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by Dan and Jan Ahart

Chapter Forty-Five

Christmas and New Years 2001 were enjoyed in Man of War Bay, Tobago, West Indies, which was an experience, especially since the holidays of 1999 were spent in Key West and Marathon, Florida and the holidays of 2000 were spent in Nassau and Stocking Cay, Bahamas. Those were very typical celebrations that Americans would recognize. With the exception of course of Junkanoo, which involves all day parading with elaborate costumes in the Bahamas on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas. The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago are also of English heritage, so they also celebrate Boxing Day, which is so named because of the old English tradition of the wealthy boxing up unwanted items and giving them to the "commoners" the day after Christmas.

I can't speak for Trinidad, but on the island of Tobago, Christmas is celebrated very differently than Americans are accustomed. Even though the proportion of Christians is greater than on Trinidad, the non-Christian or Hindu religion has apparently had a strong affect on the residents of Tobago. Special church services are certainly held and some decorations are put up and the people sing a few carols, but gifts are not widely exchanged and the religious aspects of Christmas are very low key, but then so are the commercial aspects. Even though it is a national holiday, the fishermen fished and most of the shops were open although activity in town was very slow. We surmised that activity was slow not because the residents were observing Christmas at home and or with family, but because most of them were asleep. Christmas Eve was a prelude to New Years Eve in that it was an all night party. We did not go ashore, but about 2200 hours on Christmas Eve, the partying began at all of the restaurant/bars in the village. The music was very loud, but did not include carols. It was typical island music with a heavy beat and of course lots of steel drums. We had to sleep with earplugs even though we are anchored about a half-mile off shore, but sound carries very well over water. The partying stopped at 0500 on Christmas day.

A week later of course, was New Years Eve. This time we decided we would stay up and see for ourselves what was going on. We took naps early in the day and went ashore at 2130 hours. The streets were not crowded, but plenty of people including children were wandering around. Again, at about 2200 hours the music started. The largest restaurant/bar, which is the Charlotteville Beach Restaurant had the loudest music. Instead of a live band, they had hired a couple of men, who brought their own recorded music, amplifiers and speaker system. Imagine woofers the size of refrigerators blasting a deep bass drum beat at approximately ten million decibels. Even standing five feet from the speakers was like getting a full body massage from the vibrations of a particularly vehement volcano. It would simultaneously curl your hair and straighten your hair. Those of us with little hair simply felt our skin undulating with the beat. Except for the assault on ones hearing there may have been some beneficial results. It probably dissolved every kidney stone in the room. The other two bars had live music and some fireworks at midnight. The only dancing in the streets that we saw were the overflow crowds from the dance floors. We hung around until about 0200 and called it a night. The music continued until 0430. We were told that the Tobagans consider New Years an equally religious holiday as Christmas. It is a time of renewal and a popular time for baptism and Christening. All in all, we were impressed with everyone's behavior. We saw no quarrelling, no obvious drunkenness and no vandalism or littering. The partying was enthusiastic and loud, but respectful. Certainly copious amounts of adult beverages were consumed, which gives me an introduction for some additional background on familiar terminology.

One hundred proof comes from an old practice of customs officials checking the alcohol content of rum. They would pour a small sample in a shallow container and see if it would burn. Rum will burn if it is at least 50 percent alcohol. So, the rum was "proved" or the officials had 100% "proof" it was rum if it would burn. With the invention of the hydrometer in the late 17th century, the percentage of alcohol could be measured very accurately, but the popular term "proof" was well established by then. Illogical as it sounds, 100% or pure alcohol is 200 proof.

For the day after the night before, a cup of Joe is in order. A cup of Joe came from Joe Daniels, who was Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson (1913 - 1921). Among other reforms, Secretary Daniels determined that the strongest beverage allowed on U.S. Navy ships would be coffee. His contribution was recognized by many a disappointed crewmember.

Remember your mother telling you to, "mind your Ps and Qs?" It is a phrase generally meaning to "be on your best behavior." Sailors could always get credit at bars by pledging the advance pay they would receive for signing up for a voyage. The bartender kept track of the debt of each sailor by a running a tab of Ps for pints and Qs for quarts. Too many Ps or Qs and a sailor might become "three sheets to the wind." A square-rigged vessel had four sheets (ropes) used to control each yard (sail). If three sheets were let go or released at the same time and simply flapped in the wind, the yard would flap uselessly and the ship would stagger in the waves like a drunk sailor. And being "three sheets to the wind," can ruin your whole day. We've all heard the phrase that goes something like that. Sounds modern and sophisticated doesn't it? The earliest recorded use of the phrase was, "A collision at sea can ruin your whole day," as recorded in the diary of Thucydides, a Greek seaman, adventurer and statesman in the 4th century BC. So, as the old saying goes, "there really isn't much new under the sun," at least as far as human behavior goes, which sort of begs the question, "why do we have to continually re-learn all this information?"

One last tidbit of information and then we'll call it a chapter. A spinnaker is a type of large sail used for downwind sailing and was first used in 1875 on the schooner "Sphinx." The unusual sail became known as "Sphinx Acre" and eventually was shortened to spinnaker. Stay tuned.

Dates: 2001-12-25, 2002-01-01
Locations: Tobago, West Indies
Keywords: quote, Thucydides

The Ahart Odyssey 1999-2004 Dan and Jan Ahart. All rights reserved.