Over the weekend I got an email from my dear friend, Jon, in Northern California. It began:
Hey Dan – after you paused your blog in June and it left me wondering if maybe that was a wrap for this epoch, I just discovered that I had quite a bit of your blog to catch up on, cool!
My first thought was, Holy shit, have I not made a blog post since June? I checked back to my records and was glad to see that my dear friend was totally wrong, I’d made 2 posts in June, 2 in July, 2 in August, but only 1 in September.
Still…he has a point. From a blog posts per month perspective it would appear that my writing has slowed down. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve actually really buckled down on my book writing and have been spending 2-3 hours per day on it over the past month or so. As I said in my previous post in September: it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
With all that being said, Jon’s email was a wonderful wake-up call to me. A call to pop my head up from the slog of the marathon, and take today off from book writing and just focus on a sprint, a blog post.
Compared to book writing, it’s fun to just write (type) as fast as I can think, and not worry about pacing myself or how what I’m writing links and fits into some bigger story.
What comes to mind is a quick travelogue from our time at Waterlemon Cay and Leinster Bay, and my visit to the Annaberg Plantation ruins on the island of St. John, USVI. This was back in early-March of this year, my how things can change in seven months.
It was an absolutely beautiful spot as the picture below will attest. This photo was taken from the ruins of the plantation owner’s house and we are looking to the west. Given the trade winds blow consistently from the east, Leinster Bay is well protected by the weather. In the photo below, Waterlemon Cay is the small piece of land to the right surrounded by the shallow turquoise water. Hazel James is the small boat to the left on a mooring ball. Above Hazel James is a red arrow pointing to the manufacturing complex and slave’s quarters of the plantation. In its heyday, many of the hillsides would have been cleared, terraced and planted with sugarcane.
Yes, it is “Waterlemon” and not “Watermelon”. I’d heard from some locals that it was originally called Watermelon Cay but then some cartographer messed-up and the name stuck. “Cay” is another spelling of the word “Key” (like the Florida Keys), and both are pronounced the same. A cay or key being a small, low island consisting mostly of sand or coral and situated on top of a coral reef. The English word cay comes from the Spanish word cayo and this from the Taíno word cayo meaning “small island”.
The Taíno (pronounced TIE-know) were an indigenous people of the Caribbean and the first New World people to be encountered by Christopher Columbus’s during his 1492 voyage. At the time, they were the principal inhabitants of Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the northern Lesser Antilles (including the Virgin Islands).
Speaking of history, the Annaberg Plantation ruins surround Leinster Bay and are a fascinating reminder of how much of the economy and history of the North American content were built on people enslaving other people.
The plantation was named for the owner’s daughter Anna and literally means “Anna’s Hill”. While it’s main output was sugar, molasses and rum were also produced (other great information here if you are interested).
If the wind was blowing sufficiently, the windmill powered rollers that would crush the sugarcane. The juice was collected and then boiled down to make molasses or sugar (some of the molasses was fermented and distilled to make rum). If the wind wasn’t blowing, horses would be hitched to a long lever arm and plod in a circle to power a stone roller/crusher in the center of the circle.
What was most impressive to me (impressive in a terrible way), was the difference between how the slave’s quarters and the plantation owner’s house had aged.
As in the continental US, enslaved people generally built their own quarters and often used “waddle and daub” construction for walls with thatched palm leaves for roofs. The waddle was comprised of sticks and small branches packed closely together. The sicks were then sealed with mud (the daub).
You’ll notice above that there are very few remains on the site of the slaves quarters. Compare that with the picture below of the remains of the plantation owner’s house on the adjacent hill.
It was fascinating to think of the “Cay” in Waterlemon Cay coming from the Taino people, and then the subsequent history built on their lands fueled by an enslavement economy. It’s even more poingent as I write about it today, in the fall of 2020, some seven months after my visit there. At the time of my visit both the pandemic and racial justice protests were simmering and would soon boil over.
As a species, we’ve come a long way and, in our voyage, created a lot of beauty while causing a lot of suffering for others and for the planet. It’s clear that we all have an even longer way to go.
Recounting all of this reminded me of student-painted murals outside a schoolyard that I would see later on my voyage.
I’ll leave you with two other photos from the Annaberg Plantation owner’s house.
Thanks as always for reading and following. Writing this travelogue makes me want to get back to my work on Hazel James and Lil’ Dinghy to prepare us for more voyaging as soon as Hurricane season is over!
Fair winds and following seas.
3 thoughts on “I’m Taking Monday Off!”
Great pictures and relevant history.
Gosh Dan, I think we were on the mooring ball next to yours last March . We probably crossed paths on the way to to the Annaberg plantation. Despite some research I had not come across the origin of the plantation name nor that of Watermelon Cay. Great post.
Billtan, oh wow. That’s so cool that we were moored up next to each other. Thanks for your comments on the post and I checked out your site and blog and love it. Good luck with the chartering business coming back as vaccines become more widely available!