The Cemetery Detective explores the cemeteries of the US Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and Newport Rhode Island.
This video and write-up chronicles my recent journey from Tortola, British Virgin Islands to Bermuda and then onward to Rhode Island. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to work on a beautiful sailing vessel being delivered over 1700 nautical miles across the north Atlantic ocean. On my journey, I visited as many cemeteries as I could while still performing my duties.
I learned to sail several years ago.
While most of my sailing has been on inland lakes, I’ve logged about 3,000 offshore miles in the Caribbean and North Atlantic.
On my most recent trip, I was 1 of a 4 man crew delivering a 62′ sailboat from the BVIs, northward to Portsmouth, Rhode Island, USA.
I arrived in St. Thomas, USVI early on a Monday morning. Shots of Caribbean rum were freely handed out at the Cyril E. King airport. The drinks gave everyone a feeling we were truly in the islands, mon.
On the taxi ride to Charlotte Amalie Ferry Port, I noticed row after row of crypts stacked two to three high. Since I only had 90 minutes on St. Thomas before my ferry departed, I sprinted across Veterans Drive for a quick visit the Moravian Cemetery of St. Thomas.
Distinguishing aspects of this cemetery included simple dirt burial mounds (tumuli) covering some graves. The majority of interments are within above ground concrete crypts. I am still fascinated with the personalized memorials inscripted by family members and loved-ones.
My trip on the Fast Ferry took about 40 minutes to reach Rhode Town, the capital of Tortola BVI. Once back on land, I walked miles and miles
to visit St. Georges Anglican Church Cemetery, St. Paul’s Cemetery at Sea Cow Bay, and numerous unnamed cemeteries tucked into the hillsides along the southern edges of Tortola.
Sailing The Atlantic
Sailboat delivery is something I first experienced in 2015. Many boat owners like to keep their boats in warmer climates during the winter. Since ocean crossing requires the expertise of competent crew, owners hire crew members to move their boats southward in the fall and northward in the spring.
Delivery crews work at the whim of the weather. A significant challenge in sailing a boat on the open ocean is the search for a weather window providing acceptable weather for the majority of the passage. Once offshore winds were favorable, we motored out of Nanny Cay and along the Sir Francis Drake Channel. Turning the boat to starboard at Frenchman’s Cay, we motored across the archipelago to spend one night at Jost Van Dyke before sailing northward to Bermuda.
For the next week, it was nothing but sky and water as far as the eye could see. But, we were kept company, somedays, by dolphins.
The Cemeteries of Bermuda
We arrived in Bermuda, unscathed from the journey. Anyone who has sailed into Bermuda knows the reassurance you feel upon hearing Bermuda radio on channel 16. The waters around Bermuda are notoriously dangerous. However, navigation markers lead the way to the Town Cut at St. Georges. With the yellow quarantine flag raised high, we cleared customs and were free to roam the island. The next stop, after customs, was the White Horse saloon for Dark n’ Stormies. Many tales of sea going adventures have been told here….and some of the tales are actually true.
This was my third visit to the island. Using scooters for transportation during my visits, I have explored every major Bermudian cemetery (that I know of).
Sailing Across the Gulf Stream
After a quick supply re-provisioning trip to the local market in St. Georges, we quickly prepped the boat for its final leg of the journey.
Through the town cut leaving St. Georges and across the bowditch seamount, we readied ourselves for the ever treacherous waters of the Gulf Stream.
Sailing across the Gulf Stream can be a hairy proposition. Weather and sea state can change in the blink of an eye. Sailors have to be prepared to alter sail trim and reefing points at a moment’s notice.
Arrival In Rhode Island
Days and days passed but we soon sighted Block Island and Narragansett Bay. I’ve been to Newport Rhode Island a few times and I always enjoy visiting the cemeteries there.
Sailing n’ Cemeteries
As you have probably guessed from this video. I have two obsessions, sailing and cemeteries. This final picture captures them both perfectly.
Thank you for allowing me to share my obsessions and my journey.
Google Earth .kmz file of the Cemeteries of Bermuda
Rainy day in a cemetery. It’s rained here for 4 days in a row…a bit depressing.
Google Earth is such a significant and easy-to-use graphical mapping tool that I put many of my cemetery hunting trips onto the Google Earth Servers. I made a .kmz file for Bermuda Cemeteries. It includes photographic overlays of each cemetery.
Once you have installed Google Earth onto your computer, download this Google Earth file. You will be able to tour the cemeteries of Bermuda from the comfort of your own home.
Please let me know how you like this mapping project.
As a cemetery enthusiast, I am always excited to find Zinc Monuments.
St. Paul’s Cemetery contains a Zinc (White Bronze) grave marker from the Monumental Bronze Company.
As a cemetery enthusiast, I am always excited to find Zinc Monuments. My casual tour of St. Paul’s Cemetery turned into excitement as I found a zinc marker.
Zinc Monuments are fairly common in United States’ Cemeteries. However, I did not expect to find a zinc monument on Bermuda. Zinc monuments were sold by the Monumental Bronze Company between 1875 and 1912. They were sold under the name of White Bronze as a marketing gimmick to make them more appealing than using the word “zinc.”
A rare find of a Zinc grave marker from the Monumental Bronze Company.
I always love finding Zinc grave markers in cemeteries. To the trained eye, they are easy to spot. It’s fun “showing off” to people interested in cemeteries. “See that grave stone? If I rap it with my knuckles, it will ring out like metal.” And when they realize it’s hollow, they love exploring the inscriptions and removable panels (never remove a panel unless you have permission of the owner. Here’s a short video I made of zinc markers in the snow:
Christ Presbyterian Church – along Middle Road Warwick, Bermuda
Presbyterian Church of Scotland
With all the beautiful bays and vistas on South Road, it certainly is a fantastic drive. However, Bermuda’s Middle Road should not be overlooked.
On my motor scooter, tooling along Middle Road toward Somerset, I almost missed Christ Church in Warwick Parish. With brakes locked up, gravel beneath my 10″ wheels, and clouds of shrapnel embedded dust, I slid to a dramatic stop directly in front the church sign.
The original Christ Church was built in 1719. With three hundred years of history, Christ church has a long Presbyterian tradition on Bermuda and its cemetery shows the traditional way the church family cares for those who have passed on. The cemetery contains over three hundred grave sites. Many of these sites are several hundred years old. A brief walk through the cemetery shows traditional style grave site construction.
The preeminent cemetery in St. Georges Bermuda is the cemetery that surrounds St. Peter’s Church.
St. Peter’s Cemetery – St. Georges Bermuda
My tours of Cemeteries are always eventful. There’s always something exciting to see either within the cemetery or on the journey there.
This latest adventure trumps all previous cemetery hunting trips. I would like to give a special THANKS to everyone who sent well wishes. I would also like to thank everyone who has sent notes after my arrival in Bermuda. We sailed through a Category 1 Hurricane in the North Atlantic. Winds topped 70knts and our sailboat crested waves 30 feet high. We are currently compiling all my records, pictures, and video. In the coming weeks we will release a documentary on the trip to Bermuda and my study of the cemeteries there. Until the documentary is complete, I will begin posting pictures and recaps from the cemeteries I visited on the island. Please check back regularly and please let me know if there is anything special you would like to see or hear about.
The preeminent cemetery in St. Georges Bermuda is the cemetery that surrounds St. Peter’s Church. Located 2 blocks from the Customs Agency in St. Georges, St Peter’s occupies its place on a hill overlooking York Street. St. Peter’s is within a blink of an eye from St. George’s Town Hall, the famous dunking chair, and the Whitehorse Saloon where I drank my fair share of Dark ‘n’ Stormys. Let’s talk about Dark and Stormys for a moment; this is the traditional drink for sailors coming to Bermuda. Over a table full of dark and stormys overlooking St. George’s Harbor, sailors recount their stories of mammoth waves, gale force winds, and the tentacles of sea monsters dragging their ships down to Davy Jones’ Locker. The camaraderie of sailors sharing stories is a bonding experience…my favorite part of arriving in port. And if your stomach is not yet up to a Dark and Stormy, GoJo’s Restaurant serves the traditional Codfish Dinner.
Ah….back to St. Peter’s. A bricked pathway leads through the cemetery. The burial ground is filled to capacity and, except for very rare occasions, no new burials are allowed. A walled off section includes burial plots of slaves prior to slave emancipation in 1834. The stones are old but in mostly good condition within the neatly manicured cemetery.
A Bermuda Cedar tree toppled during a storm in 2003 distinguishes the rear section of the graveyard.
Map of St. Georges, Bermuda with St. Peter’s at the center.
My tours of Cemeteries are always eventful. There’s always something exciting to see either within the cemetery or on the journey there.
Cemeteries Of Bermuda – Part 2
We would like to thank everyone for keeping Keith in your thoughts this past week. Keith has just finished helping deliver a sailboat from Newport, Rhode Island to St. Georges, Bermuda. Readers of this blog know this is his second sailing trip to Bermuda this year. This latest voyage was VERY EVENTFUL as his ship sailed directly through Hurricane Kate. The sailboat sailed through 70+mph winds and 30+foot seas. It was treacherous weather. Other than a little seasickness, Keith and the rest of the crew pulled through safely. He is safe, on land, and has spent several days exploring most of the cemeteries of Bermuda.
Please subscribe to this blog and keep checking back with us for a full write-up of this latest cemetery exploration adventure. Until then, be sure to read about his other cemetery adventures.
“My tours of Cemeteries are always eventful. There’s always something exciting to see either within the cemetery or on the journey there.
This latest adventure trumps all previous cemetery hunting trips. I would like to give a special THANKS to everyone who sent well wishes. I would also like to thank everyone who has sent notes after my arrival in Bermuda. We sailed through a Category 1 Hurricane in the North Atlantic. Winds topped 70knts and our sailboat crested waves 30 feet high. We are currently compiling all my records, pictures, and video. In the coming weeks we will release a documentary on the trip to Bermuda and my study of the cemeteries there. Until the documentary is complete, I will begin posting pictures and recaps from the cemeteries I visited on the island. Please check back regularly and please let me know if you have special interests in cemetery exploration.”
The Military Cemetery at Dawes Bay contains the burial remains of sailors and settlers fallen by tragedy including shipwrecks and Yellow Fever.
Military Cemetery at Dawes Bay – Bermuda
Cresting the hill at Grenadier Lane, travelers are treated to a spectacular view of the crashing waves off the coast of St. Georges, Bermuda. In the distance, breakwater is churned by shallow reefs which have caused damage to uncountable ships looking for safe harbor since the town was settled in 1612.
The Military Cemetery at Dawes Bay contains the burial remains of sailors and settlers fallen by tragedy. Not only ship wreck victims are buried here but also Yellow Fever sufferers from outbreaks in the 1800s. Engraved marble grave markers contain the names of Commanders, Captains, and Commoners.
Across from the Cemetery, Dawes Bay is a small inlet ideal for dabbling your feet and feeling the fine grit sand between your toes during calm water days.
no sailor in his right mind would ever tempt the fates of the North Atlantic in the midst of winter. However, I readied myself for what would become the adventure of a lifetime. Through gale force winds and a white capping ocean we headed out to sea, across the gulf stream, and southward to the island nation of Bermuda.
On a frigid January evening a fellow sailor told me of a mutual friend who needed extra crew to deliver a sailing yacht from Newport RI. I first learned to sail 3 years ago and most of my sailing experience has been aboard small sailboats on inland lakes. I jumped at the opportunity to sail aboard an ocean going vessel on big waters. I’ve been told that no sailor in his right mind would ever tempt the fates of the North Atlantic in the midst of winter. However, I readied myself for what would become the adventure of a lifetime. Through gale force winds and a white capping ocean we headed out to sea, across the gulf stream, and southward to the island nation of Bermuda.
Rhode Island winters are known to be bone chilling. I arrived in New Port with the Mercury hovering around 10 degrees F. The week before saw temperatures of -8 degrees F. With sustained temperatures well below zero, the brackish salt water of Narragansett Bay begins to freeze over. When I first arrived at the Bowen’s Warf the harbor was encrusted with a thin sheen of ice but the wind was still and the sun shined brightly. A warming trend which helped melt the harbor ice was bringing gusty winds into the harbor. Temperatures rising above zero were nice, however the winds they brought meant we faced a rough night secured by our dock lines.
I boarded the sailing yacht Islandia. Its friendly crew showed me to my stateroom and familiarized me with the pilot house, bridge and engine room of this 137 foot ketch rigged sailing vessel. The crews expertise put me at ease with their obvious knowledge and experience. The vessel had recently undergone a major refit of the engine and generators. Sailing after a major refit is known as a shakedown. The trip to Bermuda would be a shakedown voyage in which all systems would be tested by the expert captain and engineer to ensure perfect functionality for future trips. We expected many problems as the systems were tweaked to their full potential.
When making long passages, sailors use meteorological forecasts to determine weather windows. Weather windows can be compared to playing that old video game Frogger. But, instead of dodging cars, you are dodging heavy offshore storms. After the heavy Rhode Island storms of Monday evening, we found an opportune weather window for our passage to Bermuda. However, since we had delayed our departure from Newport to let one storm past we would have to move quickly to arrive in Bermuda before an expected storm arrived there on Friday. Delaying our departure from Newport to let one storm pass meant we might not reach our destination before another storm hit Bermuda. On the morning after strong winds buffeted Islandia against its mooring our captain determined that an immediate cast off would allow us to arrive in Bermuda 3 1/2 days hence ahead of 55 knots winds borne out of a different mid-Atlantic storm front.
Sunset at mid ocean was beautiful but it foretold the ominous nature of coming storms. One of my shipmates told me of the green flash often seen at sunset as the crest of the sun passes behind churning ocean waves on the horizon. Although we did not see the green “sunset flash” we were lucky enough to experience a bright green bioluminescent glow as our boat’s wake churned up North Atlantic dinoflagellates.
Armed with the latest navigational aids, we experienced a different typo of green glow inside the ship. Islandia’s monochromatic mid range radar proved one of our most useful tools. As the wind speed indicator topped 45 knots, the radar screen betrayed the location of an unending squall line. Storm after storm approached from starboard and as soon as the ferocity of one weather cell passed, the radar screen showed another intensely bright grouping of pixels which engulfed the bridge in a glow of ominous green ambient light.
The night time squalls passed without significant incident and the morning’s updating of the ship’s logbooks reflected the severity of the storms. Though our seas remained in what is known in seaman’s terms as a “confused state”, the sunrise skies were clear and our course held true toward Bermuda.
Upper atmospheric weather phenomena often cause clouds to part around Bermuda allowing sunlight to pierce through an otherwise impenetrable cloud layer. When this phenomenon is in effect, cascading sunlight highlights the entirety of Bermuda allowing it to be seen from further away than would otherwise be possible.
Bermuda is ringed by a series of treacherous coral reefs. Over the centuries since man has been sailing to Bermuda, countless ships have sunk while attempting to make passage through these treacherous waters. Our destination was St. George’s Harbor on the eastern side of Bermuda. To reach this location, we had to motor through The Town Cut. The Town Cut is a very narrow yet deep channel into St. Georges harbor from the East. All hands were on deck as we watched for obstructions and other navigational hazards.
The Bermuda Customs Office granted us authorization to set anchor in the middle of St. Georges harbor. Since we had sailed in the midst of winter, we had the entire harbor to ourselves. With more storms approaching we faced a big blow within the next 5 hours. We acted quickly to set our 750 lb. anchor which secured fast to the strong holding seabed by 450 feet of rode. The long rode allowed our vessel to swing in a wide semi-circle arch as shifting 55 knot winds blew across the harbor later that evening.
The strong winds overnight churned the harbor’s depths and by the next day visibility through the brightly colored aquamarine salt water was less than 10 feet. However, the sun shone brightly and the heavy clothes which protected me from the harsh Rhode Island winter were now stowed securely below deck. Short sleeves and bare feet were common in the Bermuda air warmed by the quick moving gulf stream.
Excited with the prospects of exploring Bermuda’s cemeteries, I made my way to Dawes Bay across Grenadier Lane from my first cemetery. In the 1880s, pioneers of Bermuda experienced a Yellow Fever Epidemic. This military cemetery contains many sailors who were stricken by Yellow Fever and suffered terribly until their final days. Two miles from this military cemetery lies Nonsuch Island which served as a Yellow Fever Quarantine Hospital.
My initial plan to use public transportation to explore the cemeteries of Bermuda had to be abandoned when a dispute between the Bermudian government and the country’s labor unions cause all bus services and all government services to be cancelled. Taxis were also hard to come by so, instead, I opted to rent a motor scooter. Torrential downpours made travel difficult. But, I hunkered down and zoomed through the pouring rain. A kind lady offered me a plastic trash bag to wear as a poncho but my clothes were already soaked. There was no alternative but to laugh at the fact that I had heavy, foul weather gear on board Islandia but, here, I was relying on a garbage bag to keep me dry.
Devonshire Parish was named after the first Earl of Devonshire, William Cavendish. The Old Devonshire Church Cemetery sits just off Middle Road roughly equidistant from the North Shore and South Shore. This is a hilly cemetery though its steep grades are well groomed and maintained by parishioners of the two chapels located amongst the burial plots.
Enjoying a brief respite from tropical storms, I rode off to find St. John’s Anglican Churchyard. St. John’s Anglican Church of Pembroke Parish is huddled between sports complexes and finely maintained homes. This area seems like a dynamic community which enjoys local sports such as Netball, Softball, and Tennis. They take great pride in their school system and that pride shows in the respect they show for their parish grave yard. Amongst the neat rows of grave plots lie departed scholars, businessmen, and sailors.
A short distance from St. John’s Cemetery is a smaller yet equally maintained grave yard which contains my favorite grave marker on Bermuda. Grace Methodist Church Cemetery is nestled adjacent to cemetery road and cemetery lane and is in a slightly more industrialized section of Pembroke Parish. Its gates were donated in honor of Chesley and Gladys White local citizens to Pembroke.
A trip to Bermuda would not be complete without a stop in Hamilton, the nation’s capital. During my trip, political strife was griping the people of Bermuda and a social uprising was occurring in Hamilton as well as the rest of the nation. Protesters gathered around the capital to have their demands heard. Although the scene was well managed by police, protesters were obviously passionate about their cause. As I rode through and observed the protests, I did not understand the implications these protests would have on my future travel plans.
On my way back to St. Georges, I drove through Smith’s Parish to find one of the tallest steeples in Bermuda. At 102 feet tall, it is a classic example of Gothic Revival. St. Mark’s is the third church to be built upon this site. The first church was built circa the 1650’s and the current church’s building commenced in 1846. The cemetery lies just across South Road from St. Mark’s Church.
Cold and wet from a day full of exploration in the rain, I made quick headway back to St. George’s harbor. Bermuda is wholly beautiful with its low cliffs and rugged coastline. I passed Marsden Cemetery near Bermuda’s famous pink beaches, and I even popped onto Church Folly Lane to view the Unfinished Church begun in the 1800’s. The rumor I hears from locals near the Unfinished Church is that a pastor or parishioners embezzled money that was to be used for church construction.
My planned departure from Bermuda was delayed 1 full day because of the government shutdown. My unorthodox entry into the country meant that I needed special documents proving that I had an exit itinerary. The protests in Hamilton caused the Customs Office in Hamilton to be closed. This meant I was unable to be cleared to leave the country and was forced to remain in Bermuda until my paperwork was completed. Taking the opportunity, I made my way across the Castle Harbor Causeway where I secured a hotel for the night. This section of Bermuda is riddled with underground saltwater inlets. These caves contain deep pools of salt water. Swimming in an underground salt water lake is a fantastic experience.
Later that evening, one customs official was kind enough to meet me after business hours to complete my exit paperwork. Though it was difficult to be upset at being held in Bermuda an extra day, I did feel like a bit like a political prisoner.
On my flight back to the United States, I peered out my window with eagle’s eyes. With each break in the clouds, I scanned the ocean below in a vane attempt to spot sailing vessels on the ocean’s surface. The surreal feeling of soaring 37,000 above the crashing waves and howling winds I had sailed through days before made me long to be powered by the winds of the high seas. In the words of Jimmy Buffet, “Oh, I wish I were sailing again.”
Soon enough, the U.S. coast line came into view from my airplane window and, before long the cold U.S. winter was before me. Within hours, was once again exploring the snow covered cemeteries of home.
As much as I am a home body and a creature of comfort, travel often fills me with additional wanderlust. One great adventure necessitates another. Luckily, flights leave daily and with great anticipation, I look forward to my next cemetery expedition.