St. John USVI: Power Boyd and a Fishing Story

Those passing by on the South Shore Road heading towards town may have noticed a newly cleared hillside and a newly painted wall on their left just before reaching the top of Jacob’s Ladder.

It reads” “Estate Bethany, Power Boyd.

Power Boyd
Entrance to Power Boyd

From talking to people, even many of those living in the Power Boyd neighborhood, the words, “Power Boyd” signify a place, a neighborhood. It is that, but I remember Power Boyd, the man and thinking about him brings back memories and nostalgia for St. John in days gone by.

I met Power Boyd in 1970, when I was fishing with John Gibney. Although John knew so much about St. John and St. John culture, the commercial aspect of fishing, that is, actually selling the fish, was almost as new to him as it was to me.

As steady, reliable and fairly well paying transportation, public works and construction jobs had become more and more available with the rise of the tourist industry on St. John, less and less St. Johnians dedicated themselves to fishing as a full time occupation. They still fished, but for themselves, family and friends. By the time John and I began our fishing adventure, there weren’t any fisherman selling their catch to the general public.

After pulling our pots (fish traps), and collecting the fish, we would return to the dock at Cruz Bay where we were warmly welcomed.

Our fish were sold alive, the job of cleaning and preparation fell to the customer. All fish, regardless of species or size, sold for the same price, fifty cents a pound.

At first we kept the catch in a live well and offered our customers the opportunity of choosing their fish, first come, first served.

This did not work out so well, as we soon found out that the choicest fish were sold right away, but sales and enthusiasm diminished as the pickings got slimmer and slimmer. Not only were we not able to sell our entire catch, but we were left with more of the smallest and lesser desirable fish than we could eat ourselves, the remainder of which we would give away.

We soon learned that on St. Thomas, as well as on St. John in the past, fish were strapped using tyre palm leaves and the straps were weighed and sold as is. The straps were mixed, some big, some small, some very desirable, some less so.

This worked out fairly well, but as time passed other options presented themselves. An example was a  fish called Old Wife (Queen Triggerfish), a species now rather rare, but at the time plentiful. Old Wife had skin and not scales, and many people did not like the work involved, especially those lacking that particular skill, in skinning the Old Wife for preparation. Not only that, as there was a sizable community of Seventh Day Adventists on the island, and as the Old testament prescribed, fish with out scales were prohibited, straps contained even one Old Wife could not be sold to a Seventh Day Adventist.

Along came Eric Christian, who had one of the few restaurants on the island, Eric’s Hilltop, now the St. John Legislature Building. His lunch special was Old Wife soup. (When you boil Old Wife, the skin comes off easily.)

So, after that fortuitous meeting, all Old Wife were separated out, kept in the live well and taken over to Mr. Eric’s after the general sales at the dock were finished.

The next development was the discovery of cultural differences in fish preferences. Until the 1950s, the population of St. John was most homogeneous, St. Johnians, born and bred on the island. With the big construction projects, Caneel Bay, Cinnamon Campground and public works endeavors, people from other islands, mostly from the British Virgins, Dominica, St. Lucia, St.Kitts and Nevis came to St. John to work. By the time I arrived in 1969 many of them had established themselves and their families on St. John. They brought their own distinct culture with them and this included a preference for fish that was not shared by St. Johnians.

This brings us to Power Boyd.

Power Boyd was an early arrival from Dominica. He bought land in Bethany and sold plots and rented apartments to other Dominicans and established a Little Dominica in what was then called the Power Boyd Plantation. It was suggested to us by one of the residents that we contact Power Boyd about selling fish there.

John and I did just that. Arriving at the property, we were directed to the big house where Power Boyd lived with his wife and children. A man went inside to talk to Mr. Boyd and we were then taken inside the house for a meeting. We explained the situation to and he advised us to come back with certain fish, which he listed as being very popular with the people there.

John and I  agreed, and the next time we pulled the pots, we not only separated the Old Wife for Mr. Eric, but we also took out the fish for the Dominicans.

After selling the strapped fish on the dock, straps now consisting of all the most popular St. John preferred fish, and bringing the Old Wife to Mr. Eric, we put the “down islanders” fish in a box and brought them to Power Boyd. We were again taken to his house and invited in. After exchanging pleasentries, he came out with us to view the catch.

“Ah, very good,” he said, and he chose several fish for himself and his family. He then announced to the dozen or so people waiting to buy fish, “now to each as they see fit.”

The visits to Power Boyd Plantation became a routine part of our fishing days. We made friend with many of the people there and even learned a little Patois.

St. John is a far different place today, for better or worse, but those “good old days” will days remain in a special place in my heart when I think about the island I now call home, beautiful St. John, Virgin islands.

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