Shindig is still in Tyrrell Bay, it’s raining and I’m bored. It’s been over 30 years since Chele and I were in the Carribean and we have forgotten the manic intensity rain brings to its task. There’s no sulky seepage from drear candyfloss clouds. Imagine standing under the Niagara Falls and you’ll get some idea what fun it can be. 6mm (1/4in)of the stuff is forecast to fall today ‒ the thickness of a floor tile over every square inch of land and sea. Each shower only lasts a few minutes so you imagine the enthusiasm it requires of each downpour to meet its allotted quota.
But there are consequences. Our plans to sup a spot of Sunday supper at the Lazy Turtle restaurant ‒ tantalisingly visible on the beach a couple of hundred yards away ‒ seem in doubt since the inflatable must first be baled and that could only be a temporary since there’s undoubtedly more rain to come. Fortunately, courtesy of Simon, a helpful and amiable taxi driver and boat vendor, we’ve got a couple of freshly caught red snapper fillets in the fridge. Fate can be tough but I guess we’ll survive.
I’ve no idea why I’m telling you all this. A bid for sympathy perhaps. What I actually wanted to tell you about are the boatbuilders at Windward ‒ an aptly named community on the exposed north-eastern end of the island ‒ a place facing the tradewinds full on. Originally of mainly Scottish descent, and having names like McClarence, McFarlane, and McIntosh, the original settlers were shipwrights brought into the island in the 1830s to…well… build the boats so sorely needed at that time
And the Windwarders have been building boats ever since, very much in the manner of their ancestors. No designers are involved, no detailed plans. Everything is done by eye, choosing various timbers (white cedar being among their favourites) from local forests. Crooked limbs are deliberately sought, conforming naturally as they might to the chosen shapes of the hull sections. Straight trunks yield the strakes.
Each boat is built within a few yards of the open sea, beneath the palm trees that bring welcome shade to the shipwrights. Once completed they are tipped over onto their starboard sides (always the starboard side I gathered) and with the aid of some rollers and assisted by the whole community if necessary, are trundled down the beach and through the surf till they float.
Every August there’s even an annual regatta when boats built mainly for racing converge, drawing both local participants and those from other islands. This isn’t a group frozen in the past, but very much an active part of the present.
I learned from its builder and owner that the boat in the photo above had absorbed about eight months of actual working time ‒ though considerably more had flicked by on the calendar. I asked about possible launch dates. He smiled.
“Soon enough,” he told me.
I wish some of my customers had been so patient