Dominica’s Antony Agar: Australian Ringer, Caribbean Sea-Captain, Schooner Builder, Author

Antony Agar reads from his book Queensland Ringer at the 2009 Nature Island Literary Festival.

Antony Agar read from his book Queensland Ringer at the 2009 Nature Island Literary Festival.Photo taken by Celia Sorhaindo of Tropical Ties.

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.

Antony Agar as a recent high school graduate in 1955.

Antony Agar as a recent high school graduate in 1955.

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.

Antony took this picture of himself when he was a young ringer in Queensland Australia.  The photo was copied from an old slide.

Antony took this picture of himself with his new camera when he was a young ringer in Queensland Australia. The photo was copied from an old slide.

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

The Carmela was designed and built by Antony Agar. The vessel is 100' long on deck with a 25' beam, a 12' draft and a 10' deep cargo hold. She operates with a crew of four. She was sold to a St. Lucian businessman several  years ago. Photo taken by Maurice Agar.

The Carmela was designed and built by Antony Agar. The vessel is 100′ long on deck with a 25′ beam, a 12′ draft and a 10′ deep cargo hold. She operates with a crew of four. She was sold to a St. Lucian businessman several years ago. Photo taken by Maurice Agar.

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 Carmela under construction.  What a frame!

The Carmela under construction. What a frame!

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.

The Carmela first operated as a cargo vessel and then later became a charter boat. Photo taken by Maurice Agar (Antony's son) off of the coast of Martinique during the Gli Gli expedition in 1997.

The Carmela first operated as a cargo vessel and then later became a charter boat. Photo taken by Maurice Agar (Antony’s son) off of the coast of Martinique during the Gli Gli expedition in 1997.

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 is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young cattle rancher's experiences in Australia.

Queensland Ringer is a semi-autobiographical novel about a young ringer’s experiences in Australia.

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.

Antony and his wife Carmel have been married since 1967.  Photo taken at a family gathering in Antigua in March 2013.

Antony and his wife Carmel have been married since 1967. Photo taken at a family gathering in Antigua in March 2013.

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

The Puerto Rico Connection is an intriguing murder mystery which is set on a number of islands, including Dominica.

The Puerto Rico Connection is an intriguing murder mystery which is set on a number of islands, including Dominica.

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.

*With special thanks to Celia Sorhaindo of Tropical Ties, Wendy Walsh of Delphis Inc. and Elise Johnston-Agar of Agar & Johnston Architects for their invaluable assistance.

** Heartfelt gratitude is extended to Antony for sharing his story, reviewing the draft for accuracy and for sourcing a few more photos!

West Indian Murder Mystery donated to Roseau Public Library in Dominica

Roseau Public Library is located on Victoria Street, just south of the Fort Young Hotel.

I have mentioned in a previous post that the Roseau Public Library is one of my favourite hang-outs around town.  This stately wooden structure was built in 1906 with funds donated by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  Its broad veranda has a sweeping view of the hills above Roseau, as well as the southwesterly seashore.  Very often, a pleasant breeze blows through the building when I am seated at a serviceable table with books in hand.  There is even wireless internet in this century-plus building, which is a great help if I bring my laptop with me.  I am also grateful to the friendly and knowledgeable staff who are always ready to assist with any query.  My appreciation for different types of literature has expanded a thousandfold (I think!) due to its  diverse and ever-growing collection of local, regional and international fiction.

While the library purchases books and other educational materials, there are  some generous donors who give brand new or slightly used books to this wonderful establishment for the enjoyment of all.

Gwendominica hands over a copy of Island in the Clouds by Susan Toy to Davina Jones, Chief Librarian of the Roseau Public Library.

I had the pleasure to act on behalf of author Susan Toy  when I donated a copy of her new West Indian murder mystery Island in the Clouds to the library.  The Librarian, Davina Jones was delighted and asked me where she could buy more copies!   I have put her in touch with Susan to get the particulars.

Now that I have may own paper copy, I can flop down on the bed and devour it in a day or two. It has been a few months since I gobbled up the electronic version.  I wonder what I will discover this time that I missed during my first reading!

I did really enjoy this whodunnit, affectionately nick-named Clouds by its Canadian-Bequian (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) writer, colleague and friend.

Here is my first impression, which I am thrilled to report is found on the front page of the book:

I was spellbound by the development of the plot and the quirky twists that you sprinkled throughout. Sometimes I found I was even holding my breath! I also was laughing to myself about many of the cultural differences that you so cleverly pointed out between foreigners and Bequians – well I would say all West Indians for the most part. As an expat living in Dominica for almost 15 years, I could really identify with so many of Geoff’s remarks about life on Bequia.

Island in the Clouds occupies a spot (for now) on the Popular Books carousel.

I really hope that patrons of the Roseau Public Library will have as much fun reading  Island in the Clouds by Susan Toy as I did (and continue to do)!

Island in the Clouds – a Bequia novel

Available as an eBook to purchase online from:
Kindle
Kindle UK
Kobo
Apple’s iBookstore/iTunes: Apple Canada, Apple US, Apple UK
Print edition is now available!

ISBN 978-0-97879385-2-7 CDN/US $18.95


Discussion about Island in the Clouds on Tripadvisor

Canadian Librarian Gives Thumbs Up to West Indian Murder Mystery!

You may recall that Canadian librarian Judy MacLean of Fredericton, New Brunswick won a copy of Island in the Clouds by author Susan Toy of Calgary, Alberta and Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (see https://gwenithwhitford.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/canadian-librarian-wins-west-indian-murder-mystery-contest/

Here is her unsolicited review of the book, which I have reprinted with her permission:

Just wanted to report that I received Sue’s book on Thursday and finished it  yesterday (Saturday)! As I sat out in my sun-room enjoying the warm gentle breezes I pretended that I sat in a villa atop a mountain looking down at the incredible scenery that the book spoke about. I enjoyed my adventure, though I’m not sure her description of the windy roads, police or the drug runners did much for my desire to go to her island! ha ha
I did like her book and it made it all the more fun to read knowing that you knew her and the area the book described. I was a little surprised that they didn’t seem at all bothered about the killing of the “pirates” or the tampering with the money or clothing found on the property – especially the gun. It had me guessing though, and that’s the beauty of a “whodunit”.
Please send Sue my thanks and best wishes for the continued success of her book! I was actually thinking that Geoff’s character could get into even more adventures. As a property manager, he could see and hear all kinds of interesting things, and he seems to be better at asking questions and solving mysteries than the authorities. Perhaps he could become a private investigator – which is kind of ironic since he has a history to hide.
As the book cover indicated, this book was part travelogue, and I think it was just the right amount of information. I really enjoyed that. In another book however, she might be able to talk more about the industries – fishing or tourism or whatever – maybe a combination! Some fisherman pulls up something or someone in his nets. Would love to hear more of the local dialect and get a sense of how these people might handle another mystery – or even more about what their daily lives might be like. I suspect there are also many stories in history about pirates or ghost stories or spiritual beliefs that could be incorporated into another exciting story with colourful characters.-  By Judy MacLean   
Gwendominica and Judy MacLean (right) when they last met in Canada in 1997.  They have kept in constant contact and hope to reunite someday soon!
Judy, your feedback is really appreciated.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Island in the Clouds with us!

Island in the Clouds – a Bequia novel

Available as an eBook to purchase online from:
Kindle
Kindle UK
Kobo
Apple’s iBookstore/iTunes: Apple Canada, Apple US, Apple UK
Print edition is now available!

ISBN 978-0-97879385-2-7 CDN/US $18.95


Discussion about Island in the Clouds on Tripadvisor


Canadian Librarian Wins West Indian Murder Mystery Contest!

Gwendominica and contest winner Judy MacLean last met in 1997, when Gwen was embarking on her Dominican adventure and Judy was working and raising her family.

I am thrilled to announce that Judy MacLean, a librarian in Fredericton, New Brunswick  Canada is the winner of a free copy of Island in the Clouds by  Susan M.Toy of Calgary, Alberta Canada and Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Judy was the only entrant in the contest, and she did attempt to answer the question with logic and reason! (See my Win a Free Copy of a West Indian Murder Mystery! post and my Canary Gal blog.)

Judy and I go back a long way – to November 1984 (!) in fact.  I met her in the Nova Scotia Provincial Library in Halifax Nova Scotia on the first day of my first big job as a professional librarian. She was working there as a library clerk at that time, but within a few years went back to Dalhousie University to obtain her Master of Library and Information Studies degree.  Then she headed home to New Brunswick, got married, raised three boys and continued to work in various capacities within the profession. She is currently the Information Services librarian in the Science Library at  the University of New Brunswick.

Despite her full and active life, Judy does find time to write and recently published a very moving  autobiographical article entitled ‘Nothing Short of a Miracle’ in Canadian Teacher Magazine in September 2011.  She is working on another humorous  and heartfelt piece,  entitled ‘Reflections of the Chicken Lips Lady’ which she hopes will be in print in the near future.

Even though we haven’t seen each other very often over the years, we have always kept in touch.  It means a great deal to me that Judy follows my adventures on Ti Domnik Tales with tremendous interest and curiosity.  I expect to see Judy and her husband Archie on the Nature Isle someday very soon!

Judy and her family at her eldest son’s wedding in May.

In the mean time, some words of my dear friend Jude bring me great comfort, despite the miles and time apart:

“Take care! It’s been great talking to you! And I thought of you when I looked out the window last night on our big and bright moon.”
Congratulations Judy!  I hope you will enjoy ‘Island in the Clouds’ as much as I did!

Island in the Clouds – a Bequia novel

Available as an eBook to purchase online from:
Kindle
Kindle UK
Kobo
Apple’s iBookstore/iTunes: Apple Canada, Apple US, Apple UK
Print edition is now available!
ISBN 978-0-97879385-2-7 CDN/US $18.95


Discussion about Island in the Clouds on Tripadvisor

Win a Copy of a Cool New West Indian Murder Mystery!

When I first met Susan Toy of Calgary, Alberta Canada and Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I had no idea that we would continue to correspond and occasionally meet over the years.  I was amazed that as complete strangers we had so much in common: island life; writing; reading; cooking and cats!
We’ve both been immersed in our mutual interests and I am delighted to announce the release of Susan’s first novel – a murder mystery called Island in the Clouds. It is set in her adopted
country, tiny Bequia, but there’s nothing little about the action in this intriguing plot!
Island in the Clouds by Susan M. Toy

The dead body in the pool is putting a serious dent in Geoff’s morning. An ex-pat property manager on the Caribbean island of Bequia, Geoff doesn’t want a spotlight shone on the secret past he left behind in Canada, but now he’s the suspect in a brutal murder. With no help from the inept local police force, he’s drawn into investigating the murder himself, to clear his name. As Geoff finds out more about the circumstances surrounding the killing, and he and his loved ones find themselves in danger, he begins to see a very dark underbelly of the place some people call paradise…
Part travelogue, part mystery, Island in the Clouds takes a long, hard look at the reality of living in a place that seems perfect — from the outside, anyway.

Reviews:

So here we have a dead body in a swimming pool, a fantastic locale, and a cracking good yarn. Ever dreamed of running away to a Caribbean island? Author Susan Toy entertains while providing the inside scoop on what that might be like. And not to worry. You’ll exit this mystery with your dreams intact.
~ Ken McGoogan, author, How the Scots Invented Canada, Fatal Passage

Island in the Clouds is a wondrous mystery, set on the lush island of Bequia in the Caribbean. A Canadian with a secret past becomes both suspect and investigator for two murders on the island. Along the way, he shares sharp insights into the history and life of this gleaming gem of a place. Susan M. Toy is a keen stylist who never fails to drive her story forward with a sure hand. As in all well-crafted mysteries, the solution to the crimes is both thoroughly surprising and perfectly logical. Toy shows us the sights and lets us hear the rhythms of the islanders and, cunningly, allows us to peek into the lives of a sexy set of expats.
~ Michael Fay was the founder of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society

‘Clouds’ Contest: Win a FREE Copy:

If you’d like a chance to WIN a FREE copy of Island in the Clouds, you can do so right here.
It’s easy – all you need to do is correctly tell me what years  I have visited Susan Toy in Bequia, then send me a comment, citing the specific years.  I will not post your comment but I will post your name, indicating whether you are correct.  Then correct respondents will be entered into a draw, to be held  on July 1st (Canada Day!).  I will make the draw with someone else and will post a picture to confirm that it’s been done.  Then the winner will be notified in a subsequent blog.
The deadline for responses is June 30, 2012.  Here’s your only hint:  I have more than one blog now.
Correspondence on ‘Clouds’ between author Susan Toy and Gwendominica:
Susan  in Bequia:
Island in the Clouds – in Dominica!

Soon after moving to Bequia in 1996, we received a message from a fellow Queen’s grad who saw our notice in the university’s Alumni Review about retiring to a Caribbean island. She wanted to pick our brains about our experience of moving to the tropics. That’s how we met Gwen Whitford who came to check out Bequia. She eventually settled on the island of Dominica and still lives there today, where she teaches and writes. I was in contact with her again in January when I announced the ePublication of my new novel. Gwen offered then to read and review it. As well as sending me some very kind words, she also attached pictures to be included in my Where in the World??? promotion. Thanks, Gwen!

Gwen in Dominica:

I finished ‘Clouds” last night and I LOVE IT!  I was spellbound by the development of the plot and the quirky twists that you sprinkled throughout. Sometimes I found I was even holding my breath! I also was laughing to myself about many of the cultural differences that you so cleverly pointed out between foreigners and Bequians – well I would say all West Indians for the most part. As an expat living in Dominica for almost 15 years, I could really identify with so many of Geoff’s remarks about life on Bequia. I also wondered how readers who have not spent much time in the Caribbean (other than as a tourist) would identify with the cultural differences. Don’t Stop the Carnival!

In addition, I was intrigued by the descriptions of Bequia and I could actually place myself in many of the locations (Admiralty Bay, Moonhole, the taxi stand, the Frangi Hotel, the ferry dock, etc), thanks to the two visits I had with you. My slight familiarity with the setting really added to my enjoyment of ‘Clouds’, because I could easily picture the places in my mind. However, your narrative, but very descriptive writing style would make it easy for any reader to ‘picture’ the place.

In my dreams, I can see myself flopped down on one of Bequia’s lovely beaches with ‘Clouds’ on my lap, a cool brew beside me, and between chapters, a dip in the sea as I work my way through it in an afternoon or two.

Thanks again for this wonderful murder mystery. I can’t wait for the next one!

Canadian author Susan Toy on her porch overlooking Admiralty Bay in Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines:

Print edition will be available June 21, 2012!
ISBN 978-0-97879385-2-7 CDN/US $18.95


Discussion about Island in the Clouds on Tripadvisor