Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The way it used to be

In case you haven't noticed, Jamaica seems to have gotten under my skin.  We arrived in Montego Bay in December, intending to stay only a month or two, and here we sit still, four and a half months later.

I've noted before on the blog and I'll probably write it again - there are worse places to be stuck.

On this visit to the fair isle, I've had a curious experience of being both present and in the past.

"How so?" you ask.

Well, for one reason or another, I've been with people and gone places and done things that are deeply rooted into the Jamaican experience, in some cases for hundreds of years.

This past weekend, I sailed in the Easter Regatta, the first of which took place in 1938.  On hand to present the awards were David Fletcher and Gene Drummond, brother and sister who are founding members of the yacht club. (MBYC celebrated 75 years in 2012, Jamaica celebrated 50 years of independence the same year.) Over a drink at Gene's house, I complained to David about sitting on the J-22 getting soaked by rain and barely moving due to lack of wind. I got no sympathy, only smiles and memories of his own days sitting on a wet boat in the same harbour.

Even more interesting, when David was in his early days of sailing, the spot where we were now sitting, an apartment in Seawinds Housing Estate, was only a pile of coral debris punctuated by mangrove bushes. He told of a time when he and friends took their teacher, whom nobody liked, out on a sailboat and left him on a mangrove island for longer than necessary, with only the biting no-see-ums for company. Apparently he was nicer to them in class after that.

Another thing that David mentioned - he said that for as long as there has been a management committee for the yacht club, committee meetings have been a challenge, alternately long and boring or full of vocal opinions and intractable problems.  Some things never change...

We said good-bye to Gene last night, as she spends her summers in Canada.  At the impromptu party, she responded to someone across the room that she could trace her ancestors on the island back to the 1700s.  She wasn't the only person in the room that could do so.

A couple of weeks ago, Phil and I visited a standing monument to an earlier era.  We were lucky enough to be invited to dine at Half Moon Resort, as guests of one of the management staff whom we know best on the dock in colourful shorts, taking his boat out for a day sail to the beach.

As you walk into the lobby of the hotel, black and white photographs of many famous people from well before my time are on the wall. I did recognize one of the British royal family, and apparently Half Moon is a favourite place for Prince Charles and his family to stay when he visits the country.

It was an excellent dinner and Phil and I had a lovely evening. We chatted with our very adept server about where he grew up - near Accompong, high up in Cockpit country, so I asked him if his ancestors had been Maroon, descendants of slaves who escaped and formed their own free communities, resisting conquest by the British. He was pretty sure that he must have some Maroon in his family.

Alternately, Phil and I played the game where you guess which people have had plastic surgery. Several women either were physically incapable of smiling or were not having much fun.

Oh Jamaica, I thought I learned a lot about you last time I was here, but it turns out you have centuries of history and I am privileged to experience only the tiniest edge of earlier times.

P.S. Sailing race results: on paper they were dismal, we came last in every race but one, and in that one we came second last.  In reality, we had a great weekend with a novice skipper and crew, perfect weather, much learning, and lots of laughter.

P.P.S. Trip update: we are shipping out and heading to Cuba on Diva for the month of May.  More info to come soon.

P.P.S. I forgot another funny story about 'back in the day' and sailing - Gene said one of her best memories of the Easter Regatta was watching the local minister fly down the road on a bicycle, still in full robes, pedalling frantically for the yacht club.  He had just enough time to shake the hand of the last congregant at the Sunday service and then ride like mad down to the yacht club and scramble onto her father's boat, where he was crew for the regatta.


  1. sounds amazing! we were in montego bay in march on a cruise. hope your having the time of your life! lots of love from alberta =) candace

    1. Sorry I missed you, Candace! Sounds like you've been all over everywhere these days - we'll have to aim to be in the same place sometime :)