Six Caribbean Maritime Museums Worth a Visit

Surrounded by the sea, it’s not surprising that the Caribbean’s history is hugely nautical in nature. Here is a sampling of six maritime museums that are definitely worth a visit.

 

A gallery at the National Museum of Bermuda. Photo: National Museum of Bermuda
A gallery at the National Museum of Bermuda. Photo: National Museum of Bermuda

The National Museum of Bermuda

View over 75,000 objects in this museum, which was established by the Bermuda National Trust in 1974 as the Bermuda Maritime Museum. It is housed on the 15-acre grounds of the island’s largest fort, Keep Fort. “There are historic documents, photographs, plans and maps, art, small watercraft, a large cannon, and relics spanning over four centuries. Even the historic military buildings that house the museum are part of the collection,” says curator Elena Strong. The Bermuda Race Room features an exhibit that shows how the ‘Ocean Race’ (Bermudians’ term for amateur sailors racing to the island from North America) helped shape seaworthy boats and popularized blue-water sailing. The newest collection, Shipwreck Island: Sunken Clues to Bermuda’s Past, features a collection of 16th and 17th century shipwreck artifacts recovered from local waters. These include New World indigenous weapons, intact olive jars, silver coins, colonial pottery and rare navigation and ship tools. Location: Keep Fort, Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda’s West End. www.bmm.bm

 

The Dominican Republic’s magnificent Columbus Lighthouse Museum. Photo courtesy of DR Ministry of Tourism
The Dominican Republic’s magnificent Columbus Lighthouse Museum. Photo courtesy of DR Ministry of Tourism

Dominican Republic Columbus Lighthouse (Faro a Colón) Museum

This cross-shaped multi-million dollar landmark was completed in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Spanish discovery. “Inside you’ll find the skeletal remains of Christopher Columbus in a large monument that is both a mausoleum and a museum,” says AJ Trela, spokesperson for the Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Tourism. The museum, which is open year-round, has a room dedicated to underwater artifacts rescued from shipwrecks and pirate ships. October 12th is an especially good day to visit. This is when the Discovery of America is commemorated with a mass; cultural activities such as historical and archeological lectures and live concerts. Location: Santo Domingo. www.godominicanrepublic.com

 

Curator Geoffrey Brooks accompanies students on a tour of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum. Photo courtesy of Geoffery Brooks
Curator Geoffrey Brooks accompanies students on a tour of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum. Photo courtesy of Geoffery Brooks

Virgin Islands Maritime Museum

The ‘Tortola Boat’, a design of sloop unique to the Virgin Islands and built here for over 300 years, is the center piece of this museum opened in 2005 with a visit from the UK’s Princess Anne. “Inside are models of boats, pieces from the frames of old sloops, the tools used to build them and many old photographs of sloops, boat launchings and the shipwrights who built them. There is also an actual 20-foot fishing boat known locally as a Seine boat, which was built 45 years ago by Owen Smith in West End,” says curator Geoffrey Brooks. Two particularly interesting finds are an oil painting of the revenue cutter, Lady Constance, a sloop built for the government in 1902 and lost in St Thomas in 1923, and a circa 1920s compass. Location: HLSCC Marine Center, East End, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. www.bvitourism.com

 

Antigua Dockyard Museum. Photo courtesy of National Parks Antigua
Antigua Dockyard Museum. Photo courtesy of National Parks Antigua

Antigua Dockyard Museum

Learn about the life and times of the British Naval sailors and ships that were based in Nelson’s Dockyard. Set in a spacious two-story, 1857-constructed wood building, which formerly served as the house of the Dockyard’s Naval Clerk, this museum offers lots to see. “Outside, in front of the building, is a French cannon that dates to 1793, the year of the Terror, in the middle of the French Revolution. Liberty et Egalite can be seen on the gun as well as the name of the manufacturer, Creuset, the same company ‘Le Creuset’ that makes the cast iron pots used today,”  explains Dr. Reginald Murphy, director of heritage resources for the National Parks Antigua. The museum serves as the base of the National Parks archaeology department and has a large collection of artifacts in its storage facility. Location: Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua. nationalparksantigua.com

 

Bequia Boat Museum
Bequia Boat Museum

Bequia Boat Museum

The newly completed Bequia Boat Museum is the result of many years of development and fundraising by the Bequia Heritage Foundation. “The aim of the museum is to give an overview of Bequia’s unique maritime heritage with particular emphasis on the interconnected activities of boatbuilding and whaling, which have been so key to the island’s success and survival over the last 150 years,” explains Nicola Redway. Exhibits include a fully equipped Bequia whaleboat, an impressive array of traditional boatbuilding tools and a large, traditionally-built Amerindian canoe of the type that would have originally peopled the islands prior to European settlement. Location: St. Hillary, eastern side of Friendship Bay, Bequia. www.bequiatourism.com

History and heritage at the Bequia Boat Museum. Photo courtesy Bequia Heritage Foundation
History and heritage at the Bequia Boat Museum. Photo courtesy Bequia Heritage Foundation

 

 

Model and gallery at the Curacao Maritime Museum. Photo: OceanMedia
Model and gallery at the Curacao Maritime Museum. Photo: OceanMedia

Curacao Maritime Museum

Fashioned like the hull of a ship, this museum chronicles more than 500 years of the island’s nautical history. Steam for Oil is a magnificent exhibition about Curaçao’s economy and the oil industry, complete with a full working minia-ture refinery,” explains Aimee O’Keefe, spokesperson for the Curacao Tourist Board. Guided harbor tours take visitors via water taxi through some of the oldest partsof Willemstad’s harbor before guiding them through a variety of exhibitions to tie the present with the past. Location: Van den Brandhofstraat 7, Willemstad, Curaçao. www.curacaomaritime.com

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.