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It Took a Village

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For over a century, boats have been built and launched on the beach in Carriacou’s hamlet of Windward. They vary in size, design and purpose. Some comb the sea for fish; others haul cargo; and a precious few exist for the purpose of winning regattas. For all their differences, each vessel constructed is done so with the same elements of tradition and nowhere is that more evident than on the day it is launched.  

As 2019 rolled to an end, news about the big cargo boat under construction began to spread along with gallons of paint. 65’ in length, 18’ wide and weighing an estimated 28 tons, she was the biggest one built in decades and therefore, would be the trickiest to get off the beach. The deck turned orange; the cobalt blue hull contrasted by white topsides held firmly in place by bright, bold stripes. As months passed, a list of jobs slowly diminished – sanding, creating a rudder, fairing, caulking, repainting, fine-tuning every detail. Locals kept an ear to the ground, waiting for the big announcement.

In mid February, the fence between the vessel and sea was removed, a sure sign of impending movement. Word came from owner and builder, Nero McLawrence – after carnival, on the first of March, his years long project would be pushed and pulled to the sea. 

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Nero McLawrence coiling the towline
Nero McLawrence coiling the towline

Early on that momentous day, he and his team, including brothers Norman and Winsley, gathered round the vessel for last minute prep. Logs were assembled for rolling the boat forward; gigantic ropes placed aboard for the tug; supports attached for the cut down. Before onlookers arrived, an animal was sacrificed on deck – an act to appease the gods and ancestors of tradition.

Hymns from the nearby church filled the air as workers hauled giant cauldrons down the path to the boatyard, followed by ingredients for coucou, peas and rice, stewed mutton and ground provisions. Fires were built and lit for the celebratory feast. Church let out and a procession of parishioners followed their robed priest. He climbed aboard, blessed the boat with prayers, hopes, and holy water, then unfurled the flag for the big reveal. Reality 2 was ready. 

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One of seven cauldrons for the cook up
One of seven cauldrons for the cook up

It didn’t take long for workers, spectators and entertaining advisors to fill the yard beyond capacity. Any available inch was filled with a camera. Jack Iron rum and beer flowed from the nearby Disco and the party took off, island style. The Carriacou Culture Train String Band wound round and around Reality 2, blessing her with spirits while tending to their own hydration.

Cameras everywhere
Cameras everywhere

A long plank was bent and attached to skid the boat forward. Three supports replaced those used during the build and then it was time to cut her down. Wood chips flew until the big girl rolled gently onto her side. Holes were dug beneath the keel and more rollers were jammed in.

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The all important backhoe was late so everyone waited…and waited so long, some shipwrights, known as ‘old heads,’ gave up and left. Just as word leaked-  ‘there’d be no launch today’- a noise erupted and a yellow machine rumbled in. Driver and crew put it behind Reality 2’s stern holding a squashed tire between them. On cue it pushed, and with seemingly little effort, the boat moved forward. Readjustments were made; rollers exchanged places; and she was again coaxed toward the sea. By the time the vessel got to the water’s edge, she was aimed toward a stand of mangroves, necessitating a tricky turn to port. 

Every break in the action was an intermission; a time to reload drinks, partake of the lavish cook up, and watch the show. Guys dropped the towline down, sending the bitter end through the parting crowd. A squadron of muscle pushed on the starboard side; more pulled the rope, but she wouldn’t budge. The yellow hero zipped over, quickly repositioned the vessel, then returned to push from behind. In keeping with the day’s theme of ‘hurry up and wait,’ it ran out of fuel…which caused some fuel line problems…which took a nerve wracking hour to remedy. When the engine roared to life, the fan club cheered, then jumped out of the way.

The towline was led and secured to a steel vessel in deep water while onshore, the machine sat poised at the stern. Someone shouted, “GO,” and the boat shot forward, flying over rollers, the bow momentarily airborne. The tow vessel throttled up and Reality 2 flew down the beach, over the reef and into deep water. She had so much speed on, white water surrounded her stern. Onshore, the void left filled with cheerleaders chasing her into the sea. Hoots and hollers of disbelief, sounds of pure joy resounded. Carriacou pride was LOUD.

Boat Building is a Way of Life in Carriacou

Flying over the reef
Flying over the reef

Reality 2 was launched that day and with her, the hope that Windward’s traditions will be part of another generation.

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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