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Bringing August Monday back home


The first Monday in August is known as August Monday in Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. It is also know as Emancipation Monday, marking the day the British Empire freed all of its slaves. I learned an important life lesson there several years ago. It is an experience I have never forgotten.

Our family arrived on the Sunday before August Monday. We had rented a 44-foot sailboat. We were “bare boaters,” meaning we rented the bare boat, sailing it ourselves around the islands. We had developed sailing skills on area lakes and were competent sailors.

We had never heard of August Monday. But we were about to learn.

We had a plan to sail to another location that Sunday and spend our first night. We had a planned agenda sailing to Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, and Cane Garden Bay among our destinations. 

We were fully provisioned and we sailed out of Road Town heading to our first night’s anchor. 

As we cleared the harbor, we attempted to raise the main sail and, trying as hard as we could, it would go up only half way. We radioed the harbor that we were motoring back. Then on the way back the engine sputtered and died. We could not start it. We again radioed the harbor and we sensed their skepticism of weekend sailors. “How could both the sail and the engine break down a mile from the harbor after all? Amateurs,” I am sure they were thinking. 

We managed to limp back with the main sail half hoisted. Upon inspection, the charter company agreed that the sail was jammed and could not be fixed and needed repair. They looked at the engine and discovered a major crack in the block with a major oil leak. It would require pulling the engine and a major repair. To make matters worse, these problems had been reported by the previous sailors who chartered the boat and the boat had not been repaired or inspected before renting it to us.

Then they said there would not be a substitute boat until the next day but, they explained that there was this big parade and festival on the next day known as August Monday. They were mortified themselves and very apologetic. This is a well-known large charter boat company with a stellar reputation.

You can imagine my American fury and anger at them. It was righteous indignation on steroids. I was fuming because of all the things that they failed to do. The hotels were full for the festival and we had to spend the night on the boat in the harbor, hot and humid with no breeze.

The next morning, I asked where and when the parade started. They said 10 a.m. and ran along the main road. We walked a couple of miles to the parade start, which was a simple spot on the road. It was just outside a bar where many natives and ex-pats were enjoying themselves. It was well past 10 so I asked what’s going on? They laughed and said the 10 o’clock parade has never started before 12 and usually more like 1:30-2:00. They had a lottery where people bought chances as to when the parade would actually start. 

We saw people gathering with ornate floats and colorful costumes and Moko Jumbies, who are people in costumes using extremely high stilts. It was all a sight to see. 

At around 1:45, a man on a donkey wearing a nifty coat and top hat carrying an umbrella arrived and the parade began. 

There were many loud drums and dancers and huge mountains of speakers for bands mounted on trailers. When the bands began playing, I felt a throbbing inside my rib cage from the vibrations.

We couldn’t help but start dancing. One minute we were watching the parade, the next minute we were part of the parade. All thoughts of anger and frustration melted away. I couldn’t believe we almost missed this. The music and the beat were carrying us away.

Suddenly, the parade stopped. I looked ahead and one float had lost its speakers, scattered on the pavement. There was no thought of just going around them. We waited for them to reload and go again. Floats ahead had stopped and waited for them. The parade finally ended on the beach where we plunged in to cool off. Local foods were being sold from many concessions stands. It was delicious.The locals greeted us and treated us like family.

Our spirits were lifted and I thought, I really need to slow down, be patient, and relax, remember the important things of life. What was I thinking ? 

We eventually sailed away and had a great vacation in a different boat.

Now, every August Monday, I drink a little rum punch, sit back in a tropical shirt and shorts, and remember that day.

I usually put on my favorite Bob Marley song and sing along: 

“Don’t Worry About a Thing

Cause Every Little Thing’s Gonna be All Right!”

Richard Henderson is a local resident who practices law and helps rescue unwanted animals.


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