Tortola Sloop, Intrepid, officially returned home today

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At a presentation held today at Peg Legs Restaurant, Intrepid, a Tortola Sloop, was presented to the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum by the BVI Spring Regatta & Sailing Festival in association with VP Bank.  Intrepid will join Moonbeam and Youth Instructor on the docks here at Nanny Cay – the unofficial home of these historic boats.

Hon. Myron Walwyn, Minister for Education & Culture, received Intrepid’s tiller on behalf of the people of the British Virgin Islands from Bob Phillips, chairman of the BVI Spring Regatta, and Sjoerd Koster, head of banking at VP Bank.  In turn, Hon. Walwyn presented the tiller to Professor Geoff Brooks, curator of the Virgin Islands Maritime Museum.

The well-loved 22-foot, one hundred year old Intrepid was found in St Croix last year by the BVI Spring Regatta chairman and director when attending a regatta there.

They saw Intrepid and immediately recognized her as a Tortola Sloop.  Visiting the Maritime Museum at the HLSCC Marine Centre and learning more about the importance of the Tortola Sloop in the maritime history of the BVI planted the seed of ‘bringing Intrepid home’.  Professor Geoffrey Brooks was thrilled when he learned of this well-preserved piece of Tortola’s history sitting in St Croix and became involved in the planning of its return.

The BVI Spring Regatta and Sailing Festival organisers, along with VP Bank, have been instrumental in returning the Intrepid to the place of her birth and allowing her to return as a visual and tangible piece of the maritime heritage in the BVI.

VP Bank is underwriting a book by Professor Brooks about boat building in Tortola.  Sjoerd Koster, head of banking at VP Bank said:  “We strongly believe that it is our role, rooted in the BVI as one of the largest banks in the Territory, to facilitate the growth of the economy through our financing activities, trade through our wealth management activities and the BVI culture through our corporate sponsorship and donations to benefit the BVI society in the broadest sense.  We would like to congratulate the author, Professor Geoffrey Brooks, the artist, Lutia Durante, and the publisher, A Looking Glass, of this wonderful publication which documents the unique boat-building history and heritage of the British Virgin Islands.”

To tie in with their support of Professor Brooks’ book, they offered to fund the purchase of Intrepid as a donation to the maritime museum.

All of these events coincided so that Intrepid returned home last week and can be seen at her berth in Nanny Cay Marina.

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 20-100 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.

There are presently four Tortola Boats that have been preserved in the BVI and are raced in local festivals and regattas.

Intrepid has a rich and storied past. She was built in Tortola and used to carry produce, charcoal and fish to St Thomas.  She was later sold to someone in Fajardo, Puerto Rico,  and used as a fishing boat.  During prohibition, Intrepid was entered into the lucrative trade of rum running between Tortola and Fajardo and did well until she had the ill fortune to be apprehended by the Coast Guard.  The boat was confiscated, sold at a public auction and was finally purchased by Judge Cooper of the Federal Court of Puerto Rico.  In 1935 when Judge Cooper was leaving Puerto Rico, Intrepid was purchased by Anton Teytaud for $85 and sailed to St Croix where she was used for day charters and raced in regattas throughout the Virgin Islands (winning a first place in the 1954 Tortola-St Croix race).  Anton loved his sturdy little sloop and reluctantly sold her to Dick Isherwood in the early 1980s when he left St Croix.

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.”

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