One of Anguilla’s legends, Ivar Carty, was an unpretentious mariner known around the island as Ivar the Diver. Each morning, weather permitting, he launched a 12ft boat from his home on the beach, climbing in with a bailer, buckets and oars held in place by thole pins.
He was 60 when we first met; lean and fit from rowing to the middle of the bay where he free dived for conch, fish and lobster. After each descent, some as deep as 80ft, he surfaced with food, tossing it in the skiff till the gunnels neared the water.
After a long pull home, Carty began the arduous task of removing meat from conch shells by pounding a hole near the top. Most sold to restaurants and all but the best of shells were added to a mountain growing beside his home. Those that were extraordinary were placed on the porch under a sign announcing: Shells for Sale.
When we sailed back to the island years later, we searched with binoculars for Ivar only to find the shell pile shrunken and slumped beside an abandoned looking house patched with bits of plywood. Vigilantly we watched for days until one morning, a shirtless man in faded shorts pulled a tiny boat into the sea and rowed to work. It was Ivar and he was 75- going strong and going to sea.
After watching him for days, I set out to pay a visit, hoping he might remember our boats or the little boy I took to his home to buy shells. It turned out that he’d been watching us, too, because our skiffs, like his, are powered by oars.
As he rowed toward the beach, I raced to beat him so I could land my dinghy and lend a hand. We placed driftwood logs under his skiff to serve as rollers and together pushed and pulled until finally it was in place.
I introduced myself to which he replied, “I ben watchin’ you. You row dat boat as good as any man.” The compliment signaled our mutual respect.
I sat with Ivar on the porch steps as he scaled and cleaned a catch of parrot fish, talking about hurricanes that hammered Anguilla in the late 90s. He recounted the horror, pointing toward the house, “Da sea come all da way up. Waves was lashin’ right tru de door. It didn’t break but de waves come in.”
Freddie Hughes, a fishing buddy, came by with a bag of hooks and I listened as the two told stories from their days aboard Anguillian schooners. Ivar was a mere 14 when he went to sea, just a young boy sailing cargo through the Leewards and Windwards.
Both men credited their fathers for their skills, some learned at sea, of course, but the bulk of their knowledge was handed down, father to son and each of them had worked to do the same.
Recently I met Ivar’s son, Doug Carty, owner and operator of Special D Diving. It was clear immediately that his love and respect for the sea came from his father. “The ocean is in my blood – passed on from him,” he explained. “As a child I was always out in his boat.”
Doug’s master teacher was clearly his father. “When I was a teenager, I was cocky. I tried to challenge my dad with diving contests … who could hold their breath underwater the longest.” They both dove down but Doug would come up for air, dive again and still his dad would beat him.
After earning a dive master certificate and captaining boats for others, Doug opened his deep sea enterprise in 2000 with the idea of giving customers something a little different. He doesn’t take divers on a set course nor is he concerned about consuming too much fuel. “The way I see it, my job is taking people out – to make sure they have fun.”
There are several sunken cargo ships off the island, now home to a colorful list of sea life. “The elk horn coral are dead but the soft coral fields are left,” he explained. “There’s a variety of fish life—angel fish, parrot, eagle rays, reef sharks, octopus, sting rays. Sometimes we see whales; it just blows you away to see how big they are!”
Doug also loves what he calls the small stuff like nudibranch. “They’re known as sea goddess, and sea horse – pipe horse – is the same family.” The more he talked, the wider the grin on his face grew. “I just love being under the ocean.”
For Ivar Carty, the sea was a means to survive. For his son, it’s a sanctuary.
Ivar Carty passed away in 2011 but his legend lives large.
Doug Carty can be reached at specialddiving.com and on his Facebook page, Special D Diving and Charters, Anguilla.