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In Quest of an Island

As my book took shape, I knew a transatlantic voyage in the 1700’s would definitely be included. The question was, where would it go? My projected outlines had America playing a prominent roll in the 3rd book so, for the first in the novel series,  I wanted an island in the Caribbean. By this time, we had been on several Carnival cruises and explored islands of Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, St Thomas, St Martin, Costa Maya and Belize.  Coming from Europe,  I wanted a more Eastern  Island, one on the edge that was likely to have been an island to stumble on in the Caribbean. I wanted one fairly new to the 1700’s when many European Countries were colonizing, and fighting over the Caribbean Islands.

Puerto Rico looked intriguing, it was already colonized and fought over by the 1720’s.  Our cruise on the Carnival Triumph had stopped here at 6pm and stayed until 10pm. Being November 0f 2006, it was already dark and we did not get off the ship. We planned to return to the Eastern Caribbean and booked a cruise on the Carnival Destiny for late October 2007. It was called a 7 day Southern Caribbean and left from San Juan and visited an island a day for 5 days and the 6th day was a sea day. Normally we love sea days, as I use them to write my novels.  This time it was different,  I was in quest of an island for my characters to visit.  The other islands we had gone to were beautiful, but as I walked around, it just wasn’t the right place, it didn’t “feel” right.

We spent 1 day pre-cruise in Puerto Rico.  Old San Juan, full of history and for our one day – buckets of rain.  El Morro was wonderful to explore and I found myself lost in the history. I decided that Old San Juan would have some potential for historical fiction, but right now, it was not what I was looking for.  St. Thomas, Barbados, Domenica, St Lucia & Antigua were next. St Thomas and Barbados were beautiful and had all the components I wanted, but somehow, it wasn’t quite right. Domenica and St Lucia, were not even close to what I wanted for my characters.

Antigua was next, and some good Karma followed us right into port in the way of a pair of dolphins jumping through the Carnival Destiny’s wake as we entered the harbor. We hadn’t quite decided what we would do on this island,  so we got off and explored. They had the usual pirate cruises, beach jaunts, snorkeling & shopping tours that are usually provided. Then they had one that stood out; it was a Carnival excursion Sea Antigua by Sea on the Excellence Catamaran. Some inquiries brought out the fact that we would circumvent Antigua completely on a boat and stop on a deserted island for some snorkeling & lunch on the boat.  We booked it, and I was soon wondering, why is a beautiful island in the Caribbean still deserted?  Doesn’t every inch of prime real estate get bought by someone in the 21st century?

Antigua's Green Island

Deserted Green Island

We started cruising & I began taking notes and movie film for my documentation. One rather talkative member of the crew, shared his family story going back generations to the original slaves brought to Antigua to work the sugar cane. He was happy to answer my questions and I gave him an outline of my story and the plot that would be unfolding on this trip in my book. I asked about the island we would visit, and why is it still deserted. I learned that Antigua is very dry, and water was a problem in the 1700’s. The island we would be visiting was frequented by bands of Carib natives hundreds of years ago, and it was long rumored to be a place of curses and voodoo to the people on the main island of Antigua. While Barbuda was populated as time went by, Green Island remained a tiny island with a dark past.

Green Island

I only had to see it and place my feet in the sand to know that I was walking in the footsteps of my characters.  Every part of those chapters came vividly to mind. As I wandered the beach and into the deep foliage, I just knew that everything about this tiny island was perfect. While everyone snorkeled and laid in the sun, I was perched on a rock watching chapters of my book come to life.  I took notes, although it wasn’t necessary, my stories live in my head in immense detail.  It was absolutely perfect for my story, and the inspiration and real life stories the crew told me, added to the plot in many ways.  I couldn’t wait to get back on the ship and I spent the next sea day typing out several chapters of the book’s voyage to Antigua.

We would plan another voyage on the Carnival Victory in 2009, doing the same itinerary but substituting St Kitts for the final sea day. That trip would put me in contact with a member of Antigua’s historical society and include trips around Antigua itself, the sugar plantations, the old English Nelson’s dockyard, forts and churches from the 1700’s.

I am often asked how I decided Antigua was my island, and I guess I really don’t know.  I guess it was so easy to place my characters there in the 1720’s, and no matter where I went on tiny deserted Green Island, I could see my character’s faint footsteps remaining in the sand.

copyright 2008   Rita Alexandrea

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