PORT ROYAL, a short drive from downtown Kingston, once captured the spirit of early colonial adventure. For several decades in the late seventeenth century, Port Royal was a riotous town – the notorious haunt of cut-throats and buccaneers, and condemned by the church as the “the wickedest city in the world”. Little of that past remains, and it’s now a pleasant and hospitable little town, home to the base of the Jamaica Defence Force Coastguard and a small fishing and tourism industry. Most people who visit come for the seafood at famous Glorias, while others use the area as a launch pad for day-trips to nearby Lime Cay, a small sandy spot that offers lovely swimming and snorkelling.
In 1655, when the English sailed into what is now Kingston harbour, they passed a cay known as “cayo de carena”, as it was where the Spanish careened their vessels to clean and caulk them. Having captured Spanish Town, the invaders set about fortifying this point, eventually building five separate forts to defend the inner harbour (the world’s seventh largest) and the town, soon to be called Port Royal, that grew up within. Over the next fifteen years, Port Royal grew through trade and was enriched by the booty of the buccaneers armed with royal commissions. It was recognized that its location at the entrance to the harbour of what became Jamaica’s capital city, Kingston, needed to be strengthened, and several fortifications were built in the tumultuous period between 1655 and 1692, the year of the catastrophic earthquake, which swallowed two-thirds of the landmass. Port Royal never recovered its mercantile prominence, although it remained the western Caribbean headquarters of the Royal Navy for two centuries.