Friday, April 27, 2007

Bequia tour; quite a whaling history

April 27, 2007  Friday
Admiralty Bay, Bequia

Wednesday morning we went into Port Elizabeth and officially cleared into the country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  We will clear out of this island chain country when we reach Union Island, but we can remain legally in the SVG islands until May 22 if we so choose.

Bill had a bit of sticker shock when we visited the local vegetable market.  I bought 4 small tomatoes, 2 medium cucumbers, and 3 carrots for a total cost $30 EC.  Bill’s face was had an incredulous expression!   That converts to $11.11 USD.  Food is a bit pricey here on Bequia.

On Wednesday afternoon we took a taxi tour of Bequia with people from 2 other cruising boats.  Our little tour group consisted of us, along with Al and Joan on BREAK & RUN, and Richard and Beth on SLOW DANCING.  Beth’s sister, Barbara, is visiting them so she also joined us.  Our tour guide was a local man named Curtis.  Curtis was born on the island and is about 60 years old.  He said that his heritage is French, Scottish and Portuguese.  His accent definitely had a Scottish tinge.  According to our sailing guide, there were a lot of Scots brought to this island when it was briefly under British control.  Neither of us remembers how or why the Portuguese came to this island.

It was good to talk with a local resident for several hours; learn so much more than from the guide books. 

Bequia has a strong whaling history.  A whaling man named Wallace moved from the USA to Bequia during the 1800s and taught the locals how to build small whaleboats; they have been catching whales ever since.  The IWC has granted Bequia the right to harvest 4 whales per year, but many years they don’t get any at all.  Everything is still done is the traditional manner, no modern ships or conveniences.  Curtis was lamenting that all the excitement for the islanders has gone out of whaling and he doesn’t think it will continue much longer.  There are very few people still alive who know how to do this work.  Plus, the whaling season lasts only February through April; so it cannot be a full-time job for anyone.  BTW, 60% of the men on Bequia are unemployed.  They and their families subsist pretty much on what they can garner from the sea and grow on their land.   

In the very old days people would light fires on the island when they spotted whales from the hills.  But this made the location of the whales known to the whaling ships from the US that were nearby, so the islanders eventually changed to using mirrors to signal whale sightings.  The larger the mirror, the better.  People would go outside and move their bedroom mirrors to glint in the sun to let other islanders and the whalers in the little whaleboats around Bequia know that whales had been spotted.  They would move several steps while the glinting mirror to correspond to the whales’ movements---right, left, up or down to correspond with east, west, north or south---to guide the little Bequian whalers to find the whales.  You could see mirrors glinting all over the island when whales were spotted.  Eventually people got VHF radios and they changed to this modern method of communicating the locations of the whales.  But Green Peace came down and would thwart the local whalers and caused dangerous encounters (remember, these local islanders only have very small boats with harpoons).  Then they changed to cell phones; the method of whale notification used today.

The whalers harpoon a whale from these tiny whaleboats, and haul it back by rowing to a nearby tiny island where the whale is butchered.  They used to butcher the whales at Petit Nevis, but now the whale processing is performed at Semplers Cay in Friendship Bay.  Every resident on Bequia gets a share of each whale, but not everyone eats whale meat any more.  Curtis said that he had not eaten whale meat since he was about 25 years old because he just does not feel comfortable about it.    He thinks that the whaling should stop.

When we first visited Bequia while we were on a Windjammer cruise back in the mid-1980s, we bought some scrimshaw pieces.  Scrimshaw is banned today.  True scrimshaw was carved from the teeth of the sperm whales.  Sperm whales are never killed any more; they only kill humpback whales.  Humpback whales are baleen whales and do not teeth, so no more scrimshaw.  (Okay, Trey and Aaron:  do you have any idea where your scrimshaw necklaces are today?)

Our tour also included a visit to a pottery place located in an old sugar mill at Spring plantation.  We enjoyed seeing the old building and the methods of production and the pottery was quite nice, but not something we need on a boat.  Thought about buying some as gifts for relatives but storing it and hauling it back home would create problems.  So, sorry everyone; no unique pottery gifts from us.

We wanted to go see Moonhole, but Curtis would not bring us out there.  The road to Moonhole is terrible.  Plus, you must make prior arrangements with a certain couple if you want to visit there.  Moonhole is an isolated community founded by the late American architect Tom Johnson.  The houses are really different.  The houses grow out of the rocks without straight lines or right angles.  They have huge arches.  There normally is no glass in the windows, and there is no electricity.  But the breeze is constant on that point of the island so the temperatures are comfortable.  The houses have fantastic views and very nice patios.  It is a very private place and is a special kind of vacation home for the right people.  The original house was built under a natural arch known as “Moonhole.”  It was abandoned when a huge boulder fell from the ceiling and crushed the empty bed.  Jim and Sheena Johnson have a bar there and offer limited tours by prior arrangement only.  Moonhole is on the hill overlooking directly onto the water but is not accessible from the water because it is too rough and rocky out there.

Dennis and Allayne on AUDREY PAIGE came over for sundowners.  It was really nice visiting with them again.

Thursday was spent doing our routine Make and Mend Day – laundry and making water.  The rest of the day was wasted sitting around reading.  I now know more about Tierra del Fuego and Charles Darwin and Captain Robert Fitzroy than I ever wanted to know.  Bill is still reading about a fighter pilot named Boyd who supposedly changed the art of war.  Apparently he is responsible for the basis of the plan that Schwartzkoff used during the Gulf War.

We went to the new Jack’s Bar on the beach in front of our anchorage.  We are anchored off Tony Gibbons Beach, a.k.a. Princess Margaret Beach, which is a gorgeous location.  Jack’s Bar is nice and they make a great pina colada.  A perfect view of the sunset from the beach bar.  Only bad thing was their choice of loud island music which was driving Bill insane.  Then we went to Mac’s Pizzeria for dinner.  We wanted a fix of the famous Mac’s lobster pizza.  We have eaten lobster pizza at Mac’s each of the previous 3 times that we have visited Bequia.  But they didn’t have lobster this time.  It has gotten too expensive and it is too late in the season.  What a bummer!  I think we paid about $120-$150 EC for the lobster pizza last year and would have been willing to splurge once again if it had been available.  Instead Bill had a lovely Creole chicken dinner with gingered pumpkin and I had a small traditional sausage pizza.

Rain has come and gone all morning, but the sun is now shining brightly.  I watched most of the boats anchored around us setting up their rain catchers so they could fill their water tanks.  These are various configurations of canvas that collect rainwater and drain into the water tanks.  They are only put out when it is raining; otherwise, they would become salt encrusted.  Glad we don’t have to do that.  OTOH, our water production is dependent on diesel and theirs is free.  There was a beautiful total rainbow twice this morning!!!  One end was actually inside the bay and close behind us and the other end was out at sea.  It was very vibrantly colored.  The first rainbow disappeared and the rain began again; when the rain stopped then the second rainbow appeared in exactly the same spot!  How incredibly unusual to see two complete rainbows and in exactly the same location! 

We are thinking about snorkeling this afternoon; a couple of locations nearby look like they that might be interesting.  We are having sundowners on AUDREY PAIGE this evening and I need to figure out what we can bring.  The cruiser tradition is to always bring something when invited to someone else’s boat.  I think we might have a few remaining frozen tortillas and I know we still have Monterrey Pepper Jack, so maybe we can bring chicken quesadillas to share tonight.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.