Ocean College

From the Blog

Long John Sail Maker and other stories

Datum: 25.02.2023
Autor: Caro
Position: Bermuda, St. George’s
Nautische Position: 32° 22.0‘ 714N / 064° 40.0‘ 869W
Etmal: 10271 NM
Schiff: Pelican of London

Long John Sail Maker

On a small island, located in the middle of nowhere (… or in the middle of the Atlantic) there lives a sailmaker. Sailmaking, a profession about the sea but not at sea, a profession concerning the art of sailing.

Today, we had the pleasure to visit a traditional bermudian sailmaker, who is responsible for repairing and making sails, although the focus now lies within repairing sails. We were invited into his workshed in which loads and loads of different tools and canvases (or modern carbon fibres) were stored. He taught us about the different types of sails and materials.

Modern ships these days use carbon fibre sails which are glued together, whereas traditional ships still use canvas which is sewed together. Some sails have even solar panels contained within but these are the “state of the art” sails used by super yachts.

Well… as we were being educated on sails a loud ear wrecking cry burst through the room and we could hear the rhythm of two feet stomping towards us and out popped a macaw (a beautiful type of parrot) in our circle. He was quite entertaining as he wanted to be petted by his owner and later began dancing. Turns out that a long time ago the sailmaker’s neighbour had to decide between the wife and parrot…obviously he chose the wife.

Anyway, at the end the sailmaker told us of the hidden tunnelsystem located at the cliff wall, to the dismay of our teachers who were possibly imagining all the variety of horror scenarios which could occur. BUT of course, we are reliable and responsible students…actually ;-).

So, we went gallivanting off, stomping into our shore leave, one idea in mind.

Tunnel System

Hahaha who would have thought, we went to the tunnel system, climbing into a church ruin on our way.

We came to the cliff wall and could already see the two entrances to the tunnel, of which one had a lattice in front of it, while the other one was broken and lying in the tunnel. With our spirit for adventure though we marched in, armed with torches (or iPad screens) and explored the tunnels.

Slowly, we sneaked through the entrance and came to a stop in a large hall. Rotting wood from balconies from the second storey was lying on the ground, also there were a couple of holes in the ground which went down a couple of metres, maybe they were used as cisterns. A couple of more ways led to different rooms, one of them having a kitchen, the other a bar and the others just being empty.

There was a lot of rubbish in there like old fire extinguishers or old rotting furniture. We even saw large iron chandeliers set aside. The air was damp and mould grew on the wood which has fallen to the ground in the last decades. It was a very interesting place, but we were still curious about its history.

We asked a local about it and he told us that it was used as a stock for British gunpowder during the eighteenth century, partaking also in the Bermuda gunpowder plot and being transformed to a disco in the eighties. During the revolutionary war, which ended in 1778 the US were fighting for their independence of the British.

Bermuda being closer to the US and being dependent on the US trade was stuck in the middle of it, excluded from American trade, being a British colony. So, the Bermudians travelled to the US coast where they negotiated how they could still be included by the US trade.

They had onions and fish, which the US didn’t want, but a much more important thing located on Bermuda which was of great importance to the US was the gunpowder which Britain had stored on its overseas colony. The US wanted the British gunpowder to be brought to them in the return for the promise of lasting trade between the US and Bermuda. So driven by the need of trade they accepted and smuggled the gunpowder during the night out of Bermuda onto a US ship and in return the trade was reinforced again.

Black History Tour

Another highly interesting program of this day was the black history tour given by Christine. She told us all about black history in Bermuda and also about famous historical black figures of this island.

So, the first slaves ever brought to Bermuda were an Indian and a Black and with that event Bermuda was part of the Atlantic slave trade. During the era, after which the Americas were discovered, the invaders tried to make as much profit as possible even including the inhumane trade of slaves.

With that a triangular trade route for slaves developed, abducting African slaves into the West Indies to work on sugar plantations and Native Americans into other parts of the world for labour. These people had lost all their rights and were treated as objects, having no right to decide about themselves.

But in 1834, the British empire abandoned the allowance to keep slaves and with that many slaves got baptised, which worked like an ID back then and were able to be free and have their own estate.

During a storm an American hulk ship had to stop in Bermuda and the slaves on board were allowed to be free because they were in – British territory.

The owners were not happy and sued the crown for their action, in a case which took twenty years after which the crown had to pay compensation. The word spread and many a slave tried to escape into British colonies to regain freedom, which unfortunately didn’t always work but in some fortunate cases did.

Bermuda Poison Plots

The only person ever burned alive in Bermuda was the super mind behind the poison plots slaves plotted against their owners. During the age of slave trade slaves tried to poison their owners to gain their freedom.

Being forced to labour this was the only way they could be liberated out of slavery. After a failed poison act made by her young granddaughter the girl was force to testimony against her grandmother.

They found a huge amount of poison in her accommodation from all around the road brought in by different ships. After the word of this act spread more poisonings occurred within the slave communities.


Behind the St. Peter’s church graveyard, at a cross section the skeletal remains of a woman aged between 18 and 25 years were found, her body facing west contrary to the Christian belief of burring the body eastward.

Her neck was bent in an unnatural way, cause of death was hanging. Surprisingly historians actually found documents about the young woman due to the fact that there was just one document for a woman that age who was sentenced to death by hanging.

The young lady was travelling with her friend to Bermuda as she had the idea to hide a magnet in her hand and to move the compass needle, a bit risky with a bunch of superstitious sailors surrounding her.

Well…who would have thought, she was accused of witchcraft.

Promptly, she rejected this accusation, after witch (haha) her friend was accused of being a witch. Her seemingly witty friend encountered them by saying “If I am a witch there shall be a sign!”.

Having bad luck and being on a rat-infested ship, a rat rushed past her feet and the sailors took it as an obvious sign.

They were taken to Bermuda and inspected by other woman who were convinced the lady who had a rat run past her feet was a witch due to a rash in her mouth and a mole on her shoulder. She was sentenced to be hanged by the neck till dead on gallows island with a short drop and a sudden stop.

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