Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas Everyone

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

christmas cheer

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

Antigua's Seasons

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

test drivin'

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

Antigua Super Yacht Cup

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

fixing up boat number 3

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

National Heros Day

Every year in Antigua we seem to get another holiday thrown at us, and this past Monday was National Heroes Day. The former Gov. tried to make it V.C. Bird Day after the old loved PM who led the island into independence, but it didn't happen before the new Gov. got into power. Of course, they couldn't go along with anything that had been thought up by the old guys and had to change the name to National Heroes Day. They knew that most of the island wanted to acknowledge VC Bird, so compromised with a holiday celebrating all of the past "heroes".
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

living here

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 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 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

now we have 3 boats

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

More changes coming

Unfortunately, we are saying goodbye to three of our crew over the next 5 weeks. Before leslie started working for the company, he was working nights at Big Banana restaurant in St. Johns and has been made a very good offer to work full time at their newest place that opened last week. We wish him good luck and will miss him. If you stop in for pizza in St. Johns at the Big Banana look out for les there.

When Adam started working for me he had told me that it would only be for a short time until he got his business started. He has gone out and secured a loan and purchased equipment to do specialist vinyl signage as well as other equipment to do t-shirts. He is very creative and artistic, so i am glad that he will be able to use his talent in his own business. Look out for some new t-shirt designs soon too. Adam will be with us until the holidays at the end of the month.

"Chopper" (David) had always planned on going to medical school and will be starting next semester in Grenada. We are all excited about this and wish him luck with his studies when they start in Jan.

With three guys going we will be getting three new guys.....I have spoken with three promising fellas and i will let you know here as soon as they come aboard. One of them who may come to work is an old veteran Adventure Antigua crew member too. We'll see if it all works out. Since this post is kinda small and simple i am gonna put a few extra photos. Enjoy the pics!

Monday, December 04, 2006

winds of change

Well today was my first day back on the boat in about 5 weeks and it sure was a shock to the system. Nell and my mom had cancelled the Xtreme tour Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday because of high winds and big swells. Since the weather had calmed down over the weekend and was forecast to get better this week we went ahead and booked tours. When I woke up at 6 am today it was raining pretty hard and I quickly went to have a look at the weather sites. All seemed to suggest that it would clear up and be pretty nice weather for our tours. By the time we got to Jolly Harbour the sun was shining and we were looking good.
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!

The history of AA "Part 10"

After we got back to Antigua, I had to do a dummy run of the Xtreme Circumnavigation Tour that I had envisioned to make sure that it was fun and flowed properly. I also had to get photos and a brochure done quickly. The pic above was done by Roddy while doing a job on Caribbean Helicopters. I didn’t want to use this new boat for the same old Eco Tour type thing and thought that something very very different than was already out there was needed. I had contacted Andrew who is one of the main owners of Stingray City and convinced him that an alliance would be a great idea. He mentioned that several companies had spoken with him about doing combined tours before but none had come through. I think he thought originally that I would be the same, but when I picked he and his wife up that first day he realized I wasn’t just a talker. The first demo tour was great, and everything seemed to be timed perfectly. To this day we haven’t changed a thing, and I still think it’s an excellent tour. We make 5 activity stops during the tour around Antigua. There is no other tour in Antigua that does that. The speed and comfort of the boat allows us to make this many stops without ever feeling rushed. I keep thinking about doing another tour, but I still haven’t come up with something nearly as good. Maybe in the spring we will do something new. I dunno…
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

The History of AA "part 9"

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!