The average visitor to Jost Van Dyke sails in, drops a hook from a chartered vessel and heads ashore to one or several of the legendary beach bars; that’s why they go there. Little do they know that buried behind those hot spots are the remains of a fort, an 18th century farmhouse, an antiquated turtle kraal pen and the ruins of a sugar works. Hidden in the hills is an unlikely history that, thanks to a small but mighty organization, is now being retrieved and retold.
The Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society, formed in the last decade, is busy bringing to fruition several lofty goals with funds donated by businesses and individuals for a variety of projects. Society members, along with the community they represent, want to hand their island to the next generation with all the historical and ecological pieces intact.
It all began when the host of Jost, Foxy Callwood, was making his wishes known one day to a gathering of customers at his Tamarind Bar, telling them about the island he’s known for well over half a century, its problems and potential. One guest took the hat off Foxy’s head and passed it around until it returned to him bearing $50. Foxy matched it and announced, “Now I got public funds, I gotta do someting.”
From that simple beginning a small group worked informally for several years until forming into a BVI Not-for-Profit Organization in 2003. Two years later they became JVDPS Inc, a 501C-3, in order to help donors receive tax benefits and to open up new funding doors.
The first major undertaking has been the construction of an island boat to rekindle an awareness of traditional boat building and sailing skills, an industry that died in the BVI decades ago. Foxy spoke of those old vessels, “I wark on de botes, on de sloops, sailin to Sen Thomas. We take dem cows, goats, chickons, what eva we had to sell. De market was dere wid da butcha. Sometimes we haul charcoal dat was made right ere.” Trade for the sloops with the US islands ended abruptly when the FDA banned the import of BVI livestock. “Dey say our cows got a dis-ease and we can’take dem dere any more.” With a sly smile he added, “But dose people, dey could come ere and eat our beef.”
Foxy’s memories of the now extinct boats were the motivating force that got the Preservation Society under way. Initial efforts to build the likes of a 23’ Tortola Sloop were scuttled and replaced by plans for a JVD 32, a much grander vessel that, when complete, will sail the waters of the BVI and have the ability to travel internationally as well. In four years, that boat, Endeavor II, has emerged through the efforts of its design team, a project manager and a coming and going class of BVI students. Teachers and students lofted, framed, planked and sheathed her, built the mast and rolled her over, each step taken with an ebb and flow of donations.
Endeavor II, under construction in the field behind the Tamarind Bar, has a traditional heart and soul but the body and character of a modern vessel. When complete it will be used for sail training, marine sciences education and cultural demonstrations.
The latest undertaking of the Society began in 2008 with a competitive grant from the UK’s Overseas Territories Environment Program written by JVDPS’s director, Susan Zaluski. Those funds are supporting a project to find and classify all species of flora and fauna on Jost Van Dyke and the surrounding waters. The information will establish what Zaluski calls, “A snapshot of what the environment looks like today.”
Island Resources Foundation (IRF) based in Tortola, is conducting the field research that has so far uncovered several resident bats, snakes, frogs, numerous stands of lignum vitae and some rare plants. IRF will document all habitats, ecosystems, historical sites and pollution issues. Project Coordinator Rosemary Delaney-Smith will share the information through newsletters, community meetings and educational presentations.
The knowledge will allow the 200 plus residents to carefully guide their future. “The community can decide what they want to work on, what’s the biggest problem,” explained Zaluski. “Maybe it’s the invasive lionfish or solid waste.” There’re also issues with too many mongooses, erosion and garbage-fouled mangroves.
To hand it to the next generation, JVDPS is supporting educational projects locally as well as sponsoring teachers and students to attend workshops on other Caribbean islands and in the United States. The Society’s office in Great Bay houses a growing library that one day will segue to an Information Center. Zaluski summed it up, “Jost Van dyke is more than a beach bar; there’s more here than meets the eye. Even for people who’ve been coming here for years, there’s a lot they don’t know about the place.”
If you want to learn more, sail in, drop your hook and head ashore to visit the office and the boat project or visit them online at www.jvdps.org