Passage Maker - - Contents - Jonathan Cooper

Thirty-two weeks af­ter set­ting sail to dis­cover (some would say con­quer) the lands out west, Christo­pher Colum­bus re­turned to Spain to a hero’s wel­come. Suc­cess and fame must have tasted sweet; Colum­bus would de­part Spain again only six months later for his se­cond of what would amount to four ex­pe­di­tions to the West Indies. For his first en­core in 1493, Colum­bus’ band swelled from a salty party of three ships to an ar­mada of 17 ships and 1,200 men. Clearly all on­board were hop­ing there was plenty of gold in them green hills. As we know now, on none of Colum­bus’ four vis­its did he ever set foot on the land we now know as the con­ti­nen­tal United States. And, by some mis­cal­cu­la­tion or over­sight—there were plenty of both with Colum­bus—he missed the Vir­gin Is­lands com­pletely the first time around.

On his se­cond tour, though, Colum­bus would claim these is­lands and name them as he saw fit. Though there is lit­tle ev­i­dence that he stopped there for any sig­nif­i­cant amount of time, un­like his set­tle­ment at­tempts in His­pan­iola or Santo Domingo, he earned nam­ing rights over mod­ern-day Tor­tola (his name was Santa Ana) as well as Vir­gin Gorda. He also gave the en­tire ar­chi­pel­ago its rather long-winded name: Is­las de Santa Úr­sula y las Once Mil Vír­genes, named in honor of the sup­posed (though dis­puted) 5th-cen­tury saint and the 11,000 vir­gin hand­maid­ens who fol­lowed her into death. For­tu­nately, the name was short­ened in the years to come.

In the five cen­turies that have passed since Colum­bus sailed by, the Vir­gin Is­lands have be­come a go-to spot for va­ca­tion­ers by boat or plane, ex­plor­ing the many dif­fer­ent nooks and cran­nies, reefs and shoals, and lo­cal bits of nightlife spread out among them.

Last sum­mer, the is­lands were ran­sacked by Hur­ri­cane Irma. Hun­dreds of boats were lost, trees were stripped clean, cars flipped, houses dec­i­mated. In the end, Irma left lo­cal peo­ple home­less and lo­cal busi­nesses, so de­pen­dent upon tourism, fight­ing for sur­vival. Sky News re­ported the dev­as­ta­tion as such: “The East End area of Tor­tola looks like a war zone; no build­ing is un­touched, the de­bris of en­tire houses de­stroyed, yachts, cars and enor­mous cargo con­tain­ers is scat­tered in all direc­tions and this is just one area.”

That re­port was filed on Septem­ber 14, 2017. Three months later, a team from our par­ent com­pany’s Marine Group (Ac­tive In­ter­est Me­dia)—spear­headed by the great edi­tors of An­glers Jour­nal, Power and Mo­to­ry­acht, Sound­ings, Sail, Yachts In­ter­na­tional, and Trade Only— joined forces with Pas­sageMaker’s Brian Lind to help tell the tale of the fight­ing spirit of these peo­ple and their busi­nesses, and how quickly the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands are putting life back to­gether again. Clearly there is a long way to go to right the ship, so to speak, but the is­lan­ders will need as much sup­port as they can get. Colum­bus may have missed out on one of the jew­els of the Caribbean, but that doesn’t mean you should. n

Paint­ing by Hans Mem­ling “The Mar­tyr­dom of St. Ur­sula” 1489

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