From a chance meeting a few years ago, Art Ross was handed the memoirs of J.Linton Rigg. These he has painstakingly collated and put together in a book titled ‘Sixty Years of Sport. Sailing From the Age of Gatsby to the Grenadine Islands’. The book is packed with fascinating photographs and a wealth of stories and characters from a bygone age and a journey which terminates in the island of Carriacou.
Art wrote to me last year and asked if I would write an introduction to the book. After an initial, ‘I am not worthy’ moment’ and a touch of nervous trepidation I wrote to say I would be delighted to oblige. Writing it transported me back to Carriacou of 1968 and I found myself reliving those halcyon days surrounded by sunshine, fun and laughter. I still think there is nowhere more beautiful, friendly or tranquil as the island of Carriacou. Here is my introduction:
Linton Rigg Biography – Introduction
With the passage of time, as in a long sea voyage, memories are apt to converge into a tapestry of mosaic images. So it is with my recollections of Carriacou in 1967-68. Some features of my time there appear to me with pin-point clarity. Others are blurred around the edges and a few are dark and featureless, swirling into a virtual black hole. I find that taking time, now and again, to write down my memories and fleshing out details can be a cathartic experience.
In September 1967 I arrived in Carriacou, to teach at Bishop’s College. The town of Hillsborough was, largely, made up of Front Street, Back Street and Paterson Street. The town had one guest house and one hotel of note; the Mermaid Tavern.
I soon discovered that the Mermaid Tavern was owned by an enigmatic individual by the name of J. Linton Rigg. I quickly came to hear the tales of Linton’s seafaring adventures. He stood tall in the community and was held in reverence and respect. Having said that, the Mermaid Tavern was a tourist destination, so not a place I frequented too often. Linton remained therefore, a somewhat distant figure; someone I nodded to on the street or greeted as he stood by the front door of the Tavern. However, Carriacou was where Linton spent his latter years and it seems apposite, at this point, to give a flavour of the island and the people with whom he shared his remaining years.
At the end of a teaching day my destinations of choice were the sea, the beach, the sports field for football or cricket, the Principal’s home in Back Street or Lord Joseph’s rum shop. This small, wooden building that was Lord Joseph’s, stood (and still stands, as far as I know) just opposite the main entrance to the old site of Bishop’s College on Front Street, and a few doors along from the Mermaid Tavern.
Lord, that was his birth name, was a devoted anglophile. A picture of a young Queen and Duke decorated the wall of his small back room. A bare table and a few chairs were where we ‘fired our jack’, took a ‘Carib’, played domino and debated matters political. Being the sole Englishman in the group I was chosen as Commonwealth representative and made to ‘take the chair’ in debates. In this way we passed many joyous hours, clattering domino and discussing island independence and Commonwealth affairs.
Any dissent and Lord would show his disapproval by pulling himself up to full height, put a finger to his lips and make a low, guttural cough – twice. The cough would then morph into a rumbling belly laugh as he poured out a jack for everyone to toast the Queen. One must remember these were days before the dreaded ‘box’ had made its appearance on the island. Entertainment was made on the hoof. Discussion, debate and social interaction were at the heart of this vibrant community.
Cricket, football, swimming, diving, dancing, dominoes, fetes, Big Drum and sailing were all part of the social scene. Weddings, funerals, maroon, saracas and wakes all formed part of a daily and seasonal round, shared by villages and communities scattered around Carriacou and Petite Martinique. In addition, of course, we had carnival, boat launching ceremonies and the annual regatta.
Linton is famous for kick starting boat building on the island in the 60s when he had his famous sloop ‘Mermaid of Carriacou’ designed and built. He then offered a substantial reward to anyone who could build another with enough speed and sail power to beat her. The Carriacou regatta was born in 1964 and Mermaid won her class in many regattas thereafter. This is now the stuff of legend. Into the mix we must add boat builder Zepherine McLaren and the community of Windward which lay at the centre of beach boat building in Carriacou.
Let us imagine we are hitching a lift on one of the richly painted, open sided buses from Hillsborough market to Windward. We climb the open steps and join the Kayaks on board to participate in a fun packed ride, consisting of merry chatter, clucking chickens, vegetable boxes and loud greetings to passing pedestrians.
The ‘Commer’ engine rattles and whines as we descend from Dover down the twisting road into Windward village. Neat, red and grey roofed gingerbread houses line the street into the village. They stand perched on concrete pillars. Steps lead up to a narrow balcony and a welcoming front door. Lace curtains flap in the open windows. Pipes and guttering, arranged at crazy angles, lead down into concrete water cisterns, so necessary during the long, dry season.
The bus draws up opposite the jetty. Men crash dominoes on to the table outside the rum shop, dogs wander the street looking for scraps, conch shells and flotsam lie scattered on the beach. Further up the beach, amongst the swaying palms, standing on chocks, are the keel and ribs of a sloop under construction. Small children run playfully around her stern.
From the shade of the palms raise your eyes and look out to sea. Lift your gaze beyond the wooden jetty and past the merchant sloops riding at anchor in the blue calm of Watering Bay. In the middle distance waves break over the fringing reef that trails down towards Grand Bay. Rising green out of the azure waters, you see the conical hill of Petite Martinique flanked by Petit St. Vincent to the north and Petit Dominique to the south. Turn your gaze north and be astonished at the string of island pearls that are the Tobago Keys.
In 1968 this was a scene that had remained largely unchanged for a hundred years. Enoe, McLaren, McLawrence, Steill, Compton and Roberts. These families had built boats, worked the land and sailed and traded the length of the Caribbean islands for generations. Just south of the village was ‘Tranquility’; the abode of J. Linton Rigg. This was a larger, more impressive house, built in the Colonial style. On his front garden the sails for Mermaid were laid out to be stitched and repaired. This was where Linton relaxed, reminisced and made his plans ‘to liven up de island culture’ with a legendary boat and a regatta that has ‘sailed an unstoppable course’ into the 21st century.
Now, as we roll back the years, we remember the vignettes and telescoped memories of an island life which is slowly changing and being dragged into the modern world. But hey, the Kayaks are still the same friendly, buoyant people they always were. They’re still taking pride in the sloops, fishing boats and speedboats that are being constructed on the beaches of Carriacou and PM. I imagine the ghosts of all those old timers still linger on the beach doin’ ‘fete as bush’. There’s ole Linton and Zepherine makin’ ‘pappy show’, ‘firing one’ and laughing at the ‘simi dimi’ everyone making of them. But don’t take my word for it…
‘Come you coming, you go see.’
Glossary of Dialect & Slang Terms
fete as bush – A grand party with lots to eat and drink
Pappy show – mock and make fun of each other
fire one – Take (knock back) a drink (of jack iron)
simi dimi – Exaggerated fuss
Come you coming, you go see – come and you’ll soon find out for yourself
Jack Iron – Extra strength rum
(With thanks to Christine David from ‘Folklore of Carriacou’ for the dialect and slang translations.)
So how did it come about that Art Ross, an American sea captain from New Hope PA came to write up Linton’s memoirs. Well, he wrote how this came about in an article in ‘The Compass’. It appears to have been chance and serendipity as he describes:
‘I was having fun, with local music playing as we drank rum and ate barracuda
stew. The home was inviting, and I strolled into the living area; there I met Eutha.
She offered me a tour and I gladly accepted. We went from room to room, ending up
in Linton’s bedroom, just as he had left it 40 years ago. Logbooks and world-band
radio caught my eye. I was enthralled. As we got back to the living room there was
a guest book that she asked me to sign. I wrote “Captain Art Ross, New Hope PA”,
thanked her for such an extraordinary tour of Linton Rigg’s home, and went back
outside to tell my friends excitedly of my experience.
Moments later I was approached by a lady who, by her looks, was not local. She
asked if I was Captain Art, and when I said that I was, she said she was Betty Anne
Rigg, from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the next town west of my home. She was the
honored guest of the evening, along with her husband, John Rigg — the son of Bunny,
Linton’s younger brother. I was astonished, and we spent the rest of the evening playing
“one degree of separation” and promising to stay in touch.
We met back in Pennsylvania a few weeks later for a casual dinner. I gave them
pictures that I took of the island event, and they gave me an unpublished rough
autobiography of early parts of John Linton Rigg’s life.
I felt I was steering by stars in motion. In Carriacou I had sailed on Linton Rigg’s
boat, if only for a few hundred yards at the helm, met his family, become instant
friends with Mermaid’s builder’s family, and had even seen the creek where Calliste’s
vision of the mermaid appeared — all in a span of 48 hours. And now, back home,
his words were in my hands.’
For Art’s full article see: JULY 2009 CARIBBEAN COMPASS PAGE 29.
The book is available from Amazon.