Words and Photographs By Kelsi Farrington
Published on Frais Magazine
Within a population of just under 500 people, Vertrum Lowe is just one of the cay’s best-loved characters.Green Turtle Cay is one of the Bahamas’ smaller, ‘out islands’ and lies just off of what is referred to as the ‘mainland,’ the larger island and a 15-minute ferry ride away, Abaco. Visited regularly by tourists from around the world, word manages to spread far and wide of this 3-mile- long paradise never forgetting some of its characters having known or wanted anything else but day to day life there.
Vertrum has three children, five grandchildren and a great-grandson, Carter, that also live on Green Turtle Cay. His younger brother, Alton Lowe, is one of the country’s most famous painters. For majority of Vertum’s working life, he was a handyman and engineer at the Green Turtle Club, the cay’s oldest resort. For nearly thirty years, ‘Vert’ has quietly put those weathered hands to good use by making beautifully ornate model ships and in doing so, Vert’s Model Ship Shoppe has become a notable place of interest on the cay.
Now at 80-years-old, Vertrum is known on the island for being much more than just a craftsman; he
is one of the town’s ‘wise men,’ the older generation of the cay who sit outside on the white, wooden bench and steps of a closed church, sharing stories, memories and witty-jokes.
They have all lived on the island their entire lives and have seen it change from a thriving town with the only cinema beyond the capital and booming variants of industries like fishing, sponging and citrus farming to what is now: an ironically quieter, less active, tourist destination with banking and rentals its main income.
A few feet away from his daily meet-up destination is Vertrum’s home and workshop house. Within are is carved and painted ships ranging in size, colour and price, and are replicas of some of the country’s most recognisable sailing vessels. Having only just returned back to the cay from hospital, Vertrum lent some of his time away from visitors and family for an afternoon chat.
So Vetrum, why did you start building model boats?
“My father died about 28 years ago and he used to build them. I had never made one before but I decided to give it a try…I wanted to see if I was up to the challenge.”
And how many ships have you built?
“I’ve built over 600. The largest one was 7 feet long and a four-masted schooner.”
It must be quite hard to get them just right. Where do you get your material from for making the ships?
“I get my materials from the US, the wood in the Bahamas is so hard which means it is difficult to carve.”
What do you think has change the most about the island since you were a child?
“The people, they’re not the same. People used to gather at one another’s house to play music on a weekend, back when there was no TV. Now, people go home now and stay inside.”
Not something that he and the wisemen of the cay abide by. They are a generation that myself and others born on the cay will have to work hard to replace, if possible. With that in mind, it makes it even more important to to remember the tales and the stories of characters like Vertrum who is never short of a rhyme and a smile.
Although Vertrum is unsure about being referred to as an artist, he makes pieces that people from across the world have either ordered to be sent to them or have come to the cay to collect. Vert’s Model Ship Shoppe is located right in the centre of town on Green Turtle Cay and is also home to both Vertrum and his dog, Pumpkin.