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Wednesday, December 8, 2021
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From the Publisher

In my last column, I told you I would go nostalgic about my childhood/youth in the sea area from Belize City to Spanish Caye, roughly the area where there is presently a great jostling among wealthy entrepreneurs who want to build three massive, competitive cruise ship terminals in the said area.

On Friday afternoon, I took a drive past the Bliss Institute and the eastern mouth of Bishop Street to where our family used to moor our sail boats in the 1950s and 1960s. This is the western side of the Belize City harbor.

At the age of 14, going on 15, in early 1962, I became the captain of a sail boat named KITTY, which was entrusted to me by my late maternal uncle, Roy Belisle.

I normally don’t encourage myself in nostalgia, the reason being that you are shutting out your readers to a certain extent when you become nostalgic about situations, events, and personalities with which they were/are not acquainted.

If you went south down West Canal Street from where I lived at the corner of Regent Street West from the time I was 7 (1954) until I left Belize at the age of 18 (1965), and then turned right on Water Lane, then left on George Street, then crossed Cemetery Road into another block of George Street, you would find the family home of the late Galento X Neal, whose father was a butcher at the old Belize Central Market.

Galento was a UBAD officer from its foundation in 1969 until he migrated to the United States in early 1972, where he became a Muslim and businessman in New York City.

I believe there was some Indigenous ancestry in Galento’s family, but he was definitely mostly African, and working class. When he died a few years ago and was buried as a Muslim from the masjid on Fabers Road, his eldest sister, Raphael (Mrs. “Chupa” Francis), whom Galento always held in the highest of esteem, asked me to speak at his funeral. I was honored.

Galento was a natural born superstar, and knew about a lot of things, such as motorcycles. But, even though we grew up just two and a half blocks from each other, he didn’t know anything about sailboats.

I knew about sailboats basically because I came from a brown, civil service family. I think this was a privilege, to know about sailboats and the open sea outside of the Belize City harbor, because the very air was so different once you came out of the sewer canals of the Haulover Creek and met green sea and the prevailing southeasterly winds from the ocean.
Okay, on Friday afternoon last I was looking for the sign that said “Bliss Promenade” on the fence in front of the family home of the late Eric Bowen (the late Barry Bowen’s dad) at the corner of what we now call Southern Foreshore, and King Street. The lower flat of the old Bowen home is now ferro-concrete, and I suppose this is part of the Coca Cola/Belikin warehouse complex. I assume the upstairs houses offices.

This “Bliss Promenade” sign was nailed on a white picket fence in front of the Bowen home, to repeat. I cannot recall ever seeing any of the occupants of the home when I sailed in or out of the area. That’s how I remember things back then in the 50s and 60s.

Could it be that that section of today’s Southern Foreshore (between Bishop and King Streets) was officially “Bliss Promenade”? You know, there is a Southside Street which starts out as Magazine Road in the north, then becomes Dolphin Street, and ends up at its southern end as Fairweather Street. So, the name variation is possible, I suggest.

Eric Bowen was a fairly wealthy businessman. He owned a lemonade-bottling company, but the Bowen family was not as super rich as they are today. I remember Mr. Eric Bowen as quiet and dignified. Two blocks down from Eric Bowen’s home lived his sister, Barbara, at the corner of Southern Foreshore and South Street. I believe she was a spinster, aging, when she was raped and murdered by one Jerry Collins in the mid/late 1970s. Collins was either an escaped prisoner or had recently been released from prison. He was shot and killed by police.

When we sailed into the Belize City harbor back in the 50s and 60s, we had a favorable southeast wind behind us, and so we would look for our mooring post in front of the Southern Foreshore street-side, sail past the post and then pull up into the wind to slow the boat’s speed so that the crewman on the boat’s bow could grab the post and tie the bow rope to it.

We then lowered our sail and jib, tied them up securely, and unloaded whatever cargo onto the wharf. We then had to shorten the bow rope so that the boat could swing freely, no matter the direction of the wind, and not damage itself on the cement wharf. Then we jumped ashore. And we headed towards Regent Street, then usually Cemetery Road (Orange Street), on our way to West Canal and Regent Street West. We had come ashore just a little to the north of the “Bliss Promenade” sign.

The excitement lay in our return from the city to the caye. First, we tied a piece of stick to a length of rope and cast the stick inside the boat, so that it could hook on to the inside of the boat and enable us to haul the stern to the wharf side. Once we could jump onboard KITTY, we would let out the bow rope from the mooring post to a length which would enable us to load our provisions.

Then we hoisted our sail and jib. Their canvas cloth would be flapping loudly in the southeaster, which was blowing straight down from the sea into the harbor mouth. Getting out into the open sea was a challenge. First, we sailed northeast, then we tacked to the southwest, then back northeast, back and forth tacking until we could clear the huge swells that the southeaster was blowing into the harbor mouth. (The western side of the harbor {Haulover Creek delta} was the shallow side of the harbor, silted up in the area in front of the old Government House and today’s Bird’s Isle.)

The trip from Belize City to Spanish Caye was maybe two and a quarter, two and a half hours. It was usually rough, because we had to sail close to the wind, “beat” in sailing language. We would be drenched with salt spray from the sea, but this only increased our appetite for Usher’s bun, Dutch cheese, and lemonade, which we ate greedily some time after clearing the mouth of the harbor.

We usually caught a mackerel or two trolling on the trips back and forth, sometimes cubali or barracuda. The world between Belize City and Spanish Caye belonged to us. These were very happy times.

I guess you could say the first tourist in British Honduras was Baron Bliss. He anchored his yacht, SEA KING, outside our harbor in 1926, and enjoyed the fishing here for some weeks before he died.

The cruise ship business is a completely different ball game from the Baron Bliss experience. The world between Belize City and Spanish Caye will belong to thousands of strangers passing through from one destination to another. As I said when last I wrote, things sure have changed, Jack.

I would like to dedicate this column to the late Alfred Brice Coye, known to all his friends and acquaintances as “Nico.” He sailed on many of these trips with us back when we thought, mistakenly, that we owned Belize.

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