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#1 Dec 18, 2020 9:46 am

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The story of Johnny Palm

As colourful characters go, they don’t come much more colourful than old John Caldwell, universally known as Johnny Palm, creator of Palm Island Resort in the Grenadines. To tell his story, as he did in a very successful book and movie called “Desperate Voyage”, we have to go back to the end of the Second World War. In 1947, Caldwell was demobbed from the US Navy and washed up penniless in Panama. But where he wanted to get to was Australia, where he was due to get married to the sweetheart he’d met on his travels with the Navy. So he decided to invest his few remaining dollars in a tiny wooden sailboat, and sail across the Pacific to Australia.

Never mind that he had absolutely no sailing experience whatsoever. He figured, it’s a big ocean, I’ll learn along the way. Needless to say, the voyage was a catalogue of disasters, including a near-death fight with a giant shark, getting dismasted in a typhoon and drifting for months in the doldrums. He ran out of food and water and was forced to survive on anything edible and potable he could find in the boat, including old leather, shaving cream and engine oil.

By the time he was shipwrecked on a Polynesian reef, he was down to skin and bone and close to death. The islanders saved him, nursed him back to health, repaired his boat and sent him on his way. By this time he’d actually learned how to sail, and made it safely to Australia, without further mishap. You might think this was enough seafaring adventure for one lifetime, but after a few years in Australia he bought another yacht and, with his wife, set sail around the world, in search of their personal piece of paradise.

They found it on Prune Island.

In the early 1960s, John and Mary Caldwell were living on their yacht, making a precarious living taking tourists on sailing trips through the Grenadines, between Grenada and Saint Vincent. Like most of the smaller Grenadines, Prune Island was uninhabited, mainly because of a swampy, mosquito-infested interior. But Caldwell saw potential, and somehow managed to convince the government in Saint Vincent to lease him the island for 99 years, by promising to build them a first-class resort. He was long on good intentions, but short on cash. 

First order of business was to drain the swamp, and to do this he spent years planting coconut trees on the island, over two thousand in all. On his spare days he’ load up his yacht with coconut seedlings he’d collected from nearby islands, and plant them in the wet interior, whose roots slowly dried up the swamp. Palm trees became his passion – and his nom de guerre. Having decided that “Prune Island” wasn’t the best name for a tourist resort, the choice of a new name was obvious, and Palm Island was born (not official mind you, the charts still show it as Prune Island). Caldwell eventually built a couple of basic stone cottages, and lived in one while occasionally renting out the other.

As he tells it, one day an American in a mega yacht visited the island, and fell in love with its charming isolation. Did Caldwell want to sell one of the cottages? Sure, he said, how much would you pay? A figure was mentioned, Caldwell swallowed hard, trying not to show his elation, a deal done, and Palm Island Resort was on its way.

Thirty years later, John and Mary Caldwell had found their own piece of paradise. The island now boasted twenty-four beachfront cottages, swimming pool, tennis courts, restaurant and boutique. The cottages were clean, airy and basic - no television, no air conditioning, no frills. But don't be fooled, punters paid dearly for their temporary piece of paradise. Caldwell ran the island as his personal fiefdom, with his wife and children. He proudly introduced me to his son and daughter-in-law.

“She’s my niece, my brother’s daughter. They didn’t meet until they were both twenty years old, and fell in love at first sight – isn’t that great?”

Er…

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#2 Dec 18, 2020 6:35 pm

houston
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Re: The story of Johnny Palm

Caldwell sure was an adventurous person. Talk about quickly learning how to sink or swim in the deep end. The doldrum months would have given him a good chance to study. I'll bet he has quite a catalogue of stories to tell.
Trying to figure out the relation...would he be considered your step brother in-law?

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#3 Dec 18, 2020 7:01 pm

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Re: The story of Johnny Palm

"Trying to figure out the relation...would he be considered your step brother in-law?"

No relation to me, but his son marrying his first cousin? There's a name for that, and it ain't step nuttin. Ugh.

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#4 Dec 18, 2020 7:19 pm

houston
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Re: The story of Johnny Palm

Okay, got it now.
Sorry I misunderstood. Yeah, there is a name for that.

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