History tells us that seafarers from far-off shores have always left their mark on the lands they visit and the islands of the Caribbean are no exception. With the arrival of Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, Admiral Lord Nelson and others, the face of the Caribbean would change for ever.
Some of those changes can still be seen and heard today: like the sweet twang of an English West Country accent when you tie up in Barbados. The green eyes of some of the native people of Montserrat; shout the name Sean and heads will turn as the long line of Irish blood stands before you. These days we look back with nostalgia as the stories of pirates and privateers are recalled as history, folk law and legend.
The islands named by pirates often reveal the bloody truth, like Dead Mans Chest, an island in the Virgins that legend has it got its name from the ill-fated crew who were left there to die as punishment for being lazy, drunk and dipping into the booty of their shipmates.
Tales like these make up the grim but colorful history of these beautiful islands. But it wasn’t all bad. From places like Jamaica came sugarcane and rum, a product that was almost a currency in the Caribbean for many years. Today rum still represents a fair chunk of certain island economies.
The Caribbean was rich and everyone, from Kings and Queens to the lowly deckhand, wanted their share. The greed for the gold of the Americas and the fruits of the Caribbean would start wars and turn pirates into privateers and in some cases privateers into Governors, their royal warrant often short-lived if the recipient proved too successful or popular.
All was fought in the name of King and Country and this was depicted by the ensigns that fluttered from the stern of the ships, and the flags that flew over the various islands.
It would be remiss to suggest that these times brought only bloodshed and misery. One of the most surprising things to come from piracy was its contribution to democracy. It is true that each ship had a captain. What is not so well known is that the captain was elected by the crew. Once in command he may be the captain but he could also be voted out again. The strong bond and camaraderie of the men on these ships often extended past their time at sea. As they left the ships for their chosen safe haven ashore, rum shops were opened, wives were taken and in no time the retired sailor was as much a part of the island’s culture and history as the poor slaves and the crown that ruled them.
All of this and more is what stands behind the open arms and smiling faces that welcome today’s yachtsmen to these beautiful Caribbean shores. The same flag that flew over cannons and cutlasses now stands proudly over modern day yachts, making seafarers diplomats of their country.
What has changed are the challenges faced by the islands of the Caribbean. The wealth brought by yachting comes at a price. The good news is that modern yachtsman need not carry a sword in order to help; just a little forethought will do the trick. It’s not what we bring to the islands so much as what we leave behind.
Many of the larger islands have facilities to deal with most types of waste, but a lot of the smaller islands do not. We can all help and it’s fairly easy. When you come into port, make a few enquiries. For instance: Do they recycle? Can they deal with discarded batteries? If you need to discharge a septic tank or oily bilge, is the island’s waste water facility able to handle salt water?
In a future article we will look at what waste the islands can and can not take. Until then be an ambassador. Please reuse and recycle!
Environmentalist, yachtsman and journalist Sean Paton lives in Bonaire where he hosts the popular radio show Mad Dog in the Morning on Mega Hit FM. Email: [email protected]