The Cradle of Champions
One of the cultural peculiarities of the West Indies, for some time now, has been the arresting presence of The Australian Sailor.
Most are deckhands on top-of-the-line racing sailboats, and their services are prized for their physical prowess and for their unhesitating and enthusiastic devotion to their boat's success.
They also enjoy a large reputation for their extraordinary ability to rapidly consume vast amounts of beer.
The best place to see them in their element is at English Harbor, each spring, during Antigua Race Week.
Now and then, they can be found on or near the docks in Gustavia, or dutifully performing what is expected of them at Le Select.
Few, if any, are aware of the role that St. Barths has played in their nation's history:
In and around 1784, England's naval fleet, essential to the Realm's security and vital to its international trade, utterly depended upon the importation, from Baltic ports, of Russian pine and flax for ship's masts and sails.
No trees or fibers of suitable quality are native to the British Isles.
That very year, France made a deal with Sweden to establish a French naval depot on the island of Göteburg, at the mouth of the Baltic Sea, threatening the English supply of what were, to the British Admiralty, strategic materials - as important as uranium and oil are to us today.
Coincidentally, the illustrious Captain Cook had recently returned to England with reports of enormous pine forests and native flax on Norfolk Island, thought to be not far from the newly discovered continent of Australia, a place that was under urgent consideration for colonization, especially as a penal colony.
And so, the British government, after weeks of poorly informed deliberation, believing that the Empire could be expanded, that the threatened reliance on Baltic pine and flax could be relieved, and that English society would be improved by the removal of its most villainous members, sent a colonizing fleet, including several hundred convicted felons, to Botany Bay on the east coast of Australia.
The British government's best estimates were wrong about almost everything, and the horrors of the founding of our dashing sailor's continental nation have been thoroughly docmented elsewhere, but it might not have happened at all if it hadn't been prompted by the deal between France and Sweden.
The deal was this:
The French get a naval depot on the Swedish island of Göteburg, and the Swedes gets a small island in the West Indies named St. Barthélemy.
More to come,