Of all the ferries you will encounter in the Caribbean, the most endearing one must be the twice-weekly link between Union Island to Carriacou in the Grenadines. It is a short hop, just a few miles, between two very small islands and so a small boat is appropriate. It is, or was, anyway, a small sailing boat with an engine – though last time I took it I had to help rig the sail. It’s a pleasant enough crossing - people come thousands of miles to sail in these waters for their holidays.
But it’s the unexpected things that happen that make travel in the Caribbean such fun. After I had helped to rig the jib (the sail at the front, anyway), the helmsman shuffled around the floor of the boat and pulled out a white plastic two-litre bottle. He thrust it at me.
‘Here, man, try a bit of the jack.’
I peered through the open neck of the bottle. Swilling around in the bottom was a viscous-looking liquid, slightly coloured, yellowish, but I couldn’t tell if that was the liquid or the suspension of particles that were bobbing around in it. There was organic matter in there too, small strips of greenery, all lined up like the sea grass on a current. I obviously looked doubtful.
‘It jack-iron man, the strongest rum you can get.’
It is true, jack iron is exceptionally strong rum, over 150 per cent proof. This particular (obviously unnamed) brand apparently didn’t come from Carriacou, where no jack iron was being produced at the time (officially anyway). Instead it came from Trinidad, where a big distillery has a small output. And yes, it was incredibly strong. It seemed to burn and then evaporate immediately, like some acid will ‘o the wisp.
But the most extraordinary thing about jack-iron is not its strength, rather the fact that ice sinks in it. I have seen it happen – it was on another occasion, this, there wasn’t much chance of the helmsman finding a coolbox on the floor too. Not that you’d want to drink a whole glass of jack-iron, but our host filled one up and then dropped two ice cubes into it. Instead of bobbing back to the surface and clinking against one another, they carried on to the bottom of the glass and swam around there for a few seconds before becoming still. Weird.
If anyone knows why ice sinks in jack-iron, please let us know why.
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