Monday, December 25, 2006
i hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends wherever you are. It's a sunny and windy day here in Antigua and all my family are coming over to the house in a short while for b'fast and prezzies. So exciting:)
Later a massive party at my dad's house with extended family and friends. Hope your day will filled with joy and happiness. Will do a proper blog entry tomorrow. for now this is just a collection of images i had on my laptop. found a program that compiles them. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 21, 2006
This blog entry is gonna be a short one.......yesterdays got kinda long and last nite just kicked my butt. My mom decided to have a last minute get together, and i decided to invite my crew and some friends. In the end, we probably had about 60-70 people come and go throughout the night, and it was a lovely bit of "Christmas Cheer". We went through a vast amount of alcohol and lovely snacks made by my mom and a friend of mine. Apart from the regular Cavalier Rum i got two bottles of English Harbour Five Year Old rum which vanished very quickly. It is lovely and if you are here on holiday try to find a bottle to take home......yum!
Antiguans love any excuse to have a party and just like many places around the world, this is the time of year for parties.
We started up at around 7:30 and i think Chopper started "kicking" them out at about 12:30 am........
We all had a lovely time and it was lovely to spend an evening with my crew, friends and family. I hope that everyone enjoys the parties and cheer of this holiday time. Sounds corny, but the "Peace on Earth and Good Will to All Men and Women" is what i'd like to leave this blog entry with.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I always find it very funny when people say to me "I just couldn't live in Antigua because you don't have seasons". Although we don't get cold here we do have very specific and noticeable seasons.
Just yesterday, someone was saying that they couldn't wait until spring time when the Marlin come around in large numbers. I guess that's the biggest change you notice here with regard to seasonal changes....the change in species of migratory animals. Winter time sees many animals that are fleeing from the cold weather that is chilling out North America. When I got back from being away from Antigua for a month the first thing I noticed was the number of Osprey and other birds. I have also seen many kingfishers and Red billed Tropic Birds. There are so many species of birds that arrive here or pass through at this time of year. But its not just birds, the Humpback Whales will be here from about the end of January until April which is always something we boaters look foreword to. See these amazing creatures up close is something special indeed. Make sure that if you are here during that time you keep you eyes open because you may see them "breach" or spout out in the Atlantic. We tend to see more dolphins in the winter as well but they are here year round. Another species we get here in large numbers during the winter is the "tourist". Some fly all the way from Europe while others migrate by ships all the way from the US Mainland. Since we want to show them how cool our island is, we tend to get quite busy at this time of year. As the winter gets old and signs of spring show up we see other animals showing up. For me, it’s the time of year to get my fishing tackle set up. Mahi Mahi (the Hawaiian name for Dolphin FISH) school in large numbers here in the Caribbean at that time and apart from being great fish for sport fishermen, they are absolutely delicious. We often go camping in Barbuda for the Easter public holidays and will eat plenty of Mahi Mahi then. Yum I can't wait......then again there are some great things to eat coming up this month too...... Another funny thing that visitors to Antigua comment on is how surprised they are that we have Christmas Trees and eat turkey and ham for Christmas. Why not? I think i'd like to eat ham and turkey more often myself, but for sure at Christmas time. I know it's strange for people who are used to snow and freezing temps during the "holidays", but its still the same deal down here give or take 20 degrees. hehehe
Anyway, back to the seasons before my stomach makes too much noise with all the talk of ham and turkey.......
As spring turns into summer the big game fishing heats up with the massive Blue Marlin congregating off-shore in large numbers. They are very difficult to catch but can be a fisherman's dream "fight". Some of my crew and I am hooked on hooking marlin and you can read about it in the blog entry about Tony.
This is also the time of year when massive flocks of migratory birds show up in the islands to lay eggs and feed their chicks. To assure this all works out there are also even bigger schools of tiny pilchards and other small fish hatching out. These poor creatures almost at the bottom of the food chain are gobbled up by birds, dolphins and other fish. It’s a tough time of the year for them for sure.
For me these days, the summer is my favorite Season with all the cool things that started in spring reaching their full potential. It is also "hurricane season" but mostly the weather is best at that time of year. I just love the clear waters and calm seas of the summer and it is when we have the smallest number of migratory "tourist" species here, and because of the free time we end up playing more. Fishing, diving, camping, traveling to other islands, carnival,.....there is plenty to do with our freed up time in the summer and usually the weather makes it all worthwhile. The chicks are starting to leave their nests and are all getting fishing lessons from their parents. You should see the Laughing Gulls. I swear that they have designated teachers giving flying and fishing lessons. As we pass though Rabbit and Exchange islands in August we will see 20 little grey juvenile laughing gulls sitting in the water around one adult. I am not kidding either……it makes us laugh every year. Another bunch of animals that are nesting in the summer are the endangered Hawksbill Turtles. Do you know that one in 10,000 eggs will eventually become a mature adult. The rest just don’t make it. Anyway, these beautiful majestic reptiles nest between May and November and each female can lay over 400 eggs during that time. You will learn all about them on the Eco Tour.
Of course there is a chance that the weather will do the opposite and a destructive hurricane will cause trouble, but that just adds to the excitement of the summer. Remember that over the past 50 years we have been hit by 6 hurricanes, so the chances are pretty slim even though they are there.
As summer comes to an end, the winds calm down even more and the heat seems to slow you down a bit if you are one of the unlucky ones who has to work on land. For us, it means more swimming and snorkeling. The months of September and October can be very hot and still, and sailing can be tough. Powerboating is perfect then though, and it just happens to be the time of year when the Wahoo fish start showing up in large numbers. Wahoo are a delicious fish shaped very much like a muscle packed torpedo with stripes. They fight extremely hard and Tony, the self proclaimed “Wahoo King” longs for this time of year to catch and eat wahoo on all his days off. IT really is a beautiful thing to be out on the water with friends when the deep blue water is totally glass calm. We have been fishing many times where we caught so many fish that we had to come in early……so much fun and action. …..but there are other times as is the case with fishing when we have been out there all day and ended up with nothing. Those days are still fun because the people I go fishing with just love the sea. Late in the “Fall” the weather changes a bit with the sea chilling a bit down to the very low 80s and the air dropping a bit. American cold fronts can make it all the way down here too making it quite windy and for us…a bit chilly. Visitors laugh at us when we mention that we are getting cold (since for them 83 degrees is a dream come true), but you do feel and see the changes throughout the year. It’s just as interesting as anywhere else that you may call home.
I am sorry, but I know it sounds cheesy saying I love living here. I just can’t help it….......
The photo today is of a humpback whale we saw while doing the eco tour. The guests on board was awestruck....which always makes me happy. I added another of me releasing a blue marlin (most of the marlin caught here are released to figh again another day).
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
We the weekend went well with Saturday being filled with more Super Yacht excitement, parties, the traditional Half Moon Bay hangout as well as Shirley Heights. Monday it was back to reality though with setting up Eco Tour and trying to do a little work on the new little boat.
Chopper and I had tried to launch the boat to do a test run earlier last week and found both batteries to be flat. I had charged them properly at home and now we had to hook them back up and see if they were working. Getting to them wasn’t easy but putting the heavy marine batteries back in was “cake”. I had picked up Tony after dropping off the food for the Eco Tour, and we quickly managed to drop the batteries into their tight compartments. I wanted to swing the motors over before tailoring the boat all the way to the marina. The port engine turned over immediately, but the starboard one just clicked. We have a special marine battery isolator which showed that both batteries were fine, so it had to be something wrong with the connections or the engine itself. I checked all the engine fuses and tightened up the battery connections. Still no luck. The engines had worked well when I was up in Florida so I was sure that it was just a simple problem.
Finally, I broke down and called mechanic Tom who said that I had to clean the leads and connections to the battery and try it again. Something so simple, and yet that was the answer right there. The engine burst to life as soon as we turned the key.
Rudy, who lives down the beach from my home where we are storing the boat isn’t working at the moment and was helping Tony and me. When we were all set I asked him if he’d like to come and test drive it with us. He enthusiastically said yes. He had been working at The Lord Nelson Beach Hotel for nearly 20 years until it was handed over to new owners last week. I think I will dedicate a blog entry to that story another day.
We towed the boat up to Shell Beach Marina and launching pad and quickly backed her into the water. I wanted to run the engines for a few minutes before letting Tony reverse off the trailer. Another problem we had was that we had no anchor, no lines (ropes) and no fenders. If the engines cut out because of bad fuel that had been stored for months inside the tanks then they would drift up onto the coast or even reef. We ran them for a while, and they purred quietly without a problem at all. When Tony backed off he looked very happy and so was I. As soon as I had parked the truck and trailer, Tony picked me off the dock and we were off. Rudy had never been on such a fast boat and Tony was sure it was faster than Xtreme. He was excited and I could tell that he was convinced that we had to keep this new boat. I agreed too. She was stronger than I though and ran pretty well. It would be a perfect “run about” for us on days off or on holidays, and both Tony and I were sure that we could use her for small private charters. We raced up through the Long and Maiden Island channel passing the huge mega yacht Midlandia with its wealthy guests playing on the jet skies and kitesurfing equipment. We pulled into Bird Island channel a few moments later where JD and Trevor had just returned from a hike. After making sure our VHF radio worked we said goodbye to them and set off for Jolly Harbour where we could buy the things we needed for the boat. It was fairly choppy as we passed Prickly Pear Island and the bumps were exactly what we were looking for. The boat ran well through them and there didn’t seem to be any flexing in the hull.
I saw Rudy studying the coastline intently and I realized that he probably had never been down the coast of Antigua by boat. I asked him and sure enough he had no idea where we were passing. He came here to work from St. Lucia 20 years ago and had not been out boating further than the islands of the North Sound where the Eco Tour takes place. I explained to him all the places we were passing and this little test driving of the new boat became its first tour too
After a few hours and a nice lunch in Jolly Harbour we were off again back up the coast to pull the boat out of the water. I think that after a good cleaning and a small amount of fiberglass work she will be ready for action. I am still waiting on some quotes for these repairs now. The pic above is of the boat sitting next to Harriette’s house down the beach from where I live.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Yesterday i was hired by AcquaFilms to be their skipper for a day of filming the Super Yacht Challenge, and i have to say that it was amazing. First of all let me describe the conditions. It was a very windy day probably averaging 18 knots with big swell rolling at about 7 feet. The sky was clear and it was setting up to be some fantastic sailing. Only yachts of 100 feet and over could sail in the small event and some of the most famous big boats in the world were at the start line. The Maltese Falcon that i have written about was there as well as Mirabella V. These are 2 of the largest sailing yachts in the world that have both broken so many world records that it’s just not funny. These are SUPER YACHTS and we were the only press boat out there to witness some of the most amazing sailing in history. Usually with winds like that these multi million dollar ladies are held back to avoid "breakages", but with the owners on board and egos behaving even larger than the yachts, there was no holding back these heavenly bodies.
On board was Roddy filming with his gear all covered in waterproof protection as well as another still photographer who was working for the organizers. They both agreed that by the end of the day they had taken the most dramatic images of their careers. Since there were no other press boats out there, we were able to concentrate on getting close to Maltese Falcon and the other Super Yachts as they charged through the 30 mile course. At one time we were 30 feet away from the leeward rail of the Maltese Falcon as she roared along doing speeds over 20 knots. There is hardly any point in describing how this boat looks when you are up close to her on the dock in English Harbour, and even less point trying to describe the sheer power of a yacht that size with all her unique sails out slicing through huge waves at a frighteningly fast rate of speed. Waves were being torn apart and thrown over her deck and people on the deck were hanging on. Flying fish were jumping and gliding out of the way as if being chased by a sea monster. It was awesome....totally awesome. Remember this yacht is 289 feet of luxury that many people think is just a fancy power yacht with sails. Trust me, this yacht is a sailing machine like no other ever built.
What sucks, is i have to do it again! Wait until Roddy does a demo video.....I will put it here for sure!
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Yesterday, I spent time working on the newest boat that we purchased recently. If you remember the main reason I flew up to the USA to check it out and eventually buy it was because I was looking for spare engines for Xtreme. I got a steal of a deal on it and thought I would just take the new motors off, keeping them for spares, and then I could sell the old hull and trailer. As I said, I started to think about keeping it after it arrived here last week, and have had two “boat people” inspect her since then. Tom of Antigua Marine Services and Nik of Small Ship Consultants both have looked at it, and both agree that the old 1985 Wellcraft isn’t in as bad shape as I thought. Tom specialized in engines but has diversified into fiberglass repair and rebuild too. He checked it out on Saturday. Nick is a boat surveyor and fiberglass specialist. He managed the repairs done on the Eco boat a while back and is an expert in my judgment.
Anyway, yesterday Nick met David and I down at the boat and spend 2 hours doing a major survey of the boat to gain a better understanding of what was needed in order to “fix it up”. At the end of it, he told me that it wasn’t that bad at all and that I could use for fun as it is, and if I was gonna do charters all I needed to do was some fiberglass restructuring up in the front. Anyway, I told him to come up with a plan and some costing for him to manage the job. I am excited about keeping the boat to possibly do less expensive private charters for couples and very small groups, as well as possibly some sort of ½ day snorkeling trips. We’ll see once Nick comes back with a quote. I think it would be cool to show the work being done on the boat on this blog as well.
On another note, I have been hired to take Roddy and Ian of Acqua Films through the Yachts taking part in the Super Yacht Challenge which starts today. The races will be over 4 days and it looks windy. I can’t wait to be up close to the Maltese Falcon as she races with all her sails up in the Atlantic. Will take a few pics if I can take my hands off the wheel. The photo is of the “new boat”…..Its small and has loud colours, but I think will pass for what I have in mind for it. If not it will be great for fishing on our days off
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Anyway, we don't usually run tours on public holidays, but had pre-booked several people on the Eco Tour for that day. Adam, Tony and Trevor took the guests out and seemed to have a great time too.
I decided that it would be a good opportunity to take my mom and grandmother out boating. I haven't had the chance to take my grandmother out since she's been here which I felt bad about, and it was such a lovely day for it: great sunshine and about 14 knots of wind to keep it coolish.
I called my sister Nell, and my other sister Fran who just arrived from the UK and told them to invite who they wanted. Captain JD said he'd come with us too so it was a nice little "lime" (social gathering).
We ended up leaving the dock in Jolly Harbour at about 2 pm after we had carefully taken nana on board. My grandmother is 87 years young and has had a knee replacement. The rest of her hinges are not that great but she can still walk on her own. On the boat it’s a little different so we did give her some help getting in and out later on.
We were in Xtreme which is a little more difficult for someone like nana than the Eco Boat is, but she says that she likes "shocking people" and also thinks that she can do anything. I love that kinda attitude and hope to have it at 87 if I am still around.
I zoomed out of the harbour once we had made it past the no wake zone and headed north to Five Islands Harbour, where sadly they are cutting up the beautiful hillside of Pearns Point for development. I say sadly because it was such a beautiful bit of natural coastline with lovely original forest. I say forest only in the Antiguan sense of the word, but it was and still is pretty thick in certain areas. There are not many places left in Antigua that have this kinda vegetation. We cruised way up into the harbour and went around the West Coast's Maiden Island which is owned by JD's family. We saw a big mega yacht doing a photo shoot with several beautiful models and zoomed past them and their jet-ski toys. From there we cruised into Jolly Beach and kept going past Coco's and Coco Bay then on past Fry's and Darkwood Bays towards Turners and Johnson's Point. The waters were lovely and I think apart from the winds, my grandmother was having a lovely time. We were doing about 30 mph going into winds of about 15 knots so there was plenty of wind straitening out your hair......if you were lucky enough to have that much. I didn't have to worry about a bad hair day. ha ha
As we left the calm Caribbean waters of Carlisle Bay, it was time for the Atlantic which I knew would be a bit of a surprise for some on the boat. I remember Nana telling me when I was a kid that she would go on "Nothing Smaller than the QE 2" and here she was about to go into the Atlantic on a 45 foot off-shore powerboat. Nell doesn't like the Atlantic either and there were another few people who had no experience in big swells. Anyway, I had slowed down as we rounded the point into the Atlantic and everyone seemed fine. We had about 2 miles to go to get into the protection of Rendezvous Bay and Xtreme's design carried us there comfortably. Later Nana said she loved the "beautiful" boat and that she though it was a very feminine boat. "I can tell when a car is masculine or feminine and the same with your boat. It is a lovely woman". Hmm I wasn't sure about this comment, but she enjoyed it so that part was cool.
Rendezvous was perfect....well almost perfect. The beach is truly one of the best in the Caribbean, and I love going there every time. One of the things that makes it so perfect is the fact that it’s difficult to get to: it’s in the Atlantic and not close to any other bays, its got a terrible "road" going to it but its difficult even in a jeep, and there are no shops or buildings in sight. All these things make it very quiet. Most of the time we go there we are alone and when people are there they thing that there will never be anyone else coming. It fools many people as it did the two naked men who were sun bathing on the beach when we arrived. woops!
We went up the beach from them and we helped nana get down the ladder into the water. I then took her to the beach where she and my mom chilled in the shade for an hour. I almost fell asleep on the soft sand. Its soo funny when in life you sometimes rediscover things that you take for granted. The sand felt so soft and perfect something I hadn't noticed in ages....and I felt totally relaxed laying on it.
When we got back to the boat I decided to head up to Falmouth Harbour where the Yacht charter Show was finishing that evening. As I have spoken about in the blog several times, the yachts are totally amazing. We stopped at the marina and all got off to go and have some Italian coffee and gelato.....yum! roddy and Ian of Acqua films met up with us after doing a shoot for one of the yachts. Nana isn't into coffee or Italian ice cream and had a beer instead. The ride home was the best, and with the sun bursting through a rain cloud over Montserrat the water was golden.
JD drove and I took a few shots of the gang sitting in the back of the "bus".
National Hero's Day ended up being a lovely day out for us, and my family enjoyed the time we could spend with one of our very own heroes. Nana has been a beacon of support and strength for her family members for about 80 years and never give up. Hope to do a trip like this again soon.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Antigua is home for me and another 70 thousand (give or take 20 thousand) and although i have lived for short periods in several other places, i find it hard to believe that i could comfortably resettle somewhere else. That being said there are many negatives about living in Antigua. The other day "Tom from Michigan" on the Antigua message board said something that i really liked; "a view of the bay is worth half the pay". I know that by living here i am missing out on many opportunities that are available outside of this tiny rock, but the view from here is hard to beat.
I have been back in Antigua for a week after being in Brazil for a month on the first proper holiday i have had in nearly 7 years, and during the week i came to remember how lucky i am to be alive and well in Antigua. This island can be such a fun place to live. Last week in between doing three trips around Antigua’s beautiful coastline, i enjoyed the Boat show and its lavish cocktail parties (A special thanks to the boys at Acquafilms for the invites), Shirley heights and "The lookout", Abracadabra Disco on a Saturday night, the traditional Sunday Half Moon Bay bodysurfing, tea on the gallery looking at the sea.......etc.
For a tiny little island there are lots to do and see and the view can be pretty fulfilling if you are prepared to look.
If you are just gonna be here on holiday there are a few things you have to experience, so don't just stay in the hotel. Get out and explore. It’s worth it!
Let’s take Half Moon Bay as one outing that you could try. I wouldn't get a cab. Rent a car since that will be a bit of adventure in itself:) Remember that you can stop anywhere and ask for directions.....you will need to anyway. When you get down finally to the beach after passing some of the loveliest views along the way, you will be pretty thirsty and a stop at "Smiling Harry's" is a must. Harry is one of the coolest guys in Antigua who operates a very laid back bar and food shack at the entrance of Half Moon Bay. Burgers, chicken and fish lunches are great and even though its not fancy by any stretch of the imagination.......it is very good and worth a stop. Drinks and food are cheap and i wouldn't bother bringing your own. When you get to the beach there are a few things to remember. First, the waves in the middle are always stronger than they look, so be careful. I had a very good friend break his neck there just by getting tumbled badly. That being said, i body surfed for about two hours yesterday and loved every second. Don't take anything into the water except your swim suit (that has been securely attached to your body). If you are a lady you will lose your top, so remember the warning.
Don’t ever think you can take sunglasses in as i have found many just out beyond the waves lodged in the reef.
The second thing to remember is that when you are gonna go into the water you must remember to put your towels and stuff up high enough. I keep seeing people's things get wet by waves washing up on the sand.
Third: take a walk to the right as you look out to sea and go all the way to the end walking over and around the rocky point. You will then get to the first of Mill Reef's beaches. As long as you don't walk up on to their property you will be fine to enjoy the beach and the lovely waters. Its usually more private there. A nice place for a romantic stroll with your loved one.......
Anyway, i am sure there are other suggestions that people may have about 1/2 moon bay, but you just gotta go have a look before our gov. sells it off to some big developer. Harry has told me stories about "investors" being shown around. Ya never know.
The photos here are of some kids playing football on half moon bay and one from Shirley Heights looking down and Nelson's Dockyard and Falmouth Harbour. Hope you enjoy as much as i have done.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Before anyone thinks that we got another big fancy tour boat let me immediately let you know that this is not the case. Let me explain:
Last august after doing 1300 hours we had some problems with one of the engines on Xtreme. They are super high tech low emission "outboard engines" and we had one of them start giving problems because of bad fuel. I found out very quickly how much parts were gonna cost me and decided that it would be better just to have a spare engine. The biggest cost when you have engines giving problems is the time the boat won’t be working, and we can't afford down time during the busy months. I looked at buying a new spare engine and then at used one but wasn't having much luck with prices. I started to think that it wouldn't be much more expensive to buy a small used boat that had the same model engine. This way I could have a little run about boat for fishing and playing as well as having a working spare engine on the ready. Engines don't like sitting in storage waiting to be used, and i would hate to put take the spare out of storage and find out that while it was sitting it had developed problems of its own. Anyway, I started looking for a boat around 20 feet long that had a single Yamaha F225 outboard engine……I found a few nice ones but the prices I was seeing were way outta my price range. One evening I found a 1985 30 foot wellcraft scarab with 2 of those engines on the back. The engines were new with only 180 hours and the best thing was the price. I knew that the boat couldn’t be as good as the pics showed it to be for the price he was asking, but he described the engines as being like new. It was the engines that I was after anyway, so an older banged up boat wouldn’t be a big deal. I would sell it or fix it up, but the engines were worth the price he was asking. The next week I got on a flight up to Florida to have a look at it, and negotiate a final price if I was going to go ahead and buy it. We went for a ride in the intercostal waterway and she ran well. The hull itself is in rough shape, but not a total wreck like I had envisioned. The outside of the boat is very nice actually with a new paintjob, and with some fiberglass work to the inner structure the boat would be solid. He was selling a trailer as well, which sweetened the whole deal for me. We agreed on a price, I paid him a deposit, and I flew home to find some more money. Anyway, this week we finally have received the boat here on the island and it is sitting down the beach from where I live. Now I have to decide what exactly to do with it. I have had several people come to me wanting to buy it even without the engines which I guess is one option, but all my crew think we should fix it up and use it for fun and possibly some private charters or smaller snorkeling tours. This Saturday I am meeting with someone to try and get a quote for the job of fixing the inner structure, and I think this will help me decide what to do. I know that I could do the job myself which would be significantly cheaper, but fiberglass work is a big hassle. Whatever happens it will be interesting and a bit of fun watching the restoration. I will take some pics of the boat tomorrow. For now I am gonna throw in one of my first wellcraft scarab. That was the first proper boat i got for my tour from Julie Patterson back in the old days of Adventure Antigua. This latest boat is exactly the same design but 4 feet smaller.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Monday, December 04, 2006
We had a good group of 12 on the boat today which was good because we were one crew short. Leslie is MIA!!! Anyway, the tour ran smoothly and everyone seemed to be enjoying. Green Island was lovely with only one other small yacht there. During lunch I noticed some clouds out in the east looking pretty dark and also noticed the winds pick up a bit. By the end of lunch it was pretty dark and I could see that we were just getting missed by a fast moving squall. The Atlantic wasn’t too bad on the South side of Green Island with the swells being nice and long. Xtreme does well in long period swells.
Quite a bit has changed since I was last out there, and immediately I noticed the different bird life. There were so many Ospreys out there today that I think they must be making a great comeback at the moment. I also saw quite a few Kingfishers as well as several Red Billed Tropic Birds. The winter birds are here! Another huge change from 5 weeks ago awaited me in English Harbour. The yachts are back! English Harbour which is a sleepy little town in the summer has gone through its usual metamorphosis and is now a hustling community of yachties and their associated businesses. All the restaurants are open and the harbours are packed with yachts. Of course, it helps that The Antigua Yacht Charter Show starts on Wednesday with all the important yacht charter brokers being here for the event. The yachts are as amazing as usual with a few new massive ones showing up this year too. The wildly famous Maltese Falcon which was launched earlier this year as the world’s largest private sailing yacht can be seen from both Nelson’s Dockyard where we do our historical part of the Xtreme tour as well as in Falmouth Harbour where she is stationed at the mo. This is their "home page". What an amazing yacht. It’s been featured on the cover of many sailing periodicals as well as on many television shows. Recently while in Brazil I even saw a documentary there about it. If you are lucky enough to be in Antigua while this yacht is here please get in a cab or rent a car and go to have a look Read this article before though so that you will have more appreciation of what this engineering marvel is all about. If you win the lotto you can possibly charter her too. It’s only $385,000 US for a week plus fuel, water and dockage. I would love the opportunity to go sailing on that thing just for a few hours. I think it would be an awesome experience to see these ground breaking rigs work as they were designed to back in the 1960s by some crazy German engineer.
Anyway, enough droooooling over these lovely women of the sea, and back to the meat and potatoes that is Xtreme! After our history tour and 2nd snorkeling session at Pillars of Hercules, we were off again to Rendezvous Bay. Stingray City had been enjoyable for the guests but with all that windy and swelly weather last week the water was a bit murky over there. Pillars was clear thankfully, but when we left I noticed that the winds had picked up. At Rendezvous the water was pretty calm and wonderfully clear but the skies were getting darker and I could see out to see that the winds were cranking. By the time we got to the Jolly Beach side of the island later that afternoon the winds were blowing over 30 knots and I was happy to be on the leeward side. Everyone was still enjoying it but I wanted to make sure everyone was back before the skies opened up. Five islands harbour which is usually pretty calm, was choppy and windy. We even got some spray there which seemed to make everyone laugh like mad. You know, when you live here for longer than a few years sea spray will make you run for cover, but for tourists it amazingly seems to be refreshing fun. By the time we said goodbye to our Sandals guests, the winds were even stronger and I am sure we must have had a 35 knot gust. Where is this coming from? All the forecasts I saw said 15 knots max!
The cruise back to Jolly involved some more spray in these strange gusts of powerful wind, but again our remaining guests seemed to love it. As we pulled in to Jolly Harbour at the end of our tour the sun started shining again which was surprising because I was sure the heavens were going to open up just an hour earlier. The day was a great success with all of our guests happy that they came out. For me it was fantastic seeing the changes and getting out on the water again, but it was a bit windy for me towards the end. I think I just attract rough conditions or something. This photo was taken by Ian from Acqua Films and shows the port side of the Maltese Falcon with it’s totally mind boggling rigs. You gotta see it!
Nothing dramatically different has happened for Adventure Antigua since we got Xtreme and we are now in our second busy season. I guess I could say that one of the interesting changes that happened last February was that I started taking more time off from driving the boats. I broke my knee very badly three years ago and since then I have had three operations. The last one I had at the end of Feb was just “damage control” according to my doc. My Doc, Mr. Justin Cobb, is one of the world’s leading orthopedic surgeons and happens to be a family friend. After smashing up the bones in my knee joint, I then tore up the cartilage. He says the knee “is not good” and finally advised me to lay off driving the boat. There is quite a bit of bone on bone “rubbing” in the knee which is made worse by driving the boat while standing up. I find it very difficult to drive without standing. My life has changed dramatically since all these knee problems…..I was a very active windsurfer and then kitesurfer, and now I can’t even ride a bike. It has given me more time to spend on my business which on one hand has been good, but I sometimes feel trapped in this “broken body”. Not having the active physical release is hard and it has taken its toll. I did take a month totally off the boat back in March and since then have worked on and off. There is no doubt that my knee is much less painful when I am not on the boat, but life without boating too wouldn’t be worth it. Its hard enough not being able to windsurf/kitesurf. Who knows maybe I will get the total knee replacement sooner and you will see me out windsurfing again. For now, I will keep working on the Xtreme boat most days.
The History of AA saga is now up to date and I will just give you the history as it happens. I am not sure where this blog is going to go, or what I am gonna ramble on about, but I will try to make it interesting in some way. If not I will still have some cool Antigua photos for ya. I hope you Enjoy.
Friday, December 01, 2006
We woke up to the sounds of a city with all the car horns and sirens that make up that reality. It was about 8 am and we pulled up the anchor to move over to the main dock. I had found it strange that we hadn't been stopped by the coast guard yet. After all, this was a 45 foot off-shore boat with triple outboards. This was the stereotype for drug boats and I was sure that we would set off all kinds of alarms coming in from out to sea at night. Towards the end in the calm I was doing about 40 knots too!
We got to the dock and still saw nobody. I saw someone official looking speaking with the crew of a ship behind us and went to ask him where I could clear in. He looked at me in amazement and asked me to repeat myself. You see the dock was very high and you couldn't see our boat below the concrete edge. He immediately got on his VHF radio calling several people. He told me to go back to the boat and wait for customs. First came customs in a jeep with three officers and a dog. They may have been called homeland security.....I can't remember. There was another car that pulled up with local police, then another group who came from the ship terminal. We had officers all around the boat wanting to know what we were up to. Ali and I had our passports and boat papers ready but they were not happy with us. Why I don't know because we hadn't done anything wrong. I think they were ashamed that we had come in without anyone knowing. Anyway, they jumped on the boat with their dog and big black boots and started searching. They turned the boat inside out looking for drugs I guess. It was very hot and we were very tired. All we needed was some fuel and a meal. At about 10 am they told me I could now go and clear in with immigration which was in the town 35 minutes walk away. Nice huh? The fuel truck starting filling our tank and when he was done took me to pick up burgers, and even took me to immigration. It’s so nice to meet cool people every now and then when you have been surrounded by mean people. Anyway, at about 12 we pulled out of Mayaguez (FINALLY) ready for a quick trip to San Juan and then on to the BVI. It was pretty calm in the lee of Western Puerto Rico, but then we hit the North-West coast. Oh my God!!!! It was rougher than anything we had seen up until that point. There were waves about 10 to 12 feet high but the thing that made them super bad was the steepness. They were what you describe as short waves with one steep wave followed by another and another and so on. As had been the case most of the way down we had to go straight into them along the Northern Puerto Rican coast trying to get to San Juan. It was awful even though it was sunny and clear. The boat was taking a terrible beating and we got several big waves over the bow. What would happen is that I would get the timing wrong every now and then and the front of the boat would just go right through a steep wave instead of riding over the top. When this happened we would usually get about 300 gallons of water into the boat in an instant. This was never fun and after about 45 minutes of this I decided that the angle was just too bad. If we slowed down we seemed to get more water over the bow and if we went fast enough to avoid this, we ended up pounding the boat too hard after falling off these monsters. I decided to do something that I had never done in all the years of power-boating….I decided to “tack” like a yacht going into the wind at angles towards San Juan. I would go out to sea for 3 or 4 miles and then turn the bow through the waves and head back at a comfortable angle into shore a few miles up the coast. We were probably doing about 15 miles per hour but actually doing about 8 miles per hour towards San Juan. It was very very rough and windy. I think the currents coming out between Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic were going along the North-East coast of Puerto Rico in a North-Easterly direction, but the wind and waves were going the opposite direction making a dangerous mess of the ocean around us. We slowly got closer to San Juan where I expected the Coast guard, homeland security or some other authority to come out and stop us, but thankfully it never happened. We arrived outside San Juan Harbor sometime around 5 PM and stopped for a pee break and for ali to have a cigarette. We also stopped to try to decide what to do. We had two choices which comprised of chilling in San Juan for the night in a nice hotel or to keep going on to Tortolla where we would surely get in sometime after dark. Ali had to be at work in a few days and after all the stress in Mayaguez, we decided to push on to the beautiful BVI. We knew it well too which made us feel as though we were getting into our own neighborhood. After San Juan, the Puerto Rican Coast seemed to calm down significantly and we were able to point the boat right towards the North-West end of St. Thomas, USVI and cruise at about 25 knots. Before we left behind Puerto Rico we saw massive schools of small tuna thrashing about on the surface. We couldn’t see what they were eating but all the birds in the area had heard about the bounty too and it was a carnival of a feeding frenzy. We wished we had enough time to fish for a bit but we were in that RUSH which had plagued us since the start. After Puerto Rico and before the USVI the waves started getting confused again and we had to slow down a bit after getting some awful crashes off the tops of some steep ones.
It was very dark by the time we got to the USVI and we kept going and faster than most of our trip so far. The USVI and BVI has mostly protected waters and we were able to do about 35 knots going up in between these dark islands on out way to Nanny Cay, Tortolla.
I hoped nothing was floating out there in the channel that would end out trip for us. At that speed hitting a log wouldn’t be cool. Anyway, we pulled into Nanny Cay at about 9 PM and went to get a room straight away. We didn’t need fuel and we only wanted a place to sleep for the night. Like real naughty brothers we didn’t clear customs or immigration before or after our sleep in Tortolla. If you remember what happened the last time I cleared into the BVI you will know why. Before going to sleep we had dinner at Peg Legs and I think we were sleeping on the way back to the room finding it just by luck. As I said, we were outta there before the fuel dock or anyone was open to see a big go fast boat tearing out of Tortolla. We felt like real bandits as we pulled out but I don’t think anyone missed us.
Nobody should go to the British Virgin Islands without making a stop at The Baths in Virgin Gorda, and Ali stressed that we had to stop. It was out last stop before we went on to St. Martin and we took a mooring to have an early morning swim and snorkel. As usual the Baths were beautiful, and we relaxed there for an hour before thinking about moving on. The Baths consists of several beautiful coconut fringed beaches divided by massive smooth grey rocks and the clearest waters you have seen. You can walk/hike through and under the rocks between the beaches and/or swim around them. We did some lovely snorkeling……. swimming down deep alongside the rocks, then we swam through caves in the rocks, checking out all the colourful fish both big and small. We saw a huge barracuda and a pretty big ray as well as large schools of tiny pilchards. It was a lovely peaceful break and we had our fill before going back to the boat. It was the first time we could enjoy a bit of relaxation in days. When we dropped the mooring we had another 100 miles to go directly into the waves towards St. Martin, but something strange had happened. The winds had dropped! Was it possible? Were we going to get lucky with calm seas on the way to St. Martin? It sure looked like it, and we kept the speed at around 28 knots all the way to St. Martin going through what were probably 4 foot waves. Lovely! We had to stop about 10 miles off to add fuel from the plastic containers, but we still managed to pull into St. Martin in time for a late lunch. I wanted to stay there for a day and to clear in properly. We knew the immigration was near the cruise terminal so approached the area slowly to see where we could dock up. As we got closer we saw a guy in a golf cart on the main cruise dock waving us down. We went closer and he said he was from the port authority and that we couldn’t be so close in a boat like ours to the Cruise Ship that was in port. We told him that we were just there to pick up some bits and pieces for the boat and would be leaving later that day or early the next morning. The guy said not to bother clearing in and to just go to Bobby’s Marina and tie up. Crazy I know, but that is St. Martin for you. The Dutch side of St. Martin has no real customs as it’s a free port, and boats usually don’t bother clearing in. It’s not legal but seems to be ignored most of the time, and in this case encouraged by an official. I have friends in St. Martin and we met up for dinner later that night after some shopping on the famous “Front Street” and securing a nice hotel as well. It ended up being a very very late night of intense partying as ali and I celebrated making it this far. Our friend Ricardi was our guide to all the late night spots and as usual was the best host in St. Martin. The next morning was a hard one, and the pounding I had experienced in the boat all the way from Florida was now taking place in my head. “I am never drinking again” I heard myself say to Ali, and with that I heard a crash of lightning outside just to add to the pain. I took a look from the hotel window to see sheets of rain falling. Oh well….we were not in a rush because we had less than 100 miles to get back to home and we could be there anytime before 8 am tomorrow morning. We didn’t feel like powering 100 miles in the rain and lightning either. My Dad who loves to know what we are up to when we are having adventures, and he was extra happy now to be able to reach us on our cell phones. He kept calling with weather updates and assured us that it was gonna clear up. He is an addicted weather junkie. With a break in the weather sometime after lunch we set off on our last ride. It was pretty bumpy but the angle was good and within 4 hours we were closing in on Jolly Harbour…..Ali shouted out “let her run” and I cranked it up to max RPM @ 6100. The Yamaha F225 four strokes seemed to enjoy the last few miles at wide open throttle and just before we slowed at the harbour mouth we were doing 53 mph on the speed-o. Mom and Dad were there to welcome us and gave us extra hugs. I think they knew how bad it had been for us after speaking to us a few days earlier. Although Ali and I were glad to be home in one piece with the boat, we were silently sad that another big adventure was over. As brothers we don't get to do them like we did in the old days. The drizzle that started as we left the boat seemed to make the reality of being back a little more sobering. Ali had a 5-midnigh shift the next day and I had a hell of a lot of Red Tape to sort out. Back to Reality!
The top photo of the Moon Jelly was taken at the baths as well as the one below of Ali in the middle of the pilchards. Enjoy!
Thursday, November 30, 2006
......To make matters worse, the wind had been picking up very slowly as the sun went down, and by the time it went dark i had to slow her down quite a bit. We were slamming down off the waves, and the worst part was that i couldn't see them. When it’s rough during the day i can speed up in between waves and maintain a good average speed. I just keep my hands on the throttles and "work" them, but at night this didn't work. In the end i had to slow her down to 15 knots and even then it was scary. My brother loves to describe that night. He does a better job than i do because most of the time i was driving i was concentrating so hard i didn't have time to absorb the experience. I will try to describe it like he does....here goes:
"It was so rough that we were doing between 12 and 15 knots going directly into the waves. We couldn't see them but they were obviously huge as we would climb up them and then free fall crashing back down into the dark sea".
It was scary....very scary. When it’s dark at sea on a calm night your mind can run all over the place, but when it’s as rough as it was that night you think terrible things. After an hour or two i started to think about how much more fuel we must be burning since at 12-15 knots we were surely not being efficient. We burned less fuel per mile going 25-30 mph, so i began to worry about our range. At this rate of probable fuel burn we may not make it to San Juan. I told ali to take the helm and to slow down while i looked at the chart to see if there was another port closer to us. We were out in the middle of nowhere 1/2 way between Grand Turk and San Juan in a terrible unfriendly angry ocean. Of course cell phones don't work out there and neither would a VHF radio at that range. Nobody to ask for advice, and if anything were to happen to us.....it would just be the EPIRB that would save us. I had packed a "grab bag" which contained a waterproof VHF handheld radio, the EPIRB, four life jackets, a gallon of water, a flare kit, and a hand held GPS. It wasn't much but i kept looking back at it during the night to make sure it hadn't moved from where i left it.
I saw that Mayaguez on the West coast was a bit closer to us than San Juan was. It was also a better angle against the waves for us. Going there would put us back as much as a 1/2 a day possibly but i knew we would get there. Getting safely to San Juan was not looking great. Doubting yourself out there is a terrible feeling, but i am glad i did. We made the wise choice and started heading towards Mayaguez. Just at that moment we started seeing the lightning just off our right side. GREAT! Windy, rough, incredibly wet and cold, and now thunderstorms were coming. It got rougher...........and waves crashed occasionally into the boat.
It was about midnight and i had been driving since early that morning with only a short break in Grand Turk. I was totally exhausted, cold, and stressed out. Ali was not much different, but he had to drive as i was falling asleep standing up. He was cold and miserable but took over without complaining. I lay down behind him with half my body on the cooler and the other half on one of the two person seats. I was shaking with cold and clenching my teeth with stress and the cold. I think i actually may have slept for 30 minutes during the hour or two that i lay there which was plenty. Ali later told me that he would look back every few minutes to make sure i was still there. He said he was terrified he would look back and not see me, and he even said that if that happened he would just have jumped over too. Weird huh, but when you sit there in the darkness cold, wet, scared, tired, and stressed you think about all kinds of things. When a wave broke into the boat practically landing on me.....it was time to get up. Ali was happy to sit back down and hug his knees to try to warm up. We were not in the rain but the lightning was getting closer, and i was worried about how bad it could get. We were now in hurricane season and the weather can change pretty quickly. My mind started to wander. I though about my life up until that point, the places i had been, the things i had seen, the experiences i have had.........I though about my family, girlfriend, and friends. I thought about the young people in my life who died too young. I thought about the things they missed out on. I thought about my high school classmates: Kieth Scotland, Brian Dailey, and Mervin Barns who all died in a terrible car accident during our final semester at school. I thought about my two young aunts who were claimed by cancer. I thought about Inigo Ross who co-founded Wadadli Catamarans. He was lost at sea on a rough day between St. Vincent and St. Lucia. I think about these people often and that night out there I though about them again. What should i do if i make it back alive? What do i need to change in my life? I don't think i prayed, but i did lots of reflection. It was not a good night.....or maybe it was. It made me think about my life and that can be good sometimes i guess.
Anyway, the GPS said we had 40 miles to go and i could see the glow coming from the city of Mayaguez. At night in the Caribbean you can usually see the glow coming from the next island's lights, and finally this was a slight comfort. At this point i started hearing the US Coast Guard speaking to a boat somewhere that was in distress. Fifteen minutes later they made a report about another boat off the North Coast of PR that had made a single distress call. They advised boats too look out for any sign of that boat. Anyway, i kept on going and when we got closer the seas started to drop down. When we were about 8 miles away it started getting calm. At about 3 miles away it got glass calm as we were now in the behind the protection of West coastline. Ali moved to the front of the boat to lay flat on one of the bench seats, and immediately fell asleep. The sky had colour in it now and slowed for a second to take a photo. It was 4:38 am on June 8th according to the digital image i have on my computer and you can see the sunlight and ali sleeping in his wet clothes in the front of the boat. I will put that up at the top when i am done. Finally i cruised into what the GPS said was the harbour. It was still not light enough to see where i was, but i knew it was calm enough and shallow enough to anchor. We would rest a bit and then go look for customs and immigration, and then fuel. My fuel light was flashing and we had less than 60 gallons left in the extra plastic tanks. We may have made it to San Juan, but i am not so sure. It was a good thing we changed course. My dad and Steve Mendes had done this same trip before in similar conditions and had run out of fuel off san Juan. they were towed in luckily.
Anyway, after dropping anchor, i woke up ali to move him into the cabin and fell asleep in my wet and salty clothes.....thank God we were safe!
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Just like the last time I was in Mayaguana, i powered out of the harbour before the sun came up bound for the island of Provodinciales. Since we had gone a bit North the night before it was a slightly better angle going across to Provo. We could get some good speed up since we were going across the waves instead of pounding into them. Since we had been eating pure crap for the past two days and hadn't had any breakfast we were like wolves. Don't ever mess with my bro when he hasn't eaten.....I could see the wildness in his eyes and i was worried. Worried that the lunch menu in the marina would not be ready at 11 am after we had cleared in with Customs and Immigration.
While we were filling in the forms he kept looking at the restaurant 150 feet away, so when we burst in there at 11, he was ready for action!!!!
We started with conch fritters which are better in the Turks and Caicos than anywhere on the planet. They even have a conch farm there. Then it was the mandatory chicken wings which we always seem to sample when we are at a new place. I don't remember what I had for a main but remember looking in amazement at the Kobe beef burger that Ali had delivered. It was massive and just what he wanted. The look of pure satisfaction was amuzing. I wonder if he even remembers. We were very tired still and decided to take a day off....after all....it was the NBA finals that night. We got a hotel room in the marina, and as Ali settled in for an afternoon of relaxation and sleep, i went back to see if i could properly fix the gear cable. Since it came undone just before Long Island, i hadn't had time to properly fix it, and had been starting the right engine in forward gear. It was permanently stuck in forward. After 2 hours in the tiny cramped space of the consol I managed to fix it properly with the help of some waterproof tape which held a pin in place locking the cable to the shift lever. You know, i didn’t have to mess with it for 6 months. Nothing in the world like waterproof duct tape. I don't even remember who won the basket ball that night, but know that the next day i was well relaxed and ready for the biggest and most dangerous of our entire journey. Turks and Caicos to San Juan. I knew how much fuel we had been burning up until now and calculated that if we topped up one last time on the outer most island, Grand Turk, we would have enough fuel to get us comfortably to San Juan, Puerto Rico. As usual things never work as you expect them to. We cleared out early that morning and made the fairly long run to Grand Turk where we were immediately told that we had to clear in again to get fuel, and customs was a few miles down the road!!! What!!! They got to be kiddin. Anyway after doing all of that we were once again behind schedule and rushing. Don’t rush!!!
We had to do 300 miles and it was 2pm when we left. This meant we would be at sea at night again. It appeared to be calm though which was cool with me. As the sun set we were passing the famous "Silver Banks" and saw many big fishing boats anchored there. They deployed smaller boats to go and do some sort of fishing and they were scattered over the place. All of the big boats had people on them waving us over. They looked like they were in trouble and were waving and waving, but Ali and i knew better. Here we are out in the middle of nowhere with some of the poorest people in the Caribbean calling us over to their boats. Hmm....we knew they were fine, and we were not as safe as they were. We still had 150 miles to do in the dark.....
Just before it got dark we noticed quite a bit of junk floating in the sea. Bits of branches, coconuts, a big piece of wood, plastic crates. It was as if we had come into some kind of current which passes through the Mona Passage (the channel out of the Caribbean Sean between The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I became very concerned upon seeing all this crap in the water because it was another way for boats to sink. I remember reading the awesome book "Adrift" about a guy who drifted for 76 days in a life raft after hitting something while sailing. He never saw what he hit and only had time to deploy the life raft and jump in before his boat sank of the Cape Verde islands near Africa's West Coast. Hmm LIFE RAFT..... We didn't have one, and as it got darker so did our mood. I can just hear my mom urging me to get the life raft. Moms always know best!
I have been told that the other blogs were too long soo i will leave this one here. The photo was taken by me as Ali drove the boat during our trip. Enjoy.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Alexander Fuller a.k.a "Ali" has been working for one of the gaming companies here on island for longer than my company has been around, and doesn't get to go out boating as much as he did when we were kids. Back then we were out almost every day either boating or windsurfing. Anyway, the late nights at the office keep him off the water way too much. He was due a holiday in May and decided to come along with me to collect the boat from North Miami Beach. All we had to do was outfit it with all the life jackets and anchors and general safety stuff. Getting bits for the boat in Antigua isn't always easy so we made sure we had everything we needed. The trip was 1350 nautical miles to Antigua and I knew how much open ocean there was going to be too. We got some nice rain jackets too just in case and a few other things. We Antiguans always shop too much when we go to the USA.
I thought about the problems i had in the Dominican Republic on my last trip down from Florida and decided that i would try to make the 350 mile trip from Grand Turk to Puerto Rico skipping the DomRep altogether. I needed more fuel than our tank held so we got 12 5 gallon tanks from Wal-Mart too. Don't u just love Wal-Mart? When buying our GPS (global positioning system) i made sure it was a very good chart plotter and got the chip containing the charts for Florida and the Caribbean. When i go to big boat supply stores i just want one of everything. My mother had urged me to buy a life raft, but i knew that my money was tight and had to decide between the latest EPIRB and the expensive life raft. An EPIRB or Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon sends out a distress signal that allows the beacon to be located by the satellite system and search and rescue aircraft to locate the people, boats and aircraft needing rescue. The one i was looking at was registerable which meant that you send in your info along with your closest family’s contact numbers. When the coast guard first receives the signal they get in touch with your contacts to make sure it’s not a false signal. This also alerts your family of a problem. I had heard too many stories where the end of those stories was "if they had an EPIRB they would be alive today", so i went with the US $1300 EPIRB. After all, if we sank and had the life raft instead of an EPIRB it could be days before anyone knew there was a problem and then where the hell would they start looking. The best option would be to have both, and next time i will.
Ali warned me that this was a holiday for him, and he wanted to 1) Eat well 2) do some fishing and 3) sleep in hotels each night. I knew where all the good fuel ports were from Miami to Antigua and knew that all had hotels and restaurants. I also knew that this boat was way way way faster than the Eco Boat (arawak odyssey), so went over the planned course with Ali who agreed that it looked good. We paid and thanked bob, loaded all the gear into the boat, got 360 gallons of fuel and set off for Chub Key which was gonna be the fist place that we could clear customs and immigration. Just as we were leaving the fuel station, a boat came in and said that they had tried to go out but it was too rough....!!!!! Great! Just GREAT!!!!!!!!
Ali and i had to get back in a week so that he could get back to work, so we were not gonna stay in port unless it truly was bad. Also, if anything was gonna go wrong with the boat, i wanted it to go wrong close to Miami. We left north Miami beach like a bat out of hell going directly into the grey waves. We left much later than we wanted to because the fuel station was having trouble processing my credit card for all that fuel. We were late and I was pushing it pretty hard and the boat was crashing as hard through the Gulf Stream’s nasty waves. Bam Bam Bam Bam CRASH CRASH....after an hour ali said we had to stop for a pee (and cigarette break) and to stretch the sore legs. Bob had told me when i first spoke with him about the boats "you will break your body before you break my boat". I smiled, shook my head and put the three engines back into gear. It got very rough at one stage and we did have to slow down, but we finally arrived into Chub Cay at about 4:50 pm. It had taken us four hours, and as we pulled in the fuel attendant told us that the customs and immigration people had already gone home. The thought of sitting and wasting time in tiny Chub Cay until the next morning when they returned to "clear" us into The Bahamas didn’t sound good to me, so i looked at the charts and decided to make a run for Nassau, New Providence which was another few hours away. We arrived at dark and pulled into a tiny marina on the main stretch on the Nassau side opposite Paradise Island and Atlantis Hotel. Technically we were not allowed to leave the boat until we had cleared customs (as with all countries), but we were tired and Ali had made me promise hotels. Don't tell anyone, but we did check into a nice hotel next door only to return the next morning to clear in and get fuel.
When we were collecting the boat from Bob we met up with Nigel, the owner of Powerboat Adventures on Nassau, who was checking out another boat that was being built. He knew that my engines were brand new and offered me the use of his boat life to do my 10 hour service. He also called his mechanic in Nassau who agreed to do the job for us if we brought the oils and filters. These high tech engines are the most expensive "four stroke" variety which are way more fuel efficient and have way lower emissions than the older models. They need careful maintenance, so we took the boat over to Powerboat Adventures and left it there to get the very important 10 hour break in service done.
Time for a "full english breakfast" which is one of my bro's favorite things in the world.
We got back as the service finished and off we went into the high winds and choppy waters off Nassau. We were on a long run to Long Island passing the beautiful Exumas. It was a long day covering well over 200 miles i think. We were about 20 miles away from the marina and hotel on Long Island when a gear cable came undone. When we stopped for a break out there one of the engines got stuck in neutral. After spending about 45 minutes inside the cramped consol, i figured how to temporarily fix it by jamming it into forward gear and over-riding an electrical control which stopped you from starting it in forward gear. We were on our way again and rushing one more time. Rushing....It is the thing i tell all new boaters to never do. You never should rush when you are out on a boat unless you are in a race. It is dangerous! Anyway, i didn't know the place well and wanted to get in before dark. We finally got in just after sunset and immediately started getting attacked by the most aggressive mosquitoes we had ever seen. Luckily we were met by the hotel mini van who rushed us off to the hotel. We had a lovely shower to wash off 8 hours of salt spray and sunscreen, and headed for the restaurant. We had seen two of the Powerboat Adventures boats in the Marina as well as another fancy powerboat, and remembered hearing Nigel say that his boats were helping a film shoot. At the bar downstairs we saw what it was about......There were actors and crew from the new Disney Pirates Of the Caribbean movie. If you saw the second one then you will remember the scene when they are sword fighting on a beach...., well that was 30 miles from Long Island in the Bahamas. Each day the boats had to transport the crew and actors out to that deserted spot to film. If you see it again check how windy it was!!!!! Windy = Rough!
So the next morning bright and early we set off on a long trip to The Turks and Caicos Islands. We studied the charts that we had and saw that there were several routes. One was shorter and took us outside Long Island into the rough seas which were super rough at that point....too rough. The other zig zagged along Long Island (which didn't get its name by chance) around a few other Bahamian islands and shallow spots. Ahhh yes......shallow spots..hahahahahaha
So we say that the chart said a 6 feet deep sand bank for like 30 miles along our route. We figured we would take this route because it was just too rough outside the island. Anyway, we needed just over 3 feet to be safe and figured that we would not go around the sand bank adding another 15 miles onto our trip. We would go over it.......BIG MISTAKE!!!! DONT RUSH!!!!!
We could see it getting shallower and shallower as the tide dropped, until we finally slowed down and decided to trim up the motors and fish slowly. We only had 2 more miles to go and we would be in deep water on our way to The Turks and Caicos in no time. We started fishing trying to see where it was deepest zig zagging through the very shallow spots on the sand bank. The tide kept dropping and I told Ali to reel the line in as we had more to worry about. I could see nice deep blue water up ahead but there was not a deep enough channel to it. So close and yet so far. We were starting to churn up sand behind the boat too. All of a sudden we were aground. we were only doing about 2 miles per hour so we revved her in reverse and got off, but now where?. We turned off the motors so not to suck up any sand into the intakes and stood up on the front of the boat to see if we could figure out how to get out of this sandy maze. We had to laugh at our situation......the most beautiful colours in the world, great fishing, calm seas clear skies.....but we were in danger. We possibly were stuck for 5 hours until the tides came up. In Antigua we don't have to worry about it because our tided are about 18 inches at a max and even that is in extreme cases. Here it seemed to be 4 feet. Ali jumped over and pushed the front of the boat around to face the 90 degrees off to our right pointing us toward the detour we had opted not to take. If we made it there it could be 12 miles just to get to the blue that was right in front of us on the other side of the sandy shallow spot. The water reached just above his knees. What a joke! We had some nasty white bread, mustard and packed tuna fish. Lunch first, and then we would try for the original detour. Anyway, after lunch we set off in the 3 feet of clear water just above the sand bank and carefully made our way out to what we knew would be a much longer but deeper water trip. After about 10 minutes when it got a little deeper, Ali saw something and told me to look off to our left. There was a 12 inch line on the bottom cutting through the sand and grass going in the direction we wanted to go. Some bigger boat had experienced the same thing but didn't have the luxury of trimming up their motors. They had kept on going cutting a tiny path through the sand bank. We looked at each other and knew that if they had done it then we could too. All we had to do was follow their "dredged" channel very carefully and very slowly. We did and in an hour we were in the deep waters at the bottom (south-east) side of Long Island. Yeee ha! We had a problem now......we were very late and not even half way to Provodinciales. Anyway, we zoomed down past Crooked Island, and then past Acklins Island each time staying on the leeward sides. It was about 5 pm when we got to the end of Acklins Island and i knew we wouldn't make it into The Turks and Caicos until way way after dark. It looked like with the winds and seas that we were now seeing it would be an all night session. Screw that i thought. Let’s get into a safe harbour as close as possible to the Caicos Islands and then set off first thing for "Provo".
Gosh it was rough! Pounding straight into oncoming waves that shook the boat and our bodies, i didn't like it one bit. The sun had now set and we were over 50 miles from Mayaguana Island which would be our last (unscheduled) stop in the Bahamas. The funny thing is that on my first trip down with the Eco Boat, we had also slept in Mayaguana. Both times we arrived at night in the dark into what the charts said was a small harbour protected by a barrier reef. Thank god for the GPS chart plotter. If we didn't have that we would have been just another of the thousands of wrecks across the West Indies. We could hear the waves breaking when we arrived but couldn't see them. We slowly powered into the harbour until it was calm enough and shallow enough to anchor. Xtreme as we were calling her for the trip, has a nice cabin and we had no choice but to try using it for the first time. There would be no proper hotel for Ali tonight, but we slept like babies with the gentle rocking and nice moonlight that reminded us of camping trips we did as kids. Before going to bed, we had more tuna and white bread with mustard sandwiches. YUM!
This journal entry is getting out of hand huh? A bit long.....so i will end it here for the time being. The pic above was taken by ali when we were beating through the waves on our way to Mayaguana. As you can see....it was rough!
Saturday, November 25, 2006
.....continued from "part 4".......
After arriving in Miami, i went straight to see Bob the boat builder who was kinda short and to the point on the phone. He didn't try to sell me anything which i kinda found strange. When i got to his factory or warehouse he met me and took me to see several boats which were in varied stages of construction. He pretty much lets his boats do the pushing of the product. They are built tough like things were build in the USA in the "good old days". Of course, after my disaster with Cooper Marine, my main concern was strength, and you could see strength at every point with Bob's construction. He had been building boats for over 30 years and had seen it all. He told me storied about building boats with his best friend in the early 80s when most of the people who wanted "go-fast" boats were shady characters. His best friend went on to start one of the most famous "go-fast" boat companies...."Midnight Express", and Bob told me stories about how his friend building boats for people who would pay with cash in full. To me it sounded like something out of a movie like the Al Pacino film "Scarface". Later he mentioned that his friend did get arrested by the DEA for knowingly building boats for a big time drug runner. The joke was that part of his sentence was building several boats for the government. Funny......
Anyway, Bob was a no BS kinda guy. He said "what you see is what you get" and i believed him. When i asked him why he wasn't with his friend building the original Midnight Express boats he laughed and said that he had been hired by another friend, Ted Arison, to turn an old ship into a cruise liner. It took him several years but that ship ended up becoming the first of Carnival Cruise Lines' ships. He (re-)built that and put what is now the worlds largest cruise line on the water!!!
I was happy with what i saw for two reasons. Firstly, I could tell that Bob was an honest hard worker who didn't BS his way through life. The second thing that made me feel cool was seeing the boats being built. This was a very limited-production boat builder where each one is custom built to your needs. They are not finished like some of the big names out there like Contender, Intrepid, or Boston Whaler but there was no question that bob's boats were built to last a lot longer carrying much more weight through much worse seas. Bob said he could have one finished for me in just over three months, so I sent him a deposit the next day. I think that was in August of 2004, so i was thinking about having it ready for the busy winter tourist season.
The next month we did extensive work on the Eco boat built by cooper marine. It cost me a good chunk of change and poor Tony worked like a daemon in the worst possible conditions. When we stopped, i felt much better about the boat and was sure it would be fine through the next few seasons. We had beefed up and created more structure in the front of the boat using the best possible materials and workmanship. I had hired a professional Marine Surveyor and boat builder to oversea the job with Tony and together they had done an awesome job. I still would like to do more in the middle and aft of the boat but it was the front that was where my main concern was. The surveyor agreed and was happy with the outcome.
In October, i went to have a look at Bob's progress and was pleased to see that he had done some good work getting the boat prepared. I could see that it wouldn’t be finished for November like he had said, but I was fine with that considering I didn’t have all the money sorted out. Since my sister Nell was working with me, I decided to offer her some ownership in the business. She and my bro, Ali, were interested in finding some money to help pay for the new boat and come on board with my growing company. They quickly found out the same thing that I already knew. Banks in Antigua don’t care about your business! All they want to know is how much land you are gonna put up. Anyway, in the end (some time in May 2005) they managed to come up with $90,000 to help me pay for the Performance 40.
Yes May 2005!!!! What happened over the winter was quite simple. In December just before Christmas I had a disaster. We had just picked up some cruise passengers from the cruise terminal, and were on our way out when I heard a strange sound coming from the port engine on the Eco Boat. Immediately I knew it wasn’t good, and after taking them to a beach nearby for a swim and some lunch, we went in and dropped off the guests. We didn’t charge them a dime of course. Anyway, mechanics meet us in Jolly Harbour and tell us that we have big problems which require the engine to be taken apart. Looks like it may be a total wreck, but I am told that it is still under warranty. I think for a minute what the implications are……..Warranty………so what? In the Caribbean a warranty isn’t what it is in the USA. Here they take the engine to pieces in order to find what is wrong with it, then ship the broken parts which show the cause of the failure back to the manufacturer, then they decide if they are gonna replace or rebuild. I spoke with the good people at Marine Power Services who estimated that it could take 6 weeks or longer considering the holidays and holiday shipping delays. This was December 20th I think. MPS tell me what I am already thinking: “You could always buy a new motor, and end up with a spare when the other if fixed or replaced”. I asked them to immediately find out the cost and approximate shipping time. We had full tours for the next 2 weeks in between the holidays. It’s always the busiest time of the year for us. Perfect!!!!
I got a call an hour later saying that the engine was US $23,000 and could be shipped and landed here within a week only if we air freighted it. Wow! On the one hand, I could be up and running within 10 days, but on the other, I couldn’t afford the expense. So what do I do? If I don’t buy the engine I may have to close down because of not being able to operate for 6 weeks or longer, and if I do buy the engine I won’t be able to pay my regular bills at the end of the month……
I went to the bank and wired the money to Yanmar USA, and the engine was shipped later that day. The stress was pretty hard core, and my Christmas wasn’t as relaxing as everyone else’s. Over the next week we pulled the boat out of the water to do other maintenance and found major eminent problems with the propulsion systems as well. My girlfriend at the time, Chantal, who I had been with before I started the company, was about to go off to college too. I couldn’t spend time with her as I had to be at the boat. It was all too much for me, and I came down with the flu! It was the worst I had in years and when she left, I felt lower than I had done in years. The business was about to fail, I was sick as a dog, customers, their reps, and hotels were all pissed off with me, my girlfriend had gone, it terrible weather………..it all just sucked!
Anyway, Tony, who works for me told me to chill at home, and he would make sure the boat was sorted out. He worked like an ox again down in Jolly Harbour getting the steering and propulsion system all fixed and ready for the new engine to be put in. When the engine finally arrived I was better enough to help them put it in. The next day we were ready to put “Arawak Odyssey” back in the water. Two days later we were back in business and totally broke with all kinds of bills, employees, Harriette and banks to pay. Not to mention Bob. Tony knew what was going on and told me that he had money put away….he told me to pay him when things got better. He is the best! Harriette said the same thing…..always looking after me.
I called a friend in Miami and told him to go and take some photos of my boat being built to see what stage of construction it was in. This was the start of Jan and Bob had originally said it would be done in November. When I saw the pics I knew it still had some months to go, so I told bob that he had to wait for more money as well. By the middle of January it all looked as though things were gonna work out. We were exceptionally busy and the rest of the season looked good too. Bob didn’t finish the boat until May! I knew I would miss the season and I was also pretty tight on cash, so I didn’t get too mad with him. He had been building his house and had do deal with several hurricanes after the boat started being built.
After my terrible trip from Florida in the Eco Tour boat, I knew I didn’t want to bring the boat down again under its own steam, so we hunted for good shipping rates. They didn’t exist! Because the boat’s length overall was 45 feet long it was too long to fit on the 40 foot container “flat rack”. Also, at 10 feet wide it was too wide as well. The shipping companied wanted me to pay for the same shipping rates as four 40 foot containers. The rates were astronomical and we couldn’t afford it.
In late may, my brother Alexander and I set off to pick up the boat. Everyone was worried about our safety (not only because we were going to be out in the ocean, but they were more afraid we would kill each other).
Let’s save the next part of the story for another blog entry…….
The photo above is of the inside of one of bob's boats. You don't normally see that much structure in boats these days.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Nell Fuller is my younger sister and luckily has been working with me for several years now doing most of the behind the scenes stuff that you won't see while out on your tour. If it wasn't done though........we wouldn't be going out, so her job is one of the most important.
Nell had been working for an online casino which antigua is now famous in some circles for, and like many of her peers got fed up with that kind of work. At the time, i was short of someone to run the office side of things and Nell fit in well. Her job is not just office stuff though, although emails are a huge part of it. You can find her in the office replying to emails 5 days a week between 9 and mid day. Mondays she can be at it most of the day which is tough work. Another huge aspect of her job is keeping in very close contact with the hotel and tour reps. She is full of charisma which i think is her greatest asset. Recently I took her on as a small shareholder of my company. She cares about the company and gives 100% to make sure you don't have to think about what it took to take you on tour when you come out with us.
Recently she took a little time off to go another culinary course. She had done a cordon bleu course several years ago and has always been interested in Japanese cuisine, so this summer she set off for California to learn more. We have always enjoyed her sushi, but after 4 months of intense schooling she is now a master sushi chef and i can't wait to try some. She has returned now and is working with the company again. With this new skill, i am not sure how much longer she will stay with the company full time. If you make a booking you will be in contact with her. Say hi to "sweet fish" as they called her in Cali.
This pic is of her on a rare boat outing and for the record she is not topless!!!!!!
This other pic is of her on my other sister's birthday. Franny was 21 and nell was wishing she was........don't we all?
Thursday, November 23, 2006
David “chopper” Mendes has been working with us since he finished high school earlier this year. He had been attending school in Canada and was happy to be back home in sunny Antigua. In fact, as soon as he got back I had him working on Xtreme. David is only working with us part time unfortunately because he is off to Study Pre-Med in Grenada. I spoke a bit about him in an early blog entry, but here is a little more. David is one of the most responsible kids for his age that I know…..no….the most! He has a very strong work ethic which will serve him well along his journey to become a Doc. At Adventure Antigua he has done everything from running errands, to maintenance, to being tour guide, to driving…..you name it and David will do it.
One of the things that all of us in the company will miss when he goes off to school is his sense of humor. He makes all of us laugh which is such an asset. Our group is a fun loving team and having David around keeps everyone laughing even at “the end of a long day at the office.”
The photo above is David doing a silly dive we named the “pelican dive” off Coco Point in Barbuda. The pic below is him at Rendezvous Bay during the Xtreme Circumnavigation tour. Someone had asked me to get a few photos of people with half their face in the water......
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
(i am at an internet cafe off island at the moment. the connection is slow and the computer is a crasher......i will spell check and edit this later. please excuse the mistakes)
We arrived in Provo, cold, tired, and stressed. We were not speaking much because the reality didn't sound too good. We were at the very least stuck up the creek without a paddle. I made some calls to Cooper Marine as soon as i got in and they agreed to put someone on a plane the next day. Two of my crew who had businesses to run back in Antigua flew out the next day as the guy from Cooper came in. This guy came off the plane without saying hi to me and carrying loads of attitude along with two boxes of repair materials. Before we even got to the car i stopped him and gave him a bit of my mind. It was a good thing i didn't tear him apart considering my mental state at the time. I was the victim here and he's giving me attitude!!!! Anyway, he said his main problem was that he had never left the country (USA) and didn't think that flying out to repair a boat he built was his idea of fun. I told him i was having way less fun and that i would have him back in Florida as soon as he made the simple repairs we needed to get us back home. Fortunately there was a good boat yard in Provo and the next morning we started the job with the help of a good Jamaican Fiberglass repair guy. The Cooper guy and the Jamaican cut away lifted laminations and prepared areas where i suggested we added more strcture. I have had quite a bit of experience over the years working in fiberglass and on boats and could easily see the problems. Of course, the Cooper Marine guy wanted to do as little as possible and didn~t see the need to add structure. He did a rushed job which was soo poor that i was worried it wouldnt last back to antigua. I knew we needed much more repairs which would be time consuming and costly. Cooper Marine never helped a bit. Please speak with me if you are ever thinking about getting one of their boats!!!!!!!!!!
Finally about 5 days later Chael and I set off from Provo again on our way to Samana, Rominican Republic. It was slow going as the seas hadñ't eased up and we ended up getting stuck in the middle of a storm which lasted most of the night. We took turns driving and trying to look out for other vessels. At one stage in i saw a light appear behind us appearing in and out of the torrential rain. At one stage i had to increase the speed to keep clear of it. Never saw what it was out there in the middle of the dangerous and famous "Mona Passage". Anyway, at sunrise we arrived like wet rats in Samana after a horrible night at sea. All we needed to do in Samana DR was get fuel and get outta there. We had to bribe 5 government officials because they told us that we had to clear customs and immigration first. We had to bribe them because they said it was a public holiday, and we were not going to get far in that noisy, dirty corrupt town without "playing ball". Anyway, we were happy to get out of that manic town and be on our way to San Juan. Once again we arrived at night and were met by US Coast Guard who were doing an operation off Puerto Rico. They told us to go into the port where they would do a search. They were very nice and after searching us and the boat released us into San Juan Harbour to get some needed rest. We slept like the dead and the next morning got fuel and left for the British Virgin Islands. As we arrived, the weather got so bad that i was worried about our trip from the BVI to St. Martin. Inside the BVI where it is normally calm there were huge waves and torrential rain. I heard later that several people died in flooding there. We arrived into Virgin Gorda's Spanish Town which was the last stop before our St. Martin journey, and it's where we were given the most hard core and disrespectful search by the customs officials yet. They wanted to "confiscate" a drill set and some other tools we had onboard simply because they liked them!!! After they left, i went to the BVI tourist board and made a formal complaint. It was that bad! Served us right i guess for being so honest. Most boats in transit dont bother clearing customs! Anyway, we moved around in the harbour to get a "birth". It was raining hard as hell and the boat next to us filled with a group of self proclaimed "red necks" invited us to have steaks with them on their yacht. We must have looked miserable or something, but the kind and warm hospitality was exactly what we needed. IT was some of the best steak i have ever had and the company was great too. I think they had been drinking all day in the rain by the time we got there and were very merry. At 5 am the next morning we set off for the 100 mile trip to St. Martin straight into some of the nastiest seas i have experienced. It was 8 hours of scary pounding into the sea with waves crashing over the bow and washing right across the deck and out the back. Chael and i kept on listening out for noises below deck and we kept checking the repairs that we could easly see. Having no life raft out there with a boat that already had problems in huge stormy seas was a stressful experience. St. Martin never looked so good. We arrived to flooded streets and mud everywhere but we were happy to be there. The next day we made our last 100 mile journey to Antigua. We had to laugh really because as we closed in on the final 10 miles the winds calmed down. In fact, for the next three weeks the weather was flat calm........1500 miles of rough dangerous seas where we nearly lost the boat, and we get home to another 3 weeks of perfectly calm weather.
Within a week we were taking full boats out on The new Eco Tour though and very quickly the news of the new boat spread. IT was as good as i thought it would be for the tour. We didn~t have to change a thing and the tour was better now in my opinion. It realy is a great design. We added one crew to make it easier to handle a larger group, and this worked great as well. I figured i could make it through the season with the repairs we had done in Provo since it had made it through all that rough ocean. Winter 03/04 was a busy season and spring stayed busy too. In fact summer 04 was almost as busy for the company as with winter season had been. We were turning away bookings again, and i started thinking about another boat and another tour. Why not? On the trip down from Florida, i had seen some boats by a company called Performance 40. Powerboat Adventures in Nassau were using these boats and swore by them. They were built stronger than normal and looked like fun. I enjoyed the Cooper boat but it was a bit big to take out on the weekend days off. These boats would be perfect for a new tour as well as a great boat to have fun with. Soooo...............................I went to Miami to see Bob the boat builder..........T.B.C.