Over the years, I have met some fascinating people in Dominica. One of them is a friendly long-time neighbour named Antony Agar, who has a most unassuming demeanor. I have gradually learned that he has done some amazing things in his life, to date. To me, it’s the stuff of novels and he has managed to fictionalize some of his experiences, add real-life places for the settings, mix in a healthy dose of imagination and serve up two fascinating books (so far): Queensland Ringer (2007) and The Puerto Rico Connection (2009).
Although I had previously written a piece about Antony’s original design and construction of a 100′ long schooner called the Carmela (see Caribbean Compass July 2001, p.29), my curiosity was piqued even more after I read these two books. I was prompted to probe a bit deeper into this humble man’s extraordinary adventures. Antony kindly consented by giving me some background about his life and work.
After Antony completed secondary school in Barbados in 1955, he accompanied his mother Daphne Agar (a Dominican of British extraction) to England. He thought carefully about what he should do at that point. An English teacher at his Barbados boarding school had tried to talk him into going into journalism, as he enjoyed reading and had a flair for writing. But at the age of 18 or so, he resisted as he “thought it would be boring!” As a young man, he really had ‘adventure’ on his mind.
There were some immediate opportunities: go to Canada, where an uncle held a position as a mining engineer in northern Quebec; or head off to Australia where his maternal grandfather lived, in order to work on a station (known as a ranch in North America).
As he was already familiar with farming on the family estate in Dominica, ‘down under’ was perhaps the more obvious choice. He landed there in 1956, where he took up increasingly responsible positions as a ringer (aka cowboy or gaucho in other countries) at stations in isolated areas of Queensland, Australia.
“I only planned to go for two years,” he recalls. When he returned to Dominica in 1959 with the intention of running his family’s estate, he only stayed for a couple of months as his mother was comfortably managing the farms on her own. So he went back for another five years! “I enjoyed the life as a ringer,” he admits. The remoteness, vast cattle stations that stretched on and on for miles and miles, unforeseen challenges, the camaraderie among the workers, and the adventure suited him well. “It wasn’t a huge shock to live there.”
Antony recollected that in those days, there was no electricity on his family’s estate in Dominica, but most homesteads on remote Australian stations had generators. ” And back then all the work was done on horseback. Nowadays they have helicopters and motorbikes!” he remarked.
After he finally returned to Dominica in 1963, he never went back! “But I think of Australia a lot,” Antony admitted with some nostalgia.
He wasted no time in starting a dairy farm along with limes and bananas on the family estate. Although he loved the land, boats had always been a part of his life in Dominica. He owned a Carriacou (Grenadian Grenadines)-built cargo schooner in the 1970’s. It was called the Mayflower C. As a sea-captain, he regularly transported agricultural produce from Dominica to Barbados. Unfortunately, one day the anchor let go and it went aground. He couldn’t find another one to buy at that time so he got an idea that perhaps he should build a schooner himself! He
then advertised in boating magazines for possible plans. While in limbo about boat building designs, he picked up a pen and started to write “for something to do.”
“But Hurricane David squashed all that.” The family home in Dominica was completely demolished by the fierce category 4 tropical cyclone in August 1979. It took a very long time to rebuild it. Years passed and Antony started thinking about his dream-boat again. He researched boat plans again, including a set from
the Smithsonian Institute. However, they didn’t exactly suit what he had in mind. Antony want to build a cargo schooner much the same as his previous boat, only larger. Eventually, he came up with his own design. Then there were many unanticipated hurdles during its construction. After a very traumatic two-day launching, he managed to put his 100′ long schooner called the Carmela (named after Carmel, his Canadian-born wife of more than 45 years) into the sea off Rockaway Beach near Roseau in 1992.
Once she was in the water, he and his crew sailed to other islands with “what little pieces of cargo did not go by [container] ships” in those days. However, the large boats began to accept smaller shipments, which reduced the demand for this special service.
One of the outstanding memories of that era was the Carmela’s participation in an expedition called the Gli Gli in 1997. A group of indigenous Kalinagos from Dominica sailed for 800 miles in a traditional dug-out canoe to South America to retrace their original ancestral voyage a thousand years earlier. The schooner, as the mother-ship, provided support for crew and housed all the necessary equipment. Antony recalled that it was a very successful journey which took over two months. One of the highlights was the delight on the children’s faces when they first saw the schooner as it sailed up the Waini River in Guyana. They had never see such as vessel before.
At about that time, he and his family decided to offer tourism and excursion services from Dominica. The Carmela was subsequently remodeled so that it could be used as an overnight and weekend charter boat. But then the global economy started to downturn and their new venture was no longer lucrative. Several years ago, the Carmela sailed away from Dominican waters when she was sold to a St. Lucian businessman. After so many adventures on his hand-built schooner, Antony was suddenly a captain without a ship!
“I was very much at loose ends after having sold the boat. It was probably already in my mind to write a book,” he reflected.
When he started writing
Queensland Ringer, which was published in 2007, “I thought I might make it into two books, but I never did.”It actually took a couple of years to write it, while his wife Carmel, a retired teacher, proofread and provided encouragement. Antony chuckled when he remembered that part of the challenge was “learning to operate the computer!” Happily, as he went along, it became easier. Although it was over 50 years since he lived in Australia, he enjoyed recalling his experiences as a stock man (cattle rancher) in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. A number of his fictional characters were”based on people [he] knew.” It was a special honour to have Australian artist John Cornwell create the unique cover design. After the semi-autobiographical book was released, Mr. Cornwell wrote to Antony to tell him how much he enjoyed the book, as he felt that the Australian outback was portrayed very accurately.
Other positive reviews of Queensland Ringer can be found on Lulu, where the hard copy and the e-book are available for purchase. Residents can also borrow it from the Roseau Public Library in Dominica and the National Library of Australia in Canberra.
As soon as his Australian adventure story been completed, Antony immediately set his literary sails in a different direction. The Puerto Rico
Connection is an intriguing murder mystery which is set in Dominica and other Caribbean islands. Antony had always like to read mysteries and he had held onto an idea for a long time about how he would begin the book. “Once I started it, it just came out. I didn’t have any plan,” he confesses. As a seasoned sailor, he was fascinated with a scenario where a fugitive stows-away on a schooner and suddenly tries to hijack the captain. He incorporated this “vision” into this novel which evolved from Antony’s imagination. While the settings and cultural context accurately reflect life on several West Indian islands, the characters are completely fictitious.
The production of this book was again a family affair, with Antony’s wife Carmel working alongside as proofreader and cousin Dr. Lennox Honychurch creating the beautiful cover art island scene.
When I read The Puerto Rico Connection, I was at enthralled with my vicarious boating excursions to different islands south of Dominica. I particularly enjoyed identifying a number of places that the protagonist visits on Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia. I got caught up in the fast-paced plot and the suspenseful twists and turns scattered throughout the book. It made me want to sail away for a few days (but under less fearful circumstances)!
Residents of Dominica can borrow this book from the Roseau Public Library. It is also held in the Dominican Collection of the reference sections at Roseau, Grand Bay, Marigot and Portsmouth branches. Other interested readers may buy the hard copy of this book at Lulu.
As to other plans, Antony says he is “keen to see what happens next.” There are some short stories in the works, which are set in both Australia and Dominica.
If they turn out to be anything like Queensland Ringer and The Puerto Rico Connection, then they will be well worth the wait. I am eager to read what I expect will be captivating short stories by my extraordinarily accomplished and completely unassuming neighbour, Antony Agar.
** Heartfelt gratitude is extended to Antony for sharing his story, reviewing the draft for accuracy and for sourcing a few more photos!