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Jol Byerley’s Nov 08 Letter from Antigua

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Imagine how surprised I was when just the other day I read Peter Muilenburg’s piece about his Schipperke (Belgium Barge Dog,) Santos. (Editor’s note:  Readers will find the article in the September 2008 issue of All at Sea or online at www.allatsea.net.)

Maybe it’s because that where ever you go in the world, you seldom bump into a Schipperke! Incidentally we are having the very devil of a time in finding a new puppy of the same breed for ourselves! Our first Schipperke came from Don Street who was in Grenada at the time, and this little black ball of fur turned out to be a really wonderful dog who spent all his sailing time sitting proud and alert alongside me at the helm of our lovely, big schooner Lord Jim.

When we sold Lord Jim about seven or eight years later, we found a house on the banks of English Harbour, Antigua and little Kettle took only a few days to acclimatize to not being surrounded by water.

Aboard any boat he was as sure-footed as a mountain goat. Only once had he been hurled over the side by a big cresting wave right at the entrance of English Harbour. But our little Schipperke was made of sterner stuff! He somehow swam through the surf to Fort Barclay, then pelted down to where John Bentley was working in the Dockyard. John was soon on his hand-held radio to us onboard Lord Jim. We came about faster than a London Taxi at the height of rush hour. It goes without saying that with happy hearts (perhaps even the odd tear) we regained our still drenched crew member who, as you would probably understand, seemed to be really glad to be back on board.

For a couple of days he was not his usual exuberant self, however it didn’t take him long to get back to normal. If anything, he became more dashing, and took to crawling out along the bowsprit with his little legs wrapped around the varnished sprit. During all of this he would lie there grinning like mad and barking at the flying fish. It wasn’t long before we had to stop him doing this death-defying trick right in front of the charterers.

But about this time we all moved ashore to our house in English Harbour where Kettle would sit on the dock and welcome all new arrivals to the harbour with a medley of friendly barks. Our little Schipperke quite liked household life and in his old age, he would sometimes dream about his sea-faring days and of a friendly dolphin which always came to meet him when our big schooner got within a mile or so of English Harbour.

Then, one day we came home only to find Kettle was not there to meet us. He was down by the water’s edge with his paws in the water and a big smile on his face. I think perhaps he was looking for his friend the dolphin—and he passed away.

Jol Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 to captain Commander Vernon Nicholson’s schooner Mollihawk. Two years later he bought the first of his many own yachts, Ron of Argyll. She was followed by the 73ft Alden gaff schooner Lord Jim. In 2004 he was awarded a G.O.M. by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for long service to yachting.

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