By - Nancy Terrell (reprinted from Nautical Scene Magazine - 1999)
When Rosalyn Griffiths sailed into the British Virgin Islands in 1973, she was bringing with her a wealth of seawomanship and knowledge. Born in Barcelona, Spain, Ros was fortunate in her exposure to the best in languages and culture. She became fluent in English, Spanish, French and Italian, being taught by the Duchess of Montessori at the first Montessori School. William Schaffer, Ros' father, was the Manager of the Royal Bank of Canada and had an eventful life himself having worked with Batista for seven years where he fought in the Spanish American War. During her childhood Ros learned sailing and equestrian skills.
Then in a 180-degree turn the ten-year-old Ros experienced a cultural shock as her father was transferred to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The climate as well as the social life was a complete opposite from the life she had led in Europe. She Remembers, "Life was cold, miserable and expensive with my father receiving no foreign living allowance. My mother went to work to help out." She was sent her back to Europe for her education. Upon graduation from Mt. St. Vincent Academy, Ros returned to Canada, earning her BA degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax in languages. She then moved on to Manhattan where she received her Master of Arts Degree in Modern Languages from Columbia University - very unusual for a woman in the 1940's. Ros found herself in a select group of young educated women with the world at their fingertips.
In 1948 the Montreal International Civil Aviation Organization trained Ros as a translator. After working for several years, she left for the excitement of London. Here she joined friends and saw both London and Paris (as it could only have been seen in the early 50's) partying and meeting celebrities while working as a translator with the Marshal Plan. In her old Citron she explored Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein before heading south to Milan, Venice, Capri and Sorrento, Italy, where she fell in love for the first time - with an Italian singer, no less.
Later, during a visit with an uncle in Tangier, Africa, she decided she loved the tropics. Tangier during the 50's was like Paris during the 20's - a real mecca for the world's elite expatriates. Ros partied nightly with the likes of William Burroughs and other self-exiled writers and artists and was a regular at the famed Paradise Bar. She taught languages at the American School to a progeny of multicultural students. In '55 she started a class on Tangier History that involved side trips to Mauritania in the Sahara. She met the "Blue Men", wandering Nomads who obtained their name from blue vegetable dyes, that come off on their skin from their hand-woven clothing.
She also learned the art of shark fishing and was delighted to be one of the only young women in the world to see the Pink Sea - a Sahara Marsh that is home to thousands of pink Flamingos. She motor biked to the Pillars of Hercules, learned to snorkel with Jack Cousteau and was among the first to visit at the world's first Club Med.
In '55 Ros returned to Canada to visit her parents. She married an Englishman and settled into a pastoral life in a picture perfect cottage in Nova Scotia.
But life got the best of her and the lure of the Caribbean called. She joined Pas de Loup, a 75' old gaff rigged Brittany Tunny Fishing Boat with a long tiller that needed a block and tackle for steerage. Antiguan friends Dell and Bill Fuller asked her on a sailing cruise to the USVI and BVI on a 65' ketch. Ros recalls anchoring in Maya Cove with "nothing there but birds and beauty." Knew she loved the BVI but was just exploring. She took part in a small regatta between St. Thomas and BVI - with about six boats - everything was so unspoiled. They sailed to St. Thomas. Havensight was just a little dinghy dock. St. Thomas was gorgeous in those days. We then sailed to Christensted, St. Croix, which I loved even more - an elegant island."
The work world called and Ros returned to Antigua where she worked for "Island Guide to Antigua". She smiles continuing, "I met a lot of people and did sailing trips down island with various friends and boats. I even remember jumping ship - sailing down on one boat and back on another. I started a restaurant/bar named Ros's Roost with an Antiguan girl who eventually bought my share. I then opened a boutique in St. John with Frank Henzel, the owner of Long Island, now an exclusive preserve. We would sail to Jumbi Bay on weekends - I loved the place. I got a job on a Charter Boat, Black Rose , a 55' ketch and chartered out of Grenada for a year and a half. I was also involved in Grenada Yacht Services and built it into a really nice restaurant. Selling my interest, I then chartered on Ring Anderson, one of the best chartering vessels in the Caribbean. I met John Griffiths, a shipwright and skipper of Captain Cap, a beautiful 75' Brixham Trawler. We delivered it from Grenada to Antigua. John and I went to England where we were married and bought Boneen, a Brixham Mule 40 , which was built for terrible weather and sailed like a dream."
There Ros and John redid the decks making her seaworthy in. As they could not afford a transmission, they sailed the Isle of Mann for their honeymoon and then on to Gibraltar. En route they were caught in a force 11 gale in Bay of Biscayne. They made it to Finisterre. Spain, where the immigration officer felt so sorry for them that he brought fish for dinner. They spent four or five days there repairing the boat then sailed straight to Gibraltar where they spent the next five years doing deliveries. "Our first delivery was to Cannes. We delivered boats up through the French Canals and Bordeaux - from the Isle of Mann to Spain, an incredible delivery - really scenic little ports. We did all of the French Canals. We were the first boat to sail the coast of Algiers after the Seven Years War. The Russians were occupying Algiers at the time, which was during the Cold War. We sailed the coasts of Tunisia and Algeria."
Then in '72 they left for the Canary Islands where they worked on Boneen
and met several other couples who want to sail to the West Indies with them in tandem. "There were very big seas and strong winds. We left a few days before Christmas and sailed to Cape Verde Islands for ten days. We then sailed across the Atlantic with two small boats that we had to play "Mother Hen" to. We would hove to every dawn and wait for them to appear on the horizon and then at dusk we would hove to again and let them catch up. We had no radios, finding our way with sextants and navigation books. We would shine our aldiss lamp on our sails and they would signal back. What an exhausting way to sail the oceans! We arrived in Barbados in 18 days."
After visiting Barbados and Grenada, the two set sail for the BVI. "As we came into Road Harbor we happened to see Captain Cap, which was the last boat we had both chartered on. The captain asked us to go for a drink at the Poop Deck (the old Spaghetti Junction) We were looking for work and ran into Bob Gray, who was building Prospect Reef. He hired John immediately as a structural engineer who worked there three years. We sailed everywhere in the BVI before retiring Boneer, which was too much to keep (all wood) and we moved on shore on Slaney Hill. I later bought property down the street where I presently live."
Three years later, after Ros divorced, she bought a half share in a 19' Hunter, Winsome, with Jean Green. "We sailed that boat everywhere. We spent the nights out and picnicked on beaches - there is not a place in the BVI that Jean and I don't know. We visited all of the small lagoons on remote islands and went places no one goes today. We did the first Anegada Race. We sailed the Virgin's Cup and I always sailed in the BVI Regatta although on different boats. Eddie Brockbank bought it in '86. Today Brian and Trish Dobson own it"
After this Ros started Carib Casseroles a real hangout for the expatriate crowd, located on Main Street in the building that is now Trude Real Estate and Samarkand. She retired in 1990 and took up painting. She now sells her paintings internationally through Sunny Caribe and Josiah's Bay Plantation and is considered one of the most popular BVI artists.
* Very sadly, Ros died on Tortola on March 4, 2004. As friends we all truly miss her. I will be putting some of Ros' paintings on this site at a later date so stay tuned.
Ros is on the back row far right - celebrating their art at an annual RBVIYC show, members of the Thursday Painting Group show their delight in the success of their show. Ros and John on Boneen, their Brixum schooner below and to the left.
A portrait of Ros by friend Jean Green
Ros with her paintings and with the captain of S/V Ring Anderson, a large schooner on which she worked in earilier times.
THE FOLLOWING FOUR PAGES ARE A TRIBUTE TO MY FRIEND AND FELLOW ARTIST & SAILOR-
1930 - 2004