Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   December 2008
 

A Traditional Re-Launching for a Restored Tradition

by Susan Payetta


When Frank Pearce, Vice Commodore of the Antigua Yacht Club, sailed into Carriacou last June aboard his very sleek and modern 50-foot schooner Samadhi, he could not have imagined he would be the proud new owner of an old Carriacou sloop in less than six months time.
Originally built in 1982 as a work boat, Tradition carried cargo from the Leeward Islands of St. Barts and St. Maarten down island to Carriacou in the same fashion her big sister Yankee Girl plied the route from Trinidad to St. Lucia in the Seventies. Frank spotted Tradition lying at Windward, where Norman Roberts was working on her, adding a new wheelhouse and replacing the planking on the hull and deck. Frank thought how lovely it would be if someone were to restore the wooden sloop to her original splendour and, to Frank’s surprise, Norman agreed to sell her.

With the help of a team of local shipwrights, Frank started by removing the wheelhouse, a shame given that it was brand new and meticulously made with care, but Norman or one of his colleagues will likely find another vessel in need before long. They replaced the gaping hole with new planking and added a bowsprit to carry a jib and staysail, giving her a pretty new profile and an extra ten feet overall.
Looking resplendent in her fresh coat of paint, Tradition was re-launched on Sunday November 2nd, at Windward, Carriacou, on the same beach she was built on by Norman’s father, Urban Roberts.

There are modern and possibly more efficient ways to launch a vessel of this size, but in the interest of keeping the island tradition alive, Frank opted to fund the fête and asked Norman Roberts to organize the proceedings.
While the priest blessed the vessel, ladies sang psalms. Rum, water and the blood of a fowl were spilled to appease whatever gods are meant to be appeased, a mix of Christianity and superstition. The cutting-down ceremony was a beautiful sight, the honour shared by the boatbuilders who worked together on the job. They hacked down the supports with axes in quiet unison, dropping the vessel abruptly onto her port side.

Hauling lines were “knitted” to the hull and anchors set in the bay as preparations began in earnest. Old rum barrels were set aflame for the fête. Huge cast iron cauldrons, each supported by three large stones, were used to cook up the coo-coo and rice, pigeon peas and stew meat, to eventually feed the hungry workers.
Carriacou historian Edward Kent recalls the story of Island Star, a locally built schooner that took 13 days to launch. “We sang chanties and pulled, slowly gaining a few inches at a time, no more than a couple of feet each day. She finally reached the water long after the owner’s funds had dried up and all the rum was gone, when there were no animals left to slaughter to feed the crowd.”

An eager group of volunteers begin pulling the line running out to an anchor, brought back and wrapped around a coconut tree, or pushing on the bow of Tradition. Without the customary aid of a string band to coordinate the team’s rhythm, progress is slow.
To ease the rollers under the keel, a few strong men pull down aggressively on the bowsprit. A distinct “crack” sounds a warning, but it is only Tradition’s planking voicing her opinion. “E gone break,” is the consensus from the group of men gathered around the coconut tree, but the young son of one of the many shipwrights who worked on the restoration contends, “Nah b’y, I use one big piece ah wood inside ah dere, she ent gone break. She flexible, she could bend right dung an’ touch de grung.”
With only a few inches left between the bow and the shoreline, only the men too old to push or too young to pull are sidelined, but they have strong opinions and weigh in on the subject of why the boat still isn’t in the water. “De boat too beeg, dey shoulda make ‘e smallah!” a little boy exclaims, while an exhausted Ras Vaughn tells Frank, “Dat dead fowl bad luck b’y. It jumbie.” Without hesitation Frank reaches up and removes the offering from her open grave on deck.

Following this revelation it isn’t long before the bow is liberated from the shore. Assisted by Resolution, Norman Robert’s locally-built motor vessel, a half dozen brave men who don’t mind getting wet give a final push on the stern while Frank scuttles up onto the bow in time to grab the tiller as she floats free. Tradition is back in the sea, ready to start a new career that is yet to be determined. 

     

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