Setting Sail

What could be more Caribbean than traditional boat building and sailing? Island life has always been tied to the sea. The Caribbean is also a place that has a long tradition of self-reliance. Traditional boats are a symbol of these two characteristics.

On St. Martin today we mostly get our food from the supermarket. It is shipped in from far away on big cargo ships. This is a necessary part of life on what is now the Caribbean’s most densely populated island. But it wasn’t always the case.

Throughout most of history, much of the food eaten here was grown here. People grew vegetables, raised livestock and fished the sea. A few foods were imported, like flour and canned goods, but survival often depended what the island could provide. 

Although shrimp and fish were harvested from St. Martin’s many ponds, fishermen needed boats to fish the local seas. Building boats was an important skill throughout the region. Being able to build boats and sail them was an absolute necessity.

These boats also helped link the islands of the Caribbean together. In the Lesser Antilles this was especially important. Throughout most of history, these small islands had small populations. People would travel between them to trade, to find work and to marry. 

Although many are quick to refer to islands as English, French or Dutch, the Caribbean identity and shared culture has always defined the region. Boats gave strength to the region by allowing its people to communicate, share and collaborate. The design and construction of the boats themselves shows shared elements from Anguilla to St. Martin to Saba to Carriacou.

People will gather in Grand Case today to enjoy the traditional boat races at the Schoelcher Day celebrations. They will celebrate seafaring and boatbuilding traditions. They will also celebrate Caribbean technology—boats designed and built here. Life today is easier in so many ways, but it does become harder to identify local invention in a globalized world.

Do you have stories of sailing and traditional shipbuilding? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

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