TALES FROM THE CAP­TAIN’S TA­BLE

Soundings - - Contents - BY CAPT. LOU BOUDREAU

Capt. Lou Boudreau finds trea­sure and a pi­rate on Nor­man Is­land.

Ship’s log: May 19, 1958, pri­va­teer Caribee. Dropped the an­chor in 5 fath­oms off Trea­sure Point, Nor­man Is­land — the real Trea­sure Is­land.

On a sunny morn­ing in May 1958, north of the Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, a school of dol­phins played un­der the bow- sprit of a large sail­ing ves­sel. The ship rolled gen­tly on the blue At­lantic, and her bow wave gur­gled and hissed un­der her fig­ure­head.

As the dol­phins swam be­neath the bow, they looked up at a lit­tle boy ly­ing in the bowsprit net. His whistling and wav­ing ex­cited them, and they replied with clicks and beeps. The two species knew there was a fleet­ing mo­ment of un­der­stand­ing.

The ship al­tered course to star­board, north­east of Jost Van Dyke, the is­land named af­ter the Dutch pi­rate. A full-size replica of the fa­mous Bal­ti­more clip­pers, the ship had tall, raked spars that were square- rigged on the fore­mast, and her long, sleek black hull sported a row of gun ports along the deck line. The name Caribee was em­bla­zoned across her broad tran­som, and be­low it was the golden bust of a Cre­ole wo­man and her port of hail: Nas­sau, New Prov­i­dence. With sails trimmed taut, she sailed fast, leav­ing a long white wake be­hind her.

Clos­ing on the is­lands, Caribee left the swells of the North At­lantic astern and coasted into the calmer wa­ters of the BVI. The skip­per, aware of the treacherous shal­lows sur­round­ing him, kept well west of Ane­gada, avoid­ing the reefs sur­round­ing that is­land.

As the ves­sel came onto a more southerly course to en­ter Sir Fran­cis Drake Chan­nel, the crew trimmed sail and, sail­ing south­west, passed the small, rocky Dead Chest Is­land, then Dead­man’s Bay to the south. This was the cay of fif­teen men on a dead man’s chest

— yo, ho, ho and a bot­tle of rum. The crew of the Caribee re­turned to an era when pi­rates fre­quented th­ese wa­ters. In a time long past, there were cut­lasses, pis­tols and death on this very cay.

As the sun climbed higher, the Caribee ap­proached Nor­man Is­land, and the cap­tain spun the wheel, bring­ing the ship into the wind un­der Ring­dove Rock. The crew low­ered the sails, and the an­chor was made ready.

Caribee slowly came to a halt in a calm cove in 6 fath­oms, and the words “let go” echoed off the sur­round­ing cliffs as the cap­tain or­dered the an­chor dropped. The rat­tle of rusty chain rid­ing over the wild­cat marred the quiet, and the schooner’s mate watched the big fish­er­man an­chor sink to the bot­tom,

where it could be seen ly­ing on its side in the sand. The small cove was shaped like a horse­shoe, shel­tered by two rocky bluffs. The beach was white sand with peb­bly sec­tions, and the land be­hind it rose steeply into a thickly wooded ravine.

Ac­cord­ing to le­gend, Nor­man is the is­land that in­spired Robert Louis Steven­son’s Trea­sure

Is­land. The fam­ily aboard the Caribee had left their na­tive Canada and sailed to this area to be­gin a life in the wind­jam­mer trade.

Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous month, the 35-yearold cap­tain had sat in the aft cabin, read­ing to his son from an old copy of Trea­sure Is­land. The set­ting was per­fect: an au­then­tic pri­va­teer sail­ing ship manned by West In­di­ans, the brass can­non on the af­ter­deck and now a visit to Trea­sure Is­land. For the young boy, the story was very real. He had his trea­sure map, with skull and cross­bones, and the trea­sure’s lo­ca­tion.

Once the ship was squared away, the crew swung out the longboat and low­ered it to the water. The cap­tain called his son to the star­board rail and pointed ashore. “Now, ac­cord­ing to the map, the trea­sure must be near the end of the beach, just by those rocks,” he said.

The boy’s gaze fol­lowed his fa­ther’s arm to­ward the north end of the beach, where there was a pile of loose rocks and a few boul­ders. “Do you re­ally think so, Daddy?” he asked ex­cit­edly.

“Oh, yes. See, the map says so,” the cap­tain replied, point­ing to a black spot on the map.

The boy could hardly keep still, fid­get­ing as he stood wait­ing in the gang­way, watch­ing the crew load the oars and rud­der into the longboat. Af­ter a few min­utes, the mate shouted that all was ready.

Two deck­hands pulled for shore, oars bend­ing to the task. The cap­tain han­dled the tiller, and the boy crouched be­low the gun­wales. As the bow grounded gen­tly on the sand, the crew shipped the oars, and the fa­ther and son stepped ashore.

“Now, I’ll wait here while you go and find the trea­sure,” the cap­tain said.

The boy looked to­ward the loose pile of rocks to the north, then ner­vously be­gan walk­ing down the beach. He was un­easy, with vi­sions of Ben Gunn, cut­lasses and Long John Sil­ver swirling in his mind. He gripped the trea­sure map so hard his knuck­les turned white.

Reach­ing the end of the beach, the boy searched around drift­wood and boul­ders, jump­ing back with a start as a her­mit crab lum­bered away. He glanced over his shoul­der for the fa­mil­iar fig­ure of his fa­ther. So fevered was his hunt that he al­most missed what he had come to find. In a sandy spot be­low an out­crop of red­dish-brown stone, be­hind a rock half-buried in the white sand, was an old brass-bound chest — about a foot long and half as high, heavy and weath­ered with scorch marks.

Kneel­ing, the boy strug­gled to pry it out of the sand. With hands shak­ing, he strug­gled with the rusty latch to ex­pose the con­tents to the bril­liant sun­light. His breath came in rasps as he ran his hands through the glit­ter­ing pile of jewels, rings and coins from across the Caribbean. A pi­rate’s trea­sure for sure!

The cap­tain heard his son’s shrieks of joy and smiled qui­etly. “I found it! I found the trea­sure, Dad!” the boy screamed as he bounded down the beach, the chest raised for all to see.

Sud­denly there was a loud re­port from the trees above the beach. A wild- look­ing char­ac­ter with a red ban­dana and a pis­tol in his hand sprung from the woods. Oh no! Ben Gunn is com­ing to take back his trea­sure, thought the young boy.

Clutch­ing the chest, his heart pound­ing, the boy sprinted the last few hun­dred feet to­ward his fa­ther and crew, who were hold­ing the longboat ready in the shal­lows. His lit­tle feet fu­ri­ously kicked up puffs of sand.

“Let’s go quickly boys, that’s Ben Gunn up there!” the cap­tain shouted as the boy dove into the boat and they pushed off from shore.

The pi­rate fired an­other shot as they pulled away from the beach. The boy placed the chest care­fully on the floor­boards and begged the two deck­hands to row as fast as they could.

The longboat swiftly closed the dis­tance be­tween shore and the Caribee, and once aboard, the cap­tain opened the waist-high gun port fac­ing the beach. With the help of the bo­sun and the gun tack­les, he rolled out the brass can­non.

“Fire!” the cap­tain shouted, and the bo­sun touched a match to the can­non’s wick. The boom cracked and echoed around the cliffs and hills of Trea­sure Is­land. As the smoke

cleared, the crew watched as the pi­rate fled into the safety of the woods.

Later that evening, the fam­ily sat around the big ma­hogany ta­ble in the Caribee’s aft cabin. The light from the over­head brass lamp glit­tered on the water be­neath the stern as it shone through big aft win­dows. As was deemed fair, all of the crew shared in the booty; the boy care­fully doled out the trea­sure. A penny here, a guilder there. The fo’c’sle crew were called one by one to the aft cabin, where, af­ter be­ing sworn to se­crecy, each was given his or her right­ful share. The boy was left with a fine col­lec­tion of coins and jew­elry, and though not a king’s ran­som, it was true and real trea­sure.

Dur­ing the months that fol­lowed, the cop­per be­came shiny again as he counted the coins over and over and re­turned them to the brass­bound chest.

That boy was me, Robert Louis Boudreau, and the Caribee was my fa­ther’s fourth wind­jam­mer schooner in the 1950s. She was a Howard Chapelle de­sign that W.A. Robin­son built at his yard in Ip­swich, Mas­sachusetts.

As my fa­ther read Trea­sure Is­land to me in the aft cabin of the Caribee, I was riv­eted with yearn­ing and fear. The trea­sure was planted with the help of the Caribee’s crew, one dressed as Ben Gunn with a red ban­dana. Un­der my fa­ther’s di­rec­tion, they laid out this un­for­get­table ad­ven­ture. (The great ship at some point was sold to 20th Cen­tury Fox for the 1965 film A

High Wind in Ja­maica, star­ring An­thony Quinn and James Coburn.)

More than 50 years later, all that’s left of my trea­sure is a sin­gle cop­per Bri­tish penny. Some­times, as I sit by the fire on a cold win­ter evening, I hold it in my hand. The cop­per grows warm, and as I close my eyes I see the open quar­ter­deck of the Caribee and the brass can­non. I hear the creak­ing of the block and tackle. I see my trea­sure chest in the sand, and I feel the ter­ror of Ben Gunn emerg­ing from the trees.

A young boy’s imag­i­na­tion ran wild sail­ing the Caribbean aboard the Caribee.

The au­thor with his mother and fa­ther aboard Caribee.

A sin­gle Bri­tish penny is all that re­mains of the trea­sure.

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