The Antigua Anthology-Part 3

Steep Trails, Old Canons and Wild BirdsDSCN1017 more from Island Notes…

The race is over. My ship, the Grayhound, spent four days sailing in the beauty pageant of them all, the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. There were 57 entries this year from around the globe. It was the best eye candy that I have ever seen at sea.DSC_2401

DSCN1007But at the end of Race Four, rather than return to our dock at Falmouth Harbor, Grayhound sailed to neighboring English Harbor and the storied Nelson Dockyards. For 18th century Brits, this hurricane hole was akin to what Guam or Taiwan is for the US armed DSCN0996forces today. The Dockyards became the epicenter of the Royal British Navy moxie and was used for resupplying, ship repair and strategic positioning. England, along with France, Holland and Spain, carved up the Caribbean Islands like a piece of fresh sashimi. Even Denmark got into the act establishing colonies on what now is the US Virgin Islands—St. John, St. Thomas and St. Croix. What was at stake was sugar, tobacco, prestige and in the early days, gold.DSCN0993 Continue reading


The Antigua Anthology-Part 2

An Island Without UDSCN1066 …another island note

After a week on the island, I am heading back to the appropriately named V.C. Bird International Airport. There has been a nagging question lingering in my mind during the stay, and with the departure clock ticking, I need to get an answer soon. I reluctantly ask my cab driver the question, in spite of the name painted on the front of his taxi, Silent Michael.

“Silent Michael, can you tell me why people here pronounce Antigua without saying the letter U?” As I expected, I receive no response.  Perhaps Silent Michael is a mute.  Or more likely he may just be fed up with inane questions coming from irritating visitors like myself. After what seems an eternity of silence, longer than an island minute, the taxi driver finally responds, “I tink dat it is just our dialect, mon.” There you have it. When you come here don’t say ahn-TEE-gwa. It’s ahn-TEE-gah or Antigua. Or as Silent Michael might spell it, Antiga. After all, this is an island without a U.DSCN1036

But don’t think that Antiguans are adverse to letters. In fact, they are quite adept at forming words into fine descriptive phrases. Like other islands I have visited, Antiguans often label their cars with bold lettering that tells something about the owner. I see a tricked-out Toyota Yaris in black with a shiny silver script that shouts, Sexy Eddie. Then a smiling driver approaches in a beat-up pick-up with rust and bolts falling upon the road. That is Mister Bliss. No problem, mon. Keep on truckin’. And then there is a reverend-like motorist in an Oldsmobile called Give Thanks. But by far my favorite is a diesel belching work truck that roars past while I devour a delicious roti at the restaurant, Grace Before Meals. The loud beast of burden on wheels is called, Dem A Watchin’ Me. I was.

Yes, Antiguans have a way with words. No doubt about it.  There is a curious hand-written sign at the entrance to The Rasta Shack, a bamboo and palm frond bar that pumps out ear-splitting reggae late into the night. It warns, Don’t Use De Illegal Drugs Here, Mon, or something to that effect. I can’t quite remember anymore.

I end a morning hike one day at Pigeon Beach, one of the 365 strands along the coast. Little do I know that a philosophy encounter is eminent. There on a pole are more Antiguan words. One sign says, Real Man Plant Tree. The other, Where There Is No Vision The People Perish. The latter really speaks to me. The former? I have no clue what that means. I shouldn’t be surprised. Such is life on an island without U.DSCN1041

The Antigua Anthology- Part 1

Two-Six-Heave!DSCN0982An Island Note from another island…

It is a blustery day off the coast of Antigua, an eastern Caribbean island know for its 365 beaches, one for every day of the year.  I’m bucket-list ticking as part of a crew aboard a 106′ wooden ship called Grayhound in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. And yeah, not only am I the only gringo on the boat (most are Brits), but I am the oldest sailor on deck. Waves are ten feet high and the winds over 30 mph. No worries. The vessel I am on is a replica of a 3-mast lugger built in Britain in 1776.  I am old boat sailing in the 21st. century.

Capt' Marcus

Capt’ Marcus

Meanwhile, shit is hitting the proverbial fan for the competition. A broken tiller here, a smashed spreader there. Then Mistress, a classic schooner out of Key West, cracks her mast—end of the game for that beautiful boat. But we roar on. The Grayhound groans under the strain of the trades. We have two sails up, large, heavy canvas much like that of boats from a couple centuries ago. Our captain, Marcus Rowden, just smiles as he carves the bow through the turbulent, blue water.

Grayhound is a traditional boat, and as such, we use terms long forgotten by many sailors today.  My favorite is Two-Six–Heave! It harkens back to the days of the

A king's cannon

A king’s cannon

British Royal Navy when cannon crews won the battles. Two and Six were positions of those sailors who pulled the cannon back into position after the shot. They hauled lines to do so. The command eventually transferred to deckhands hauling in lines above and that is what we are doing today.

Sarah 'sweating' a line.

Sarah ‘sweating’ a line.

Diamond, the only Antiguan aboard, shouts it out. Two-Six! as he pulls hard on the sheet. We respond as we haul in the slack, Heave!  Two-Six–Heave!  Two-Six–Heave!   It is a maritime rhythm that fits this deck of wood, tar and heavy metal.  Eventually, the line is in tight, the sail full and we are roaring off the coast like pirates from another time. Arrgghh. Two-Six–Heave!

Diamond, mon.

Diamond, mon.

Diamond & Ruth doin' the Two-Six--Heave!

Diamond & Ruth doin’ the Two-Six–Heave!

Grayhound roarin' off the coast of Antigua.

Grayhound roarin’ off the coast of Antigua.


Seaside Livin’

DSCN3167Another Island Note

It is unusually gray this morning. I’m moving a bit slow after a late night beach party. But the dog doesn’t care. “Feed me and let’s walk!” commands super-hound, Sparky. We are out the door at 7am.

DSC01406It is Tuesday, pick up day, so the roar of garbage trucks fills the neighborhood air. So does the noise of the diesel from the Molly M, just returned after a night on the water. The crew looks tired as the wind has been blowing a constant 25-30 knots with accompanying heavy seas. I look to the dock and see about thirty black-fin tuna lined up on the deck. Oh my. Sashimi tonight. You know, it’s that delectable Japanese way of preparing raw fish.

Gerry, a local fisherman, comes toward his truck where an opened, coffin-sized cooler awaits.  Sparky’s eyes are locked on him as he approaches with four tuna in each hand. “Bon dia. Do you have a small one for me?” I ask. “Ami pensando asina. Mi ta wòrdu drechi bèk,” responds Gerry in Papiamentu. (I think so. I will be right back.).

The fisherman returns with another two fistfuls of fish and pulls out the smallest. It is a bit more than a kilo. Ten dollars gets me to sashimi heaven. Sparky looks at me and then to the fish.  Yes, I better keep this catch high. The hound is ready for her second breakfast.

Now, I am not a master of filet, but then again, cutting the fish is not brain surgery. A slice near the pectoral fin and then one at the tail. Follow the backbone along one side and then another cut along the bottom. Pull the skin off-easier said then done. Cut two filets out of one side and repeat on the starboard. Thirty minutes later, I have the goods for a feast. StarKist has nothing on me this morning. Sorry, Charlie.DSC01387

DSC01389Now I slice paper-thin pieces off of two filets. And then there is the obligatory wasabi—that strong Japanese horseradish paste that clears sinuses in a Tokyo heartbeat, and Saitaku ginger marinated in vinegar and sugar. This stuff is naturally pink and oh, so good. I add a bit of arugula to complete the deal. It is sashimi with sunset tonight.

The other two filets await the grill for a beach party on another day . I’m thinking that a ginger/tamari/garlic marinade may be just the ticket for the fish at grill time. The cats and dogs get the bits and pieces boiled off the head and bone. Everybody is happy. Ah, seaside living, where the grocery store starts at the dock.DSC01407


Crystal Gold The solar salt works of Bonaire. Part 3

The environment and beyond…salt & conveyor belt

While Cargill’s salt operations can be viewed as a rare center of industry on Bonaire, beyond the pink water lays island nature in its best. Along the southern boundary of the flamingoes-Pekelmeersalt works is Pekelmeer, which means ‘salty lake’ in Dutch. The saline water, along with its abundant pink crustaceans and brine flies, makes it an ideal place for Caribbean flamingoes to thrive and nest. This is a breeding hotspot for the birds, one of the four largest in the entire Caribbean basin. The sanctuary is also a designated Ramsar site, a wetland of significant international importance. Cargill has a lease on this land from the island government and with that comes custodial responsibilities.

11JulyAru 67“Part of our contract with the island is that we maintain the Flamingo Sanctuary for the birds,” says Gary Rimmey, Cargill’s plant manager. “We do monthly bird counts and share that data with STINAPA (the island’s national park) and DROB (the regional planning and management department). At any given time there are between 700-1200 flamingoes on the property. We also maintain the water level so that the birds have the mud for the nesting and also so they have a food source.”

Additionally Cargill reports any disturbances in the Pekelmeer to the authorities. “As the lease owner, it’s our job to protect the Flamingo Sanctuary. Believe it or not, we’ve had kite surfers in Pekelmeer waters. And pet owners sometimes let their dogs wander unleashed. The public may not realize it but one kite surfer or one unleashed dog can ruin an entire breeding season for the flamingoes. Our workers take great pride in these birds. They are part of Bonaire’s national identity.”

But beyond lease agreements, Cargill appears to be proactive in other areas of conservation. They plot and monitor all the sabal palms on the property. Sabal palms are a rare sub species endemic to Bonaire. Occasionally they assist Sea Turtle Conservation 11JulyAru 67 (1)Bonaire with managing the turtle nesting beaches located on Cargill’s leased land. They are also currently working with STINAPA and DROB to develop a tern island where these skittish water birds can nest undisturbed. “The problem is that we have terns nesting on our harvest roads,” explains Rimmey. “There was some concern that we were interrupting the nesting cycle at times with our operations. So we are currently working with the conservation groups to build a tern island. We’re going to put tern decoys out there, some vegetation and a rock landscape that will attract the terns. It will be completed by April in time for the nesting season. Once the birds are on the island they will be safe from feral cats well as Cargill traffic. Our hope is that if STINAPA’s study shows that this first island is successful, we will build one a year. Our goal is to co-exist with the terns.”

Tern Island

Tern Island

In addition to conservation, Cargill opens their leased land, which runs the entire coast from Trans World Radio to the Willemstoren lighthouse, to recreation. They have a formal agreement with kite surfer groups to use the beach at Atlantis for kite surfing. Cargill allows shore diving along these shores that sport some of the best reefs on Bonaire. That includes the Salt Pier when ships are not present. Plus, the public is allowed access to Pink Beach, a lovely stretch of coastline that Cargill owns outright.

For Gary Rimmey, Cargill’s position on this land use is pragmatic and straightforward. “Part of our lease with the government dictates that we manage the Flamingo Sanctuary. But with concerns to our other conservation work we view the wildlife on the southern end of the island—the fauna and flora—as a treasure. We want to help preserve it. It’s as simple as that.”

*   *   *

Michael A-1The Michael A, a 288-foot cargo vessel, is docked and slowly moving up and down with the surge of the sea. I look below to the ship while standing next to a chute where 3500 metric tons of Bonaire salt are about to fall into the vessel’s holds (compartments). It is shipment day. “This ship will be taking our salt to the Dominican Republic,” say cargo dock master, Rudy ­­­­Sint Jago.   “The Michael A has five holds. I just spoke with the ship’s captain and we worked out this plan.”Rudy with loading plan

shiploading2Sint Jago show me a diagram that indicates how many tons will be delivered to each of the holds. Numbers 5 & 4 toward the front of the ship will be filled first. Then the ship will move forward to fill numbers 3 and 2. The vessel will move forward one final time to fill the last hold.  The crew maintains the balance of the ship during loading by releasing water held inside as ballast. “It should take about six hours to fill all five holds,” say Rudy. “This is a small ship for us. Some of the larger freighters take up to five days to fill.”

When I spoke with Sint Jago in his office I asked him about a crown that sat on his desk. “Yeah, last November we loaded 150,000 metric tons of salt in 40 days. It was a new record for Bonaire.” Rudy laughs. “They gave me this crown and called me the ‘vessel king’. A big part of that salt went in the bulk carrier, GENCO Languedoc. She sailed away with over 52,000 metric tons.”loading crew L-R. Bradley Wanga, Ferdinand Saragoza, Win de Windt, and Clifford Coffie

Ships are loaded throughout the year and Bonaire salt is transported to many Caribbean islands and countries that border the Caribbean Sea. Other ports are located in the USA, Europe and Africa. Less than one percent of the island’s salt is used to de-ice roads. Most is purchased for industrial use in the production of textiles, petroleum or for water softening. A portion is used as table salt after additional processing.

As the Michael A casts off and steams north to the Dominican Republic, I ask Sint Jago how he feels watching a filled freighter leave port. “I have mixed emotions,” says the veteran dock master. “On one hand, it is good. Every time a ship leaves we make money that pays for our operation. That is what we are here for. On the other hand, it is like watching a good friend leave. We work hard to make that salt. I have a kind of sentimental attachment to it. It is part of our island.”

 Patrick Holian is a freelance writer living on the island since 2008. He proudly uses Bonaire salt when cooking at home.shiploading2