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The Man Who Swam To St. John (Emancipation Day)

July 3, 2012 3 comments

The Man Who Swam To St. John (Emancipation Day)

 In 1985 Shaky Acres (the recovery program that Tuts and I had started in 1981) was going along fairly well, but was in need of a fund-raiser or two, Tuts heard (along with everyone else) of a proposed St. John swim (every body heard of it because it was considered impossible by most folks, and suicidaly dangerous by local folks who knew that there were hungry sharks out there the size of the battleship “Bismarck”). The UDT (The Frogmen, The Navy Seals, The toughest hombres on or under the sea) while training for many years in St. Thomas, had given up on swimming to St. John because it was simply too crazy and dangerous a deed.

The well-intentioned local lady legislator who had proposed “the swim” was unaware of the deep and dark difficulties inherent in the “big fun fundraiser”

When Tutsie was a young boy, riding back across Sir Francis Drake’s Passage coming home with his Mother from a harvest festival in Cane Garden bay in Tortola,  he looked out from the deck of “The Joan Of Arc” or “The Bomba Charger” at Pillsbury Sound (The five-mile stretch of wild water that separates St. Thomas and St. John) he said to her “I cou’ swim ‘crass dat yu kno” His usually gentle and loving mother, scared to death by what she was hearing, tried to discourage this crazy idea once and for all by replying “Man hush up yu schupid mout, why yu like tu talk such schupid craziness?” Tuts didn’t see any reason to discuss it any further, but, he says, the conviction that he could do it, was locked in his mind for ever after. 

It was July the third, 1985, Emancipation Day in The Virgin Islands. (Emancipation Day is the day in 1849, on which it became official that the slaves in the Danish West Indies had won their freedom and were now and forever more free) Freedom was a long time coming for the children of Africa in the DWI, and very hard-won, as was Tut’s own personal freedom from drugs and alcohol.

 There were forty eight entrants all together, most of them young white kids from the hot-shot St. Croix “Dolphins Swim Team”, they came prepared and ready to succeed, with sleek buoyant body suits, well fitted goggles and the best fins that money could buy

A number of the St. Thomas swimmers were runners down from the states, budding tri-athletes, an elderly white gent determined to show his wife he still “had it” and half a hand full of locals with a mismatched assortment of masks and fins..

Tuts on the other hand was wearing one pair of big and baggy boxer trunks, y nada mas…

 As the other swimmers did warm ups and calisthenics on the sand at Vessup bay, Red Hook, a tough old Tortola sailor, pulled Tuts aside and said” Buaayyy yu, yu crazy buaay? Yuh f ollowing de damn schupid white people dem? Yu don kno de real name fo red hook is shak waff? Buaayy!! Shak ow de biggah den uh submarine! Yu is a black man gon follow dem schupid white people? Buaayy wha rang wid yu, yu crazy o something?”

 Tuts concedes that the strongly delivered warning did cause him much concern, but that he had already told everybody over and again that he was going to do it, told them in the strongest terms, in the face of the harshest ridicule. It was common knowledge that no (sane) black person from the Islands could ever, should ever and would ever attempt to make that swim. Therefore, as his sanity was in question, it was also a crucial moment for recovery in the Islands.

At this moment he was demonstrating clearly (to local folks) that local people who went to fellowship meetings “wid de crazy white people dem” were demonstrably nuts (just like they thought) and for him to chicken out before he even hit the water would have sealed it once and for all. Tuts has since confessed that on that particular morning he had decided that he would rather be eaten alive, than quit.

 Once the old Tortola man realized that he was not talking to a sensible gentleman of color, he began to encourage him with information about what to expect in terms of currents and where to find what he called “soft spots” in the sea. He stated flatly that “yu can’t swim directly East ta St. John, yu will have tu swim for “Loango”  (Loango Key, a small Island due North of St. John) and as yu hold Loango as your goal, the current will be sweepin’ yu south, look sharp! Buaay, dat is de onliest way to get dare”.

 As the swim began, the fast and the fancy took off due East for Cruz bay and before you knew it half of them had been swept away and were heading backwards around Cabrita Point towards Big and Little St. James, then out over the  Anegada Trench, (on the bottom of which the scariest bug eyed things on earth, with jumping, wiggling  electro “bait worms” dangling in front of  foot long razor teeth, swim around four miles down, snapping  steel trap jaws, and saying fish prayers, to get their dribbly lips around something, anything, slathered in coconut oil, or greasy mango scented sun tan lotion) and then south and west for St Croix, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Haiti, The Caymans, The Isle of Pines Cuba, and New Orleans. (of course by the time they got to New Orleans there would be nothing left of them but a Speedo tag and whatever plastics they’d swallowed along the way) needless to say, an armada of rescue boats started pulling people in over the gunnels, like langustas on parade, on a fish pot Saturday night.

 Tuts was heading for Loango .

 Shortly after the fast and the fancy fiasco, the old white gent’s wife, standing in his rescue boat started screaming hysterically “A Shark! A Shark! Oh my God, I see a Shark!” Pull my husband out, pull my husband out, pull him out right now!! Oh my GOD! Pull my husband out right now!

Tuts says the poor old gent was utterly dejected as they pulled him up, his bathing suit drooping below his pale old, pink old, shiny old  hiney.

 Next went the dapper sharply outfitted “high color” attorney from the states, who had looked most disdainfully upon our man’s baggy boxers and boney bare feet but was now being dragged, thoroughly defeated, flat on his back from the sea to flat on his back on the bottom of the heaving boat.

 The boats were heaving now because the seas were heaving now, they were coming into “The Big Blue”. A section of the sound a mile or more wide, in which, or perhaps I ought to say, through which, big serioso, fast moving, megalo mountains of Big Blue Heavy Water Waves (Waves of the sort that make you say “Good Lord” or “Mama Mia” or “Holy Freakin’ Toledo” when you first see them even though you (if you have good sense) are looking at them from your perch on the deck of a big passenger ferry, ten or fifteen feet above the water line.

 If you are in the water “down in the hollow” splashing along on your belly and craning your neck up trying to see the top of the wave, you will probably say a lot more than good lord, and if you are Tutsie and your rescue boat is manned by one “Fisherman John” a continental dipso juicehead,  that you helped to drag off the junk heap of life, but now haven’t seen for over  half an hour, most of it will not be printable in a general audience mem.wha? such as this one. But you can believe me when I say, you have probably never heard anything like it.

 Eventually, Tuts discovered that if he swam like crazy faster and faster as he got closer and closer to the top and he could then flip over to his back at just the last second the wave would crest and the curl would break over his shoulders. He could “hang there” for seconds, (perhaps one or two of the longest this side of eternity,) and contemplate his mounting misery and helplessness before having to roll over and slide headfirst down down down, ah..down down down, ah down down down, down. (Knowing that some thing is surely waiting in the “trough” to open its porky yaw and scrape you all along your back, belly and sides as it swallows you whole)

 As I may have mentioned casually a short while ago, this section of the sound was just a splash over a mile or more wide, can you guess how many times your whole life can flash before your eyes before you get completely bored with it?

What you don’t get bored with is the fact that you cannot see either Island or for that matter any thing at all when you are down in the valley, nothing but deep dark blue. So the desperate hope that you might be able to see something, anything, hinting at where you are, (is it Puerto Rico? Is it Berlin?) at the top of the next wave is a powerful draw, and can keep you going for many a repetition.

 One time he did see some thing recognizable back on St.Thomas, it was the two super poles that mark the spot where the undersea cable goes down beneath the sea. way down to the bottom, that’s the bottom way way down in the pitch black darkness beneath his own bottom. Better to see nothing he thought, than things as scary as that.

Pretty soon his primary concern had shifted from monstroso seas, to waves slapping him in the face, slap slap slap slap and he realized that he was in a different kind of swim now, the big blue was behind him, and he was battling offshore currents, lucky he had gone for Loango, because now, in spite of his forward motion he was being swept sideways, southward towards “Stephens Key”, a small flat island outside of  the Bay of Cruz Bay or Cruz Bay Bay, comprende?

Tut knew that if he allowed himself to be swept southward beyond Stephens Key, he would be out in the Anegada Trench, and then as likely as not his rescuers would be the Venezuelan Navy. He determined that he had to get to and make it through the spiffy currents around Stephens Key

If the current was running in his favor it could be a breeze, he was exhausted, but just on the inside of Stephens Key was the outer entrance to Cruz Bay. He was almost, almost there.

Alas, the current was not in his favor (unless he wanted to turn around and “go with the flow” back to the “Cabrita express” and the afore mentioned many points beyond) and this part of the swim took everything but the very best of him. The very best of him was all that kept him kicking; the current was so strong that the surface water was rippling backwards in protest. That’s when the “water under water” is moving too fast for the water “on the water” to keep up, so the surface ripples backwards in tiny little cascades of confusion, all of which seemed to be going right up his nose, and down his throat.

 They say that the children of Africa can’t swim. My friend Tutsie has proved time and again, that that is a racist lie, or put another way, demonstrably untrue. Although it is true that Tutsie’s Mother, Miss Meu, born in Dominica, was one half Carib. And although the present effort of the Carib/Arawak Federation is to dispel the myth (they say) that  King Charles of Spain used to promulgate and excuse the genocide of the indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean, specifically, that the Caribs were so wild and savage that they ate people, there is no question that the Caribs were and are among the toughest of the toughest human beings that have ever lived. So our man, three quarters African, One quarter Carib (with a smitter smatter of  French and, British, both in the African part of the pie) is lying all but dead in the water, having just burst through the impassable current hole at Stephen’s Rock.

 Tuts aka “El Toro” aka “Peperino” aka  Skarpy aka “The Rabbi” (that’s another story) aka a hundred other desperado descriptors, is ready to give it up. If only he had the strength to raise his arm to signal surrender or the voice to beg to be dragged out of the sea, he would have done so. But just then the cheerful voice of Fisherman John came sing-songing across the water, “Make it look pretty Tuts! Make it look pretty! We’re almost there man!, Make it look pretty!!!.

 Some day I’ll build a statue at Cabrita Point to Victor Antonius “Tutsie”  “El Toro” Edwards, one portraying a skinny little mahogany or Brass hued dude in baggy boxers, tilting forward on one leg, the other angled up and out behind, with hands clasped (as in prayer) just above his head, Poised to dive into history.

Tuts became that day the first native Virgin Islander to EVER in all time, swim from St. Thomas to St. John.

 It wasn’t pretty as he crawled and dragged himself ashore (water streaming from every orifice), and it wasn’t pretty as he collapsed on the sand, unable to stand for a full three minutes. But in his defense, he was forty freakin’ years old and working with a body that had been ravaged by drugs and alcohol.

 The kids on the Dolphin swim team have much to be proud of, they did in their wetsuits, fins and organized swim formations, what the rough and tough UDT had given up on, they made the swim.

I know that where ever these kids are in the world, and where ever they will go, they will always remember that “once upon a time, when we were kids in the islands, my friends and me did the impossible together” they will also remember with awe and admiration “that skinny little fellow in the baggy boxer trunks” that did it alone and bare footed, and then, passed on the champagne and praise, because “that’s not why he was there”.

Tutsie made the swim because it was Emancipation Day, and he wanted to demonstrate and celebrate freedom, he wanted to demonstrate freedom from fear of the sea and the ignorant idea that “Black people can’t swim” He wanted to demonstrate that “recovery is macho” and that black people now  need to be emancipated from the chemical slavery that is alcoholism and addiction, and because even though she was long gone, he wanted his mother to know that he could do, what he said he could do, and now it was time to go home… And oh yeah, he did it for Shaky Acres.

Of course we were celebrating Tutsie long before we started Shaky Acres and he swam to St. John. I first recorded “Tutsie” for BANG Records in 1965, (we wore it out on the Juke box at Duffys) and then again for RCA in 1975 as La Biega Carosuel/Tutsie. If you listen closely to this more recent recording (made in St. Thomas in 2005) you’ll hear our friends Jeff Medina, Morgan Rael, Lennie Monsanto, Richard Spencley, Cliff Finch, and Robbie Roberts, strummin’ and bangin’ out the groove and the beautiful “Of GOD” and Mighty Whitey and April Moran on the choruses.

Here’s Tutsie’s song, now a long time hit in The Virgin Islands

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Book 4. Continued…A Little Trip To Jos Van Dyke.

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Book 4. …Continued, A Little Trip To Jos Van Dyke

The sea breeze is extraordinary; it’s coming down through (Sir Francis) Drake’s Passage and across Pillsbury sound bringing the coolest freshest air imaginable. Its way too easy to forget how good it feels head to toe, body and soul, to sail these waters and to sip this sweet sweet breeze…

Tuts is talking like he’s having a flashback to the swim in which he became the first native Virgin Islander in known history to swim from St. Thomas to St John.

“Look, look” he says, there’s the two poles on St. Thomas that I saw from the tip top of the giant wave, and there is the undersea cables that I told you about! And Look, look how the current is trying to sweep everything southwest; out of the sound and into the sea, “Next stop out dey is New Orleans m’boy, Wha? Not me again meson, not me again!” “But Tuts,” somebody says, “I heah you “fraid!,  an das why yu ain’ gon do it a gain, Yu ‘fraid man, yu ‘fraid! 

“Oy Fraid?” he says indignantly, “Fraid? Who ain’ fraid a out dey, schipid in dey ass! Das right, ah ‘fraid. Me-son, yu don know dey have Shak out here big as de Bismark? Meson, dem shak so big yu cou walk on dey head, yu don know das how I mek it to Sain John?

 Off to the left are the beautiful gold and green islands of Thatch Key, then Congo Key and Louango. We see the remains of the old great house of the plantation on Louango, where the white overseer was killed by the slaves he bossed in the first moments of the St. John uprising of 1733.

Beyond the keys, to the North East is Jos Van Dyke An Island  named after a Dutch Pirate Captain but settled by the Quakers and part of the British Virgins. When the English renounced slavery in 1833,  the land on Jos’ was given to the very people that had been enslaved there.

The Danes abolished slavery in 1849 consequently slaves in St. John were always trying to find their way to Jos Van Dyke and Tortola and freedom.  In fact there is a huge iron sugar cane boiling kettle on the sand in Jos’ that a St. John slave was able put his wife and children into, and  sail (or row) them all to Jos Van Dyke and freedom. The iron kettle was still on the beach, when I first saw it in the sixties.

We slide up to a new concrete wharf and head for the old wooden customs office only,  now it’s a new concrete customs office, where we discover that the gentle portly gentleman who had manned the post since salt met water, had been called away to sing with the angel chorus.

As Delia and the current customs gent negotiated our entrée, I spotted our friend Ruben Chinnery sitting at a table under the trees in front of a little beach side café, We have all known Ruben for at least forty five years, and Tuts and I for closer to fifty, back then,  Tuts and Ruben and I had a little “Band” together, that knocked the living hell out of “Perfidia” I was the Sax man, Tuts played the Trumpet and Ruben strangled the guitar til’ it squeaked for mercy. Good lord we loved to play that song. And nothing but that song.

We have jammed together at Foxy’s many times since then, and we are here today to see about setting up a gig in which Ruben, Nicky, (Mighty Whitey) and I would be playing together all day long (maybe three sets each and one or two super long jams)

After speaking with Tessa and The Fox, it’s on. We will decide on the date at a future time. That done, we socialize… hug and smooch and then…we head back down the sound (Pillsbury Sound).

Between little St. James and the entrance to the Lagoon, Timmy (the Captain of the little ship) cuts the engine and announces that we aren’t going any further until he hears a few specific tunes. The mighty fine fellow hands me my guitar and says “The first one is “Mademoiselle”. 

 The boat is rocking like crazy and I am sitting on the roof of the cabin, so I jam a foot against a stanchion and the other against the life lines and, once properly “jammed”, I sing my friggin’ heart out. It isn’t everyday that tough, and weathered, beaten but not bowed, hombres honor me in this way. I am really touched that my lifelong tough guy compadres feel this way about my music, and I will fall overboard and drown, guitar and all before I will disappoint them. 

Mademoiselle

When will I see your garden mademoiselle?

The garden we spoke of that I love so well

Orchids and roses, my favorite smell

Take me you told me you promised,

and I’ll never tell

Take me and show me your garden, Mademoiselle

I know there are kings and princes, they line at your gate

But I love you more than they, let them wait

Orchids and roses, would ease all my hate

Take me you told me you promised,

Before it’s too late

Take me and show me your garden, Mademoiselle

And now we must stop pretending, Mademoiselle

Your garden is choking, your blossoms all fell

Orchids and roses are a funeral smell

Your rouge and your perfumes too heavy,

like the stories I tell

They’re ringing the bells and I’m sorry, Mademoiselle

We’ve got nothing to sell and I’m sorry Mademoiselle…

“Ok, Now, South Atlantic Blues” says the Captain

South Atlantic Blues

 You know the Islands are the perfect place for going away

Life’s so easy there you live from day to day to day to day

 The father of missions, he once walked proud and tall

He must had seen too many Christians, cause now he’s very small

The poor man’s got no Gods at all

Not counting alcohol, not counting alcohol

 You say that’s dues, I’ve got news for you

It’s South Atlantic Blues, South Atlantic Blues

 She lives in the alley, the hope gone from her eyes

Her dress is torn and dirty, loving lips are cracked and dried

She sits and cries, my life’s a lie

Her children think she’s died, her children think she’s died

You say that’s dues, I’ve got news for you

It’s South Atlantic Blues, South Atlantic Blues

 She stands by the seaside, my love, she waits for me

And I can’t help her as she wonders, how long will it be

I told her once, we would be free, from Charlotte Amalie

Charlotte Amalie, Charlotte Amalie Charlotte Amalie

 You say that’s dues, I’ve got news for you

It’s South Atlantic Blues, South Atlantic Blues

You know the Islands are the perfect place for going away

Life’s so easy there you live from day to day to day to day

day to day to day to day…

Then Mighty Whitey asks me to play “Where My Lover Has Gone” his dear departed Mudder dear’s favorite song,

Where My Lover Has Gone

 

Morning comes down very heavy on me

Nothing at all like a new day should be

This morning saves its glory, for someone in another story

Somewhere a song, where my lover has gone

 There’s no glad surprise for these sad eyes to see

No trace of the grace that her face had for me

These grey skies have no rainbow, cause rainbows are where ever she goes

Somewhere a song where my lover has gone

 Somewhere the sun is shining, good old time silver lining

Somewhere a song, where my lover has gone

 Morning comes down very heavy on me

Nothing at all like a new day should be

This morning saves its glory, for someone in another story

Somewhere a song, where my lover has gone

Where my lover has gone, where my lover has gone…

 Now, says the Captain, Now lets have Captain Creole!

CAPTAIN CREOLE

The word spread through The Virgins, the Old Creole was dead

He died in the night of the full moon light, in a swordfight, in his bed

Some say he was crazy, he had a rum dream in his head

But I will tell you, in his words, what Captain Creole said…

 He said “Old Pirates never die dry your eyes we don’t ever die

Old Pirates never die, they just sail away”

The Dancing Senioritas, the Ghosts of Buried Gold

The German and The African, that battled in his soul

The Jolly Jolly Rodger, The Treasure Ships of Spain

Called out to him and bid him come… back to The Spanish Main

Because “Old Pirates never die, dry your eyes they don’t ever die

Old Pirates never die, they just sail away”

 The word spread through The Virgins, Like the ringing of an old ships bell

The Preacher turned to Heaven, most folks bet on Hell

The Old Creole was sinking, the Old Creole was gone

And we cried in the light of the full moon night, Whispering his song

 He said “Old Pirates never die, dry your eyes we don’t ever die

Old Pirates never die, they just sail away”

 Old Pirates never die; dry your eyes we don’t ever die

Old Pirates never die, they just sail away”

  “Ok Thank” you says Captain Timmy as he starts the engine, “now take us home with La Beiga/Tuts

La Beiga Carousel/ Tutsie

Man I would walk and drink rum de whole night,

before me go ride on La Beiga Carousel?

Man I would walk and drink rum de whole night,

before me go ride on La Beiga Carousel

Come go home come go home Cecebelle,

tonight we’ain gon ride on La Beiga Carousel

Come go home come go home Cecebelle,

tonight we’ain gon ride on La Beiga Carousel

And a skinny little fellow looks a little bit like me,

Lives on an Island in the Caribbean sea

And he drinks straight cane rum from an old calabash

And with those Island girls, lord he really is a smash

And he lives off the tourists with the greatest of ease,

Why I’ve even seen him selling bags of cool Island breeze

He lives high on a mountain in an old sugar mill

He wants to be a Pirate, I know someday he will.

An’ I’ll walk and drink rum whole night,

before me go ride on Labeiga Carousel

Man I’ll walk and drink rum whole night,

before me go ride on Labeiga Carousel

 And he spends all his days cooling out in Trader Dan’s,

There’s no time for working in my friend Tutsie’s plans

He wears a pretty flower tucked up in an old straw hat

But if you should try to fight him, he’d show you where it’s at.

 And he lives off the tourists with the greatest of ease,

Why I’ve even seen him selling bags of cool Island breeze

He lives high on a mountain in an old sugar mill

He wants to be a Pirate, I know someday he will.

 An’ I’ll walk and drink rum whole night,

before me go ride on Labeiga Carousel

Man I’ll walk and drink rum whole night,

before me go ride on Labeiga Carousel

 And I wish I were like Tutsie and could do as I please,

then I’d be barefoot at the Foxes’ Tamarindo

And I’d drink straight cane rum from an old calabash

And with those Island girls, lord, I’d really be a smash

 And I’d live off the tourists with the greatest of ease,

And have fun selling bags of cool Island breeze

I’d live high on a mountain in an old sugar mill

And someday I’d be a Pirate, you know someday I will.

Man I would walk and drink rum de whole night,

before me go ride on La Beiga Carousel

Man I would walk and drink rum de whole night,

before me go ride on La Beiga Carousel

Come go home come go home Cecebelle,

tonight we’ain gon ride on La Beiga Carousel

Come go home come go home Cecebelle,

tonight we’ain gon ride on La Beiga Carousel

We all knew the song (in fact Nicky (Mighty Whitey) is in the chorus of the recording posted here) and we all  sang one rousing chorus after another of it, until we reached the dock.

 What a time we had. Not riotous or raucus or excessivly rambunctious (as was out wont in the past), but one filled with laughter and honest strong emotion, in the most beautiful settings in the world, Drakes Passage, Pillsbury Sound and the warm embrace of a small circle of friends.

 All Words and Music Scott Fagan, Copyright, Scott Fagan Music ASCAP

Book 3. The Man Who Swam To St. John…

December 14, 2009 1 comment

BOOK 3. The Man Who Swam To St. John

 In 1985 Shaky Acres (the recovery program that Tuts and I had started in 1981) was going along fairly well, but was in need of a fund raiser or two, Tuts heard (along with everyone else) of a proposed St. John swim (every body heard of it because it was considered impossible by most folks, and suicidaly dangerous by local folks who knew that there were hungry sharks out there the size of the battleship “Bismarck”). The UDT (The Frogmen, The Navy Seals, The toughest hombres on or under the sea) while training for many years in St. Thomas, had given up on swimming to St. John because it was simply too crazy dangerous a deed.

The well intentioned local lady legislator who had proposed “the swim” was unaware of the deep and dark difficulties inherent in the “big fun fundraiser”

.When Tutsie was a young boy, riding back across Sir Francis Drake’s Passage coming home with his Mother from a harvest festival in Cane Garden bay in Tortola,  he looked out from the deck of “The Joan Of Arc” or “The Bomba Charger” at Pillsbury Sound (The five mile stretch of wild water that separates St. Thomas and St. John) he said to her “I could swim ‘crass dat yu kno” His usually loving mother had replied “Man hush up yu schupid mout, why yu like tu talk such schupid craziness?” Tuts didn’t see any reason to discuss it any further, but, he says, the conviction that he could do it, was locked in his mind for ever after. 

It was July the third, 1985, Emancipation Day in The Virgin Islands. (Emancipation Day is the day in 1849, on which it became official that the slaves in the Danish West Indies had won their freedom and were now and forever more free) Freedom was a long time coming for the children of Africa in the DWI, and very hard won, as was Tut’s own personal freedom from drugs and alcohol.

 There were forty eight entrants all together, most of them young white kids from the hot shot St. Croix “Dolphins Swim Team”, they came prepared and ready to succeed, with sleek buoyant body suits, well fitted goggles and the best fins that money could buy

A number of the St. Thomas swimmers were runners down from the states, budding tri-athletes, an elderly white gent determined to show his wife he still “had it” and half a hand full of locals with a mismatched assortment of masks and fins..

Tuts on the other hand was wearing one pair of big and baggy boxer trunks, y nada mas…

 As the other swimmers did warm ups and calesthetics on the sand at Vessup bay, Red Hook, a tough old Tortola man, a sailor, pulled Tuts aside and said” Buaayyy yu, yu crazy buaay? Following de damn schupid white people dem? Yu don kno de real name fo red hook is shak waff? Buaayy!! Shak ow de biggah den uh submarine! A black man gon follow dem schupid white people? Buaayy wha rang wid yu, yu crazy o something?”

 Tuts concedes that the strongly delivered warning did cause him much concern, but that he had already told everybody over and again that he was going to do it, told them in the strongest terms, in the face of the harshest ridicule. It was common knoweldge that no (sane) black person from the Islands could ever, should ever and would ever attempt to make that swim. Therefore, as his sanity was in question, it was also a crucial moment for recovery in the Islands.

At this moment he was demonstrating clearly (to local folks) that local people who went to fellowship meetings “wid de crazy white people dem” were demonstrably nuts (just like they thought) and for him to chicken out before he even hit the water would have sealed it once and for all. Tuts has since confessed that on that particular morning he had decided that he would rather be eaten alive, than quit.

 Once the old Tortola man realized that he was not talking to a sensible gentleman of color, he began to encourage him with information about what to expect in terms of currents and where to find what he called “soft spots” in the sea. He stated flatly that “yu can’t swim directly East ta St. John, yu will have tu swim for “Loango”  (Loango Key, a small Island due North of St. John) and as yu hold Loango as your goal, the current will be sweepin’ yu south, look sharp! Buaay, dat is de onliest way to get dare”.

 As the swim began, the fast and the fancy took off due East for Cruz bay and before you knew it half of them had been swept away and were heading backwards around Cabrita Point towards Big and Little St. James, then out over the  Anegada Trench, (on the bottom of which the scariest bug eyed things on earth, with jumping, wiggling  electro “bait worms” dangling in front of  foot long razor teeth, swim around four miles down, snapping  steel trap jaws, and saying fish prayers, to get their dribbly lips around something, anything, slathered in coconut oil, or greasy mango scented sun tan lotion) and then south and west for St Croix, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Haiti, The Caymans, The Isle of Pines Cuba, and New Orleans. (of course by the time they got to New Orleans there would be nothing left of them but a Speedo tag and whatever plastics they’d swallowed along the way) needless to say, an armada of rescue boats started pulling people in over the gunnels, like langustas on parade, on a fish pot Saturday night.

 Tuts was heading for Loango .

 Shortly after the fast and the fancy fiasco, the old white gent’s wife, standing in his rescue boat started screaming hysterically “A Shark! A Shark! Oh my God, I see a Shark!” Pull my husband out, pull my husband out, pull him out right now!! Oh my GOD! Pull my husband out right now!

Tuts says the poor old gent was utterly dejected as they pulled him up, his bathing suit drooping below his pale old, pink old, shiny hiney.

 Next went the dapper sharply outfitted “high color” attorney from the states, who had looked most disdainfully upon our man’s baggy boxers and boney bare feet but was now being dragged, thoroughly defeated, flat on his back from the sea to flat on his back on the bottom of the heaving boat.

 The boats were heaving now because the seas were heaving now, they were coming into “The Big Blue”. A section of the sound a mile or more wide, in which, or perhaps I ought to say, through which, big serioso, fast moving, megalo mountains of Big Blue Heavy Water Waves (Waves of the sort that make you say “Good Lord” or “Mama Mia” or “Holy Freakin’ Toledo” when you first see them even though you are looking at them from your perch on the deck of a passenger ferry, ten or fifteen feet above the water line.

 If you are in the water “down in the hollow” splashing along on your belly and craning your neck up trying to see the top of the wave, you will probably say a lot more than good lord, and if you are Tutsie and your rescue boat is manned by one “Fisherman John” a continental dipso juicehead,  that you helped to drag off the junk heap of life, but now haven’t seen for over  half an hour, most of it will not be printable in a general audience mem.wha? such as this one. But you can believe me when I say, you have probably never heard anything like it.

 Eventually, Tuts discovered that if he swam like crazy faster and faster as he got closer and closer to the top and he could then flip over to his back at just the last second the wave would crest and the curl would break over his shoulders. He could “hang there” for seconds, (perhaps one or two of the longest this side of eternity,) and contemplate his mounting misery and helplessness before having to roll over and slide headfirst down down down, ah..down down down, ah down down down, down. (Knowing that some thing is surely waiting in the “trough” to open its porky yaw and scrape you all along your back, belly and sides as it swallows you whole)

 As I may have mentioned casually a short while ago, this section of the sound was just a splash over a mile or more wide, can you guess how many times your whole life can flash before your eyes before you get completely bored with it?

What you don’t get bored with is the fact that you cannot see either Island or for that matter any thing at all when you are down in the valley, nothing but deep dark blue. So the desperate hope that you might be able to see something, anything, hinting at where you are, (is it Puerto Rico? Is it Berlin?) at the top of the next wave is a powerful draw, and can keep you going for many a repetition.

 One time he did see some thing recognizable back on St.Thomas, it was the two super poles that mark the spot where the undersea cable goes down beneath the sea. way down to the bottom, that’s the bottom way way down in the pitch black darkness beneath his own bottom. Better to see nothing he thought, than things as scary as that.

Pretty soon his primary concern had shifted from monstroso seas, to waves slapping him in the face, slap slap slap slap and he realized that he was in a different kind of swim now, the big blue was behind him, and he was battling offshore currents, lucky he had gone for Loango, because now, in spite of his forward motion he was being swept sideways, southward towards “Stephens Key”, a small flat island outside of Cruz Bay Bay, (or the Bay of Cruz Bay), that is actually two small flat Islands because what would have been one Island has a rocky channel (with it’s own spiffy little current) right through it’s middle.

Tut knew that if allowed himself to be swept southward beyond Stephens Key, he would be out in the Anegada Trench, and then as likely as not his rescuers would be the Venezuelan Navy. He determined that he had to get to and make it through the spiffy little current hole in the middle of Stephens Key

.If the current was running in his favor it could be a breeze, he was exhausted but just on the inside of Stephens Key was the outer entrance to Cruz Bay. He was almost, almost there.

Alas, the current was not in his favor (unless he wanted to turn around and “go with the flow” back to the “Cabrita express” and the afore mentioned many points beyond) and this part of the swim took everything but the very best of him. The very best of him was all that kept him kicking; the current was so strong that the surface water was rippling backwards in protest. That’s when the “water under water” is moving too fast for the water “on the water” to keep up, so the surface ripples backwards in tiny little cascades of confusion, all of which seemed to be going right up his nose, and down his throat.

 They say that the children of Africa can’t swim. My friend Tutsie has proved time and again, that that is a racist lie, or put another way, demonstrably untrue. Although it is true that Tutsie’s Mother, Miss Meu, born in Dominica, was one half Carib. And although the present effort of the Carib/Arawak Federation is to dispel the myth that King Charles of Spain used to promulgate and excuse the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, specifically, that the Caribs were so savage that they ate people, there is no question that the Caribs were and are among the toughest of the toughest human beings that have ever lived. So our man, three quarters African, One quarter Carib (with a smitter smatter of  Frenchish, British, both in the African part of the pie) is all but dead in the water, having just burst through the impassable current hole at Stephen’s Rock.

 Tuts aka “El Toro” aka “Peperino” aka  Skarpy aka “The Rabbi” (that’s another story) aka a hundred other desperado descriptors, is ready to surrender. If only he had the strength to raise his arm signaling, no, begging to be dragged out of the sea, he would have done so. Just then the cheerful voice of Fisherman John came skipping across the water, singsonging advice to“Make it look pretty Tuts! Make it look pretty! We’re almost there man!, Make it look pretty!!!.

 Some day I’ll build a statue at Cabrita Point to Victor Antonius “Tutsie”  “El Toro” Edwards, one portraying a skinny little mahogany hued dude in baggy boxers, tilting forward on one leg, the other angled out behind, with hands (as in prayer) just above his head,. Poised to dive into history.

Tuts became that day the first native Virgin Islander to EVER in all time, swim from St. Thomas to St. John.

 It wasn’t pretty as he crawled and dragged himself ashore (water streaming from every orifice), and it wasn’t pretty as he collapsed on the sand, unable to stand for a full three minutes. But in his defense, he was forty freakin’ years old and working with a body that had been ravaged by drugs and alcohol.

 The kids on the Dolphin swim team have much to be proud of, they did in their wetsuits, fins and organized swim formations, what the rough and tough UDT had given up on, they made the swim.

I know that where ever these kids are in the world, and where ever they will go, they will always remember that “once upon a time, when we were kids in the islands, my friends and me did the impossible together” they will also remember with awe and admiration “that skinny little fellow in the baggy boxer trunks” that did it alone and bare footed, and then, passed on the champagne and praise, because “that’s not why he was there”.

.Tutsie made the swim because it was Emancipation Day, and he wanted to demonstrate and celebrate freedom, he wanted to demonstrate freedom from fear of the sea and the ignorant idea that “Black people can’t swim” He wanted to demonstrate that “recovery is macho” and that black people now  need to be emancipated from the chemical slavery that is alcoholism and addiction, and because even though she was long gone, he wanted his mother to know that he could do, what he said he could do, and now it was time to go home… And oh yeah, to raise a few dollars for Shaky Acres.