Where The Trade Winds Blow – Prologue: Treasure Island


Where the Trade Winds Blow

By Lou Boudreau


Treasure Island

On a sunny May morning in 1958 a large sailing vessel approached the British Virgin Islands from the north. The ship rolled gently on the blue Atlantic ocean and her bow wave gurgled merrily away to leeward, while a school of dolphins frolicked under the bowsprit. The graceful mammals swam almost effortlessly, fascinated by the little boy lying above them in the bowsprit net. His whistling and waving excited them and they replied with loud clicks and beeps. As the two species made eye contact, each knew that there was a fleeting moment of understanding.

The ship was a full-sized replica of the famous Baltimore clippers. Tall raked spars square rigged on the foremast, her long, sleek black hull sported a row of gun ports along the deck line. Emblazoned across her broad transom above the golden bust of a Creole woman was her name, Caribee. Her port of hail, Nassau, New Providence, appeared just below.

Closing in on the islands, the Caribee left the ocean swells of the north Atlantic and coasted towards calmer waters. The sea colour abruptly changed from the deep blue of the ocean to the azure of shallower waters. Altering course to starboard, the sailing ship passed to the northeast of mountainous Jost Van Dyke, a small island named after the Dutch pirate. With sails trimmed taught she sailed fast, leaving a long white wake behind her. She left the treacherous coral reefs surrounding the island of Anegada to the northeast. Over time the deceptively beautiful reefs had claimed dozens of sailing ships, but the Caribee kept well to the west, avoiding the dangerous shallows.

Laying a more southerly course, she entered Sir Francis Drake Channel and her crew trimmed sail for the new slant. Sailing southwest, they passed close to the small rocky island of Dead Chest, and then Deadman’s Bay to the south.

This was the cay of “Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum, fifteen men on a dead man’s chest” and the crew of the Caribee were brought back 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 to leeward of Ringdove Rock. Her crew lowered the sails and prepared the big fisherman anchor for dropping. The Caribee slowly came to a halt in a calm cove six fathoms of water deep, and the captain ordered the anchor dropped.

“Let go,” he shouted, and the words echoed eerily off the surrounding cliffs.

The rattle of rusty chain riding over the wildcat marred the quiet, and the schooner’s mate watched the big anchor sink to the bottom where it lay on its side in the sand. The small cove formed 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, this was the island that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There were certainly enough tales of buried treasure and mystery surrounding the isle to inspire that classic tale.

The Boudreau family had left their native Canada and sailed to this area to begin a life in the windjammer cruise business. Over the past month, the thirty-nine-year-old captain had sat in the aft cabin and read to his six-year-old son from an old copy of Treasure Island. The setting was perfect; a privateer sailing ship, manned by rough-looking West Indians with a brass cannon on the afterdeck, visits Treasure Island. For the small boy the story was very real. He had his treasure map ready, with the skull and crossbones, and the treasure’s location.

The crew squared away the deck and swung out the longboat, lowering it into the water. Calling his son to the starboard rail, the captain pointed to the shore.

“Now, according to your map the treasure must be near the end of that beach, just by those rocks,” he said.

The boy gazed towards the north end of the beach, seeing only a pile of loose rocks and a few large boulders.

“Do you really think so, Daddy? he asked excitedly.

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

The young boy could hardly keep still. He fidgeted 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 up that all was ready.

Finally, the boat pulled for the shore, oars bending as the two deckhands bent to the task. The captain handled the tiller and his son crouched below the gunwales. As the bow grounded gently on the sand, the crew shipped oars and the captain and his son stepped onto the shore.

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

The boy was uneasy as he looked towards the loose pile of rocks to the north, but he nodded and began walking down the beach. Visions of Ben Gunn, cutlasses, and Long John Silver swirled in his mind, and he gripped the treasure map so hard his knuckles turned white.

Reaching the end of the beach, he began searching in earnest. He looked around pieces of driftwood and large boulders, and jumped back with a start as a turban-shelled hermit crab slowly scampered away. He frequently glanced over his shoulder, looking for the familiar figure of his father by the longboat. So fevered was his hunt, that he almost missed what he had come to find. In a sandy dip below the outcrop of reddish brown stone, behind a small boulder, half buried in the white sand, was an old brassbound chest. It was about a foot long and half as high, weathered with scorch marks, and extremely heavy. Kneeling, the boy cleared away the sand. His shaking hands struggled with the rusty latch, but suddenly it flew open, exposing the contents to the brilliant sunlight.

His breath coming in rasps, he runs his hands through the glittering pile of jewels, rings, and coins from across the Caribbean. A pirate’s treasure for sure. Standing near the longboat the captain heard the distant 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 high for all to see. He was as happy then as he had ever been.

There was a sudden report from the trees above the beach. A wild looking character with a red bandanna and a pistol in his hand sprang from the woods.

“Oh no!” thought the young boy, “Ben Gunn is coming to take back his treasure.”

Clutching the box to his pounding chest, he sprinted the last hundred feet down the shore towards his father and the crew, who were holding the longboat ready in the shallows. His little feet furiously kicked up puffs of sand as he went

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

Ben Gunn fired another shot as they pulled away from the beach. The boy placed the chest carefully on the floorboards while looking back over his shoulder.

“Row fast! Please!” he urged the crew.

The longboat swiftly closed the distance between the shore and the Caribee, and once aboard, the captain opened the waist high gun port facing the beach. With the help of the gun tackles, he and the bosun rolled the brass cannon out. They aimed it at the furious Ben Gunn standing on the shore.

“Fire!” The captain shouted, and the bosun touched the lighted match to the wick of the gun.

The resulting boom cracked and echoed around the cliffs and hills of “Treasure Island”, and as the smoke cleared, the pirate fled back to the safety of the woods.

Later that evening, the family met around the big mahogany table in the great aft cabin of the Caribee. The light from the overhead brass lamp glittered on the water under the stern as it shone through the big aft windows. The young boy sat at the head of the table, his brow furrowed with the seriousness of his task. He carefully shared out his treasure and, as was deemed fair, all of the Caribee’s crew shared in the booty. A penny here, a sous or guilder there. The fo’c’sle sailors came one by one to the aft cabin for the oath of secrecy, and then each received his or her rightful share.

At the end, the little boy was left with a collection of coins and a few pieces of jewellery and, though not a King’s ransom, it was a true and real treasure. During the months that followed, the old copper pieces shone as he counted them over and over, before returning them the brass bound chest.

That little boy was me, Robert Louis Boudreau, and more than fifty years later, all I have left of my treasure is a British West Indian copper penny. Sometimes, as I sit by the fire on a cold winter evening, I take it and hold it in my hand. The copper grows warm, and as I close my eyes, I see the Caribee’s open quarterdeck. The brass cannon gleams, I see my treasure chest lying in the sand, and I feel the terror as Ben Gunn comes out from the edge of the trees.



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