As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Legends of Soca

The legends of soca came on near the end. They commanded the attention of the audience with a presence that only having owned the stage for decades can give. Whether it was singing a question something like “why did you choose a woman so ugly?” to an old calpyso rival, or whether it was just talking about the sterling moments in the history of calypso, these legendary monarchs of soca were solid gold entertainment.

Race at the Jolly Beach Yacht Club

Dave and Brian Under Full Sail
Today Captain Dave introduced me to Brian Turton, the Rear Commodore of the Jolly Harbour Yacht Club. Dave was competing in today’s yacht race with Brian on Brian’s sailboat. Brian soon appeared from the cabin below the deck and greeted me with a firm handshake. He had the well weathered look of an old salt. I could almost see the where the glow of the sun over countless turquoise waters had left its reflection on his skin.

Brian lives on his boat in the harbor with his partner and runs yacht charters out of Jolly Harbor. He told me about how he would like to franchise out his operations. With a number of the other charter operations seeing light business while he seemed to remain continually booked, all the right ingredients for his plan seemed to be there.

Sitting with the two of them shooting the breeze about nothing in particular, the conversation came to the previous night. From their smiles I could see it was still prominent in their memories. “You missed a great bonfire on the beach last night” Dave told me. He went on to tell me how himself, Brian, a couple of yacht skippers and assorted others had gathered last night on the beach. A couple of them had brought guitars. I didn’t catch whether people started singing before or after the rum was passed around. I tried to imagine what one particular gentleman they described must have sounded like, and what music must have been playing in his head as he played and sang to a completely different beat. A mixture of profound amusement and incredulity still remained on their faces when they remarked “he was always a few beats behind”. No matter that he played his own version of each song, and sang his own words. They waited until he caught up. Eventually the rum appears to have gotten everyone in time.

I had come to Jolly Harbour today in hopes of seeing two things. One is I wanted to see the free Saturday morning sailing classes put on for local island kids by yacht club members who donated their time. Next I wanted to see the yacht race that the sailing club runs every weekend. When in unfamiliar territory such as I was in a Jolly Harbour, I’m a little bit like my children who are prone to getting lost while observing especially brilliant or otherwise interesting butterflies. I strolled around Jolly Harbour with the kids looking at the fish in the water, and looking at the humming birds drinking nectar from the many flowers planted there. I wasn’t necessarily on track for finding any racing or sailing instruction going on.

However the harbour was undoubtedly familiar territory for Dave, who many call “Bob” after his yacht of that name. Dave spotted me and the kids first and called out hello. Seeing Dave has always turned out to be enjoyable. The kids played around the dock while Dave, myself, and Brian chatted.

As we chatted I wondered with only a vague inclination towards any concrete action, what was involved in learning to sail. Whether learning to sail might culminate in chartering a yacht with or without a skipper, or buying a yacht, learning the craft of sailing seemed the first step. They said that the newer yachts of the size of the one I was hanging out at now were around two hundred and fifty grand USD. But they mentioned that Alexis Andrews, a photographer I had briefly chatted with on the island, had built what they termed a Carriacou Sloop for far less. They talked about the boat with some admiration, and perhaps some nostalgia for times of the past when boats were less constructed of modules assembled far away. Such boats were built start to finish by the labour of fewer hands, and each boat that was built had its own story, being a tangible slice from the lives of the craftsmen who built it.

They said that before Alexis had outfitted the boat with some additional conveniences it was reputed to have been remarkably fast. As fast as the modern boats. But it was dominated by a formidable main sail that made sailing the craft an undertaking that was not to be taken lightly. Dave told me one of his friends who had sailed it had remarked about the force of the wind through that huge main sail … saying that the sail moved the rigging with such force and speed that smoke appeared.

Brian and Dave very graciously invited me onboard during the race but as they felt a yacht under full sail engaged in a race wouldn’t be a place for the kids I had to decline. The kids and I caught the start of the race from the top of a hill visible from Jolly Beach. We watched the yachts jockey for position. The view from the hill was one of the most stunning ones we had seen from the mainland. I tried to figure out where the sun was in relation to the subject of my photographs, but as far as I could tell the sun was directly above. Under that midday sun the sea inshore glowed bright turquoise on the coral sand below it.

After taking a bunch of pictures from the hill we came down and the kids enjoyed running around on Jolly Beach for the hour or so till the boats finished the course and came round again. At the end of the race we encountered the Linda the race official whom we had seen at its beginning. She told me everyone was meeting up afterwards at a local bar. Yachtsmen generally sail for pleasure and so may not be included with those who ship commercial cargo when one talks of “drinking like a sailor”. I had no doubt that I could hold my own. However I still as of yet have no evidence that either of my kids (aged five and seven) can hold their liquor, so I had to regretfully decline. We spent the rest of the day at Jolly beach. The kids, for no particular reason I could discern, ran back and forth though the water and constructed sand castles. For no particular reason the kids could discern, I lay down on a beach chair and snoozed.

I still look forward to meeting Dave wherever we do meet up. And I’m awaiting the written record he has promised to send me of his at times hair raising travels alone by sea across the Atlantic.

For more photos view the gallery below.

The Artist Stephen Murphy

Stephen Murphy at his art show in the Antigua and Barbuda Museum.

Stephen Murphy at his art show in the Antigua and Barbuda Museum.

Today we visited a showing of works by the artist Stephen Murphy. I had heard about Stephen Murphy from other artists on the island and I was eager to see his works and to learn more about the artist himself. When I met him I was intrigued to learn that he had spent some years in Toronto where I have spent many years as well. He knew some of the people I knew, and he looked strangelyfamiliar. We were never able to place our connection definitively though. I look forward to attending the wine and cheese event he has planned for tomorrow (August 1st) between the hours of 6 and 9 pm at the gallery which is located in the Antigua and Barbuda Museum.

After the show the kids and I went to Roti King where I was fascinated to note that Antiguans must be rich because even some of the skinniest patrons left lots of food on their plate. I’ve always thought of Antigua as the developing world, if not a third world nation. Contrary to what I’ve been told growing up, I guess people in the developing world do waste food too. Being who I am I wasted nothing but deeply savoured everything.

Meandering between stores that caught our interest, we slowly made our way back to the car. I had given the kids a little money to spend since they had been so good in cleaning up the house and in general staying out of my way this afternoon while I was working on the computer. Wandering through the confusion of stores in downtown St. John’s they soon learned to pick out the sweet shops and were quick to make use of their coins to buy lollys that lit up when they ate them. Children are connoiseurs of simple pleasures. Those lollys could have changed the streets to be paved with gold and still not have made them so happy.

Afterwards we tried to wander home a different route but as was probably inevitable we got lost. However when driving to the top of a hill to get our bearings we saw the layout of St. John’s below us. Noting the general area where we had been at Stephen Murphy’s gallery showing a short while before, we were able to get our bearings. Sometimes, all we need is a little perspective.


In the Caribbean “lime” is not just a sour fruit; it’s also a verb which means “to go about doing nothing in particular with the express purpose of allowing oneself to find enjoyment while doing it”. Today the kids and I sought out the true experience of Caribbean liming. After I spent awhile in the morning writing my book “Amongst Artists in Antigua” we then started liming. We began with a visit to Taco Loco in downtown St. John’s. Taco Loco offers free refills of Orange Soda. The kids took this as a challenge, but it was a contest they could not endure. While liming in Taco Loco we talked about all the places where they had eaten burgers and pizza in Antigua. They rated those places. Knowing that the rating of things is a finer art of liming, I observed their progress with satisfaction.

We then walked around a little aimlessly, but with the vague intention of stopping in to say hello to our friends at the EAG. We got there after closing time. At this point I was certain that we were on track. Deciding a course of action at the last minute and then being too late seems to be a signature of liming so I didn’t fret. On the way to the car we stopped off to buy some DVDs. We then spent the afternoon liming around the house watching them. After the DVD player started acting up we moved to lying on the bed looking up at the spinning ceiling fan and taking picture after picture of it to explore the different flash modes of my son’s camera. The flash is an older model and not quite matched with the camera. At the concert we went to the night before he was having some issues with the flash. Now he was ready to tackle taking concert photos again. During the while we played with the flash we managed to avoid picking up the camera to take any pictures of us liming. I believe that as a photographer that might have been construed as work. When the experimentation with the flash became too studious we retreated to simply watching the fan while chatting about nothing in particular.

Finally sometime during the evening we discovered that we were hungry. Waiting until one is hungry to start thinking about preparing food is another signature of someone experienced in the art of liming. We drove the few short blocks to Chris on the Grill, one our favorite local restaurants. Given that it was carnival and given the ever present music some dancing had spilled out from the restaurant to the street outside. Having listened to 92.9 Vibes FM every time we went in the car we were familiar with many of the songs. The music caught us but for the most part we settled for bobbing our heads and swaying our shoulders without moving from our comfortable seats. After all it had been a long day.

On the way home we passed the mas camp for the Solid Mas Troupe. The mas camp is the place that the people in a carnival troupe go to make their costumes and coordinate their activities. We pass it dozens of times every day so it is inevitable that we stop in occasionally to say hello like we did tonight. My buddy there, whom I see all the time, asked me if I was just liming. If he as true Caribbean thought we were liming then we must indeed be good. Having taken to liming so quickly I wondered if we were either naturals, or whether we had been unknowingly doing it all along. Perhaps tomorrow if we don’t go to the beach we’ll see.

LIAT Caribbean Melting Pot

Getting into the song with her backup dancer

Young Shooter

Waiting for Crowds Reaction

Our Regular Carnival Thing

Hitting a strong note

Energizing the Crowd

For the kids and I tonight was our first full fledged night of photographing evening carnival festivities. I knew my son Eric was excited about it, but I also knew my daughter Anisa was only going to be interested until the cotton candy and other treats ran out. When they did she soon tired. We took a few photos and the kids took away a little of the carnival experience. We went home early but satisfied.

Just Out of Reach

The wind gusts were strong. In a breath the bird was gone.

The wind gusts were strong. In a breath the bird was gone.

The beach was very pretty. Just short of beautiful.

The beach was very pretty. Just short of beautiful.

Today we went to Darkwood Beach on the southern side of Antigua. We were about to head to Jabberwock Beach but on the way I stopped at the jamaican patty shop Bellyful and the good folks working there told me that all the beaches on the north side of the island, including Jabberwock, were a little rough and strewn with seaweed. In addition they said a painful encounter with a Man O’War jellyfish on Jabberwork was not out of the question right now given that a jellyfish could potentially be blown ashore by the wind and waves. The timing of our trip in relation to the recent onset of offshore storms put Jabberwock just out of reach for us this day. We would travel a little further in hopes of finding a better beach before the day’s end.

We found Darkwood and it was a very pretty beach. Brilliant silver clouds overhead cast shade on the lush green hills adjacent to the beach, each cloud traced out in captivating patterns of muted green where the shade fell, and vibrant green where it did not.

The hills were rugged and steep. Their irregular slopes stretched and contracted the shadows of the clouds to produce patterns of shade that were almost magically different from the picture of the sky above. With this backdrop this very pretty beach would have been beautiful, but unfinished construction marred my sightline in one direction along the beach and the rather untidy structure of the beach restaurant marred my sightline in the other direction. For me, this imperfection put beauty just out of reach for Darkwood. I looked at the beach from all angles in search of a great photograph, but had to settle for a shot that cropped out the more disorderly parts of the restaurant.

The kids took to the water. Since a few weeks ago when I bought a field guide to birds in the eastern caribbean my daughter identifies just about every bird she sees. “Look daddy, it’s a female Frigate Bird” she cried out. A Frigate Bird sailed over the beach, commanding attention with it’s arresting wingspan. In full mastery of the wind, it hung in the air motionless despite a gust strong enough to blow our towels away with the sand beneath our feet. Seizing the opportunity to get our first shot of a Frigate Bird, my son and I grabbed our cameras and walked the few feet to the pond across the road that the bird had come from.

The birds in the pond are used to coming close to people on their own terms, but not used to people approaching with their own agendas. At our approach the few Frigate Birds nearby spread their huge wings almost imperceptibly, but enough to catch the wind. In a breath they were gone out of the reach of even my long lens.

We returned to the beach and swam a little. We enjoyed bumping into and chatting with a local skipper named Dave Buller whom we had met a couple of nights earlier at Falmouth Harbor. Walking the beach afterwards, the kids amassed an admirable coral collection consisting of fragments that were indistinguishable to me but to them were of special shapes and sizes. During this while I enjoyed completing the stretching and calesthenics of my often neglected fitness regimen.

We went to the restaurant on the beach and were well satisfied by the simple meal of hotdogs and salad that we ate there. The kids said they enjoyed their day. I had to agreee. For all the small things that seemed a little out of reach today, it seems everything important was no further than the act of reaching for it.

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