A Caribbean Carnival


A MEMORABLE PLACEThe summer I turned...

June 20, 1999|By Special to the Sun

A Caribbean Carnival; A MEMORABLE PLACE

The summer I turned 50, my wife, Noreen, and son, Colin, and I took a weeklong sail on Windjammer Barefoot Cruise's four-masted schooner Polynesia. The Caribbean trade winds blew our ship toward Anguilla, St. Kitts and St. Barts. They blew me spiritually off course and away from my profession, the valuing of material things and the bustle of suburbia. The next summer I couldn't wait to go back. The three of us signed on for a week before the mast. This voyage was to be on Windjammer's 197-foot Yankee Clipper, which sails from St. George's harbor in Grenada.

The ride from the airport to the harbor is a reckless dash through dark streets. We await a launch in a dim yard of warehouses and chain link fences. A 20-foot motorized lifeboat arrives to ferry us to the ship, which is moored about 75 yards from the quay that borders the harbor. Our small but neat cabin is on the port side toward the bow.

Noreen and I share the bottom double bunk while Colin climbs to the single top one.

Sometime in the night, I hear a steel band playing, but it fades away and I slip back into sleep. Later, I hear music again -- the same brief melody over and over. It grows more faint, then louder, maybe nearer, then farther away. Finally, I am alert enough to investigate. It is 5:15 when I go up on deck and to the stern. Even in the Monday morning darkness I can see that the quay is filled with humanity all the way around the harbor.

A man on the quay yells something, jumps in the water and swims toward the ship. Three drunken men dance atop a rickety wooden table at the quay's edge. A couple of hundred young men, their half-naked bodies painted blue, carry flaming torches and a banner asking, "Who Let The Jabs Out?" A group of schoolchildren wearing neon yellow and green masks parade behind a sign: "The Dogs Are Out." A couple of people stroll around wearing little other than palm fronds.

A steel band on a wagon pulled by a truck crawls through the crowd -- playing over and over the same melody that had brought me in and out of sleep. A lone policeman wearing a light blue shirt and dark blue trousers with a red stripe ambles through the mad but peaceable throng.

I remember our captain's vague reference to a holiday and an early sailing. He wisely didn't want to release 60 tourists into the happy, drunken lunacy I was watching. Carnival had broken loose. I was back in the Caribbean and happy that it was marching past while I could still see it.

Robert Lidston lives in Cockeysville.


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Pub Date: 06/20/99

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