It doesn’t happen often, at least not away from a harbor, but there are times when chance favors a meeting between well-traveled sailors when they find themselves inland. Chance favored me in West Tisbury recently.

The Island was for a long time the home of sea captains and common sailors who worked on the vessels that called the Vineyard home. Some storied seafarers dwelled in West Tisbury and other up-Island towns. One of the most famous American sailors, Joshua Slocum, renowned for sailing around the globe alone, had a home in West Tisbury on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road and it was near that home that I had a chance meeting with a fellow sailor.

Cruising on my bike going towards West Tisbury, just past Slocum’s former residence, I saw a man walking on the sidewalk going the other way. As I passed I waved hello and he waved back. Suddenly I realized it was a dear friend who I have known for years from my time spent on the Vineyard Haven waterfront. It was Brooke, most commonly referred to as ‘Brookie’ who hailed from Bequia in the Caribbean. Back in the day, he was considered the go-to guy for bright work (varnishing) on high class yachts. But he is also well known as an offshore sailor who spends much of his time delivering boats across the Atlantic and other parts of the world.

I immediately turned around and went to him, both of us smiling. I yelled, ”Brookie!” He replied, “Joe mon!”

We hugged and a classic gam between sailors commenced, not surprisingly on the sidewalk between Slocum’s place and the Cleaveland House, the former residence of Capt. James Cleaveland, which once took on boarders, some of whom most likely were sailors.

A gam is when two ships meet at sea and stop for a while trading news and mail. Often the sailors from one ship would visit the other ship and encounter old friends, even family members. Those who have spent long swaths of time at sea often have a different sense of time. Time is easy. Sure, there are watches to be stood and there is free time to be had but there is no rush mostly because there is no place to go, and some conversations last days and weeks.

So it was that Brookie and I slipped into the sailor’s state of being, slipped into a gam.

We talked of recent journeys, mine lately being mostly journeys into the world of carpentry as it’s been a while since I was at sea. We talked of passages taken, captains we both knew, places in the world that we had both been to and others that we recommended to each other.

In retrospect I realized that as we spoke of far-off places we were standing on the hallowed ground of a place that resided strongly in each of our hearts. Sure, I thought, the Pacific Islands were amazing in culture, flora and fauna. The Islands in the Indian Ocean — Rodrigues, Reunion — were places where an amalgam of cultures merged: Chinese, East Indian, Malagasy, the list goes on and the experience of those places remains fondly in my psyche.

It is the Vineyard, however, that I have come to know as home. Meeting a fellow offshore sailor in the heart of West Tisbury with whom I can gam about places far off is just but one of the many reasons I stay here. What we have here is community, as strong a one as any this sailor has seen. On the Island a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Part of what bolsters that sense of community is that we put great emphasis on history, much centered on structures and environs. Less seen perhaps is the living history that abounds. Sheep farmers have found a resurgence, dairy farmers as well — both long held pursuits here. And carpenters still use hand tools to hew beams.

Then there are the two sailors, each on their own way of an afternoon. The greetings are hearty, smiles broad, questions rise and fall. History becomes both past and present.

Joe Keenan lives in West Tisbury.