Thursday, January 31, 2008

more on Antigua and Barbuda Shipwrecks

From my web tracker I can see that I am getting quite a few hits from people searching for wrecks around Antigua and Barbuda. My last shipwreck blog attempted to explain how a particular wreck at Cades has ended up. I said that I would speak more about wrecks so here goes.
For me the history of the Caribbean has always been a very interesting topic especially as it relates to maritime issues. Back in the early parts of the fifteenth century, sailing vessels couldn't sail close to the wind. In fact, most sailing was done by going with the winds (reaching or running) rather than sailing into it (beating). What made the European "discovery" of the West Indies possible was what we now call the "trade winds" which essentially make it possible for mariners to leave Europe and pass through the West Indies and the East Coast of the USA before returning back to Europe without ever having to beat into the winds. Had the circular Atlantic trade trades been different History would have been shaped defiantly as well. The Caribbean would still probably be populated by the indigenous people who have mostly long been forgotten. It’s an interesting thing to ponder, but not quite the way this blog is supposed to be going. SHIPWRECKS! Oh ya....
Ok so we know that from the start of Trans Atlantic crossings people have been sailing, from West to East in the lower half of the Northern Atlantic and from East to West in the Northern Atlantic. What’s my point...? Ok well I am trying to explain what type of ships would end up wrecking here and what type of cargo generally would have been lost in wrecks here in the Eastern Caribbean. People are always so excited when they imagine ship wrecks. I know that as a kid I saw that great film, The Deep, and never lost that excitement when it came to wrecks. The lure of treasure, history and the unknown is what shipwrecks were all about to me. Many people just think and imagine the treasure. Remember the story of all that Inca gold. This fantastic website gives you some fascinating history of how Spain managed to steal huge quantities of gold and sail it back to Europe. Those poor Inca. I remember having to study all about this back in high school. It made me so mad back then. Pizarro plundered all the gold and took it back to Spain leaving disease and colonization behind to wreck an entire advanced civilization all just in a blink of an eye. The gold would never have passed through the eastern Caribbean. In fact of all the gold found in "The New World", none would have passed anywhere near Antigua or Barbuda as we are right upwind and up current of where they would have loaded all these treasures. One of the reasons that the Spanish didn't colonize these islands was that there was no gold or silver here. There are no metals precious or other at any of the Amerindian archaeological sites here in the Eastern Caribbean. Sailing ships would have sailed with their treasures, reaching through the Gulf of Mexico, passing the Florida Keys, going along the Gulf Stream north before sailing east back to Spain. The most famous treasure ship of all time was the Nuestra SeƱora de Atocha which sank along with a few other ships during a hurricane back on September 5th 1622. It was full to the gills with gold, silver and stones all taken from Peru. It had just left Havana and was on its way back to Spain using the Gulf Stream to get as far north as she needed to before sailing due east back home. That was the plan anyway. Instead 260 of the 265 passengers and crew perished never to be seen again. The wreck was quickly found sitting in 55 feet of water and salvage crews tried to get the treasure without any luck until another massive hurricane disrupted efforts. The ship was lost until 1985 when the infamous Mel Fisher and his crew found her after a deadly 16 year search. A fantastic History of the Atocha is here. Anyway, there were countless treasure wrecks which went to the bottom during the Spanish conquests and many were found and salvaged. Many are still out there to be found some day in the future. Mel and his gang were lucky to find it in such shallow water. Not too far away it could have been several thousand feet deep and the search would have been much harder. Anyway, the point of this story is to show the passage that would have been taken by ships leaving the New World filled with treasures. The only chance we have of finding treasures in our waters here in the Eastern Caribbean I think is if a ship carrying currency back from Europe to the New World sank. This would have been a possibility. I have snorkeled on many wrecks from the Colonial period where we have found cargo destined for these islands. None that precious, but interesting all the same. Will write more another day on what those wrecks contained and looked like and more on why ships would have sunk here in the area. Barbuda has more wrecks than most places in the Caribbean.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The 2008 Stanford 20 20

Stanford 20 20 cricket matches start today and i have my tickets ready. "Who will rise" is the slogan and i am sure that there are many teams from all over the Caribbean basin ready to win the tournament and some big $$. I am gonna try to take some high res photos of the cricket down here and will show some here and on my flickr page. Today is one of four Stanford Pro teams, St. Lucia, up against the Cayman Islands.
Click here for a slide show of some photos from the 2006 Stanford 20 20.

For more info on the worlds most exciting cricket tournament being held here in Antigua over the next month or so you can goto

I think cricket is generally very boring, but i think that stanford 20 20 is the most exciting thing to see off the water while you are in the caribbean.
This photo shows Tony, the eco tour skipper, as excited as you will ever see him just after Guyana won the final match. Guyana is where Tony originally came from years and years ago. They are the current champs.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone."

A song that i like to listen to every now and then is Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)". So many things he says in the song like the title of this blog are true and things we should all think about. One of the things i didn't think about as a kid was the silly sunscreen. As you know from reading my blog on sunscreen, i think covering up as much is possible is better than putting it all over you. Anyway, one of the other things i didn't do was be good to my knees. In fact i wrecked one totally in kitesurfing fall. I used to love the extreme air we would get out there and after windsurfing all over the world, kitesurfing was such a cool new angle to the water sport addiction i had. I knew it was dangerous and i had actually met two people who later were killed in kitesurfing accidents, but i thought i would be fine. I was wrong and as i landed badly from a big jump down at jabbawock, i immediately knew i had done something bad to my knee. I had fractured my tibia in the middle of the knee joint and crushed a section of tibia plateau. My life changed that day back in 2002 and has never been the same since then. I have had three major operations on my left knee and my doc has tried to help me get back on the water. The last time he opened me up the bones were all fine but the cartilage was in terrible shape. This shows the knees back in 2006.
There was quite a bit of bone on bone rubbing and he urged me to not drive the boat as much as i had been doing. He told me that i would damage the cartilage in my knee even if i rode a bike. I already knew that driving the boat and just being on the boat was one of the most painful things that i did regularly, so it wasn't a big shock to me. It sucked though all the same, but i started taking some time off the regular driving. Since my accident in 2002 i have slowly stopped doing sporting activity more and more until this time last year i was doing no exercise at all. It was killing me. My mind was suffering more than anything else and i knew i had to get into some fun physical activity again. Several doctors in the USA and in the UK had looked at my scans and told me that if i was 50 then they would to a total knee replacement, but since i was so young i better just wait a while. This bugged me so much because it meant i had to be inactive until i was old enough to get my knee fixed (to be active again at 50)! Last may, after experiencing plenty of pain for a week or so during the fishing tournament, i decided to saw "what the heck", and go to a windsurfing event. HIHO held in the BVI had always been one of my favorite events and i had stayed away from competing in it because of my knee. WHY? Its just a little pain right? My knee wasn't going to get better anyway and the worst thing that could happen was that it would have to be fixed earlier than planned. I went and had a ball. I finished 1st overall and did have plenty of knee pain, but it wasn't so bad that i couldn't walk. It also didn't last more than a week or so which was cool. That all being said, i think over the next few months i noticed that knee pain was more quick to come and little things would sometimes give me plenty of trouble. Hurricane Dean came along and i couldn't resist the temptation to windsurf a little. It was extreme and extremely enjoyable, but as you can imagine the pain lasted another week. 3 hours of windsurfing and one week of bad pain. I had to find some other sport to keep my mind and body in shape. I am the kind of person that needs physical activity for my mind as much as for my body. I think that's the case with many people. What was going to be kind to my knees? My buddy Nik kept telling me about stand up paddle surfing or SUP. Essentially its a mix between canoeing and surfing using a big purpose built surfboard and a long paddle. You can cruise along exploring the coastline or you can go out to surf that is difficult to get to while normal surfing. I tried Nik's board a few times and enjoyed it so much that i was very excited about getting my own. This had to be better on my knees, so i ordered some gear from my friend Sean in Maui. After our two boards came in, my girlfriend and I went for a nice long cruise from Curtain Bluff Hotel to OJs. It was 4 miles downwind close to the reefs, flats and mangrove habitats of Cades Bay. We saw turtles, rays, permit and loads of other sea life and birds. I was loving it, but i did notice some pain in my knee. The next day my knee killed. If i couldn't do this then what could i do?
The next day i went to get some scans of my knee and sent them up to Mr. Justin Cobb in London. He's the one who has been working on my knee since 2002. As one of the world's leading Orthopaedic surgeons and a close family friend, i trust him with my life. Justin has just chaired a conference where 300 orthopaedic surgeons from around the world discussed knees and hips. He says that every year there are huge advances in technology and that there is a very good option for me. It looks like i may be in England within a few months to do some "relining" of my old knee. He says it wont be a total knee replacement, but more of a resurfacing or "relining" the ends of bones when cartilage has worn away and bone has been destroyed. Anyway, i am not sure when this will be and in the meantime i will be using my SUP in the afternoons. They say there will be waves this weekend!!!! eli

Friday, January 18, 2008

lost shipwreck

People often ask me about shipwrecks in Antigua and there seems to be so much intrigue surrounding them. Today and maybe on the next blog I will chat a bit about wrecks and what type of ships and boats end up in trouble here only to end up on the bottom and in some cases on top.
Anyway, the reason we were looking for this wreck in the first place is that our new boat being built down in Carriacou needs a lead show attached to its keel. This bit of ballast isn't readily available, and I am trying to recycle some lead from a wreck's keel to use in our new one.
I have spoken many times about my uncle Nick Fuller and good he is at salvaging boats that get into trouble. His company North Coast Salvage has pulled probably over 100 boats off reefs helping to prevent damage to corals as well as prevent these boats from becoming part of the reef. It is dangerous work and it way more technical than the average person and many times the average skipper knows. I have been out on salvages with him at night and the excitement level is almost as high as the danger. It’s scary yet enjoyable if you are able to save the boat you are out there for.
There are many reefs around Antigua and Barbuda that have made it a dangerous place to navigate around since the first European wrecks here back in the early 1500s. Almost as soon as boats started coming across the Atlantic they were wrecked here in Antigua or in Barbuda. Why? Well the entire island of Barbuda is made up of limestone and coral (almost the same thing I guess) and it is very flat indeed. Waters coming in from the Atlantic are extremely deep right up to the massive barrier reef system just off the beaches on the windward side. To this day there are no lights on that side and boats just don’t know its there until it’s too late. Even with today's modern GPS navigation boats are making mistakes. Just last week when I went fishing with my dad, we heard Uncle Nick speaking to a boat that had run aground in Barbuda. Lucky for the crew the winds and waters were as still as it gets and it was pretty easy for them to get off safely. Antigua's North coast is very similar to Barbuda with a low limestone coastline and barrier reefs just off shore. From our house on the North Shore I watched many boats run into trouble as a kid. So many skippers get it wrong. It’s not just the inexperienced ones either and several excursion boats that I know of have ended up in trouble over the years. The south side of Antigua is made up of ancient volcanic rocks and although there is a huge barrier reef called Cades, the waters are generally safer for navigation. Cades is where Ross and I went looking for this wreck using Xtreme yesterday. It's a long reef stretching from just outside Curtain Bluff in an east west direction towards Johnson's Point. For thousands of years the beautiful Cades Reef stretched submerged just inside the 100 fathom curve and outside the shallows along the coast providing food and protection for humans and a huge variety of wild life. In fact some of the best and most sophisticated of all Arawak Indian settlements were close to Cades reef. Much has changed since Arawak Indians fished on Cades reef some 2000 years ago including their ultimate genocide. The Siboney hunted there 2000 years before them too only using shell and stone tools. Nobody knew what happened to them but 4000 years later I doubt anyone would be able to catch enough to survive there with stone and shell tools. I know I am getting off topic, so let me get back to the wrecks. Many say that the hurricanes we get these days are stronger and more frequent than ever before. We don’t get many hurricanes here in general with no direct hits between the early 1950s and 1989 when we were hit by Hurricane Hugo. It was the first storm in my lifetime to hit Antigua and was a strange one for the south coast. Cades reef which lay submerged since the first coral polyps colonized the area hundreds of thousands of years ago became an island in one night back in 1995. For some reason I always thought it was the stronger hurricane Louis that raised the broken reef out of the water and had arguments with Trevor about this. Anyway, I just spoke with Captain Franco of Franco's Glass Bottom Cruises and Rob Sherman, GM of Curtain Bluff Hotel, who both agreed with Trevor. Hurricane Hugo back in 1989 developed massive waves coming in from the South which trashed the entire coast and Cades Reef. Many beaches still are missing sand to this day from that storm and so much coral was broken during that storm that by morning an island had been made along the entire span of the reef. As seen in this pic taken from an interesting page on The National Center for Coral Reef Research the huge corals were just ripped apart and thrown where the waves wanted to have them. This reef had been fooling captains and crew for hundreds of years and now all of a sudden even in bad visibility you could see it poking as much as 8 feet out of the water. I took this photo back in Sailing Week 2006 and it shows what i am speaking about.
My uncle Nick wasn't happy and his business suffered as a result. he he he The poor reef has never been the same and to make matters worse we were hit by another even stronger hurricane in 1995 and again in 1998. Far fewer boats ran aground with the reef out of the water but at night some mariners still managed to make the mistake. Several yachts last year ended up in trouble on Cades including the one Ross and I was looking for. The yacht was about 35-40 feet long and like many wrecks, was rumored to be on a smuggling mission. This time the cargo was alleged to be illegal immigrants. Somehow, the yacht sailed right up onto the dry coral in the middle of the reef and was left there where it sat for months and months being slowly picked apart by the sea and those who looked for tiny treasures. A friend got a nice compass from it. We on the other hand were looking for its keel, but knew it would be very hard to find because of what happened this hurricane season. Although we have not had any hurricanes hitting our shores directly since 1999 we did have massive waves pounding the south shore in summer 07 when Hurricane Dean passed 170 miles to the South. The waves were so big in fact, that the strip of land (broken coral) almost all got washed back into the sea and the yacht in question vanished. This photo taken by "bugdriver" shows the reef after the storm and as you can see its gone back to being submerged. Uncle Nick is happy again I imagine. ha
Ross and I arrived at the place where I imagined the wreck rested before the storm. I made a call to Andre, skipper of Wadadli cats who snorkeled close to it many times, and he said we were exactly in the right place. He was passing a mile to our port side and could see us. We entered the water as a short rain squall with rainbow passed above us and were not surprised by how much warmer the water was. Around us colourful fish scattered as if disturbed by our big splash. The waters were clear as is usual on the south side at this time of year with visibility over the coral blow us spanning about 70 feet. We swam over the reef passing 3 barracuda, many other fish and countless black spiny sea urchins which seem to be making a big comeback at the moment. There was a section of the dry coral still above water and it was there that the wreck was sitting before Dean passed this summer. As soon as we got to the spot we started finding small bits and pieces of the boat. A section of aluminum mast, the bimini top's frame, a coral encrusted mask, a small hatch, bits of the sail, some stainless steel bits and pieces, but nothing significant. We looked and looked seeing nothing bigger. We even got out of the water onto the little "island" for a better look and tried to imagine how the wreck would have been pushed by the massive waves. As you can see from this pic showing almost exactly where we were in the distance yesterday, the waves During Dean's passing were of titanic proportions. Just when we were about to give up and go back in, I saw a tiny piece of sail sticking out of the broken coral. Imagine thousands of rocks which were live coral at one time, tightly piled upon each other only inches below the surface. In all of that, the piece of sail poked out. I turned over a few of the broken pieces of coral as tiny, thin, black starfish scurried out of the way, and it became evident that we had found the yacht. The sail was attached at the boom/mast joint and the rest of it was burried right there i guessed. We had found it! That was the good news I suppose, but the bad news was that it lay almost entirely covered in broken coral. There was no way that we were going to get that keel. For now until the next massive storm the wreck and its keel will stay inside Cades reef.
Wow, look how long this blog ended up being. My next few blogs will add more info on Antigua and Barbuda’s ship wrecks and why we don't have more of them to snorkel and dive on. I will also explain why we don't have much chance of finding treasure in any of the hundreds of wrecks that we have scattered around the place. Hope you enjoyed the long read. eli

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What to do in Antigua?

I see the above question on various forums and message boards every day and often laugh at the replies. There are so many things to do here on Antigua while on holiday that it's impossible to give a proper answer to the general question. Usually taxi tours are pushed and or boat tours like mine are pushed, but many times people reply with more unusual suggestions. If the question about "things to do in Antigua" is asked on a message board it can usually be answered honestly by people giving various options. I say usually because there are some business owners on these message boards posing as happy customers praising their own tours. There are one or two taxi tours at the moment doing that fairly aggressively, but this isn't anything new at all. In general if you do the research on the net you are more likely to get a good perspective of the different things on offer. This changes dramatically when you get to Antigua though for several reasons.
I guess the first thing to consider is who you come to Antigua with and as important is where you stay. Many people coming from the UK and Europe to Antigua come with pre booked tour operators like Virgin Holidays, Thomas Cook, BA Holidays, Kuoni or some other. If this is the case then when you get to Antigua you will be met by your company's Hotel Rep. Now things get interesting. I don't think it’s wise for me to name companies specifically but I will point out that almost all tour handling and rep companies have strategic alliances and often ownership in the excursion companies. Can you imagine how difficult this makes it for an excursion to be offered to you if your rep is working for a company that co owns another excursion? Many times it is simply impossible and a great number of excursions are not offered at all to guests arriving in Antigua. This is another reason to book before you come. All of the small excursion companies know this all too well. We constantly take guests who were told by their reps that "they are fully booked", "they are no longer in operation", "their boat isn't working", "they don’t have insurance", "you are not covered by our company if you go with them"... the list goes on. This isn't a made up story at all and has been going on since I began working in this industry. I hear it from my friends who have run similar small operations too.
Then there are other situations where a visiting guest may not get the best reply about what to do on their holiday. There are many hotels that do not carry certain tours. Some hotels demand so much commission that it is impossible for some of the excursion companies to afford to be in there. 20% is the most common commission for being the middle man, but some hotels require 30%. I guess this is just business and like Donald Trump keeps on saying "its nothing personal..... Its just business", but the little guys and the visitors are the ones who suffer with this sort of practice.
Another situation that can sometimes prevent a visitor from coming into contact with an excursion is when a hotel tour desk is actually rented out to another excursion company. This is very common and as you can imagine can be hard on some excursions that just don’t fit in with a particular tour desk. There are several other situations too other than the main ones above, but I guess I am just trying to give readers a little more info on the big picture. If you see an excursion that you like while you are surfing the net email them and book it. This way you usually get a discount, you get what you want, and you get the day you want. We often turn people away when they wait until the last day to book a tour. At the very least keep the number so that you can call direct to make your booking when you are in Antigua.
My company Adventure Antigua would not exist today if we had not spent so much energy in web development during the early days. If you read the history of our company you will hear how hard it was to be sold by reps and hotels. It is now way easier but there are still many areas where we are not sold.
Actually when Sandals took over Pineapple Beach Hotel a.k.a. Grand Pineapple we tried to work with them but eventually had to pull out. It just didn't make business sense at that time, so now we are not sold there at all. When the hotel closes down to become Beaches or whatever Sandals decides to do with it I will try again to see if we can work something out. For now if you are going to stay at Sandal's Pineapple in Antigua and want to come out with us, you better pre book or keep our number. Remember there is a new tour that picks up just around the corner from the Pineapple Grand at Veranda Hotel.

Anyway, whatever happens I hope you get what you want out of your holiday in Antigua and that the typical sunshine and warmth make you smile for a long time after you leave Antigua. The above info should help you to book or at least bookmark the excursions you want before you get down here. Email us info @ or comment here if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

North Beach Hotel in Barbuda

If you read the blog regularly then you will know that i am now helping the owner of North Beach Hotel Barbuda (a.k.a North Beach Cottages). Ruben is a Barbudan engineer and politician who decided to build a few cottages on a camping site that we used to use as kids.

He owned the property and got permission to put up the little hotel. Shortly afterwards Coco Point Hotel took over the running of the tiny property and used it as an alternative and more secluded destination for their guests. Anyway you can read more about the property on the other blog entry about it as well as a few trip advisor reviews on the property. I like the "Mind Numbingly Beautiful" quote there.As you can see, North Beach Barbuda is $500 a night but booking directly with me and or Ruben gets you a US $100 discount.
Ruben wants to get as many people to stay there this year as possible in order to get the word out. Each cottage is set up for all inclusive accommodation for two people.
Anyway, since I started helping Ruben we have had a steady stream of emails and bookings. The place has come alive again and Ruben is excited. A few days ago I was asked to show an agent the property and we flew over for the day. I love it over there and it’s always a pleasure to make the trip.
As soon as you approach Barbuda flying over its famous "14 mile beach" and fantastic lagoon your excitement level goes up a few notches. The ride down the lagoon into the narrows is such a beautiful trip that just getting there is like doing one of my eco tours. Of course you can not drive a car to North Beach as it sits on Rabbit Island which almost closes off the lagoon leaving just a narrow opening called "Creek Mouth".

The natural setting is always breath taking. This time my cousin Jack (brother of Ross who works for me on the boats) is visiting from England where he hopefully is about to be crowned Pub Chef of the year, and i took him along with me. All of us including the agents were in silent awe as we passed magnificent frigate birds, pelicans and terns in the mangrove habitat. As we passed through the Creek Mouth the amazing colours of the waters inside the barrier reef made me smile. It’s that beautiful. Anyway, we took some photos chatted with Ruben, had a drink in the pavillion (seen above), walked on the beach and before I could get enough, we were back on the boat towards Codrington where a venison lunch was awaiting.

If you want any more info about Barbuda or North Beach please email us on info @ or call me 0n 268 725 7263. Hope you enjoy the pics too. eli

Saturday, January 05, 2008

say hi to Chris!

Chris Weeks, seen with the shades on in the above photo, has been working with us since the summer and has fit in very well considering he was working for an airline before jumping aboard our boats. It's not surprising though as he grew up in Antigua enjoying the sun sea and sand just myself. I had seen chris many time out on Dive boats when he had days off and he had come with my family camping in Barbuda earlier this year too. When i heard that Caribbean Star Airlines was going to merge with LIAT i knew that there was a possibility he would be looking for new work. He was one of many who lost jobs when Allen Stanford closed down his caribbean airline and I was there offering him a job with us at Adventure Antigua months before his last day with the airline. Thank God he accepted my offer because he has proven to be extremely helpful, fitting into whatever role and situation that comes up. The rest of the crew enjoy working with him too. What anyone will notice about Chris is that he is always willing to go the extra mile with whatever he is undertaking. No job is too hard or too difficult..... he will give it his best shot every time going above and beyond what is expected. The photo above and below show him helping out on clean up campaigns we went on back in September. He had to work on the Eco Tour on all week long and then came to Bird Island to clean up on the Saturday, came out to Green Island and Rendezvous Bay on Sunday and was ready to do an early leaving Xtreme Tour on Monday. He has soooo much energy and enthusiasm and is the kind of person who isn't happy unless he is doing something productive. This last part about him made his trip to the Nevis fishing tournament with us even more terrible because he was too sick to really help out (or so he thought). IT was very rough out 30+ miles from shore and going only at 9 mph the boat was rocking and rolling way too much for him. He was very ill and managed only to help when we had fish on the lines. The poor guy was more upset about being of little help than he was of being very ill. Anyway, some of you may have met him on the tours and some may have spoken to him via email this past week when he was filling in for Nell answering messages until 10 pm some nights! IF not make sure you say hi when you see him on the boat. He's the one in the back row on the right hand side without a shirt on seen here after a massive clean up of some of the off shore beaches (click on the image):
By the way, we are planning another cleanup day by boat soon. I am not sure which day, but we have started a discussion on the Adventure Antigua group. Hopefully it will be towards the end of this month.