The sun creeps over Seven Hills to shimmer like a tangerine glaze across Gallows Bay and filters through the palm fronds to crisscross the veranda where I sit with my coffee. It is before just before seven. This I know not from the softness of the rays but because every morning on island I watch the seaplane leave on its first flight to St Thomas, the blousy and boisterous sister Virgin to St Croix.
That first flight is a far better indicator of time than the clocks on the four sides of the Steeple Building at the end of Church Street. It’s been a number of years apparently since the clock, each side at a different time and which sits just above Fort Christiansvaern, has told the time with any accuracy. The Park’s supervisor has assured the worthy residents of this Caribbean enclave that fixing it is high on his priority list. “It’s a personal thing – I want it to be accurate,” he told a recent meeting of the Christiansted Community Alliance. He has not been on island long, and his enthusiasm for rigorous time keeping is at odds with the majority of islanders.
Instead it is the little seaplanes, floats skimming the marina like a skipping stone, lifting with a surge of power to rise over Protestant Cay to begin its busy day connecting the islands, and providing a reference point for Cruzans.
Charlie Blair is credited with spearheading inter-island air transportation, opening up opportunities for islanders to do business with the other Virgins, both American and British. A retired US Air Force brigadier general, Naval aviator, Pan-Am and test pilot, breaker of flight records and a consultant to NASA, Blair found time in 1963 to start Antilles Air Boats. His initial plan had been to provide a flying boat service from New York to various points in the Caribbean, and with that in mind purchased two Sandringham flying boats, and later a Sirkorsky VS-44. The initial idea morphed into a less ambitious plan, and he left the long haul flights up to more established airlines. Upon his death in 1978, ironically in a seaplane accident, his wife, the Irish American actress, Maureen O’Hara ran the business until selling it a year later.
Time can be an approximation in the Caribbean and I am reminded of when living in West Africa, I bemoaned the fact many meetings I attended could run anywhere from quarter of an hour to two hours and longer, late. After showing my impatience one day I was put in my place by an elderly and erudite African who told me, “Señora, the person you are with is more important than the person you are going to see.” Translated into snappy modern day speech his words are similar to the adage, “Be Here Now!” I haven’t quite been able to embrace either edict to the full extent of the letter but I do try, mostly. I don’t advocate serial lateness, but really, do a few minutes matter?
The one exception is when, each time I leave this haven where I luxuriate in watching cheeky yellow bananaquits busily flit from blossom to blossom and seaplanes take off, I wander to the end of the street and request a taxi to take me to the airport. The drivers know me as, ‘de English lady, she on de hill’ which I suppose is better than ‘over the hill’, but with great merriment they assure me my cab will be there, “England time, not island time!”
Seaplanes continue to provide inter-island transport and their schedule continues to be my timekeeper, but I’m not sure what I’ll do when all four clock faces on the Steeple Building are back up and ticking, I mean who am I to believe?