Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New engines and propulsion systems for Eco Boat

Up until November 2003 we were using a Wellcraft Scarab Super Sport to do our "North Sound Eco Historical Tour" as it was called in the early days. We started with a much smaller boat but fairly quickly moved to the Wellcraft which was a 34 foot center consol boat with two big outboards on the back. Even with a full boat we were not making any money and with engine problems now and then it just wasn't the right boat. As you know if you have read the history of AA blogs featured on the right side of this blog in the links section, you will know that another problem we had in 2002 is that we were too busy to keep the customers happy. Anyway, in the end we found our Cooper Marine 52 foot tunnel hull which is also known as a power catamaran. The boat was one of two made so they didn't have much experience with the design. The engines were made by the Japanese company Yanmar and were high power and very light aluminum engines which as it turns out are not very durable for commercial use. The propulsion systems called stern drives are made by Mercruiser and are specially designed diesel units. As it turns out these also are not that durable for commercial use. So far we have spent somewhere in the region of about US $120,000 in new engines, drives, parts and labour over the past 5 years to keep the boat running. Apart from the huge financial cost there has been several other costs including environmental costs and mental health costs!!!!!! To see huge chunks of metal just thrown away because the stern drive or engine is not worth fixing has disgusted me. There were other environmental concerns as well. Since 2005 I have been constantly bothered by the nagging problem of what to do. Repowering a boat is a huge task and very expensive indeed. This October we are going to be making our final payment on the boat as it will have been five years since we got the loan for it and I think that it's now time to take another big step. We are going to completely change the way the boat is powered. We have dozens of options available to us at the moment. We have people from Yamaha working the numbers to see if we will get the right performance and we have people from Iveco Marine and Pulse Drive doing the same thing. I am going to be making my final decision within a few days. The boat will probably be out of commission for the month of October while we install the new engines and propulsion systems and the Eco Tour will be done using the Xtreme boat just for that month. Come the first of November we will be back in business with a newly designed boat. I am excited and will let you know more info soon.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"I dont wanna grow up..."

Recently i went to see a doctor after having some bad sinus problems. The very nice nurse made me fill out a very long form. When I gave it back to her she checked it carefully and then asked me with a puzzled look, "how old are you". I thought it was a strange question because not only did i write my date of birth in the right section of the form but i also wrote my age in it's proper section too. I said to her that like i wrote on the form, I am 34 years old. She smiled and said, "but Mr. Fuller you are 35 years old." I smiled and said "no I am actually 34." She then put it to me very kindly that if I was born on August 23rd 1972 then i was in fact 35 years old and proceeded to do the math for me. As if I had just been told i have a terrible disease, I took the news and accepted the reality solemnly. Why had i thought i was still 34 years old? Have I been telling people this lie all year? And why? Was it because as i was reminded yesterday that its because a 36th birthday is closer to the big 4 0 than a 35th birthday? I think that may have something to do with it. Subconsciously I wanted to be closer to 30 than to 40. Jeez! I guess if the nurse hadn't given me the reality check I would have been very embarrassed this week. Either way the day has come and I have past the half way mark and am closer to FORTY than anything else. How could it be that i am soooo..... hmm (don't want to offend anyone out there) .... much older than i was just the other day? I was just catching ''conya" (squirrel fish) off the rocks on the beach with my cousins and brother. It seems like just the other day I was going to compete at my first international windsurfing regatta.... Weird how life just flies by at a rate of knots sometimes huh? While in the shower this morning listening to the winds blowing hard outside I remembered the days when strong winds would have me rushing to the beach to go windsurfing. Three knee operations later my knee hurts sometimes just hearing the winds:) Anyway, in the shower I decided that its time to get some work done on it again. I had put it off several times this year but before this 2008 is finished I think I am going to try to get it fixed up a bit. Before I finished my shower I even thought about how fun it would be to get into windsurfing again properly. I even thought about how fun it would be to race for Antigua at the 2012 Olympics. I will be turning 40 then and it would have 24 years since I represented Antigua in the Olympics back in South Korea.

They say time flies when you are having fun...... if that's the way it has to be then I hope it never slows down.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to turtles and fun stuff

Of course when i started writing this blog I never thought I would be writing about issues other than sun sea and sand fun stuff, and the recent disaster at Cocos Hotel really has messed me up. I know that sounds silly, but I can tell you that my emotions have been all over the place. I guess i am not alone and most people i speak with here are borderline obsessed with the whole ordeal. This has shaken Antigua, and I hope with the arrest and charging of the two youth yesterday we may start to feel a bit better.

On sunday we went to check on a few turtle nests at Rendezvous Bay. According to the books these nests were due to hatch out last week, so we wanted to make sure that all was well there. This photo was taken on the road a few years ago after some rains.The road down to Rendezvous was terrible and worse than it has been for a while which was strange as there had been very little rain lately. Anyway, by the time we got to the beach we were feeling all shook up. Don't attempt it unless you don't care too much about your jeep/truck or if you have back or neck problems. This is the worst ride in Antigua for sure. There were some other people just leaving as we arrived and within minutes we had the beach to ourselves.

We walked down to where I had seen a turtle track some 65 days ago when I made a stop while running the Xtreme Tour. Our boats report nestings whenever we spot tracks. Sure enough the tell tale signs of a hatching were evident at the spot. High up inside the sea grape vegetation we saw tiny broken shells which had been brought up from beneath the sand as the little hawksbill turtles scrambled out. I guess scrambled isn't the best word when talking about turtle eggs and nests, but these little guys made it all the way into the water. We dug up the nest to make sure that all had gotten out and it looked as if all were successful. Good news. What usually happens is after about 60 days of being cooped up inside little ping pong ball eggs a foot below the surface they know its time to get out. I would too. Anyway, inside those little eggs the little turtles feel the temperature drop and by instinct know its time to get out. The temp dropping indicates that it's night time and the right time for them to head to the water. You see, somehow this thing works so that they do it under the cover of darkness so as to avoid getting spotted by birds. Anyway, they wait until all the rest of their siblings have broken free of the little soft shells and they start digging for the surface. Once they come out of the nest they look for the brightest thing around and start moving towards it. Again, by instinct they know they need to move to the brightest thing which on a natural beach is always the water. On a beach with a hotel this isn't the case and many little buggers get killed by heading towards the bright shiny dining room or bar. Bright lights on beaches kill little turtles every year all over the world. This beach I guess is an endangered species too then as it is one of few that still is dark at night leaving the glistening water with all the natural reflections form the night's sky for the little turtles to follow. Once they finally make it to the water they swim for about two weeks non stop trying to get far into the Atlantic currents. I guess we can talk about what happens next for the little guys on another blog.

Back to the beach. Many times big momma hawksbill turtles like to lay their eggs under the cover of natural beach vegetation, which is why i get so upset when hotels and others clear or ''beautify'' beaches that this vegetation. Why? Well one of the best reasons for having vegetation on a beach going up to the high water mark is that it helps to stop beach erosion during high winds, unusual waves or heavy rains. If you want the sand to stay on a beach leave the natural plant life! Another important thing is that it provides shelter to an interesting beach habitat. Due to studies carried out here in Antigua by the University of Georgia, scientists found out that turtles nesting in shaded areas produce a higher percentage of male turtle offspring. I always thought it was the other way around, but no i was wrong. Higher temperatures mean more females. Cooler more shady areas more females. There are so many things making it tough for female turtles out there that it's no wonder that they are endangered. One big reason is that they are more likely to be killed than the males who never come ashore and of course since they are the ones laying eggs we need plenty of them to help the species survive.
We found 8 hatched nests along the beach which was fairly good for this time of year. Last year several nest were damaged after huge waves unearthed them. This season is looking much better so far. fingers crossed.
As a side note. I just was emailed this by a friend.
Another excellent source of info on our island's turtles is the EAG Turtle Blog.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two charged with the cocos murder

Two boys have been charged with the Cocos Murders. The accused are Kaniel Martin who is 20, and Avie Howell who is just 17. The similarities between this murder and the other famous tourist murder from back in Jan 1995 just off Barbuda are something we need to consider here on island. Young stupid kids making huge assumptions and mistakes, and then taking lives. There is plenty more to say and debate, but i dont think my blog is the place for it. Most of Antigua and Barbuda are extremely sad and disturbed by all of this and although we are relieved that the cops have found their ''men'' if they could ever be called that, we like the family and friends of the Mullany's are still feeling pain and sadness. The police and prosecution department feel that justice will be carried out and this is great news. It can't come fast enough! I want much more though and think that change is happening in this country and there is more to come. The view from above is from Cocos and was one of many photos i took recently for a magazine cover. It's what Ben and Catherine would have been enjoying here on the island prior to their horrific deaths, and it makes me soo mad that it wasn't that simple in the end. Anyway, changes to Cocos hotel were taking place as i took the photos to make sure nothing like this happens again. All hotels on the island have made changes to their security as a result of this terrible event, and the police who had been making changes are continuing to make advances in crime fighting here on the island. Read here to see what i said originally on why i think this happened.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More arrests in Antigua on the Cocos shooting

Staff at the beautiful Cocos resort seen above as well as most of the country and all of the surviving victims in this horrible shooting are eagerly awaiting more news today after 10 people were arrested. The first proper arrests made were of two women from the Dominican Republic mid week. After questioning these women eight more were arrested on Thursday and Friday. Police are trying to get a slam dunk on this one and are trying to be extremely quiet about what's going on. Word on the street is fever pitched with numerous stories and leads being leaked left and right. Nobody is 100% sure what's going on but one story which keeps getting repeated is that the main man being suspected of being the shooter is a Jamaican who runs a barber shop near the market in St. Johns. This may be just talk, but there is no doubt that he is one of the eight arrested.
Edit 17/8/08
The barber was arrested recently on unrelated gun charges it seems. So that one was not correct.
Our papers don't come out until Monday here, but there is plenty of info in the UK media. Another thing that happens here I think is when someone is arrested on Friday they don't have to be charged until Monday. We may have to wait until Monday to find out more. I hope that as one person commented on yesterday's blog.... the mounties got their man.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Shooting arrests

In news being reported around the world two women have been arrested on charges ''related to the murders'' of two Cocos hotel guests. The honeymoon couple were staying at Cocos Hotel when one or more gunmen killed them in what seems to be a robbery gone wrong. This was the first hotel shooting in Antigua's long tourism history and the nation has been eagerly waiting for people to be brought in, charged and convicted. Nobody is breathing a sigh of relief but many are elated at the prospect of justice in this case. Some people are smelling blood too. There are many who are calling for the death penalty, an ultimate punishment which seems to have been retired from the court's arsenal over the past twenty years. When and if they charge a person or people for the murders the death penalty will surely be a huge bone of contention. The UK who has sent personnel and expertise to aid in the unsolved murders outstanding here in Antigua and Barbuda is totally against capital punishment and has suggested that their men and women will not take part in such cases that are calling for death to the convicted murderers. I spoke with a lawyer yesterday here who said that despite the Prime Minister's calls for the death penalty, it was not going to be likely as several people have been convicted over the years for other murders without being put to death.
I have been following my web tracker since the terrible shootings at Cocos and there have been many people googling all sorts of ''shooting'' and ''murder'' searches which end up at my blog. I keep seeing people typing in whatever hotel they are due to come and stay at with ''shooting'' or murder at the end of it. For example, I saw today someone google ''Galley Bay Shootings" and a few days ago it was "Shooting at St. James Club". I suppose it's good that people are trying to get info about where they are staying and it's natural for them to be worried. I just hope they get to my blogs which will show them that this Cocos shooting was the first one at a hotel and was the first murder ever within a hotel here. The police aided by the Canadians and the UK have made huge changes within the force and are going to add 200 new officers as well. Crime in Antigua is being attacked and as the Canadian Commissioner told criminals in a public address and now has proved ''its time for us to hunt you''. I do know more about these recent arrests in connection with the Cocos double murder but I can't say at this time. There is no doubt that there will be more arrests as the info the police has seems to be very good indeed. Imagine being a young woman caught with stolen goods taken from a double murder. What do you think the police are going to tell them in the secret of a dark jail cell here in Antigua on the day when the Prime Minister is calling for the death penalty to be given to people who didn't even murder. Those girls will be sh%$$*ng their pants and fingers will be pointing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

small storm passes close

This is from one of the weather sites i go to. I had been watching this weather all yesterday as the forecast track changed putting it closer to us. I am the only tour company that cancelled tours today (and we took plenty of grief from hotels, reps and guests for cancelling). What would you do if you read this and looked at all the sat and radar sites for the area showing the small storm tracking to us? Here read this:

Thursday 14 August, 2008, 8amAST - Small craft precaution, all zones. Small craft advisory pre-posted for tonight z710 (offshore Atlantic). No watches, warnings or advisories in effect at this time. Please check NWS-SJU for latest. Showers this morning moving over local area from NE. There will be more later today, tonight, tomorrow. Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert has been issued which covers our area. First visible satellite this morning shows the area of developing convection, note the 'tail' of showers extending down through Martinique. NHC's tropical weather discussion at 8am continues to fix the low S of convection, at 16N 61W. Moving NW, this will bring the low across the local area. Marine forecast this morning for zone 730 which includes much of VI and offshore Caribbean, pegs winds higher in this zone than any other. Though not yet posted, I would expect a small craft advisory in effect by tonight for all VI zones. The WSW component during the night is of particular interest to mariners for tonight's dock/anchoring:* TODAY NE 14-19 KT SEAS 3-5 FT SCATT SHWRS AND ISO TSTORMS. * TONITE N 14-19 KT SHIFTING TO THE W/SW 23-28 KT AFTER MIDNIGHT. SEAS 3-5 FT SCATT SHWRS AND ISO TSTORMS. * FRI S 16-21 KT SEAS 4-5 FT SCATT SHWRS AND ISO TSTORMS. * FRI NT SE 11-16 KT SEAS 2-4 FT SCATT SHWRS AND ISO TSTORMS. Even if most of the precipitation passes to our north, not yet certain, depending upon the development of this system today, rare gusts in squalls up to 45kt are possible, along with dangerous cloud-to-surface lightning.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

HMS Griffin plundered by Mel Fisher

While doing research for yesterdays blog i dug up some more info about HMS Griffin. If you remember this blog and this one where i spoke about Barbuda's wrecks I thought quite a bit about Mel Fisher and his time in there. Many say that he found valuable things on Barbuda's wrecks and took off before the Antigua and Barbuda government could stop him. Who knows if that was the case, but i did find one other website that had info on the Griffin. This site is selling musket shot from the original HMS Griffin. There is no doubt that Fisher's gang stole them from Barbuda. Oh well....

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sailing to Barbuda for the weekend.

As has been the family tradition for years and years, a bunch of us went over to enjoy the Carnival holiday weekend in Barbuda. Instead of doing the powerboat thing this year, I sailed over with my girlfriend. We left a bit late and got into Barbuda long after dark. On the sail across the sounds of the wind and waves sounded pleasantly familiar. It had been some time since i had enjoyed listening to wake come off the side of a boat like this. Funny the things that one can take great pleasure from. The winds were not too strong but we still managed to keep the speed at around 6.5 knots towing the tender. Using GPS we got as far as we could go on the west coast tucked in close next to the shore and just inside some reef. The stars were amazing and even though it seemed to be a bit hazy the show above us was as lovely as ever. Since it was so late I just managed a quick pasta before falling asleep up in the foreword bunk. The gentle rocking and sounds of water against the wooden hull sent me into a deep sleep very quickly.
I was up early and was surprised to see that directly in front of the boat there had been three turtle crawls and probably nests. This is peak nesting season for the hawksbill turtles and the fresh tracks were not just in front of our boat. My Dad had counted over 80 tracks on the 14 mile beach along the coast a few days earlier. I hope this many nests will help them steer clear of extinction which is a very real possibility for the sea turtles.
After some breakfast i put up the awnings and decided motor south to Palmetto Point where the Beach House hotel sits derelict in some sort of bankruptcy. The point is such a beautiful area and the views are just as good as they get on this coast. While on the way there I let out a line and managed to get hooked into a big barracuda. My girlfriend fought it for some time to get it close enough for me to handle it and release the fish. She said it was her first proper fish ever which surprised me. Hard core environmentalists don't do too much fishing i guess:) Too bad for them. hehe
From here we turned East moving into more choppy water as we cruised up past Coco Point miles up the coast, then through the reef and into Spanish Point where the water colours always amaze me. We dropped the hook in between two sets of powerboats which were rafted up inside the reef. One set was my Uncle Nick and a few of his friends and the other set was some family friends from Guadeloupe. I think Francis, the head of that group had been to high school with my Dad and uncles for a term during high school and occasionally comes to Antigua for fishing tournaments.
Uncle Nick and a few others came over to check out the boat and say hi. He said he liked how Ocean Nomad looked and spoke about getting a sailing vessel too. Afterwards we took the tender to the shore and went on a walk over the point and towards the East Coast. One of my favorite things to do in Barbuda is walking on the windward side collecting shells and interesting bits and pieces. It was late in the afternoon and we would only walk to Griffin Point which is where one of hundreds of ships were wrecked along the dangerous windward side of Barbuda. HMS Griffin hit the reef like many other boats during the colonial period and sank with all its cannons and ballast just off the shore. I found this after quite a bit of googling. Seems as though there was a more recent HMS Griffin.
"James Soaper : A Midshipman, on board HMS Griffin 1761, a 6th rate ship or frigate of 28 guns, she was lost shortly after 9 p.m., in the dark, on October 27, 1761. The ship had left Bermuda weeks earlier, had been on the high seas far away from land and, at the time she was lost on the reefs on the northeast coast of Barbuda, the captain believed (based on his reckoning)that he was more than 25 leagues off that island. "Morning : when closer to Barbuda than believed by its reckoning, Cpn. Taylor spots two suspect sails which he takes to be French privateers and starts chase. The chase goes until the night when two lights appear supposed to be the ones of the supposed French privateers. These are followed until the ship runs on the rocks, on northeastern point of Barbuda. Attempts are made to anchor, the cables part, the ship runs on the rocks and is evacuated. The captain remains alone apparently on his disintegrating ship until 4 pm on October 28. Nothing can be saved from the wreck. Three able seamen, William Cribb, Samuel Bond and Francis Amandis, have been drowned in the shipwreck"." From this site.
The point is such a lovely place as it's very close to the breakers and barrier reef which stretches all along the windward shore. You can easily see how people could get killed in the waters there though. I have snorkeled there on the wreck several times and the currents and waves remind you of the danger constantly.
We were not snorkeling here today though as we didn't have much more time in the day. I spotted a large fishing float that had just washed up and thought that maybe i could make it into a sink for the yacht. It was pretty heavy but i knew it would be used back in Antigua. That night back on the boat we grilled up a lovely dinner and watched the stars including several of the shooting kind. It's such a nice thing to be in the Caribbean in a corner where there are no artificial lights spoiling the night's sky.
We had friends in town back in Antigua who would be leaving the island in two days, so we would set sail the next morning back to Jolly Harbour. We woke up to very light winds and knew that we would be motor sailing some of the way. In fact, by the time I had put everything away and pulled the anchor the winds were hovering somewhere around 5 knots. It was going to be a hot one. Thankfully we have a good engine on the Carriacou sloop and our slack sails were helped by some diesel power. We had a few good strikes on the fishing rod but nothing got hooked this time. The winds picked up as we got closer to Antigua and I managed to turn the engine off for a while. We were in port back in Jolly Harbour at about 6 PM and I was already missing Barbuda.