Lucky

Just a couple of weeks ago, Chris and I surprised ourselves by scaling the steep headland that overlooks Mamora Bay, Antigua.  Even recovered from the climb, the view is breathtaking. To the right, a lucky horseshoe bay surrounded by hillsides dotted with dwellings and rinsed with the sparkling, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.  To the left another bay with a wider arc whose rougher Atlantic Ocean waves are sheltered by a coral reef.  The peninsula that divides the two bays points to the open ocean and the sails and larger boats apparently dancing upon it.  And, of course, there are golden beaches (365 of them,) rustling coconut and date palms, soaring birds, and an ever-present tree frog serenade. 

On our last evening, we took a sunset cruise a few bays west to the glories of English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyard. Like most of these Leeward Isles, Antigua’s earliest inhabitants were Amerindians, who were gradually taken over by various other native peoples, notably the Arawaks and the Caribes. The Caribes proved themselves particularly skilled at defending their territory, repulsing European invaders until the British defeated them in 1632 and later made English Harbor the base for the Royal Navy in the West Indies. Antigua is in a particularly attractive strategic position with its deep water harbors that can be defended by hill-top forts and chained, preventing enemy attacks.

Cruising through English Harbor to Nelson’s Dockyard is like sailing back in time or entering a Masterpiece Theatre film set. Nelson’s Dockyard is the only remaining operational Georgian (the period 1714-1837) Dockyard.  Many of the building materials were imported from England and British architects drew up the original designs that were then modified by local skilled craftsmen to accommodate island conditions.  Apparently, construction took rather a long time as the workers were paid in 160 proof rum that was doled out at lunchtime. Great capstans on the docks show where Nelson’s ships were heaved out of the water on their sides so that barnacles could be removed and any damage repaired.  There are also stone columns that supported a high loft where the sails could likewise be repaired. Being able to restore his fleet in the comparatively safe waters of Antigua gave Nelson the edge in encounters on the high seas.

As we’ve noted before in Salt Spray and Aspens, how much you admire such achievements will vary according to your perspective. Nelson’s victories came at a cost, a vast human cost.  Ordinary seamen were generally recruited or pressganged from the lower ranks of society, endured very harsh conditions, and many died from insect and water-borne diseases, malnutrition, and excessive heat. African enslaved people, together with the indigenous people, provided the workforce both for construction and for the plantations the Europeans established.  Although tobacco, indigo, and ginger were planted, sugar quickly became the dominant crop. The island still preserves some windmills where the cane was milled. When slavery ended in the British Empire in 1834, emancipated  Antiguans remained financially dependent on their previous “owners” for many decades to come. Antigua and her sister isle of Barbuda, achieved independence from Britain in 1981. Even though the name Antigua (pronounced Ant-iga) is attributed to Christopher Columbus, local legend claims that former peoples considered Antigua as “God” and Barbuda the “Devil,” with the understanding that a successful life requires a balance between the two forces.

You can imagine we sailed back to our last night dinner, accompanied not by rum but by a little sparkling wine, appreciating our good fortune.

Jean Goulden
Chris Porth and Jean Goulden
Mamora Bay Harbor

A serendipitous set of circumstances many years ago led us to own a timeshare in the village on the margin of Mamora Bay, so although it’s been a very long while, we have enjoyed many such trips to this beautiful  and  interesting island where, as an advertising slogan suggests, ”The Beach is Just the Beginning!”

Even as my sight declines and Antigua’s beauty is now a little blurred, we consider ourselves very lucky indeed.

News Flash!

A Glass Darkly Coming Soon

The final proofs have been approved.

Next steps are interior design, an
alternate cover design, and the
marketing strategy.

End Notes

Reading

Knife by Salman Rushdie

Knife
Salman Rushdie

 

Listening

Los Efefantes
Wynton Marsalis and Arturo Sandelis

Dance of the Flames
Incarnation

Poetry

The Migrants in Me
Michael Rosen

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