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Cruising Journals - Pam Wall

Chapter 4 - Jamaica

We were the late risers at 5:30 in the morning. The entire population of Cap St. Nicholas Mole was stirring before the sun had shed its first light. The enticing smell of burning charcoal floated down our hatches as the villagers were already finishing their breakfasts. We woke up to the creaking sound of halyards being swayed up. By the time we were on deck to watch the sun spill over the land, the local sailing vessels were already drifting slowly out to sea with the last breath of the land breeze. These large primitive wooden vessels resembled sailing barges. Their decks were stacked with huge sacks of charcoal that almost touched the underside of the boom. They looked as if they would topple over before they could ever get to Port- au-Prince. Even with their top-heavy loads, they gracefully slid across the water carrying their precious cargo to the markets of Haiti.

Sammy and Jamie brushed the sleep out of their eyes, hastily sipped cups of hot cocoa, then went forward to help Andy take off the mainsail cover and hank on the genoa. We, too, were hoping to get an early start. The offshore wind pushed us beyond the smell of burning fires, and soon we were flying down the Windward Passage. With all hands on deck we put up the spinnaker, and under a perfectly clear sky we set our course for the north coast of Jamaica.

All day we could see the hazy mountains of Cuba off to starboard. We kept the VHF radio on, and could hear the chatter of Navy vessels as they plied the waters around this mysterious island. We were eager to stay as far from Cuba as possible. We had heard of several yachts that had strayed to close, and had been impounded. That would really spoil our day! So a careful look- out was kept and, as usual, all our worries were for nothing as we never spotted another ship the entire passage.

In those days, before GPS, a night landfall was something we would try to avoid. The long coast of Jamaica looked all the same as we approached from the North. The high hazy mountains could give us no clue of our exact position and certainly the lush green coastline looked exactly the same along its entire length. Without an up to date celestial navigation position, we decided to heave- to off the coast until darkness revealed the lighthouse off Folly Point, the entrance to Port Antonio. This would have been a great idea if the light had been working. Much to our disappointment, as dusk turned to black night, we could see no lighthouse at all. Andy's dead reckoning put is somewhere close to Port Antonio, but the now darkened coastline held no hints of our exact location.

An inspiration came to me. With Andy heartily protesting, I got on the VHF and made a call to anyone who could hear me, a yacht trying to find the harbor entrance to Port Antonio! What a surprise when someone answered immediately! Even I could hardly believe that voice called "Castle View" would be listening at this late hour of the night. But, there it was, a man in his house had a VHF turned on channel 16. Not only that, but he also had a pair of binoculars looking out to sea from his house on the hill. He could clearly see our navigation lights. Andy, who never believes in seeking assistance, could not believe our luck. The man was as excited as I was. He told me I was indeed right near the harbor entrance. The lighthouse had been out for some weeks, and he would be happy to watch us and guide us by radio into the harbor. At that point another voice came on the radio! It was from another yacht, "Brave Jenny" inside the harbor who had heard us talking. The captain offered to come out in his dinghy and lead us into the harbor. So, with the help of the man on the hill, and the dinghy ahead of us, we crept into the protection of Port Antonio, never seeing a landmark! With grateful thanks to both of our navigators, we anchored and fell asleep.

When we came on deck the next morning we could hardly believe our eyes. We were completely enclosed by this snug harbor. Surrounding us were steep dark green mountains, with the houses virtually stuck into the hillsides. A small town was at the head of the bay, and a big banana ship was at a dock a few hundred yards from where we had anchored. How we ever got in here last night without seeing anything at all was a miracle to us! After a huge breakfast, we cleared customs and went ashore in this new island country. Here we found a tiny marina and yacht club, Huntress Marine, and everything that is dear to a sailor's heart: showers, laundry, restaurant, friendly people and a currency exchange of five Jamaican dollars for every US dollar!

We had come here for only a day or two, to get fresh water, fuel, and bread, but Port Antonio was so appealing, we ended up staying for six weeks!

Let me explain what I saw and I think you will understand. The market was a five-minute walk from the marina. To get there we had to go through the heart of Port Antonio. This is not a tourist town. It is a bustling little city with native shops selling food, liquor, voodoo paraphernalia, animal skins, leafy substances, and lots of cigarettes, or at least they looked like cigarettes! There are beggars, and beautiful women, there are rostafarians and children, there are goats and pigs and roosters all walking the streets! We felt we were in another world, and Sammy and Jamie, as well as Andy and I were all wide eyed with wonder!

At the market, our eyes, ears, noses, and mouths were confronted with the most vivid impressions our senses could imagine. There were clothes, fruits, vegetables, straw hats, birds, and mats of all colors imaginable. The sounds of animals squeaking, women and children calling, castanets playing, and reggae music blasting assailed our ears. The smells of frying food, perfumed plants, drying fish, and unknown flowers and the pungent smell of burning ganga gave our nosesa new sensation. The best of all; the cooked food, prepared on the sidewalk and in tiny hot stalls, tasted better that any other we had ever eaten.

Sammy, Jamie, Andy and I walked through this market as if enchanted. If you think the hat lady in San Salvador made a good sale with my children, it was nothing compared to the amount of hats, bags, and food that the four of us left with on our very first day in the market of Port Antonio. Each day we became more familiar with the unusual people selling their wares. The children had their favorites that we had to visit often. As much as we looked forward to these market days, I know the friends we made there were just as happy to see us. I can see Jamie now, being enfolded in huge arms and smothered by the enormous breasts of his favorite straw hat maker. It became part of the ritual of watching the hats being made, and trying desperately to decide which one looked the best.

Our routine became the same each day. Up early, a few tortured hours of school at the salon table, and then the rush ashore to get to the market. One day was a little different. Andy stayed with Sammy and Jamie for some tests they had to take. I had a yearning for something particular from the market for lunch. We all agreed that if I hurried, I could go without them, but had to return as quickly as possible with a plate full of fried bananas and spicy chicken.

So off I went, by myself, on my mission. Walking down the street as usual, I avoided a huge man wrapped from head to foot in animal skins. Around his neck he wore leather thongs with weird things hanging from them. He also had a small skin sack that dangled from his neck. I imagined that it must have contained fingernails and shrunken heads! His countenance was so severe, just looking at him scared me. He was sitting on the sidewalk with a small mat under all the unusual items he was selling. On this rug were objects I could not identify. I did see a lot of what looked as if they were hand -made cigarettes wrapped in brown paper. As I carefully avoided him by leaving the sidewalk for the street, he rose up and put his long hairy arm in front of me! I looked up at him, he must have been seven feet tall. His serious face was covered by a dirty beard. The hair on his head was long and knotted and held odd bits of things I could not describe. My thoughts were: "Oh, my gosh, Andy will never know what happened to me, Sammy and Jamie will not a have a mother, who will get the lunch, what is he going to do with me?'???"

To make matters even worse, he slowly grabbed both my arms and lifted me until our eyes were level. I almost fainted! As I slowly looked up at him, afraid of what I might see, what appeared before my frightened eyes were his big brown stained teeth smiling. His eyes twinkled with merriment and as he spoke my elevated body tensed. "Hey, Little Mama, where're those two gold haired chillen of yours today?" That was all he wanted to know, and because he was so tall, to talk to me he had to pick me up! He laughed, and I sort of laughed, and then he gently set me down. This was how I first met our rosta friend, who from that day on, was always on the sidewalk waiting for us to say hello on our way to the market!

The wonderful weeks in Port Antonio flew by. There was never a day we did not get to meet some great new friends, or go and visit some beautiful new place. A tall, thin and muscular native became our special companion and tour master. We met Keith at Huntress Marine.

Besides being a really good chef for the small restaurant, he loved to take us around his island and show off its many beauties. Keith would show up after school hours; drive us to waterfalls, mountain streams, he even took us for a bamboo raft ride down the wild rapids of one of the many rivers in Jamaica. We never knew where he was going to take us in his old truck, but each day we all agreed had been the best place so far! Keith is what Jamaica was all about as far as we were all concerned. His parting gift to Sammy and Jamie of a small piece of black coral will always be a reminder of the wonderful times we had together.

Funny how you meet strangers and something just clicks. We were having lunch at the marina restaurant when we noticed a huge man festooned with cameras around his neck. He must have had eight cameras hanging across his chest. He was having lunch with his wife and little girl. Jokingly I asked him if he was a tourist, I mean with all the cameras what else could he be? He laughed at the joke and then told me he actually was not a tourist but a photographer for a newspaper in Canada. Norm, his wife Tessa, and their little daughter Kate all just somehow became close friends in a matter of minutes. And there began another episode in

Jamaica for the crew of Kandarik. The seven of us piled into their car and off we went on photographic adventures. We visited formal gardens, huge underground caves, exclusive hotels, restaurants on top of mountain peaks, deserted beaches, waterfalls with deep pools, always with Norm clicking away on all his cameras. Like Keith, we have many of those wonderful photographs to remind us of the days we spent with this adorable family.

Then there was the night of the intruder. Andy had stayed ashore at the marina with friends. It was late so I had Sammy and Jamie back on the boat with me. It was a lovely still night with the music from shore streaming down the forward hatch. Normally Sammy and Jamie sleep in the two aft quarter berths flanking the companionway ladder. Tonight, until Daddy came home, I let them sleep up forward in the vee bunk so they could hear the music from shore. I sat reading in the main salon. I must have fallen sound asleep, with my book on my lap, and the reading light still lit. I awoke to the ship's clock chiming eight bells, midnight and Andy was still ashore. I got up to look on deck. There was a puddle of water by the companionway steps, a flashlight was missing from its holder, and my canvas bag was on the floor with everything in it dumped on the cabin sole. Of course, my first thought was that Andy was a little tipsy, needed more money for the bar, got wet in the dinghy, came below to find my wallet, and then went back to his mates at the marina. Naturally, it all fell into place. Soon afterwards I heard the dinghy approaching and went on deck to meet Andy. I kidded him a bit about the affair, but he appeared to not understand. Then I told him what I had found.

Well, you guessed it right, Andy had never come to the boat. Someone else, who must have been swimming, came below while I was asleep, and stole my wallet! Thank goodness the children had been up forward in our bunk. What would have happened if they had been in their quarter berths? It really spooked both of us until the next night when the thief was caught. The boat anchored next to us also had a family. The mother and father slept in the main salon, and the two teenage sons slept in the aft cabin behind the cockpit. In the middle of the night the father heard a noise coming from the cockpit. One of his sons was prone to sleep walking, so he thought he better make sure the boy was all right. As he moved through to the cockpit to the aft cabin he saw what he thought was his son. The person in the cockpit was surprised by the father and started to leap over the side of the boat into the water.

The frightened father grabbed his legs to keep him from falling overboard in his sleep. The noise in the cockpit woke up both boys. As they scrambled into the cockpit wondering what was going on, their father saw both of them, then wondered who in the world he was holding! Imagine how he must have felt! Well, he held on to the boy, realizing now that it was not his son, but a thief who had come aboard to get what he could as they slept. And so the intruder was caught!

I have always found certain music reminds us of different places we have visited. And because of this, our family always remembers the great time we had in Jamaica when we hear Harry Belafonte singing "Jamaica Farewell." Like this beautiful song, the words he sings brings the island back to us our hearts were down and our heads were turning around when we departed this lovely island.

Pam Wall - Expert Sailor

Pam Wall

Outfitting Manager, West Marine Ft. Lauderdale

  • A lifelong sailor, Pam and her husband have been cruising together for over 36 years!