Shem Pollard rubs a piece of sandpaper over the gum and mahogany wood. He keeps working on the model boat resting in his lap as he answers questions about the boats that he and his friends have been building for 20 years or more.
They inherited the shop begun in 1966 called Sargeant Brothers Boat Shop. They work nearly every day on the models that are made completely by hand. They use mallets, chisels and machetes to cut, shape and whittle the models. They find the gum wood locally and import the mahogany and white pine from South America. The fittings for the models, such as the sail rigging and stanchions, come from bicycle spokes that they shape by hand.
Shem and his friends Benson Phillips and Timothy Sargeant build whaling boats in honor of Bequia’s whaling tradition as well as models of the Endeavor, coconut boats and schooners.
The finest of the models built in the shop was a five-foot replica of the HMY Britannia, built by Lawson Sargeant, the original model boat builder. I found him at the Maritime Museum he runs a few yards down from the boat shop.
For only $5US, Lawson provides a one-on-one tour of his personal museum*. With a smooth, varnished stick, he points to color and black and white photographs on the wall that captured a harpooning from the late 60s. He explains the difference between a humpback whale (They have teeth for eating fish.) and sperm whales (They use baleine to sift and consume plant life.). The island’s last remaining harpooner, Athneal Ollivierre, died a few years ago.
Lawson currently has a few historically correct model boats on display that he built himself. They include one of the Endeavor with a mast at least four feet tall and a couple of the whalers. The model that he’s most proud of is nowhere in sight.
Son Mitchell, whose family has owned the Frangipani Hotel since 1898, served as prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and in 1985 he invited Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to visit Port Elizabeth. The Queen Mother had named the town on Admiralty Bay in honor of her daughter.
For eight months leading up to her visit, Lawson Sargeant worked on a scale model of the queen’s yacht, the HMY Britannia. When she arrived, the entire town came out as he presented it to her.
It’s easy to pick out Lawson in the black and white photographs of the celebration. The same warm smile appears as he explains that his model now sets in Buckingham Palace, a souvenir of the yacht that the queen eventually sold to an oil tycoon in a cost-cutting move to appease anti-monarchists.
I ask Lawson if he intends to build a model boat for Kate and William. He simply smiles and giggles at the idea.
*No photography is allowed inside the museum so only an exterior shot is available.