In a country whose history is contained within the coordinates of failure, constant and recurrent, the chain of events that came to be known as the Anguillian Revolution (1967-69) gains a stature so colossal that it becomes difficult not to think of it as the universal point of reference to which everything else is bound: the juncture where past and future meet; the pivotal moment where history dissects itself from pre-history, in order to move forward. Of course, the proverbial cup of Anguilla’s history, unsparingly emptied by droughts, hardship and general malaise, could also be seen to have been constantly replenished by the innate ability of the people living in the island to overcome the unthinkable, really, and with pesky obstinacy, to survive. Which might leave us with a cup less than half-full, but a cup nonetheless. That is the substance of what we call a people’s “identity”, and that, precisely, is the subject of David Carty’s compellingly detailed account of the tradition of sailboat racing in Anguilla in his book, Nuttin Bafflin.
Reputed for the eloquence of his storytelling and his passion for boats, Mr. Carty explains to me that there is something innate, something intrinsic, that links Anguillians to seafaring and boat building – after all this might be the only island in the West Indies where cricket is not the most popular sport. “There were no engineers building boats in Anguilla. In fact, most of the time there weren’t even any blueprints of the boats, which of course turned out to be a problem later on. Yet Anguillians have been expert boat builders for generations of generations. It’s just something that is there, even without you knowing it – I see it happening all the time in my own shipyard.” Where, comfortingly, he does keep the blueprints of all the boats manufactured.
David Carty manages to combine a technical document about the specifications of Anguillian racing sailboats with a thorough list of results going as far back as 1967 and a historical account of the origins of the discipline in the island, in a book that is not always unitary but that remains fascinating throughout. Nevertheless, the narrative is at its most engaging during its first section, where Carty combines history and anecdote to bring to life the conditions that from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1930s led to the seasonal migration of Anguillian workers predominantly to Santo Domingo, in order to carry out the harvesting of sugar cane fields from January to July of every year. The trip westward – downwind – was straightforward and simple, but the journey home from Santo Domingo involved multiple tacks along the northern Caribbean waters that witnessed the zigzagging of competing schooners seeking to reach the coasts of Anguilla first. Incidentally, this yearly flocking home coincided with the first week of August – the time when all of the British West Indies commemorated, as they still do, emancipation. Thus, the excitement of the women and children at home awaiting the arrival of their men added to the jubilation that was re-enacted with every anniversary of the abolition of slavery came together to create the earliest instances of what today has become a full week of Carnival.
In our long conversation David Carty is respectful, deferential even, towards a Revolution in which his father, the Reverend Leonard Carty, played such prominent role. However, at the same time, he makes it absolutely clear that, important as it may be, it constitutes but a small portion of the elements that shape the identity of all Anguillians – of the elements that make them who they are. It is for this very reason that Mr. Carty has chosen to bring back to the limelight at least a part of the history that precedes 1967 in a visual format, transforming Nutting Bafflin into a 48 minute DVD. “It was a pretty obvious idea, because the book is so graphic, so it was really not a very difficult decision.” What will prove more difficult, no doubt, will be to select the aspects of the narrative that make it into the final cut of a feature that will not be able to encompass the full extent of the material included in the original book.
In a commendable effort to achieve authenticity, David Carty has used his facilities at Rebel Marine to build a racing sailboat of the size and style of the 1940s, wooden mast and all, which will star in the film that, it is hoped, will be launched before the end of the year. Thus, once it’s out, modern technology will have married the passion and commitment of a single man in order to provide us, at the very least, with a subtle insight into the origins of one of the most powerful traditions in the West Indies. And that is a reception you will not want to miss.
PUBLISHED IN THE WEEKENDER SUPPLEMENT OF SINT MAARTEN’S DAILY HERALD ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2009.