1970s St. John Stories: The Fishing Knife

my boat tied up alongside the Cruz Bay dock behind the St. John Ferry
my boat tied up alongside the Cruz Bay dock behind the St. John Ferry

by Gerald Singer seestjohn.com
When I first came to St. John in the early 1970s, crime was almost non-existent. People were honest, accepting and helpful and children were respectful. The following anecdote may serve to illustrate this aspect of St. John in those days.

During the 1970s, I worked as a commercial fisherman on St. John along with John Gibney. We set fish traps off the coast of St. John, hauled them in the early morning and sold most of the fish at the dock when we returned to Cruz Bay around noontime. Certain fish were reserved for special people. Eric Christian, for example, would buy all the Ole Wife we had for his restaurant. Other species of fish were reserved for Power Boyd and the residents of Power Boyd Plantation, many of whom were from Dominica and St. Lucia.

As much as possible, we outfitted ourselves with whatever we could get on St. John, which mostly came from the land. We cut West Indian birch sticks for fish pot braces, tyre palm for strapping fish and used old Clorox bottles for floats.

Chicken wire for the traps, line to haul them and other basic fishing necessities we bought on St. Thomas. Some items, however, were sent to us by my parents who lived on the mainland.

One of these items was a state-of-the-art fishing knife, which my mother had purchased for me as a present. It had a stainless steel blade, with a fish scaler on one side of the blade. On the scaler side, near the point was a blunt flattened area used for stunning fish by giving them a blow to the head.

I used the knife the day after it arrived ion St. John. The first time I hit a fish with it, the knife broke – that beautiful, shiny, stainless steel blade that my mom had sent all the way from New York City just broke into two pieces.

That night I called home to let my parents knew that I had received the present and even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t let on that the knife had broken, it seem that moms know their kids and right away she sensed that something was wrong. After that it didn’t take much to squeeze the information out of me.

No problem, son. The knife came with a 100% no questions asked lifetime guarantee. So I sent the knife back and about a month later a brand new knife arrived in the mail.

The next morning we went fishing, but the knife remained unused.

The Dockmaster on St. John was Mr. Titley
The Dockmaster on St. John was Mr. Titley

In those days, I often would leave the boat tied up at the end of the Cruz Bay dock. If it was in the way, Mr. Titley, the dockmaster would let me know so I could move it.
It was a great fun, but hard work and after a day of pulling traps and selling fish, we were tired and didn’t always leave the boat in total “shipshape.”

This was one of those afternoons. We left the boat tied up to the dock and I left my new knife lying on the deck in plain view.

The next morning John and I arrived at the dock – we hitched a ride from Hawksnest as usual and the same National Park Ranger on his way to work gave us a ride into town – and there lying on the deck, in plain view, was a fishing knife – but not my stainless steel one, an ordinary, but perfectly functional fishing knife.

A week later we were approached by a young man with an interesting story to tell. He confessed that he had taken the knife off the deck of the boat and used it to clean some fish. The stainless steel blade had broken with the first cut. He swore he didn’t do anything unusual, the knife just broke. Then he didn’t know what to do. He felt badly about having broken the knife so he reached into his savings and purchased a new knife and placed it into the boat so that we would have a knife to use when we went out fishing. He offered to buy a new one for us as soon as he had the money.

I explained that it wasn’t his fault at all, that the knife was obviously defective having broken in the same way before, and that it was under a 100% lifetime, no questions asked guarantee, but that I no longer had confidence in it and would prefer the one he had bought. I insisted on paying the replacement knife, one that never broke, was easy to sharpen and lasted me for years to come.

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4 thoughts on “1970s St. John Stories: The Fishing Knife”

  1. Not really, with the exception of some stories in “Tales of St. John and the Caribbean, most of the Virgin Islands stories from the 1970s have never been published, unless you count the blog.

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