Set Sail with Maritime Traditions onboard Jost Van Dyke's Endeavour II
Story and photos by Susan Zaluski
Built to pay homage to the BVI's traditional wooden sailing vessels, 32-foot Endeavour II is owned and operated by the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society (JVDPS), a local not-for-profit organization that built the vessel on-site behind Foxy's Bar on Jost Van Dyke. Finally on the water after years of construction, Endeavour II is now fulfilling its mission as a floating classroom for sail/dive training and hands-on environmental education for BVI youth. JVDPS is also offering day sails, providing visitors with the opportunity to spend a day exploring the BVI under sail while helping to raise much needed revenue to support JVDPS' education and conservation work.
History of the Tortola Boats
Up until the mid 20th-century, yachtsmen visiting the British Virgin Islands filled postcards abroad with vivid descriptions of little island sloops, so unique in appearance that they became known simply as "Tortola Boats." Built to travel mainly between the BVI and USVI, these boats were typically only 18 to 20 feet in length. Designed to carry cargo, the vessels had a characteristically pronounced sheer line, so that the vessel's stern appears close to the water rising up sharply to a high bow. Combined with their wide beam, these boats had surprisingly roomy deck space for small sloops, and carried what is referred to as a "leg-of-mutton" sail plan. The long over-hanging boom extended far beyond the transom, accommodating an enormous mainsail.
Island sloops represent a time in BVI history when life was inextricably connected to the natural environment, with the BVI's green hillsides and surrounding seas providing basic needs for food and shelter. Tortola boats provided the means to gather those resources and to support trade and transportation. Sometime during the end of the 20th century, the rise of engines began to displace sail, and the number of local sailing vessels dwindled to just a few. Virgin Islanders may today prefer sleek power boats, but those plump little island sloops played a pivotal role in the British Virgin Islands' economic, social and cultural development.
Building a Dream
Back in the early 2000s, Philicianno "Foxy" Callwood owner and namesake of one of the BVI's most famous watering holes – Foxy's on Jost Van Dyke – was lamenting the erosion of the BVI's unique cultural traditions and pristine natural environment. And so, he set up the Preservation Society, which would be the vehicle for supporting one of his big dreams – to build an island sloop to revive maritime traditions. Along with the help of local captain Kevin Gray, a group of older JVD residents, local boatmen who grew up sailing on sloops, helped provide recollections to inform the design of a new vessel. Endeavour II, as she would be known, would carry the unmistakable, classic lines of a Tortola Boat, but all decided that she should be significantly larger and at a length of 32 feet would be built for modern comfort to accommodate several people on board. She would be built with more modern wooden techniques for durability and bear features such as a full lead keel to enable blue-water sailing (the original boats had rocks used as moveable ballast), and an engine to provide auxiliary power. Dr. Gammon, a Canadian naval architect, was recruited to volunteer professional services, and soon plans, a 2-D rendering of Foxy's dream, were created.
Once the plans were drawn, the vessel started to take shape in the backyard at Foxy's with the help of several BVI teenagers, who were hired to serve as apprentices under Kevin Gray and other experienced shipwrights, such as Charles Handy, James Rosenbery and Peter Washburn, who would visit and lend their time and expertise to the project. In total, BVI youth accumulated some 8,000 plus hours of labour into the construction of the Endeavour II's hull. Several youth may have only passed a few days on the vessel, but a few youngsters, now grown young men stand out. In particularly, Jevon Reid, "Flex" Leonard, Dwayne Donovan, Deshawn Donovan and Ruby Pickering provided the majority of youth labour. The vessel was built with laminated cedar frames, and planked in silverbali and angelique (South American hardwoods). The hull was saturated with epoxy resins and then sheathed in fiberglass – providing participating student apprentices with knowledge in modern wood construction methods and helping to ensure the vessel's durability.
Endeavour II boasts some unique features, including bronze winches, which were salvaged from a St. Croix shipwreck. Other salvaged features include Endeavour II's boom and lead from BVI shipwrecks that was used to cast the craft's 4,000+ pound keel. One of the vessel's most outstanding features is its unusual tiller, constructed of a branch of a local Lignum vitae tree, which was cut and donated by JVD islander Vancito George. Local artisan Isah Chinnery of Chinnery's Unique Designs carved the likeness of native birds, animals and marine life onto the tiller, giving JVDPS' nature conservation mission a visual representation on the vessel. In addition to providing financial support, the kindness of several island visitors also played an enormous role in construction. For example, frequent BVI visitor Glenn Ashmore supported the vessel's keel project, even building a container for melting the lead in his backyard in Georgia when a suitable one could not be located in the Virgin Islands. Over the several years that the vessel was under construction, visitors would make periodic visits to check on progress, occasionally donating items, such as a compass, a marine VHF and other needed resources. Major resources were donated by marine industry professionals, such as Interlux Paints and Volvo Penta, which provided a 55 H.P. engine, a donation that was organized by McDonnell Marine in the U.S.
Finally, after eight long years, that included several construction stops due to economic recession and the limited availability of funding, Endeavour II was finally launched in November 2013. Launching was a Herculean feat that involved subcontracting a heavy equipment crew from Tortola, which brought a 100-ton crane, a flat-bed truck and a welding team to the island on a large commercial barge. The launching process took two days. That event was not made public due to safety concerns associated with heavy machinery, but a week later a public christening was held with a simple, traditional ceremony that included comments from local historians, traditional blessing of the vessel and the BVI tradition of smashing a rum (not champagne) bottle over the boat's bow.
Supporting the Dream
Funding for the vessel's construction was organized by the Preservation Society, with many private donations that were made possible through Jost Van Dyke Preservations Society, Inc, a U.S. 501c3 that was set up to help visitors who are also tax-payers in the U.S. make tax-deductible contributions to support the Society's work. Numerous private donors and several BVI businesses provided considerable funding, including Sandcastle Hotel/Soggy Dollar Bar, Foxy's, New Horizon Ferry, UNESCO (distributed through the BVI Commission for UNESCO), the West End Yacht Club, the St. Thomas Yacht Club, Necker Island, and Tico BVI. Discounted or free services from local marine industry was provided by firms such as Nanny Cay, Island Marine Outfitters, Nautool, Sistership Yacht Management.
You can learn more about Endeavour II and the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society by visiting www.jvdps.org, the Great Harbour Office, or calling (284) 540-0861.
Better yet, take a sail onboard, explore the BVI's beautiful islands and help support BVI youth sailing.