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HomeNewsArchivesIT'S NOT ST. THOMAS, BUT BACCHANAL COMES CLOSE

IT'S NOT ST. THOMAS, BUT BACCHANAL COMES CLOSE

May 10, 2002 – With Carnival over, it's time for Bacchanal.
This is the weekend of the seventh annual gathering of a couple hundred one-time St. Thomas residents and a handful of current ones somewhere in Florida to eat West Indian food, down Caribbean drinks, jump up to reggae and steelpan sounds, lime on the beach, laze by the pool and talk about how much they miss life in the islands.
The venue for Bacchanal 2002 is the Sea Turtle Inn on the ocean in Atlantic Beach, about 20 miles south of Jacksonville. During the day and into the night Friday, arriving Bacchanalians signed in and collected their commemorative blue-on-white T-shirts (with artwork featuring a donkey flying from the islands to Florida) and gift samplers of Cruzan rums. Things officially got under way in the evening with a light buffet supper, a cash bar and music by a local steelband.
By 10 p.m., the crowd had split up into those catching up on conversation in air-conditioned comfort and those outside dancing to the steelpan sounds by the beach.
"There are about 150 people here now," Karen Sheperd Mozzo said. "From our room, we've got a great view of the cruise ships going by. It's kind of like sitting in Contant — we're up on the sixth floor, so we can pretend like we're in the hills."
Among those Mozzo had greeted by then were "Harvey and Mitzi Henne, the Zimmermans from Pawleys Island, Teresa and Brian Arena and their children from Massachusetts, Shelly Puritz Shanko and Debby Avery."
Saturday's agenda gets going with optional sightseeing in nearby St. Augustine, the oldest city in the continental United States settled by European explorers. (Laying claim to being the oldest continuously settled city in the country is the Pueblo of Acoma, an hour's drive west of Albuquerque, New Mexico.)
Later Saturday afternoon, there will be poolside music by Nicky "Mighty Whitey" Russell, whose annual trip north for the occasion has become a staple of Bacchanal.
Then comes the West Indian buffet dinner, which committee chair Rui Costa says has been planned to be "like Carnival Village on St. Thomas — pates, johnnycakes, peas and rice, chicken legs, beans and rice, everything." And then, he adds, as late into the night as is agreeable, there'll be jamming to the music of "the No. 1 reggae band in the northeast of Florida."
Costa was born in the Azores but grew up on St. Thomas, living there in 1970-1989. He met his future wife, Laura Ramsay, in the 9th grade at Antilles School. After college he returned to St. Thomas and started Gold Creations, a jewelry shop in Drake's Passage. In the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, he and his family moved to Port St. Lucie on Florida's East Coast, and six years ago they settled in Jacksonville, where today he once again owns a jewelry business.
Last year's sixth annual Bacchanal, on Singer Island on Florida's Gold Coast, was the biggest ever, attracting a good 400 people for the Saturday night pig roast. Later that night, when the call for someone to host Bacchanal 2002 came, Costa won cheers when he stepped forward to propose Jacksonville as the venue and himself as No. 1 volunteer.
While there are hordes of island expatriates in South Florida and a goodly number on the state's West Coast, they are fewer and farther between in the Jacksonville area, which is as far north as you can go without running into Georgia.
And so Costa's committee proved to be a close-knit one that had little problem getting together for meetings — himself; his wife, Laura; and their daughters, Jaime, 18, a St. Thomian; and Kasey, 17, who was born in Puerto Rico. Helping out with expertise and enthusiasm was Anne Lawrence Wray of Deerfield Beach, who organized the first two Bacchanals, held in a Fort Lauderdale park and was a mainstay of last year's committee.
A mass mailing promoting this year's event went out several months ago, but there was no web site, as there had been last year. Given today's predilection for electronic communication, "a lot of people were e-mailing Anne," Costa said on Thursday, "and she referred all the e-mails to me. She has been very helpful." He added, "It's been quite a challenge to try to keep up with the Bacchanal from last year. It was very upbeat; it was a great group."
About 180 people had registered as of Thursday, Costa said, among them neo-Jacksonvilleans Axel Heimer Jr., B.J. Honkamp, Emely and Alexis Kuschneret, Brian and Lori Steers and Laura Costa's mother, Rita Ramsay — who has a vacation home there. Booked direct from St. Thomas were Ramsay's daughter Nancy Berry and Lee Ann LaCesa. Those registered from the farthest away on the mainland were Frank McLaughlin from Connecticut and the Arenas from Massachusetts.
Jacksonville being so far north in a very vertical state posed a challenge, "no doubt about it," as far as attracting residents traveling by car, Costa said. "But we have been selling it as an attractive place to visit, with lots to do — sightseeing, golfing, shopping, great restaurants."
In other words, a lot like St. Thomas.

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