A HISTORIC MONUMENT TO MARITIME HISTORY: CHEROKEE, ABACO


Tribute Monument to the Sailing Smacks of Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A HISTORIC MONUMENT TO MARITIME HISTORY: CHEROKEE, ABACO

The small and – until quite recently – remote settlement of Cherokee is said to have been founded by one Colonel Thomas Brown with his cohort of Loyalists from the Carolinas. The origin of the name has given rise to various theories, one of which stems from Col. Brown’s supposed link to Cherokee Indians.

The early settlers established themselves at this natural harbour, and life there was largely dependent on the sea. Fishing provided food, wrecking provided goods and presumably the wherewithal for trade or barter. In due course, boat building became an important part of the community, as with other places on Abaco (e.g. Man-o-War Cay). Later still, smack fishing with the locally made boats brought stability and no doubt a degree of prosperity to the community.

The monument, and in the background right, the comms tower & the new SHELL MUSEUMTribute Monument to the Sailing Smacks of Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The fishing smacks of Cherokee were designed to carry 5 sails rather than the usual 7 sails. Not being a sailor, I can’t tell if this was just a local stylistic choice, or for simplicity, or perhaps for a specific sea-going reason in that particular area. As a tribute to this honourable industry, in October 1988 the community of Cherokee Sound erected a fine monument near the famous LONG DOCK dedicated to the Cherokee fishermen and their smacks, and naming many of the vessels involved over many decades.

Tribute Monument to the Sailing Smacks of Cherokee Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The monument also sets out the long history of smack fishing dating from the early c19 until the 1960s, by which time the advent of the diesel engine had begun to make setting the sails for fishing redundant. The moving tribute speaks to the great pride of the community in its history and its forbears.

The short poem, with the authorship shown as Anon, is in fact based on a sea-song written by a non-seafaring Scotsman called Allan Cunningham (1784- 1842), A Wet sheet and a flowing sea – said to be his best known song. The full version is given at the end, and you’ll see that the second verse (with some minor changes) is the part chosen to form the shorter tribute.

Tribute Monument to the Sailing Smacks of Cherokee Abaco

The monument also includes a panel dedicated to the fishermen of the community who lost their lives in plying their trade from 1890 onwards. It is notable that every one of them bears a family name familiar to this day on Abaco in the succeeding generations.

Tribute Monument to the Sailing Smacks of Cherokee Abaco

A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea by Alan Cunningham (1784- 1842)

A Wet sheet and a flowing sea, 
    A wind that follows fast 
And fills the white and rustling sail 
    And bends the gallant mast; 
And bends the gallant mast, my boys, 
    While like the eagle free – 
Away the good ship flies, and leaves 
    Old England on the lee.

“O for a soft and gentle wind!” 
    I heard a fair one cry: 
But give to me the snoring breeze 
    And white waves heaving high; 
And white waves heaving high, my lads, 
    The good ship tight and free – 
The world of waters is our home, 
    And merry men are we.

There’s tempest in yon hornèd moon, 
    And lightning in yon cloud: 
But hark the music, mariners! 
    The wind is piping loud; 
The wind is piping loud, my boys, 
    The lightning flashes free – 
While the hollow oak our palace is, 
    Our heritage the sea.

Credits & research: Keith Salvesen, Kaderin Mills / BNT, Bahamas.com, National Geographic, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism

MAN-O-WAR CAY, ABACO: THE HIDDEN BOAT-BUILDING VILLAGE


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MAN-O-WAR CAY, ABACO: THE HIDDEN BOAT-BUILDING VILLAGE 

I am very pleased to be able to feature a Guest Contributor Fabian Fernander, managing editor and owner of SANDY SLIPPER TRAVEL and online magazine. The boat-building history of the Bahamas, of Abaco, and in particular of Man-o-War Cay, is a fascinating one. It is not a subject in my own repertoire, so I welcome the chance to showcase Fabian’s article and the wonderful historic photos courtesy of the MAN-O-WAR HERITAGE MUSEUM.

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Maurice Albury building dinghy on MOW cay 19xx

“Who would ever think nestled in the heart of the Bahamas. Hidden away from view. Inaccessible by large planes and removed from the hum of technology; would be a boat building village in the Bahamas.

Man of war cay (named after the bird) is a small yet well knitted community of bustling boat builders, that have been graced with their skill from generation to generation.

Residents here have always depended on shipbuilding for its livelihood and some boats are still handmade-without-plans in a tradition that has been passed down for centuries.”

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Boat under construction W.H. Albury yard 1960

“The town has remained untransformed over time and resembles a New England sea-side village; and rightly so.

As its original inhabitants were both religious and political escapees; loyalist to be exact.

It is through resilience that these men and women who fled from their homes, picked up and honed the trait of boat building.

In the early days of boat building the residents began by using Abaco Pine to craft their world renowned fishing and sailing vessels.”

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Basil Sands working on a boat, at the W.H. Albury yard 1960

“Boats were originally built by crafting a skeleton or rib of the boat from pine that grew locally in the Abaco forests. These skeletons were then hand carved and shaved to conform perfectly to the palms-up-spread template of the hull.

After the ribs were coupled, pine wood planks were then affixed to form the hull of the boat.

During the 1960′s when Abaco pine became a quintessential element in building structures and homes in all of the islands, the procurement of pine for boat building became harder and harder.

It is during that period that innovation reared its head once again and fiberglass became the material of choice to continue the successful process of building renown fishing and sailing vessels.

Using fiberglass as molds was a very expensive process, but in modernization a necessary tool that reduced the amount of manual labor required.

The frame of the wooden boat was coated with the fiberglass material and from this a permanent mold was created, which was then used to make the outer shell of numerous boats.

This style of boat is called the Outboard Runabout (or the Outboard Fishing Boat).

Many other types of boats are also made including model boats, 14 ‘ wooden Man O’War sailing dinghies and 21′ Man O’War speed boats.

The boats have become collectors items and much requested custom designed artifacts.”

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The William H Albury Schooner

“Man o’ War Village: another one of the hidden secrets of the Bahama Islands”

“About the author: Fabian Christopher is the Managing editor and owner of Sandy Slipper Travel and online magazine. An avid enthusiast of the Bahamas, he is always ready and available to make your vacation dreams in the islands a memorable experience.”

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Photo credits  MAN-O-WAR HERITAGE MUSEUM 

(except for historic 1803 aquatint header of the ‘late’ Hole-in-the Wall)

[RH note: If you have enjoyed this article, I recommend a visit both to Fabian’s website (link in the first para), and to the Museum’s website, also linked above, where you will find a wealth of historical Abaco material]