The way I see it, memories don’t leave like people do.
As I reminisced this week on the sinking of the MV Christena, some of the related scenes stemming form that boating catastrophe, came back vividly to memory—as if it was yesterday.
As I told some young people this week, when that incident occurred, they weren’t even a thought.
I was a little boy then but that disaster impacted me greatly.
Almost every family in Nevis was affected, in one way or another. Some persons lost their father; mother; brother; sister… Some lost more than one family member. I lost a cousin. A talented young carpenter, I knew as Roy.
To bring members of the younger generation up to speed:
It was Saturday the 1st of August 1970 and the one main ferry that transported people and luggage by sea, between St.Kitts and Nevis at that time, the MV Christena, eventually set sail from St.Kitts, headed to Nevis, on its final run for the day.
I say ‘eventually,’ because, it is my understanding that the boat left the pier and retuned for more people, who were late, more than once.
And so, this former river boat, acquired from Guyana, commenced its journey, loaded with people and cargo. It was meant to transport officially about 150 persons but on that fateful afternoon, it had an estimated 320 plus persons!
Well I newa!
Somewhere in the area we know as the channel (kinda half way between St.Kitts and Nevis), also known as NAGS HEAD, the boat started experiencing a turbulent spell and apparently some persons panicked and gravitated to one side of the boat and eventually, the boat tipped over.
Persons who were there say that it was an illuminated mix of our society at its best and worst.
There were lots of prayers and there were lots of BADWORDS.
Some people became instant heroes because of their selfless efforts to save others and some persons showed their true selfish nature by letting the beast in them come to the fore.
The story is told of one man who secured a bench for himself and when others tried to hold on to the bench, he stuck his knife in it and dared anyone to get close.
Somebody grabbed a bag of floating breadfruit and was saved. Another grabbed a bag of ice and of course the ice eventually melted….. I had a class mate who was saved by holding on to some sort of a flask. She is Benilda from Bath. I think she is in the USA now.
One nearby villager of mine, it is told, tried to save a fellow villager who absolutely could not swim. During all of her screaming and crying, he begged her to hold him in a particular way, around his shoulders but instead, she placed him into a death lock hold around his neck.
Having heard that people who can’t swim do not like to go under water, he dived, but interestingly, she held on and came back to the surface with him, still kicking and screaming.
He again begged her to hold him in a particular way but she would not release the death lock.
So, he made up his mind and dived again. This time, her hand relaxed on the choke hold and she grabbed his shirt. He tore off his shirt and left it in her hand……..
Sadly there were only 91 survivors.
On that day, as is related in the books written by Mr. Whitman Browne, who by the way did an excellent job in relating the stories, there was some hint to the occult and persons would have mentioned that they saw a strange man dressed in dark clothing board the boat and all kinds of premonitions and dreams that people said they had, prior to the event.
Speaking of dreams, SAMMY the DREAMER, from Gingerland allegedly showed off his prophetic skills by writing in the road at Market Shop that the Christena would sink.
The only problem is that several persons would have reported seeing him writing his ‘prophecy,’ sometime after the news broke!
Now I am not one for superstitions, but when by God’s grace I get to heaven, I have to ask God to explain this one. By the way, Whitman does not know of this one, because my Mom was not interviewed for his book.
That fateful Saturday afternoon, my parents had me and my siblings engaged in some serious house and yard cleaning.
I was with her in the living room, scrubbing the wooden floor when one of two huge mirrors, which had always hung in the living room, from time immemorial, suddenly dropped and smashed to pieces.
As we went about cleaning up the fragments, my mother stated ominously, ‘something really bad is going to happen.’
Even as a child then, I made no bones about scoffing at the idea. She was later to remind me of the incident, when the news of the sinking of the Christena, started to circulate throughout the island.
Some people blame the captain. Some people place the blame on the condition of the boat. Some people blame the government of the day. Some people blame anything and anybody who they could single out in some way.
Kudos of course to Sir Kennedy Alphonse Simmonds, who as the lone Doctor at the Alexandra Hospital on that afternoon, refused to journey back to St.Kitts, but led out in resuscitation efforts and helped in a huge way to minimize the loss of lives.
That incident drastically changed the societal make up of our two islands. A lot of civil servants and other key persons were lost and it was like ‘starting all over again.’
Fortunately, we have learnt from the experience. We now have a number of ferries and they have put a system in place for passengers to sign their names before boarding.
Many swimming clinics have been held on an annual basis and other systems to enhance the safety of persons travelling by boat, have been put in place.
Significantly, though, we still have to personalize it in terms of our SALVATION.
Question: “Suppose I was on that boat, would I have been ready to meet my Saviour?”
I may not die by drowning and I do not know how, where and when I am going to die. However, I am aware that as a human being, death inevitably WILL come, unless Jesus comes before.
So, on a somber note, that should be our main goal: Being so prepared that come what may, I/we will be ready to meet our Saviour in that day of judgement.
That’s the way I see it. How do you see it?