Efforts to restore, preserve and sail the historic Tortola Boats (Virgin Island Sloops) has started again here at Nanny Cay. The programme continues to be headed by Professor Geoff Brooks, who has nurtured these boats for many years as the Curator of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum, and the newly formed Virgin Islands Sloop Foundation (VISF), a nonprofit organisation.
Nanny Cay is providing work and storage space near the swimming pool and over time, this area will be developed into a more permanent visitors centre and maritime museum.
Two Apprentice Boatbuilders
The VISF is providing funding for materials and employment of two apprentices to restore the Sloops with the help of Geoff. Norissa deLeon and Chemoia Hodge are both graduates of the Introduction To Woodworking Course which was part of the Maritime Studies programme at the H Lavity Stoutt College.
Geoff taught these courses, and after completing them, Norissa and Chemoia gained valuable experience by helping him rebuild his roof after Irma. They have already started work by preparing the work area.
Irma wrought considerable damage to the Sloops, with Youth Instructor, Intrepid, and Esmie sunk during the storm. After four months underwater, all three were raised again in January 2018. They held up incredibly well, and Esmie and Intrepid are currently afloat in the inner marina. Youth Instructor was craned into the work area on September 10. She joins Sea Moon and a frame that was built by Watson White in Anegada for a UNICEF programme in 2007. He has subsequently given it to the programme for restoration.
Moonbeam, which was in the boatyard for Irma along with Sea Moon, did not survive Irma.
Post-Irma Funding From One Love BVI & SailAid UK
Post-Irma over $7,000 has been raised and donated to the VISF via the charities One Love and Sail Aid UK. Both charities were set up after Irma tore through the Caribbean. One Love BVI is “dedicated to the relief, rehabilitation, and recovery of the British Virgin Islands” and has raised a total of $353,513.58 to date. One Love BVI has a fundraising page dedicated to the Virgin Island Sloop Foundation. Sail Aid UK’s aim is to raise funds for the sailing community throughout the Caribbean. The VISF received $6063 from Sail Aid UK via One Love BVI.
An Important Piece OF BVI Maritime History
An important legacy of the rich seafaring past of the BVI can be found in the trading sloops, known as the Tortola Boats, designed and built in the BVI territory. These sailing vessels were used by local entrepreneurs as early as the 18th century to ferry passengers and cargo around the Caribbean. They ranged in length from 20-60 feet and became a solid cornerstone around which grew the culture and economy of the BVI. The unique design made Tortola Boats immediately recognizable as they sailed between islands. This important piece of BVI maritime history was almost lost when many of the vessels were sold or abandoned to rot after the advent of more modern sail and motor crafts.
At the handover ceremony of Intrepid in March 2013 after it was found, purchased and returned to the BVI, Professor Brooks stated that: “The local sloops are central to understanding the culture of the Virgin Islands. They represent the resilience, talent, entrepreneurship and work ethic that has come to be associated with the people of these islands and has established us as one of the four major boat producing islands in the Lesser Antilles. The unique design, different from any other boat, adds to the mystery of their origin. They are truly one of a kind and their preservation is a task that is shared by the Government, the College, the business sector and the greater community.”
The Tortola Boat was the lifeline of the Virgin Islands, which comprise some 60 islands, ferrying people and produce. For example, beef was raised on Tortola and Jost Van Dyke, which was “shipped” by Tortola Boat to other islands. Daily life revolved around sailing, as this was a long time before motorized vessels and refrigeration.