"On collecting their rum ration, they form a large circle and reverently stand in silence as one member reads aloud passages from an eighteenth century ship’s log."
The Pentagram Society
My family have settled into a routine on the boat. Out and about during the daytime and back in the cockpit for sundowner drinks in the early evening. The days and evenings are punctuated by the sporadic arrival of Atlantic rowing boats, welcomed by pink flares and ships horns and cheering from the crowds. Many of the arriving boats now are women’s teams, middle aged men with large white beards and there is a lone rower even arrived today (the mind boggles at this feat). Also a nightly ritual is what we have meanly nicknamed The Pentagram Society, but is actually an expatriate history society who meet nightly in the bar right behind our boat. They gather to chat in clumps with drinks and at some point, they are all called over to a trestle table to get their rum. On collecting their rum ration, they form a large circle and reverently stand in silence as one member reads aloud passages from an eighteenth century ship’s log. The circle then dissolves, the ritual complete and they return to their drinking and chatting. We’ve seen them every night since we’ve been here and my mum and stepdad have finally got talking to a couple of the members. Many of the members are apparently wealthy home owners here in Antigua but they are very welcoming, and we have been invited to the ceremony tonight.
This week’s boat maintenance task has been to locate the fuel leak in our engine. We had noticed that our bilges were a little oily before but had thought that maybe it had come from a previous oil change. We pumped it out and cleaned it up and painted the bilges before we went back to England in July. They were clean when we left Grenada. However, we found on our arrival in Antigua that there was oily water in the bilges again. This was conclusive - we had a leak somewhere in the system. We cleaned the bilges again and cleaned the engine to ensure there was no oil at all. Then we ran the engine and watched it to see where the leak would appear. My stepdad (who loves motorbike engines) found a tiny trickle. We had suspected it was coming from one of the filters needing a new O ring seal. But it was actually coming from one of the injectors. It was a tiny amount, but over time and in gear, it would build up. It felt tight, but he tightened it just a little more (we were worried about breaking it) and cleaned and ran the engine again. This time there was no leak.
The marina where we are staying - Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour is the oldest continuously used dockyard in the world (dating from the 1740s) and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016. It was built by enslaved workers from nearby plantations. The dockyard takes its name from Horatio Nelson, who was sent to Antigua to ensure that no trading was done with the newly independent United States of America - an unpopular policy on all sides by those who wanted to profit from trade. When the dockyard was refurbished in the 1950s they decided to name it after Nelson, who had gone on to defeat the French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars, dying in the process and thus earned his exalted status at the top of his column in Trafalgar Square. The British used English harbour as an excellent hurricane hole and as a fortified base to monitor the French fleets which they were battling with for control of many Caribbean islands. However, the forts and the extensive dockyard buildings were built by those enslaved labourers of African descent. Many in fact, were skilled craftspeople who also ensured the smooth operation of the business of the dockyard - as sailmakers, shipwrights, carpenters and blacksmiths.
The 8 March project detailed at the museum aims to continue to identify those individuals who built the dockyard through archival evidence. While recognising that the names in most cases were imposed by their slavers, they aim to publish their names to individualise and recognise their contributions as well as publish other known information about them. Each year on March 8th the newly discovered names are published, forging a link with the local community who are encouraged to participate. The significance of 8 March dates from an incident on this date in 1744 when eight enslaved Africans were killed in a gunpowder explosion, as the gunpowder was being stored in tents as no gunpowder magazine had been built. The men’s names were Billey, London, James Soe, Caramantee Quamono, Dick, Joe, Scipio and Johno. We also wandered around the other buildings in the marina - now repurposed as offices, shops, restaurants, an artist’s workshop and a sailmakers (I think the only one that has kept its original function). Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, they were the master shipwright’s cabin, a copper and lumber mills, storage rooms and naval offices.
We’ve also continued to visit the beaches of Antigua, travelling up to the north east of the island to Long Bay - a gorgeous white sand beach with a coral reef not far offshore with great snorkelling. We’ve also been back to our favourite Galleon Beach in English Harbour where we walked round the coastline to see the Pillars of hercules - these natural pillars have been formed by the action over time of wind, rain, waves and spray right on the edge of English Harbour. We had to walk behind the beach and clamber over large boulders to see them. However, the rocks weren’t slippery at all, so we could quite easily get all the way round. The family took the dinghy to see them to avoid the climbing. We also did some more snorkelling in this area, which has lots of coral growing on the boulders under the water and we saw plenty of large colourful fish. As we got closer to the beach a little turtle popped its head up above the water to breathe before diving back into the depths.
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