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Tales of the sea

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The town of Barrouallie has much breathtaking scenery, but because we grew up here, we take many of the sites for granted. A few years ago, a team of professors from the University of the West of England visited the Anglican school and they were blown away by the scene from the upper floor. It left them speechless. The sea had captivated them.{{more}}

The sea is just there; a “split personality”, which can be a gentle soul in one instant, often quite audible at nights as it frolics “playfully” with the coastline and sings a lullaby which puts us to sleep. From time to time though, it is transformed into quite an unrecognizable “monster”, particularly during the hurricane season. I was not born in that era, but I was informed that Hurricane Janet graced our shores in 1955 and at that time the sea invaded the land a few yards in. So too, there was the hurricane of 1898, which brought its own destruction and which we shall revisit later.

Apart from those destructive instances during the annual hurricane season however, the sea has been our “recreational facility” over the years. If a resident of Barrouallie cannot swim, it is a matter of choice. Some youngsters who visit the sea every day have developed the “art” of swimming on their own, while others were assisted by members of the community. One elderly resident claimed that her tutor took her out on a banana body to a distance where her feet could not touch. The makeshift raft was then let go with the learner aboard. Fright got the better of her and the raft capsized. Luckily, some fishermen had just returned with the day’s catch and they were able to save the day. Had it not been for those fishermen, I probably would not be around to relate the tales of different eras!!!

Over the years too, the sea claimed many lives here. There were instances when a boat or two, filled with men, disappeared, never to be seen again (we’ll talk about that later)… Yet, many seem not to fear the sea…particularly our fishermen, because it is the source their livelihood.

Barrouallie is therefore synonymous with fishing and in particular whale catching. I recall those days when, as youngsters, we travelled to Kingstown to play netball under the captaincy of Ms V. Kirby, and how we were ridiculed, especially when our team was on the winning end. We didn’t hear the end of it, as the spectators chanted “Barrouallie Blackfish, Barrouallie Blackfish” on and on nonstop. Of course our captain was not going to have any of it and in a true captain style she pushed us aside (not literally) and defended our team, town and whale much to our delight!!!

One may ask the question then, what is this blackfish and when and by whom did this blackfish business start? The whale in question is the Pilot Whale. Some say it earned the nickname blackfish because of its “shade/colour”. In my research, I discovered that the industry was started locally by Mr William White in 1922 after the trade was suspended by the Norwegian whale hunters.

Mr Phillip Charles, one of the surviving members of the “long ago” industry, and Mr Alfred Hepburn (Kyah of Hezikiah fame) took time out to speak with me. Most of the men from their era have gone to the great beyond and a few “youngsters” have taken up the trade. I wonder, though, if the industry will survive as not many of the young residents seem willing to venture into that field.

Anyway, both men recounted for me how they chased, harpooned and caught several whales for consumption. Indeed, most of the meat was given away long ago. Today, “Blackfish” is big business….it is like “black gold” and hardly anything is given free of cost.

The method long ago was riskier too. Blackfish boats were powered by sails and oars; today engines have taken the place of oars. Mr Charles recounted how those oars were very long: 16, 17 and even 18 feet oars made from cedar. These oars were pulled by the sailors. Six men manned the boat; one of them was the harpooner, another was the captain, while the remaining four were called sailors.

These sailors took to the seas in their wooden boats, which were named. Thus, on any given day and in different eras one saw “Govern”, “Seamaster”, “Sun shadow”, “Let me live”, “Let me in”, “Doris”, “Mantha”, Sylvia” and “Edvira” among the many boats which left the shoreline to go into the deep waters. In later years “Believe number 1” and “Believe number 2” joined the fleet. Their journey was extremely dangerous and we who are around can only image the ordeal as they toiled daily. We are extremely grateful to those who were brave enough to take to the high seas. We shall therefore go aboard the “Seamaster” and “Believe number 2” and relive the experience in our next issue, by the will of God.

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