Launching The Fancy Me
The Fancy Me was a locally-built schooner that became infamous when she was lost in a hurricane with most of her passengers who were returning home to their families.
It was one of the most tragic events that occurred in the maritime history of the British Virgin Islands.
James Smith and his brother, Wally designed the boat.
It took six months to lay the keel. ~ November 18, 1919
Despite the high cost of materials and the great difficulty in obtaining them, the energetic Smiths, with the help of two men, completed their work on May 15, 1920.
The vessel was returning to the British Virgin Islands from the port of San Pedro de Macoris with about eighty-nine passengers when the weather suddenly turned ominous. ~ July 23, 1926
She had on board a small cargo of sugar, mahogany, and coconuts.
According to survivor, Harold I. Norman, after they were out of sight of land and entering the Mona passage, the captain, seeing the weather changing, thought best to turn back.
He did and got as far as the southwestern portion of Saona Island where he anchored for the night.
Unbeknownst to him, a Category 2 hurricane, with 100 mph winds was heading directly for them!
It was the first hurricane of the 1926 season and grew to be a Category 4 when it passed the Bahamas.
By 6 o’clock that evening, the anchor line could hold no further. Under pressure from the increasing winds and tossing seas, it finally broke free.
Caught in the currents, they drifted uncontrollably until the vessel struck a jagged rock.
The Fancy Me’s Tragedy
The schooner took one more sudden blow before water gushed in, flooding the hold.
Everyone in the cabin below panicked and raced out onto the deck!
The vessel drifted a short distance further, before sinking near a rock known as El Caballo Blanco or the white horse.
Some were trapped inside the cabin as others tried desperately to hold on to floating debris.
When the unbelievable news reached Tortola, all were overcome with grief, some to the extent of fainting.
Mr. Wheatley, one of the fortunate survivors, shared his story of hearing the indescribable cries of the passengers.
Of the eighty-nine passengers on board, only thirty-five survived. The entire community was grief stricken!
Discovering Her Dimensions
The story took on a more personal note when I discovered an invoice for the Fancy Me in our great grandfather’s papers.
He owned the Creque Marine Railway where the vessel was launched.
On May 10, 1921, the Fancy Me was hauled out for minor repairs.
There, in Herman O. Creque’s handwriting were her previously unknown dimensions. “Fancy Me, 45 feet long by 15 feet wide”.
For those interested in learning more, Dr. Janet D. Smith wrote an intriguing account in a book titled, “Such are the Hours to Find Peace, Intimate Accounts, and Reflections of the loss of the Fancy Me”.
You can find it at the Road Town Public Library or the Lavity Stout Community College bookstore.
This week marks the 92nd anniversary of her sinking and the loss of the lives of so many island ancestors.
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