Oct. 4, 2005 – St. Croix officials have been talking for years about marketing the heritage and historical aspects of the big island.
Jill and Brian Updyke, owners of Virgin Kayak and Canoe Outfitters, aren't just talking – they're doing. After a year-and-a-half of effort and personal expense, last week they imported an authentic dugout canoe made by Carib Indians in Dominica.
"It is the only boat of its kind in the world," said Brian. It may remain that way because the Caribs who build the traditional boats are few in number and getting elderly.
The dugout the Updyke's had built is not what is commonly seen as the traditional Carib boat. The traditional Carib boat actually evolved over the last five centuries and shows many European influences.
"This is the exact same type boat that Columbus clashed with the Caribs in," Brian said of the dugout.
It is that clash between Columbus and the Caribs at Salt River Bay the first documented confrontation between Europeans and native Indians that partially motivated the Updykes to get the dugout.
The Updykes have been giving kayak tours through the National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve at Salt River Bay, which is the site of Christopher Columbus' only landing on U.S. land and has the only known Taino ball court in the Virgin Islands.
In the Updyke's home in the Rain Forest, on a mountain overlooking Cane Bay, the evidence of the family's passion for pre-Columbian culture is everywhere. The living room has, instead of a coffee table, a table with a collection of a couple hundred Taino artifacts. In the library not only are there books about all the Caribbean Indian cultures, but there are headdresses and models of boats they used.
If that is not enough, there are also replica Indian artifacts Brian has made, forged from local clay. He also has a room full of these artifacts in the Virgin Kayak office and show room in Cane Bay.
Brian plans to fire about 30 new replica artifacts in pit fire at a celebration called the Carib Canoe Revival in mid-November at Cane Bay.
The canoe is 28 feet long. It was carved out of a 100-year-old Gommier tree and weighs 200 pounds. Brian said that the Caribs told him it would seat 10 people, but Caribs tend to be small people. Brain said he is thinking it will more likely seat eight people. The Caribs named the boat the Cra Cra which is the Carib name for the Ringed Kingfisher.
The dugout still needs some detail work before it is ready to go to work carrying people on tours of Salt River. Brian is studying drawings made by early explorers in the Caribbean to do the work. He has one drawing that shows colors of a boat very similar to the colors of the Cra Cra.
Customers on the tour are treated to a narrative on Columbus' landing and also details about the Taino and Carib cultures. This passion has taken him on a singular journey to get an authentic canoe made by Caribs. The canoe is being made using traditional methods from a 100-year-old tree by Caribs in Dominica and should be delivered to St. Croix in the spring.
"This is how people got from island to island for a thousand years, and it has been missing from the Virgin Islands for 300 years," Brian said.
Brian has lived on St. Croix for 15 years. Before he began running Virgin Kayak full time six years ago, he managed landscaping at Carambola. Taking care of much on the business side of Virgin Kayaks is his wife, Jill. They can be reached at 778-0071.
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