The tiny Caribbean island of Carriacou is enjoying a welcome and raucous revival. On the beach where boatbuilding started over a century ago, the sounds of ringing caulking irons and hatchets “chopping sweet” are once again filling the air.
Traditionally, the schooners and sloops of Carriacou were built for inter-island trading. Others worked the sea, setting traps or trolling with hand lines. The shipwrights were renowned as some of the finest in the Caribbean.
Unfortunately, by the time J. Linton Rigg, founder of the Bahamian Out Island Regatta, moved to the island in the early 1960s, the building of wooden sailing vessels had all but died out. Modern steel mini-ships had eliminated the jobs of the shipwrights. Boatbuilding had been the keel of the economy, and without it, the island was ready to sink.
To set things right, Rigg commissioned shipwright Zepherin McKlaren to build the 40-foot sloop Mermaid of Carriacou. He also organized a workboat regatta, inviting boats from throughout the region. Mermaid became the boat to beat for over a decade, and the Carriacou Regatta inspired a shipwright resurgence.
In 1997, photographer Alexis Andrews undertook the renovation of the decrepit Carriacou sloop Summer Wind, newly salvaged from the bottom of Antigua’s English Harbour. Andrews worked tirelessly until the boat was seaworthy and then set off on a pilgrimage to take her back to the beach where she was built. When he arrived, Andrews discovered that history had repeated itself—the island’s shipwrights were once again withering away.
During that and subsequent visits, Andrews photographed the survivors and undertook, along with master shipwright Alwyn Enoe, the building of a new 40-footer named Genesis, the first sloop completed on the island in over a decade.
Genesis went on to win many honors at Antigua’s Classic Yacht Regatta, in the process inspiring yet another rebirth of island boat construction. At last year’s Classic Race in Antigua there were eight Carriacou vessels. Andrews recently launched a pair of books chronicling his odyssey, Vanishing Ways and Genesis. As for Enoe, he is now busily passing on his skill to yet another generation. – JH