Monday 19 September 2011

Down the Islands

“Up with the main!” M. Tardier said. The boat leaned away from the gentle south-easterly, its sheets creaking on their winches as she picked up speed. The morning’s pink was turning to gold.
The mangrove coastline that would become Port of Spain proper in just a few years was blurring into the foothills of the Maraval and St. Anns valleys. On the Laventille hills could be made out the observatory, built by governor Chacon just a few years ago for the royal astronomer Don Cosmo Damian Churruca’s observations. In 1797, he had extablished there the first meridian in the western hemisphere. The island of Trinidad de Barlovento (to the windward) was 10 degrees north latitude and 63 degrees west longitude for all the world to know.
A dozen woodfires were sending up spirals in the morning air. We were sailing down the islands. M. Dominic Tardier rested easily in the stern of  ‘Le Pleine’. Her tiller cradled in his gentle caress. Ahead was a little group of islands. Before I could ask, he ventured:
“The five islands, originally they were known as Perroquets. They are about five miles from Port of Spain and just two miles from the village of Carenage. That’s where they used to careen ships long ago in the shallows. They would turn them on their sides to scrape their bottoms.”
I looked; I could just imagine huge square riggers, big as whales, beached and sort of helpless.
“That one there, Caledonia, was granted to Lt. Herbert Mockworth, naval chap. This was known then as Marlin Spike Hall. The Craig, a rock to its west, was built upon by a Mr. Caldwell. The governor, Lord Harris, and his bride spent their honeymoon there.”
I was immediately impressed by a gigantic silk cotton tree, out of which flew hundreds of parrots, shrieking, flying crazily.
“This one is Lenegan’s island. The third is Stephenson’s, better known as Neilson’s.” “People say ‘Nelson’,” I ventured.
“No, it was granted to Dr. Thomas Neilson,” answered M. Tadier authoritatively. “He called it Bel Air. It’s the largest and it is used as a place where Indian immigrants upon arrival in teh colony are kept in quarantine. The fourth is Pelican, which was granted to C. Hobson. Later is passed to Revell - that was in 1866. That one there is Rock Island, it was granted first To T.F. Johnston, who sold it to Mr. Mercer, who gave it to Tommy Laughlin. It was also used as a quarantine depot.”
“What a great memory you have!” I marveled.
The old man laughed and shrugged. The wind had quickened, and I glanced aloft at the main sail, full-bellied against a pale blue sky. In the little crowd of islands each sported a little bungalow or two, with red and white striped roofs and pretty awnings.
“Those two islands up ahead were once called Diego Islands, after a Spanish chap who had received a land grant thereabouts. The Diego Martin valley is now named for him. The islands are now known as Carrera and Creteau. Creteau was also called Begorrat’s Island. They used to be holiday resorts. A prison was put on Carrera in 1877. Creteau now has a quarry of a special sort I hear.”
Slowly overtaing us on our port side was a formation of brown pelicans, flying in a V formation.
“My father told me that Don Gaspar Antonio de la Guardia made a case to Don José Chacon, the governor, for these islands to be granted to various people as a source of revenue for the town. This one there is named in his memory Gaspar Grande. It’s about nine miles long, about 300 acres. Between it and the mainland the Spanish Admiral Apodaca scuttled his fleet in 1797. There is a small fort on Gaspar Grande. The British built it and called it Bombshell. The bay is called Bombshell bay.”
The water seemed like a sheet of glass. through which we sliced silently. Hoever, just a short distance away, the sea gave the impression of a river running like a torrent, choppy, swirling, debris and leaves floating on it, a darker shade.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“That is remous.” said Tardier, leaning on the tiller. I looked at the swirling currents; they seemed treacherous.
“They used to grow cotton on a big scale on Gaspar Grande, or as they now call it, Gasparee,” said the old gent. “And there were two whalint stations. Our family, my father and his brothers, hat them.”
I had heard of these - Point Baleine on Gasparee, baleine being French for whale. Columbus had named the Gulf of Paria Gulfo Balina, for the schools of the great mammals he had seen there in quantity.
“The Dragon’s Mouth,” said my host. “Boca Monos, the first boca between Trinidad and the island of Monos. Monos was named by Columbus because of the quantity of large Red Howler Monkeys that he saw there in troops. In the angle of his sail he mistook Monos for a part of Trinidad. Monos is quite large, 900 acres. Its capital hill rises above 200 ft.”
Monos was an impressive sight, covered in towering trees with large deep bays. Blanchette Point shielded Morris Bay, named for an Irishman who once lived there. English author Charles Kingsley, who visited him in the 1860s, was impressed by the beauty of his daughters. Then there is Grand Fond, large, deep. We were now joined by a quantity of large porpoises, some more than ten feet long. They swam and sprang from the surface in groups of six or eight. Swiftly, they overtook us to circle back for another look.
“That is Huevos, which means eggs. Columbus named it ‘El Delfin’ He found fresh water there - there must have been a spring in his days. The passage between Monos and Huevos is Boca Husvos, the second Bocas. Strictly speaking, tehre is another little Bocas on Huevos, Boca Sin Entrada, where the island is almost broken in two.”
We were now alongside it. The island was much smaller - 250 acres, as M. Tardier told me.
“They say a Spanish gallion went down there with lots of gold and a boys choir on board.” He laughed. “On some nights, you could hear a bell chiming in the deep, and the voices of young boys singing Latin hymns.” He laughed again, a little self-conscious, I thought. “There is an interesting cave on this island. It is a nesting site for the Diablotin bird or Guacharo - the oil bird. Some people find them a delicacy - not me! There is a rare species of bats in that cave, too.”
The island of Huevos was golden with pouis as we sailed across Boca de Navios, the ship’s bocas. We haqd now sailed away from the coast of Trinidad, its pale northern mountain range receeding eastward like a finger pointing at the risen sun. The wind had quickened; morning was a bowl of light. The sea rose and fell, bright green sheets of light, wind and water. THe smaller islands, now behind the mountains of Paria on the continent, in Venezuela, dominated the western sky. The now deserted island of Patos (goose) was to the left and the island of Chacachacare, Mr. Carrie’s island, right ahead.
Tardier took the boat directly into the centre of Stanislaus Bay, next to Coco Bay, wide and placid,t he hill rising steeply, wooded all around.
“Ease the sheets and let down the main!” I did. The boat tacked over to a wooden jetty that stood out from a pebble beach. The main sail fell with a clatter on the wooden decking.
“All right, drop the anchor there, she will come about.” Dominic Tarier explained that the island had been granted to an Irishman, Sir Gerald Fitzpatrick Carrie, by the King of Spain.
“It’s a little over 800 acres and very hilly. The hills sloop towards the inside of a horseshoe-shaped bay. It’s quite low over there.” He pointed to a marshy area. “In spring tide or rough weather, the sea runs right over there to the other side, the Caribbean sea side to La Tinta Bay.”
“Why La Tinta?”
“Because of the black sand.”
The purpose of our expedition was of course fishing. We soon met up with others, friends of Dominic Tarier and family members with whom we were to spend a most enjoyable time.
--- A note on our hosts: the Tardier family is of ancient and noble origins in France. Two brothers, Joseph and Dominic Tardier, shipped out from Marseilles to the west towards the end of the 18th century. Arriving in Trinidad they acquired lands at Scotland Bay from the Cipriani family, and on Monos from the City Council. The brothers married into the Outner and Funillière, Scottish and French, families. In Scotland Bay, they created a large and flourishing habititation, comprising over the years several large and well-disposed great houses and hundreds of acres of cocoa and coffee plantations. Great fisherfolk, heroic tales are told of them and will be recounted in another place. Several generations were to grow and mature. Down the Islands will always have the imprint of that old French family, remembered for their hospitality and the generous spirit of these born Creoles. It was the outbreak of World War II that altered their destiny. ---
The most keen of the fishermen set out at once to trawl for tarpon. His 18-foot-pirogue was manfully handled by six powerful oarsmen, some of whom stayed behind to attend to the planter’s punch which, as everyone knows, must never be left too long on its own.
That evening, a nightline was baited and rowed out into the middle of the bay. It was attached to a bell on the jetty. Within the hour, a great clanging was heard - a good-sized grouper had taken the bait. Before dawn, a shark rang the bell, and by breakfast another indeterminable species was caught and returned to the sea.
By mid-morning, a veritable flotilla had arrived. It was distinguished by a large cow standing in a pirogue - for milk, they said . In another boat was a huge delapidated fowl coup with a crowd of dazed and panting creatures including two small black pigs. A vast quantity of groceries and a lot of rum, wine and exotic liqueurs completed the load. Two families arrived- or perhaps one extended family? They included eight or nine adults, several children and servants, cooks, nannies to look after the children and eight or ten boatmen. This crowd took residence in the several houses at Embarcadere and Corbeau, near to the little church and school that had been built on Chacachacare in 1880 by Fr. Hyacinth Bariou O.P. Over 80 acres had been given to the church by Emilie Marie Birotte in 1842. Many years later, a leper asylum would be built there. By then, I myself would be a very old man.
I have made as a part of this record the fishing banks as they were related to me over the several weeks sojourn Down the Islands.
That afternoon, the ‘Ant’ arrived, weezing, coughing blue-black smoke. An antique sidewheeler, it ran a shuttle service between Port of Spain and the islands three or four times a week. It brought ice, fresh meat and vegetables, inevitable guests and took away anxious young women intent on making the governor’s ball or the yacht race...
Chacachacare has the second-highest lighthouse in the world. These islands in the Dragon’s Mouth are in fact mountaintops, whose valleys fell away eons ago and in so doing separated Trinidad from the South American mainland. They are possessed of great beauty. Seen against tremendous thunder clouds or breath-catching sunsets, the magnificient mountains of Paria appear to float, enskyed pink and golden, turning imperceptably to lilac, to mauve, to night.

Fishing Banks

1. Tetron - Rising Tide
a) Open St. Mary’s on Canning’s Point and Rock below Tomlonson’s Point, straight in line with road by chapel.
b) Massy’s Bank - Tardieu’s House on Salvatori’s Point and hole (Point Rouge) on Massy’s Island.
c) Lance Power - Open hole on beach below lookout (Jiminez Rodriguez) on Lance Power Point and McCarthy outside Massy Island.
d) In 1st Boacs - St. Mary’s on Canning’s Point and open old Bath House in Lance Power.

2. Gasparee - Falling or Rising Tide
a) East - Put Five Islands between Carrera and Cronstadt and Goodwill’s Point on the warehouse standing by itself west of docks.
b) West - Open Patos and servants’ quarters in St. Ignatius

3. Monos - Rising Tide
a) Kenny’s - Salmon bank - open Moralejo’s (now Tucker) jetty on George’s (now Farfan) Point and open George’s (now Farfan) house on Kenny’s Point.
b) Off Southsea - Blue Waters in line with Almond Tree (Blue Waters Bay) straight out and open Marielva on Inniss’ Point.
c) Balmoral - Big Balmoral House and Caretaker’s House in a line and open Palud Bath House (Landslip).
d) Domus - Bauxite passage in a line with Point Courant and Huevos Point and Palud Jetty in line with black water course.

4. Chacachacare - Slack Tide
a) Lighthouse - 3 points of Chac. in 3rd Bocas in line and Patos either inside or outside Cabresse island (best in early morning).
b) La Tinta - Open hole with vine down middle and edge of road (of beach).
c) Point a Sel - Pt. Baleine House on 2nd point of Chac and barely see top of hill in Venezueal over low point of Chac. hill on W. and opposite white beach.

Terms of rental for ‘Windermere’, Monos
1) Rental - $6.50 per day
2) Deposit - $3.00 for scrubbing
3) Deposit - $15.00 for breakage and damage and boat hire.
4) Boat hire - small bay boat $3.00 per day
                    large bay boat $5.00 per day

5) Caretaker’s services - suggested usual wages $1.50 per day with food, or $2.00 per day without food.

6) Domestic gasoline and lubricating oil to be supplied by tenant for lighting plant.

7) There are 2 burners kerosene oil stoves and 2 coal pots for cooking. Fuel to be supplied by tenants.

8) Tenant to supply own linen, silver and mosquito nets.

9) An advance deposit of $25.00 to be made at the time of booking.

10) Full rental and deposits are to be paid at least one month in advance.

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