Category Archives: St John and Virgin Islands Stories

St. John, Virgin Islands and Caribbean Stories

St. John Virgin Islands Stories: Take the Money and Run

I once read an article in the New York Times which suggested that the Virgin Islands was “a sunny place for shady people.” I happen to believe that the article was essentially correct, especially for the continentals that inhabit this tropical paradise and even more especially for those continentals living on the island of St. John during the decades of the 1970s and 80s.

I heard this story in upon returning to St. John after an extended hiatus. Neither the principals nor the story teller are presently available for comment or verification and I have no first hand knowledge as per the veracity of this story. Thus, no names. But I have to say that knowing some of the characters on John that have come and gone, it does rings true.

The story, which takes place on St. John in the 1980s goes like this:

One day a husband wife team came to St. John from America to promote a land development project. Their role was to bring together investors and developers, a service for which they expected a significant piece of the pie.

They were young, good looking and fast talking. Notwithstanding, after almost a year of concentrated effort it began to look extremely doubtful that their deal would ever off the ground.

Meanwhile the couple had purchased some land and had just started building. They got as far as the first cistern pour, when apparently the stress of building, the stress of their business failure and the stress that seems to be inherent in many St. john relationships began to effect their marriage, which soon came apart at the seems.

The man left the island and the woman stayed on hooking up with a guy who was a talented carpenter and builder. Together the two lovebirds worked diligently on the construction of the house, which she and her ex had begun.

When the house was just about finished, this relationship also went on the rocks, and the lady kicked the boyfriend out of the house. Having no more reason to be on St. John, her  boyfriend returned to the states.

Shortly thereafter the end of the affair, the lady’s husband returned. They patched up their differences,  got back together,  sold the newly completed house, and left the island.

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Virgin Islands Stories: The Mechanic

It was the summer of 1969 and I was still living on St. Thomas. At the time I was driving an old Willys Jeep. Although usually extremely dependable, one day the old jeep began to have some rather serious problems that needed the attention of a professional. I was then living on St. Thomas’ Northside and I had a neighbor, a big, bearded, white boy named Norman, who was an excellent mechanic and not too expensive. I called Norman and the jeep and I limped over to Norman’s house and deposited the jeep inside the detached garage where Norman did his automotive repair work. The garage lay at the end of a steep, crumbling, concrete driveway and I knew that it wouldn’t get back up that road until it’s problems were solved.

I secured Norman’s promise to start work right away and went about my business – on foot.

I don’t remember what the problem with the jeep was exactly, but it must have been serious enough, because when I returned the next day there were jeep parts spread all over the garage mixed in with Norman’s tools and, for lack of a better description, “stuff.” It was really quite an impressive mess.

“How’s it goin’, Norman?” I asked.

“Under control,” said Norman.

I had to hand it to Norman, and to all those whose mechanical intelligence so vastly surpasses my own, that he would actually, not only be able to put the jeep back together again, but also to render the old fellow St. Thomas road ready once again.

As I stood in the blazing sunshine outside the wooden garage marveling at the expertise of this mechanical wizard, I saw a black sedan turn off the main road onto the driveway making it’s way towards us. A middle aged black gentleman, who I recognized to be Al Wiltshire, a detective in the employ of the Virgin Islands police force, stepped out of the vehicle.

“Afternoon,” I said

“Afternoon,” he answered. “Norman, I have some bad news for you.”

Norman looked up from his work.

“What’s that Al?”

“I have a warrant for your arrest. Appears to be an old stateside beef. I gotta take you in.”

“No Al! Please, not now! ” I pleaded. “Can’t you just come back later. Let Norman finish up. Please!”

“Sorry, can’t do it. Let’s go Norman.

Norman and Al disappeared into the car leaving me staring at a thousand and one parts, bolts, screws, soda cans and tools and the stripped body of my old jeep.

“Don’t worry,” I heard Norman shout from the open car window. “It’s no big t’ing. Be right back.”

I did bump into Norman again, a little more than a year later, but by that time I had moved on to St. John. The jeep was history, but all else was just fine.

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Virgin Islands Stories: The Tooth

Some years ago I sporadically worked as a boat captain for Delbert Parsons when he owned Ocean Runner. On one occasion I served as captain for a family of five, mom, dad and their three children. a boy age 13 and two girls ages 9 and 11.

We checked in at Jost Van Dyke and from there went to Norman Island to snorkel the caves.

I stayed aboard while the others snorkeled.

The family must have loved the snorkeling because they were gone quite some time. When they returned, they told me that coincidentally both of the girls had lost a baby tooth on the snorkel.

When they got aboard I asked the girls what happened to the teeth.

The father answered for them saying that the teeth had been committed to the sea.

“Don’t you believe in the tooth fairy?” I asked the girls. Again the father answered for his girls, Not in this family, we don’t,” he said.

A few weeks later I received a letter from the dad. It seems that the older of the two girls had written a story for school concerning lost baby teeth and belief in the tooth fairy, which he wanted to share with me.

The little girl’s story…

Once there were two ten-year-old girls who lived in the same town. One night both girls lost a baby tooth.

One of the girls had nice parents that believed in the tooth fairy. She put her tooth under her pillow that night and when she awoke the tooth was gone but there was a quarter in its place.

The other little girl had cheap, mean, stingy parents who didn’t believe in the tooth fairy. They told the little girl to throw the worthless tooth in the garbage.

The next day both little girls went with the other school children to an outing at the zoo. The two of them, being friends, stayed together. They were fascinated by all the animals and they strayed off to the farthest part of the zoo. They didn’t pay attention to the time and the rest of the class left without them.

The two girls walked together to the zoo entrance and waited for the bus that was going back to their neighborhood.

The one little girl, who had the quarter from the tooth fairy was able to board the bus and go home, but the other little girl didn’t have a quarter because her parents were mean and stingy and cheap and she couldn’t get on the bus. To make matters worse it began to rain… hard!

The little girl had to walk all the way home in the pouring rain, and she got pneumonia and died and her cheap parents were to blame.

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Tales of St. John & the Caribbean: Book People

The Ghost
"The Ghost"

The First Time I Saw A White Person
By Curtney “Ghost” Chinnery
From Tales of St. John & the Caribbean

When it comes to tourists, I as a child saw very few. Reason being is because in those days, which were the 50s and 60s, not many yachtsmen would venture across to Jost Van Dyke. I for one used to call white folk “Book People,” for that’s the only place I used to see them, in books or magazines.

I remember one day in Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, a little before where Foxy’s is today. It was the first time I came in physical contact with a white person. It happened one day while a white boy and girl were playing ball. I was asked to join in, this for me was a great privilege, and, happy as can be I played with them. From the paleness of their skin, and due to the fact that I could see the blue veins beneath their skin, the thought was placed in my mind that they were soft and fragile. This in turn created a sense of fear about touching or grabbing them too hard.

When the fellow’s sister hit the beach ball in the air, both him and I chased after it. He tripped and fell, causing me to fall directly on top of him. Fearing I might have hurt him I screamed with a feeling of fear mixed with sorrow. Immediately I rolled off him asking, “Are you okay?” In any case, seeing he wasn’t harmed I asked him with a little shyness, “Can I touch your hand?” He looked me in the eye and got serious. Then he answered without a smile, “Sure, but only if I can touch you next.”

The situation reminds me of a saying: Judging a book by its cover.

With my pointing finger I reached out at his arm. At first softly I poked his skin. He did the same, but to my chest. It seemed to me that he might have had thoughts of me being fragile, the same way I though of him. Something like me thinking he was soft as a jellyfish and his thoughts that I may be soft as chocolate pudding.

It was my first touching a being in the company of someone white. A twist of fate made it to be the same for that boy. It was exactly the same. The kid and I became friends that moment. When the yacht left Great Harbour, I watched with the hope that they would return someday. For almost two months, I would make my way to the bay in order to check if their vessel had returned.

That was my first dealing with the so-called white man.

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Virgin Islands Stories: Dr. Paul Erdmann Isert

Labor and the Plantation Economy of the West Indies
Failing to find gold, the Europeans who originally came to the West Indies endeavored to make their fortunes as masters of plantations exporting sugar and other valuable tropical products. However, these West Indian plantations would require a great number of low paid laborers.

As other Europeans would not consider relocating to this hot and unhealthy part of the world, working long hours (from sunup to sundown) all to be paid an abysmally low wage, the answer to this labor problem was to procure enslaved workers, who would have no choice in the matter.

Slavery
As a result, Africans, captured by slave traders, were chained and shackled, and brought to European slave-processing stations on the west coast of Africa. These unfortunates were then crammed into slave ships under the most horrible conditions imaginable, and transported across thousands of miles of ocean to labor in a strange land controlled by cruel and barbaric overseers.

Dr. Paul Erdmann Isert
Dr. Paul Erdmann Isert, a German national who had studied and lived in Denmark, came to the west coast of Africa in 1783. He was appointed Chief Surgeon at the fortified Danish settlement of Christianborg, which today would be in the nation of Ghana. He obtained this position even though he was very young, because it was a job no one wanted.

After a few years in Christianborg, Isert signed on as a physician aboard a slave ship, where he observed first hand a glimpse of the horrifying reality of what had become a large and lucrative ongoing business .

Inherent Stupidity of the System and a Reasonable Alternative
Sickened by the horror and human misery he saw, both in the slave-processing bins of Christianborg and aboard the ship, Isert came up with an alternative. The use of enslaved laborers on West Indian colonial plantations, Isert reasoned, was not only inhumane, cruel and immoral, but also absurdly stupid.

In a letter sent from St. Croix in 1787 to his father, Isert asked these questions:

“Why did our forefathers not have the sense to found plantations right there on the fertile continent of Africa; plantations for sugar, coffee, cacao, cotton and other articles that had become so necessary in Europe?

“Had we gone to Africa with the leaf of the olive tree in our hands rather than weapons of murder, willingly would the natives have given us access to the best and most fertile parts of their lands, areas which for untold years had been lying desolate. Why was not our approach more Christian, more intelligent and humane? Why?

“These African people would have helped us in freedom and, for low wages would have given us greatness and riches with no offense against nature, or our personal and national consciences.

“Why did we have to uproot vast numbers of people from their homelands, subject them to agony, torture, humiliation, and death; transplant them to alien continents, Caribbean islands, big and small? Why?”

Friends in High Places
Isert wanted to demonstrate that the establishment of working plantations on the continent of Africa could be practical and profitable. To this end, he enlisted the aid of Ernest Schimmelmann who was then the Danish Minister of Finance.

Schimmelmann, a well-known and well-off liberal, who was instrumental in the passage of the law ending the Danish Atlantic slave trade, agreed to finance Isert’s endeavor.

Isert also had an important ally in Africa, the Asante king, Osei Kwame. The two had become friends after Dr. Isert had treated an cured the king’s ailing sister.

Success!
Isert sailed to Africa in the summer of 1788 and established a plantation at the base of the Awapim Mountains, purchasing the land from Osei Kwame, on behalf of the king of Denmark.

With the help of Osei Kwame, who shared Isert’s enthusiasm about the plan, paid workers cleared the land and began cultivation of sugar and coffee.

On January 16, 1789, Isert wrote a report for the King of Denmark in which he expressed the fine initial success that he was enjoying.

Enemies in High Places
On January 21, 1789, just five days after writing the report, Dr. Isert was found dead on his African plantation reportedly a victim of a tropical fever.

Other information that surfaced later indicated, however, that he had been murdered in a conspiracy that was instigated by European financiers of the slave trade and powerful plantation owners on St. Croix in the Danish West Indies. Isert’s actual assassination was said to have been carried out by corrupt government officials at Christianborg and their henchmen.

Project Abandoned
After Isert’s death, the African plantation project was abandoned.

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First Ball Games Played at Cinnamon Bay

Who in today’s western world has not heard of The Super Bowl, The World Series, The NBA finals, The British Open and the Wimbolton? How many of us have played ball games as youngsters and adults, games like baseball, basketball, soccer, football, tennis, stick ball, paddle ball, punch ball and literally hundreds of other ball games? Where did these games originate?

Before the arrival of Columbus Taino Amerindians played a rubber ball game at Cinnamon Bay on St. John as well as throughout their territories in the West Indies.

Games involving rubber balls were then unknown in Europe.

The Tainos called the game, and the court on which it was played, “batey.” The court was rectangular and was bordered by upright stone. Commoners sat on the stones or on embankments to view the game. Caciques (chiefs) and nobles sat on stools called duhos. Both men and women played, but there were no coed games. Men played with men, and women with women. Winning the game was thought to bring a good harvest and strong, healthy children.

The Spaniards, who had never seen rubber, were amazed by it. They brought the ball and the concept of the ball game back to Europe, and today ball games are an extremely important part of our culture.

Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas, who arrived in Santo Domingo with Columbus and was the most prolific chronicler of the Indians, gave us this description of the game:

“The Indians had a plaza located outside the door of the señor (cacique), well swept, three times as long as it was wide, and fenced in with stones. The fence was about one or two palm lengths high. They were penalized if they crossed this boundary. There were 20 or 30 Indians on each team and one team gathered at each end of the plaza. Each one bet what he had, it making no difference if what he had was of more value than that of another; this is how it was, after the Spanish arrived, that one Cacique would bet a red robe, and another an old rag, this was as if he
had bet a hundred castellanos. A player hit the ball and it was returned by the nearest opponent. If the ball came high, it was struck with the shoulder, if it came low, with the right hand. In the same manner they continued until someone erred. It was joy to see their heated play, and much more so when the women played against each other, striking the ball with their knees and closed fists.”

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St. John Virgin Islands: Stranded on St. John

In 1647 the Caribbean island of St. Kitts was a hotbed of conspiracies, intrigues and power struggles. One of these conflicts involved the attempt by a certain Monsieur de Poiney to replace the then Governor General of the island.

Monsieur de Poiney had many powerful and important allies, but he also had many enemies. De Poiney had a tendency to deal quite harshly and ruthlessly with those who stood in the way of his goals. He divided his adversaries into two categories corresponding to their social position. His lower class opponents would often find themselves deported for one reason or another. Others turned up dead or missing. Some of  his enemies, however, were prominent citizens who were not so easy to silence. If he had them sent back to France, they could cause trouble for him, and if they were to disappear or suffer untimely deaths, an investigation would ensue which could prove, at the very least, embarrassing.

De Poiney, being a creative individual, arranged for the formation of an expedition to explore and settle an outlying island. Sixty people, all political adversaries of  De Poiney, were chosen to make the excursion.  They were not expected to survive the voyage. Almost as soon as their ship weighed anchor, their lands and personal property were confiscated and sold to the highest bidder.

The captain of the ship carrying these unfortunates was a man named Jean Pinart. His instructions were to arrange for the demise of his passengers, but Pinart was not as cold blooded as his superior. He took the “explorers” to an island where food and water could be found. He also allowed them to keep a small boat and some tools and other supplies. From what records remain, it is very possible that this island was none other than St. John.

At this time the Virgin Islands were mostly uninhabited save for sporadic visits by pirates, woodcutters, fishermen and hunters. Spain still laid claim to the Virgin Islands by “right of discovery”. Although the Spanish never attempted to settle the islands, they did make occasional patrols to discourage others from doing so. On the first day ashore the castaways made a rather unnerving discovery. While preparing rudimentary shelters and scouting about the area, several fresh corpses were found on a nearby beach. They were Englishmen who had been caught there by the Spanish.

A week later a lone Spanish ship anchored in a nearby bay. A party of soldiers rowed ashore and attacked the settlers. When the Spanish realized they were vastly outnumbered, they beat a hasty retreat.

The very next day the Spaniards returned in greater number. Many of the exiles were killed. The survivors were dispersed into the hills and thick bush. Before setting sail the Spanish destroyed the exile’s camp, wrecked their boat and confiscated all their supplies.

The survivors of the attack reunited later that day. Their situation was desperate. They searched the wrecked campsite for anything useful that might have been overlooked by the Spaniards. They found one ax and one cutlass. They decided to construct a raft and send out a party in search of help.

Trees were cut and lashed together with whist vine to fashion a marginally seaworthy fourteen foot raft. A sail was fashioned out of  cloth from the exiles clothing and sewn together using the “needle and thread” found within the leaf of the century plant. Oars were painstakingly carved and the boat was provisioned as well as possible.

Five men were chosen to set out to sea and look for help. They had no charts, no navigational equipment and little sailing experience. At first they decided to head east in an attempt to return to St. Kitts. The crew soon found that the little raft could hardly sail into the wind at all. After an entire night of arduous rowing they had only reached what we believe to be Norman Island.

The men spent the next day searching for food and fresh water, neither of which were to be found. They did, however, make the rather ominous discovery of the bones of an earlier visitor.

Because their progress upwind was painstakingly slow and difficult, the voyagers decided to abandon the idea of sailing to St. Kitts. Their only alternative was to head west and sail downwind even though they lacked knowledge of the geography of the area and had little idea of what lands lay in that direction.

Early the next morning the courageous crew once again put out to sea. They sailed along the southern coast of St. John, crossed Pillsbury Sound and made landfall on St. Thomas in late afternoon.

The next day the men began to explore the island looking for signs of human habitation. No settlements were found, but provisions, such as wild fruits and fresh water, were secured for the next leg of the journey.

The following morning the adventurers left St. Thomas taking advantage of that day’s brisk tradewinds. They sailed all day and all night and came ashore on a small beach on the island of Puerto Rico in the late morning. The men soon realized where they were, and their fear of the Spanish prevented them from seeking aid. Consequently, they continued on their way, only coming ashore on uninhabited parts of the island where the raft could secretly be provisioned.

When the rafters reached the western tip of Puerto Rico, they made the decision to continue across the vast passage that lay in front of them. They knew there would be no turning back. The seas became rough, and the raft was in imminent danger of breaking up or capsizing. Against all odds the badly damaged craft safely reached Mona Island which lies between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola almost in the middle of the Mona Passage.

Afraid to continue across the passage and unable to return in the direction from which they came, the five would be rescuers realized that they themselves were now marooned. They gave up their hope of obtaining help for their colleagues stranded on St. John and concentrated on their own rescue and survival.

An exploration of the island revealed abandoned huts and the remains of a small settlement. Here the castaways were able to find shelter and salvage some tools and supplies. They also found the island to have an abundance of wild fowl, readily available sea food and a variety of native fruits. For three months they eked out a meager existence.

One day a lookout spotted a vessel which was about to pass near the island. Being on the verge of starvation, the men chanced a hostile reception and lit their signal fire. The ship turned out to be a fishing boat out of Puerto Rico. Even though the captain and crew were Spanish, they took pity on the rag-tag group of adventurers and gave them clothing, bread and wine. The captain promised to come back to the island after the completion of their fishing expedition. At that time the exiles could chose whether or not they wanted to return with the boat and face a possibly unpleasant reception in the Spanish settlement of San Juan.

Two weeks later the fishermen reappeared and our intrepid adventurers decided to end their exile and take their chances with the Spanish. On the first day out an incredible thing happened. Another raft carrying a bedraggled crew of six was sighted about five miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. The raft was approached by the fishing vessel, and its occupants were taken aboard. By extraordinary coincidence these rafters turned out to be the last survivors of the original sixty St. Kitts colonists who had been marooned on St. John.

Upon reaching San Juan, the eleven survivors disembarked, resigning themselves to whatever fate awaited them at the hands of the Spanish authorities. Their amazing tale of survival and coincidence, however, enthralled all who heard it. Rather than being imprisoned or executed, the exiles received a heroes welcome. They found jobs in San Juan and eventually earned enough money to book passage back to Europe; all except for one, that is, who married a local woman and lived the rest of his days in Puerto Rico.

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Virgin Islands Stories: Bridge to Beef Island

Note: This article was written before the completion of the Beef Island Airport renovation. I liked the article the way it was written so I’ll present it in its original form.

The first and only toll bridge in the Virgin Islands runs between Tortola and Beef Island, the home of the BVI’s principal airport. The bridge is loaded with cultural charm, due primarily to the manner in which the toll is collected. The bridge operator sits in the shade of a small rustic tollbooth lying off one side of the road. When a vehicle comes to the tollgate, the collector extends a long stick with a tin can attached to the end. The driver places the toll in the can. The collector then retracts the stick, takes out the toll and opens the gate, allowing the vehicle to pass to the other side. The right to collect this toll was granted to the owners of the property where the bridge is located as a concession for the use of their land. The bridge, engineered and designed to last thirty years, is nearing the end of its days and, to the dismay of some and to the relief of others, this BVI cultural landmark will soon become just a memory of the past.

Before the bridge’s completion in 1966, vehicles traveling from Tortola to Beef Island used a do-it-yourself pontoon barge which could cross the narrow channel with one vehicle only, but with as many passengers as could squeeze aboard. A steel cable connected the barge to each shore serving to secure the barge to land and to control the sideways motion of the craft.

This is how the system worked:

If you were lucky, when you drove up to the shoreline, the barge would be on your side of the channel. In this case, you would haul the barge close to the shore with a special line designed for that purpose. Then you had to tie it tight to the large metal cleat, so that you could drive your vehicle aboard. Next, you would untie that line and manually pull the barge to the other shore. This was accomplished by hauling on a thick hemp line that was run through a series of pulleys to provide the mechanical advantage necessary for a single person to handle the large, heavy and unwieldy barge. Nonetheless, it was said to be quite a workout that normally produced copious amounts of perspiration, some huffing and puffing, and possibly grunts, groans or curses.

An alternative would be to hire some of the children from East End who would hang around the barge looking for a chance to earn a little money. When you reached the other side, you would tie the barge off tight so that you could exit the craft without your vehicle falling into the water. Then you were supposed to untie that line from the cleat, so that someone else on the opposite side could retrieve the barge.

If the barge was on the other side when you arrived, and the last person to use the barge had been thoughtful enough to untie it from the shore cleat, you could pull it to your side and then follow the previously mentioned procedure.

If, on the other hand, the barge was on the opposite side, but the last person had thoughtlessly left it tied, you would then have a problem. If you couldn’t attract the attention of someone on the far shore to untie the line, someone, probably you, had to swim over and untie it, after which the barge could be hauled over to the shore where your vehicle was left waiting.

In 1966, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge replaced the do-it-yourself pontoon barge. The dedication ceremony included Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself. This occasion also marked the first time a reigning monarch had ever visited the British Virgin Islands.

Queen Elizabeth arrived at West End, Tortola on the Royal Yacht Britannia. A bronze plaque was placed on the dock at the exact spot where “Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II first stepped foot in the BVI.” The monument has since been moved as it presented an obstruction to the efficient loading and unloading of cargo on the dock. The plaque indicating the exact spot where Her Majesty first stepped foot on BVI territory is now enigmatically located on the wall of the customs building.

The royal visit began with a brief ceremony, during which West End was renamed, Sopers Hole. The Queen then proceeded by motorcar to Roadtown for a further ceremony and then continued on to the eastern end of the island in order to dedicate the newly constructed bridge, which would bear her name.

The plan was for the Queen to arrive at the bridge, whereupon she would receive a demonstration of its opening and closing and then make her official dedication.

But things don’t normally proceed on schedule in the Virgin Islands. As could be predicted with a high degree of accuracy, none of the planned events occurred when they were supposed to, which resulted in the Queen arriving at the bridge hours later than expected. Because of the long delay, the bridge operator assumed that the visit had been cancelled, and went home for lunch, after which he took a nap, as was his custom.

When the Queen arrived, not only was the operator not present, but he had also taken along the crank that served to operate the bridge. Without that custom-made instrument, no one else could perform the demonstration either.

Someone went to fetch the operator, but after a while, the Prince, who had accompanied the Queen, got tired of waiting and suggested they dedicated the bridge without the demonstration.

The dedication was performed with all the proper pomp and ceremony and the one and only toll bridge in all of the Virgin Islands was officially christened the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. The royal procession then turned around and the Queen and her retinue returned to Sopers Hole and the Yacht, Britannia.

Over the years, the combination of salt air and increased and heavier vehicular traffic has taken their toll on the physical integrity of the bridge. Additionally, the completion of the new Beef Island International Airport and the large-scale commercial and residential development of Beef Island itself have rendered the old bridge inadequate to meet the new demands. For these reasons, a multimillion dollar project is underway to build an adequate replacement for the quaint and beloved Queen Elizabeth II Bridge that has delighted so many first time visitors to the British Virgin Islands.

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St. John Virgin Islands Stories: The Crab

The following story was told to me by a young doctor who used to practice in St. John here in the Virgin Islands:

One fine afternoon a man was taking a swim at Trunk Bay when, all of a sudden, he felt something go inside his ear. He swam to shore, stood on the sandy beach and tried to get it out.

He used all the everyday remedies that people use for this sort of problem. He tapped on the opposite side of his head with his hand. He jumped up and down while tilting his head to one side. He put his finger in his ear. All to no avail.

The feeling that the man had in his ear was causing him a great deal of discomfort. He could hear a kind of buzzing or scratching, and he had the distinct feeling that something was moving about in his inner ear.  He felt dizzy and nauseous. The man decided to seek medical attention and drove himself to the clinic.

The sensation the man was feeling became more and more disturbing, and by the time he was finally able to see the doctor, he was beside himself with nervousness and worry. His agitation had increased to such a degree that the attending physician was inwardly debating whether or not to sedate his nervous patient. He decided not to, and began his examination which quickly revealed the source of the problem; a small crab had taken refuge in the patient’s ear.

Now  those of you that like to swim at our  beautiful beaches must understand  that crabs don’t usually swim in people’s ears. It is, in fact, extremely rare, but this is exactly what happened to this unfortunate individual.

The knowledge of what was causing the problem did not serve to alleviate the man’s anxiety; it actually increased it. He began to plead with the doctor to “Please, please, hurry up and GET THAT CRAB OUT OF MY EAR!!!”

The doctor got to work. Armed with magnifying glasses, a special light and a medical tweezers he fished about in the man’s ear for the little crab. The patient squirmed, and the doctor exhorted him to “SIT?STILL!!” and, after what seemed like an eternity to the patient, the doctor was successful in removing the crustacean intruder.

“I’ve got it!” said the doctor.

“THANK GOD!” exclaimed his grateful patient.

“And here’s the culprit” said the doctor, as he put the captured crab on his hand and brought it into view for the man to see.

At this point something quite unexpected occurred. The crab did not hesitate for one moment. Just as soon as it was released from the grip of the tweezers, it jumped off the doctors hand, scurried up the man’s arm and leapt right back into his ear!

“What happened?”cried the man.

“OH NO!!! IT’S BACK IN MY EAR!!! GET IT OUT, PLEASE!!!”

After another fifteen minutes of crab hunting, and apologizing profusely to an extremely upset man, the doctor was finally able to recapture the crab.

This time he did not give it a second opportunity to escape.

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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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