Barrouallie: Tales of different eras
December 28, 2012

Article 8: Tales of the sea – Part 2

As promised, we shall continue with tales of the sea and relive some experiences that were extremely dangerous. But first, I must apologise to my readers for the absence of this article from last week’s publication. This was due to circumstances beyond my control. I wish also to take this opportunity to thank my country folks at home and in the diaspora for your overwhelming words of encouragement, support and additional information. Thank you so much!! With that out of the way, let us continue with the tales of the sea.{{more}}

It is 3 a.m. on a day back in 1952. Captain Phillip Charles and his crew are getting ready for a day at sea. In my interview with him, Charles recounted that they prayed before leaving the land and as he puts it… “Fishing (is) dangerous; you not seeing anything to hold onto more than Jesus Christ”; that sums it up for us. Charles said that before leaving the shore he would forewarn the men who went out, especially if they were first-timers, that he was not going to return to land in a hurry. Therefore, those men who had a tendency of missing their women folk while at sea, were advised to stay ashore or, similarly, if they were afraid of the unknown, then it was better to stay on land.

With the preliminaries out of the way, the sailors took to the sea. Navigation at this point is from their experience, knowledge of the sea and the landmarks which point the way. Therefore, they used Copeland Hill, Kearton’s Hill and Indian Gallows as markers on the shoreline. They went to such depths at other times, that the only visible peak they saw from the sea was that of La Soufriere!! Under normal circumstances and about two miles or so offshore, the crew began their search for the whales. I was told that the whales were caught closer to the shore long ago. In fact Kyah informed me that some persons stayed on Kearton’s Hill and knew exactly when a strike was made at sea…they were that close !!! I can only guess that as the years went by, the whales would have “studied” human behaviour and developed their own line of defence!!!

Anyway, the crew members often found themselves in deep waters and turning back without a catch was hardly an option…they were that determined. After a couple hours they spotted a school. When asked how they knew it was the pilot whale, Phillip Charles informed me that their shade (black) and the shape of their heads were two identifying marks.

At this point in time, it was a waiting game as both men and whales scrutinized each other. Eventually the whales approached. The objective for the crew at this time is to allow them to get as close as possible so that the harpooner can make a strike. Their target is to catch a calf or the main cock. If either was caught first, then the entire school would go into a defensive mode and would follow the boat. In so doing, more whales would be caught, but it was dangerous, as the whales used their weapon of choice, their tails, in an attempt to rescue their loved ones.

I asked Kyah and Phillip how they differentiated between the male and the female whale. They informed me that the male comb was bigger than that of the female and that’s how they got to know the difference. Of course, the calves were smaller than the adult whale. Back to our adventure…hours after hours passed as the men caught then tied the whales to the side of the boat. It meant that there was added weight and their progress would be slower on the return journey. But just imagine the scene: the wind had died down and they had to use their oars and all around is total blackness. The going was tough because of the load they carried, but they had to push on.

They were therefore at the mercies of God and the sea…They depended on their experience to take them home. On their return journey and according to the direction which they had taken, they would also use the points at Fort Charlotte or Cane Garden to navigate. Since it had gotten so late and they had not yet returned, the residents of the town became alarmed. This was a customary thing, no matter which boat or crew was out. Once the men had not returned at a particular hour, the crowds would be seen gathering at Kearton’s Hill or on Glebe Hill while others went down to the jetty where they waited patiently with coffee for the men, whom they assumed would be hungry after their ordeal.

Sometimes other boats and crew members were sent out to look for the missing men. This was risky, as they too were putting themselves in harm’s way. Phillip Charles remembers that on one of his journeys, Ms Harper’s boat made three trips looking for him. Luckily Phillip and his men made it back to shore many times without any mishaps, but others were not as fortunate…until next week, by God’s will.