Patrick Hutchins

Photographer, Community Organiser, Customs Officer, Bequian

December 17, 2019

Patrick Hutchins

Visitors to Bequia will probably know Patrick best as the courteous Senior Customs Officer who greets them on their arrival.  But there is very much more to this committed young Bequian than his quiet, professional manner might first suggest.

Packing water for Dominica hurricane relief, 2017

Although born in Trinidad – his voice still has that Trini lilt! – Patrick’s Bequia roots run deep. His great-grandfather Oren Hutchins was a Bequia whaler, married to a Miss Sargeant from Bequia.  Patrick’s father Felix, born in Bequia in the early 1950s was, like his father before him, a man of the sea, plying the trade that was once the first calling of so many Bequia men.

Like many other Bequians and Vincentians, the 1970s oil boom in Trinidad attracted Felix away from his home.  Work was plentiful, maritime skills much in demand, and life there was new and exciting – a world away from sleepy Bequia.  Patrick was born in 1982, the first of four children to Felix and his Trinidadian wife Joy.

Patrick as a toddler with his mother and father

Growing up in Trinidad surrounded by a large extended family on both his father’s and mother’s side, two vivid memories stand out for Patrick: the Bequia model boat belonging to his father that was decked in lights each year in place of a Christmas tree, and a red chopper bike – his most prized boyhood possession.

But everything was to change in 1991, when Felix decided to move back to Bequia with his young family. All their possessions, including Patrick’s precious bike, were carefully packed up and shipped up on the MV Perica to St. Vincent, where Felix was to supervise the clearance and onward shipment to Bequia.  

No more than 30 miles north of Trinidad, the Perica foundered and sank.  “We lost everything,” says Patrick quietly, clearly still moved by the recollection. “All we had were our clothes; my little (2-year old) brother’s things were mostly all that was in the one suitcase we had with us”.  The red chopper bike was gone too.  

But in a flash, Patrick brightens as his memory turns to his first sight of Bequia, at just 8 years old.  “Arrival by ferry then looked just like it does today – so beautiful!  As we came in, I remember seeing one of my cousins paddling on a surfboard in the bay, and it was then I thought, yes - I can live here!”

Patrick as a youngster at school

Those early days in Bequia were not easy, but the family got by. Felix, now a joiner/ cabinet maker, worked at Sargeant’s model boat shop; and when not at the local primary school being teased for his accent, Patrick and his two younger brothers played in cousin Mauvin’s model boat yard or swam off the beach in the harbour, watching the visiting yacht dinghies tie up at the little jetty.  

“My father taught us to swim, how to fish and how to rear animals – I learnt so much from him,” says Patrick, as he explains too how Felix turned from model boatbuilding to construction, working on the new Gingerbread Hotel in Belmont.  “My mother, she was always strict,” he continues, smiling with pride. “She was my moral compass… teaching me right from wrong. And she made me work hard at school, even insisting that I learn ‘proper’ handwriting by giving me a book on calligraphy! “

Those urgings soon paid off.  Patrick was selected to have his education sponsored by the Canadian-based Bequia Mission, and after a stint at St. Martin’s Secondary School in St. Vincent, he ultimately graduated in 1999 from Bequia’s Seventh Day Adventist Secondary School as Valedictorian. He also received the RBTT Young Leaders Award, and the Rotary Club of St. Vincent’s George Phillips Excellence Award for his community volunteer work outside of school. Young Patrick Hutchins, at only 17, was already quietly standing out.  

Patrick’s Form Teacher at SDA Garfield Gurley

After a series of interviews – all involving work in the Tourism sector – Patrick was offered a job as a receptionist at the new Gingerbread Hotel by Bequia’s formidable doyenne of tourism, Pat Mitchell. “It was new for me to be interacting with visitors,” says Patrick, “but Mrs. Mitchell encouraged me first and foremost to be courteous, relaxed and confident. And the ladies in the café who were so friendly with everyone - I learned a lot from them too…”

In 2000, after little more than a year at Gingerbread, Patrick was offered the opportunity to train for the British Navy, or to train as a Customs Officer.  It was potentially a life-changing decision.  “I wanted to do something that would be meaningful in my life and for my home,” explains Patrick, “so I chose to stay here, and become a Customs Officer”.  

For most young men, having their foot on the first rung of such an honourable career ladder would be enough.  Not so for Patrick. After just two pay checks and experience of the internet only from the Bequia library and his work at Gingerbread, Patrick had bought his first computer. From this initial step into digital technology he later launched his company Cloud Island Media, specialising in web design for Bequia-based clients.  

Photography became yet another string to Patrick’s bow when his grandmother sent him a camera as a wedding present in 2007. (Patrick met his future wife Narissa, whose mother hails from St. Vincent, in 2003 when she was on trip to Bequia.  She moved to Bequia in 2005 and the rest, as they say is history. “I just wish I’d married her sooner!” says Patrick with a twinkle).

Balancing being a Senior Customs Officer with his self-taught photography and videography work keeps Patrick (very!) busy, but fulfilled. Like his friend and mentor Wilfred Dederer, you will see Patrick everywhere when he is not in uniform: volunteering to work long hours throughout the Regatta and Music Fest, flying his drone into the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, or shooting a wedding by the beach.  

And then of course, there is Rise Up Bequia, a not-for profit NGO run exclusively by young Bequians, of which Patrick is a founder member and currently President.  Formed in January 2014 after the terrible flood of Christmas Eve 2013 and the massive volunteer clean-up effort that followed, Rise Up Bequia was the brainchild of Patrick and his friends, including current Vice President Solana Gooding. “When everyone came together to help, we realised that we wanted to – and could – do so much more for ourselves as a group”, Patrick explains.

Rise Up Bequia’s school book donations in 2018

The concept of volunteerism and selflessness is central to Rise Up Bequia’s mission to contribute to “an active, healthy and sustainable local community.” Since its inception, this inspiring group has gone from strength to strength, raising funds for school books for every primary schoolchild in Bequia, coordinating aid for hurricane-stricken Dominica, Barbuda and Bermuda, holding clean ups, talent shows and a host of other events, with much more planned for the future.  

Patrick with Rise Up Bequia

Love of his work, his family, and above all of Bequia and its community, shines through Patrick’s words and deeds.  When asked for his one wish to be granted, his reply was instant:  “A mountain for Bequia to bring us more rain!”

Spoken like a true Bequian.