From his bedroom window at the family home in County Down, James Carson, from a very young age was always gazing at the rich scenery of Strangford Lough with its varying blues and greens and misty views, while at the same time dreaming of distant seas and exotic accents. Before long his imagination became enthralled with tales and legends told by seafarers and servants and by the games local people played amid the Celtic ruins; instead of the education that a young man of his Irish aristocratic upbringing was destined for.
Not even the expectation of his parents, tradition or strictness of schooling could have altered the impact Jack Gilligan, a local street trader, had on him one night at the local pub, The Lisburn. “My boy, things may seem good or bad, but only you are responsible for the life you choose. Nothing is written in stone.” Whilst the man was leaving, he smiled and threw two dice into the air; “they’re yours me lad!” Carson looked at them and at that very moment realised his destiny lay beyond the borders of his land.
On the morn of the 16th of January 1928, at the port of Plymouth, with its dark grey waters, the Excelsior set sail. The passengers, at the stern end of the ship watched as the city disappeared into the distance. At the other end, a young, kind and energetic looking man stood smiling all alone. He had left behind everything, his title, a status many envied and a life made for him. Many didn’t understand it. Most who knew him believed he had thrown his life overboard, so to speak.
As he felt the salty wind blow on his face, James Carson checked all that he had, what he felt, what he knew and what he wanted. “I have more than enough;” he thought to himself, and squeezed the dice he always kept with him strongly in his hand.
He never returned.
Legend has it that on his death in 1943, a story told by many seafarers from the north coast of Java, was that of an Irishman who had discovered sunken military galleons of east Indian type, and who adorned his men with the silver he retrieved from treasure found at those depths; similar to what the Indonesian Pirates had done centuries before. They spoke of a man who wore an old style tattoo on his right arm with the name: Plata de Palo, which was their way of recognising him.
Ten years later, a young woman with oriental features arrived at Strangford Castle. She stood by the water and let a few minutes go by. Then, after taking off something she wore around her wrist, drew it slowly to her lips and then threw it into the water. The reddish light from the sunset made it shimmer just before it went under. “Nothing is written in stone,” said Andrea Carson, and at that point she felt the sea also belonged to her.
For decades, those beautiful wooden bracelets, the silver and silk were what distinguished men like Carson and his crew from ordinary folk. Being far away from a life of security they felt restricted them, they accepted the challenge to reinvent themselves; they loved adventure because to them it made them feel alive.