go!!

We arrived in Bonaire early December1999 making record time by completing the voyage in just over three days. My hold was full to the bulkhead, and I had a jeep on the deck. It was around 2100hrs so still dark.  Nothing could have prepared me for the next day. As I looked down my gaze was met by three trumpet fish and an array of others that I could not even name. The water was so crystal clear and so blue that I could not bring my self to piss over the rail as I had done every morning for the last twelve years. I zipped up and went ashore.

After years of fighting to save nature, and then years of running away from the lost battle, it was hard to comprehend that what I was now walking away from was indeed the Holy Grail. Nature unspoiled, something that most people would never see in their entire lives. As I walked down the dock, a whole school of fish jumped out of the water, chased by some larger fish. You could argue that this was a natural phenomenon, but for me it was like a welcome home call from the blue sea. I knew in that moment Bonaire would be my home.