MV The Seimstrand was a ferry that sailed between St. Vincent and Grenada during the late 1970’s. It was a lifeline of the Grenadines as it allowed a reliable and efficient transport of goods and people. In addition she did party cruises along the West Coast of St. Vincent or to Bequia and Mustique on some Sundays and holidays.
Captain Frank Ollivierre was always neatly dressed in a black pants, white shirt and a captain’s hat. He was a good captain and looked the part.
Let me describe the ship visiting a port on a regular trip through the islands. Let’s say Bequia or Union Island.
As the Seimstrand enters the bay the ships horn will emit several long blasts. This will let the entire island know that she was arriving and those who wanted to get off to get ready. The passengers that were not disembarking were to stand clear of the deck.
The captain smoothly and quickly came alongside to the jetty. Immediately there was a rush of the passengers to disembark. All manner of cargo was off loaded – food stuff, kitchen appliances, Fuel, building materials, and everything that an island needs. At the same time those wishing to sail were clambering aboard. Cartons and bags were thrown on and off the vessel as fast as possible. Verbal messages were passed back and forth – who had died, born, got married etc.
The captain remained on the bridge with the engine ticking over counting the seconds. When most of the cargo and people were transferred he gave a short note on the horn. This increased the frenzy on the deck. Soon the only departing passengers on the jetty were men. The mooring lines are undone and the ship slowly moves away. Those left say the last goodbye to their loved ones and make a jump over the widening gap from the jetty to the ship. This was followed by a barrage of last minute cargo being thrown over. Along with instructions to those leaving – like “Don’t forget to get shoes for the children” or “Tell Mother hello for me.”
For some, this would be start of a long journey around the world working on container ships. They would be away for many months, but the money they remitted home each month kept their families alive.
As she left the bay The Seimstrand would give one last note from the horn. The island returns to its peaceful state with the week’s excitement over. The men under the almond tree can continue their routine of cards, dominoes and sleeping.
I was fortunate to witness this many times when I worked in St. Vincent. Part of my job was to travel the Grenadines keeping the telephone and radio system working. A tough job but someone had to do it.
Captain Frank Olliverre died a few years ago but his son Steve has kept the family tradition going. He is a Master Mariner and runs a shipping Agency.
See also: Mailboat Odyssey: Long Day’s Journey Through the Grenadines by Ralph Blumenthal NY Times –
27th April 1975