Escape From The Cornucopia

I was actually kind of angry at that fish sandwich. Not that I am often taken to such emotion at food. But on our last day on Bermuda, having been brought to the winner of the Best Fish Sandwich, Art Mels Spicy Dicy, it was impossible to say no to the entire thing.

What must have been a whole fried filet of the local white fish, breaded and seasoned with something Jen guessed was garlic, then smothered with tartar sauce and cole slaw, served between two slices of thick-cut raisin bread. Half was enough. Jen was smart. She ate half of hers. A completist, I ate all of mine. A good lunch.

It was very, very good. But it was a mistake. We should have shared one. It filled me up to the point I wasn’t even sure I had room for water. Once we got back on our ship, the Norwegian Dawn, I couldn’t eat anything.

Norwegian Dawn at Kings Wharf, Bermuda

Here we were, for seven days aboard this ship, roundtrip from Boston, with all the delicious food we could want, and I couldn’t partake in the bounty of dinner. Not until 10 p.m. was I able to stomach even a little ice cream. The next morning, I couldn’t be sure I was even hungry when I woke up. French toast and eggs Benedict persuaded me, however.

My appetite would only return that evening, just as we were departing King’s Wharf with two days at sea before our return to Boston.

Along the way, I would be finishing up my readings on the Sea Venture. In 1609, the flagship of the third fleet to the struggling Jamestown Colony would wreck here on the “Isle of Devils” en route from London. For 10 months the castaways worked on ways to escape. But the natural bounty of the uninhabited island, with mild weather, surrounded by coral reefs in the middle of the ocean, abounded with pigs, birds, sea turtles and fish.

Considering the state of public health and nutrition in England at the time, it is no wonder that the colonists stranded on Bermuda actually put on weight. And although the governor, Sir Thomas Gates, led an effort to build vessels in which to proceed to the struggling Jamestown, some of the sailors and colonists would, from time to time, wonder why.

This would include my ancestor, Stephen Hopkins. For his musings on the lack of authority of the Governor of Virginia to give anyone orders here on this island in the Atlantic, Hopkins was thrown in shackles and condemned to death for mutiny. If not for the intercession of a few noteworthy persons and the plight of his wife and children at home, he would have swung from a scaffold. So he wouldn’t have ventured across the ocean again, 10 years later aboard the Mayflower. And I wouldn’t exist.

Gates Bay, St. George's, Bermuda

That story is what brought us here, with the Norwegian Dawn being a perfect way to travel to and from our shoot. Time to relax before arriving, time to reflect afterwards, with very limited contact with the rest of the world. With a place to stay and eat all the while in this tiny archipelago. Bermuda, after all, is not the place one can find budget accommodations or meals.

After taking the ferry from one end of Bermuda to the other, in St. George we took a cab to Fort St. Catherine and Gates Bay. Here the shipwreck survivors came ashore. Our cabbie apologized for the beach being so crowded.

We looked north and east along the curving sand that ended at the rocks below the centuries-old fortifications and saw only enough people to fill a school bus. “It’s fine,” we told him, and went snorkeling in clear water that was perhaps a degree or two cooler than the air.

It was hard to leave. In walking back the mile or so to St. George’s, it was very easy to see why Hopkins and others were not in such a hurry to leave this place. How the ease of life compared to that they had come from was preferable – and even more so to the death and disease awaiting them in Virginia. Yet, at the point of the gun, more or less, they did.

Hit and Run History crew with Dr. Edward Harris, Exec. Director of the Bermuda National Museum

Two vessels, the Deliverance and the Patience, were built from salvaged parts and local timber, loaded with two weeks’ worth of provisions gathered from the islands, and set off in May 1610. Within a few weeks, the tanned, rested and well-fed castaways of the Sea Venture arrived in Jamestown, and were met by 60 starving colonist-turnedcannibals – of the nearly 500 who had been there the previous fall.

As governor, Sir Thomas Gates would find that the greatest trouble he would have was not with new arrivals to Virginia, but with his fellow survivors of the Sea Venture. Those whose every glance would say, “I told you so.” Certainly, at the establishment of English America, the idea of questioning authority was hatched on this shore of Bermuda and found fertile fields in Virginia.

That’s why we came to this beach. To see how good it really was. Taking the Norwegian Dawn here was the 21st century equivalent of the Sea Venture. And Bermuda was better still. And leaving quite really stuffed full of its goodness and bounty was the same. If home was so bad to force me to seek a new life in a dangerous, unknown outpost, and I were instead brought to paradise, I would certainly question any effort to leave. Moreso, I would resent being forced to work for months just to be delivered into a living nightmare.

On our balcony overlooking the hundreds of miles of ocean between the Dawn and the Atlantic seaboard, there were hours to explore this. No wonder, 10 years later, in a frigid Provincetown Harbor, did Hopkins and others not of the Separatist community resist the idea that the Virginia Company had any power this far outside their boundaries. No wonder, as soon as things were established in Plymouth, did Hopkins and his family move east, to Cape Cod, while the English colonies moved west.

That is a lesson he would have passed down to his descendants: a distrust of absolute government and organized religion. A lesson hard-learned upon leaving Bermuda with a full belly.

And that’s why I ate the whole sandwich.

 

Hit and Run History's forthcoming documentary, Stephano: The True Story of Shakespeare's Shipwreck, is a joint production of the Cape Cod Community Media Center and Rhode Island PBS.

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