Part 1 (Nov 11 2006)
If you have looked at the about us on the website, then you will know that I grew up in Antigua and spend most of my time windsurfing, fishing, camping, snorkeling and generally enjoying the sea around me. As soon as I started windsurfing at the age of 12, I became extremely interested in competition and in fact within about 8 months I windsurfed to Montserrat from Jolly Beach during the Windsurfing Antigua Week competition. That was in 1984 long before the volcano became active. Over the next 10 years I continued to compete internationally and did a fair amount of traveling. When I left Antigua for college in Florida in 1989, I went with the plan to study business and to windsurf and compete as much as possible. I didn't know what I wanted to do in my life other than becoming a "professional windsurfer". After college, I returned home with my business degree to look for a job. As mentioned in the Blog about Leslie, I worked for my Mom's retail business for a while at first. What I would do is work for a while saving enough money to go off to windsurfing events anywhere from Northern Germany to Maui. When the money ran out, I would come back and work for 6-12 months before going on a big adventure again. I had a bad accident out on the water one day while training at the famous Ho'okipa Beach in Maui. I ended up with a badly broken ankle which was terrible for me as it was just before I was to join The Professional Windsurfing Association's World Tour. I was fitter and faster than ever and excited and confident about going on the World Tour. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, the GP in Maui made a very bad judgment call and I ended up not walking for 6 months. The particular type of fracture required some metal work, and all I got was a cast! Anyway, my hard core windsurfing career was never the same. After I got better I did some competitions in Brazil, the Canary Islands, Germany, Greece, England and across the Caribbean, but I wasn't doing well enough consistently to make money. It’s an incredibly expensive sport and I was finding it hard to make it work. I was lucky enough to get a job working for the largest sail manufacture in the world as a "tester". My job was to work along with another tester and the main sail designers in Maui. Our work there tested prototypes that were adjusted by the designer according to our recommendations. Once they were better than the current production models that we were testing against, the prototypes were sent off to Hong Kong to put into mass production. It was a fun job and I was getting paid to windsurf in a pretty nice place. Maui is a pretty nice place, but not as nice as Antigua and certainly not home. I started dreading the thought of going back to Antigua to work for another hotel, restaurant, disco, shop, health club, or any of the other possible "managerial" jobs. I had done them and didn't want to be stuck inside again. During my lifetime in Antigua I had spent most of best times on the water. I started thinking about my friends and fellow windsurfers, Inigo and Xabier Ross. I kinda grew up with these two brothers who were about 10-12 years older than I was during my windsurfing years. When I was 12 Inigo was the most amazing windsurfer I had ever seen. He and his bro, Xabier, must have gone through the same kinda dilemma thing that I was now going through years earlier and had gotten into the watersports business. It hadn't been that profitable for them and they had ventured into the excursion business starting a company called Wadadli Catamarans. They started with one Cat and had done very well. They loved the sea and were smart. They were also one of the first excursion companies to do it "properly".
Sitting in the sail loft in Maui one night, I started thinking about the possibility of doing some sort of tour. I had some very tight constraints though....the main one was the fact that I had no money. I did have control of a small open boat back in Antigua though, and I though about how I could use that on some sort of excursion. The excursion had to be different and to make it easy for me; it had to be something that I already knew how to do. I grew up in the North Sound of Antigua and knew the 22 small islands and reefs up there like the back of my hand. It was mostly calm and beautiful and so many of the spots there were not seen on the "regular tours". I did some spread sheets and figured that I had to give it a try. When I returned to Antigua that November, Adventure Antigua was started. After painting and cleaning up the little boat, I got insurance and my license, took some photos and then started figuring out how to market the product. I will talk about what happened next in future "The history of AA" blogs. Here is a photo that I took during the first trip I ever did on Adventure Antigua's Eco Tour. It was just me and my ex-girlfriend who modeled for me, and we did a demo tour to see if the timeline would work out. This pic is of Chantal in the little open boat near the mangrove habitat off Guiana Island back in late 1999 I think. More of how it all started soon......
Part 2 (Nov 14, 2006)
After i had gotten all the official documentation sorted and the little boat ready for guests it was time to find these guests. It just so happens that Sunsail had just opened up their hotel at Club Colonna in Hodges Bay. It was two bays down from where I lived and kept my little boat. Perfect! I met up with the manager Roger and his assistant Robin, and organized a tour for them. I collected them and two of their friends and did “The North Sound Eco-Historical Tour” for them. They seemed to be having fun right off the bat and by the end of the day told me that they though I was onto a winner. These words of encouragement were exactly what I needed, but even more I needed guests. We decided to charge US $60 per person for the tour, and Roger and Robin helped out in that department by speaking about my business at their orientations. By the next week I had done two different trips for their hotel and things were starting to take shape. It wasn´t easy as I was on my own and the day for me usually ran about 12 hours. Let me just tell you that 12 hours out on the boat with the sea and sun to contend with are not the same as a 12 hour day in doors. By the end of a day I was exhausted. Anyway, I was trying to create something and was actually excited about the future. When you are trying to do something like this, it is never easy and I had loads of obstacles to overcome. I remember my mom getting cross with me one day telling me that it was time to get “serious” and stop messing about. I know it didn’t look like it to many but I was, and I could see the potential for me to be happy while making a living for myself.
Sunsail was just one hotel though and I because of the size of the boat, I could’t go further to collect guests. People were not interested in getting expensive cabs to come and join in on a new little boat tour. Not many people if any had heard about it on the island and the money was just barely paying the bills. It took 3 years before I wasn’t worried about the financial side of things every night.
Anyway, while I was trying to figure out how to get more business I was told to go and speak with Julie Patterson. Julie, had a much larger power boat and had been trying to do exclusive charters without much success. Her main problem was the price. My idea was to do a per person rate like Wadadli Catamarans and Kokomo Cats had been doing, but all the power boat companies were doing Exclusive Charter rates charging on average US $900 for the day back then. Anyway, her boat was on dry dock and it appeared as though she had given up. I approached her and she seemed immediately interested in working is some sort of partnership. Since she had paid for the insurance and was paying for storage she offered me the boat at cost as long as I maintained it and split the profits after operating expenses with her. This seemed a great opportunity for me and I took her boat right away. I then could start aggressively trying to get guests out of the hotels on the west coast. My Dad had a small property in Jolly Harbour where I could keep the boat and start tours from in the morning. The boat was perfect too with loads of space to sit 10 guests comfortably. It had a cabin, loads of storage space and plenty of shade too. After a few months I was still relying on Sunsail. The hotels wouldn’t sell my tour. I think they felt that I (being the widsurf bum) was not serious, but they didn’t know that the tour was something I had been doing all my life. When I was a little kid I would have to take guests from my grandparents hotel up to the islands, and I spent most of my time up there exploring anyway. I was serious and the tour was a great one. Still, I couldn’t get hotel guests though their sales reps. The Website that we had set up on day one was proving to be valuable and I was getting bookings that way. Many more people who didn’t book had seen in on the web and would go to their tour desks and hotel reps saying “we want to do eli’s eco tour”. After about 2 years of doing a few trips a week without their help, they started to understand that they were losing out on valuable commission. The reps and tour desks finally started to take notice. To this day however it is just crazy how many people work at the front desks of these hotels and just have no idea about what I do. I guess staff changes quickly and knowing about tours is just not part of the training. We have to constantly provide info to hotels about what we do. The funny thing is that the more “exclusive” the hotel the more lost the front desk staff seem to be. They know about what’s in the hotel but not much about what is out. Thank god for our website though because usually the guests know what’s going on and just need the hotel to make a booking (which we gladly pay 20% for by the way).
Anyway, after a year of using Julie’s boat, she decided that she needed to sell it. I went to every bank in Antigua and all wanted to know how much land I was putting up. I had a business plan….a working business with financials and they couldn’t care less. They wanted to only talk after I had shown them the collateral. Julie started to get impatient and I finally had to get my Dad to co-sign the loan with me. US $50,000 was a huge chunk of cash but it gave me enough o pay Julie off and to get a few other crucial things for the business. Now more than ever, I had to make it all work. TBC……….
Part 3 (written November 17, 2006)
After I finally got the loan, things were more stressful because business was still not as good as I knew it could be, and I had the bank to think about now. I couldn’t just scrape by like before…..now I had to find an extra US $1500 a month. It was at about this time that my internet bookings started to take off, and you can read all about that in the blog about “The power of the Internet”. Like I said before the reps in the hotels were even now taking notice of me. It was a great time for my business and I was enjoying being paid for doing what I loved doing. It was all working out, or so I thought. After a super busy year when all the maintenance and other big bills had been paid, I still didn’t have much to show for it. I took a few days trying to figure out where the money had gone. The books didn’t lie…..even after a busy year I wasn’t really making any money. I had worked sooo hard and had made Adventure Antigua a working company. The business was getting loads of recognition in the media and on the net and I felt like the business was here to stay. The tour operators and the hotels were booking my tour, and I was turning people away, but still after all that I hadn’t much of a profit. What the books showed was something that Xabier had told me when I first started out. Xabier is the owner of Wadadli Cats, by the way. Anyway, he said that it’s all about numbers as in numbers of people you take out. If you want to make a profit in this business you need to take large numbers of people. However I looked at it, doing tours with a 10 person maximum was never going to get me anywhere. Either the boat or my body would wear out before I could make enough money to get a mortgage and buy a home for myself. I started to notice several other problems at this point too which could threaten the newly acquired stability that I felt. One of them which was a total shocker had to do with the reps and hotel tour desks. Since I was getting so many bookings from the internet in the season, many times I would turn down bookings from hotel reps because I was full. After a while I noticed that their calls slowed down. I had many of them tell me that they didn’t want to call me anymore because every time they promoted my tour and got guests excited, I was full when they called me. They were tired of getting turned down by my company. I had worked so hard to get them to call me and as soon as I had them calling me it looked like I was going to lose them. Crazy but true!!! Another problem I was facing was the “piggy backers”. After I started my Eco Historical Tour and people in Antigua saw it doing well copycat tours started popping up. This is totally expected I guess but I knew that some of them would be able to gain market share immediately without doing any work. All of a sudden there were several tours with names like ECO TOUR modeling their tours after mine. I was more concerned with being flattened than being flattered. I had no choice to take the next step…..which was obviously to just get bigger.
All my internet people from both hotels and cruise ships had been telling me for 2 years that the main reason that they picked my tour was because it was small and “intimate”. “Personal” is what they called it. The big dilemma was how much to grow and how. Should I have several boats of similar size to the one I had now or just get one bigger boat? How much bigger should I get? What kind of boats/boat? What was most important when it came to design of a new boat? It took me about six months, but I finally found a power catamaran built by a company called Cooper Marine in St. Petersburg Florida. It was just by chance actually, because I was looking at a boat company from Belize up until then. Cooper Marine made boats specifically for excursions, and the one I ended up getting was built for a company in The Bahamas who backed out on it after it was almost finished. They had been trying to sell it for a year without success and had dropped the price several times. I got it for a great price I thought because the design was perfect for me and the numbers I thought I could carry was precisely what I was looking for. It had so much shade which is exactly what I was after too. It even had two cabins with a head (toilet) and a shower at the back. All I had to add were the seats and the huge ladders and it was ready to go. Finding financing for the boat was a bit easier than it was for the first loan, and along with three friends I went to collect the boat on Florida’s west coast in November of 2003. We had an awful trip from the Florida Keys to the Bahamas where we were all shocked by how rough it was in the Gulf Stream. It was soo windy and the waves were massive and short with currents making them truly unsafe for our trip across the channel. I figured that we would have calm seas while we passed through the Bahamas but it never eased up. We kept on going and finally got to The Turks and Caicos Islands a few days later. We were all tired and sore because the seas had been soo rough. The forecast didn’t look like it was going to ease up either. We had too keep going though because I had bookings in late November that I had to have the boat ready for. Also, my crew all had jobs that they had to be back for. We left Provo on a rough but sunny morning for Samana, Dominican Republic. This was the biggest crossing we had during the 1500 mile trip from Florida to Antigua. The boat kept crashing though the waves as all of us looked at each other with stress imprinted on our faces. I knew the boat wasn’t handling the short and steep waves well. About 90 miles out of Provo, I started hearing a knocking which immediately gave me the shivers. I stopped the boat in the rolling swell and did a search below deck. I found some major structural problems where it looked like the two “shells” that made up the boat were coming apart. After speaking about it, we decided that we had better turn back to Provo where we were sure to get repairs done or at least get flights back from. We slowly limped back to Provo and ended up getting in after the sky had tuned dark. I worried that the boat was in some major problems. I had just spent more money than I could imagine on a boat that I now couldn’t use. What was I going to do? …….To be continued on “part four”……….
Part Four (published first in Nov 21st 2006)
(i am at an internet cafe off island at the moment. the connection is slow and the computer is a crasher......i will spell check and edit this later. please excuse the mistakes)
We arrived in Provo, cold, tired, and stressed. We were not speaking much because the reality didn't sound too good. We were at the very least stuck up the creek without a paddle. I made some calls to Cooper Marine as soon as i got in and they agreed to put someone on a plane the next day. Two of my crew who had businesses to run back in Antigua flew out the next day as the guy from Cooper came in. This guy came off the plane without saying hi to me and carrying loads of attitude along with two boxes of repair materials. Before we even got to the car i stopped him and gave him a bit of my mind. It was a good thing i didn't tear him apart considering my mental state at the time. I was the victim here and he's giving me attitude!!!! Anyway, he said his main problem was that he had never left the country (USA) and didn't think that flying out to repair a boat he built was his idea of fun. I told him i was having way less fun and that i would have him back in Florida as soon as he made the simple repairs we needed to get us back home. Fortunately there was a good boat yard in Provo and the next morning we started the job with the help of a good Jamaican Fiberglass repair guy. The Cooper guy and the Jamaican cut away lifted laminations and prepared areas where i suggested we added more strcture. I have had quite a bit of experience over the years working in fiberglass and on boats and could easily see the problems. Of course, the Cooper Marine guy wanted to do as little as possible and didn~t see the need to add structure. He did a rushed job which was soo poor that i was worried it wouldnt last back to antigua. I knew we needed much more repairs which would be time consuming and costly. Cooper Marine never helped a bit. Please speak with me if you are ever thinking about getting one of their boats!!!!!!!!!!
Finally about 5 days later Chael and I set off from Provo again on our way to Samana, Rominican Republic. It was slow going as the seas hadñ't eased up and we ended up getting stuck in the middle of a storm which lasted most of the night. We took turns driving and trying to look out for other vessels. At one stage in i saw a light appear behind us appearing in and out of the torrential rain. At one stage i had to increase the speed to keep clear of it. Never saw what it was out there in the middle of the dangerous and famous "Mona Passage". Anyway, at sunrise we arrived like wet rats in Samana after a horrible night at sea. All we needed to do in Samana DR was get fuel and get outta there. We had to bribe 5 government officials because they told us that we had to clear customs and immigration first. We had to bribe them because they said it was a public holiday, and we were not going to get far in that noisy, dirty corrupt town without "playing ball". Anyway, we were happy to get out of that manic town and be on our way to San Juan. Once again we arrived at night and were met by US Coast Guard who were doing an operation off Puerto Rico. They told us to go into the port where they would do a search. They were very nice and after searching us and the boat released us into San Juan Harbour to get some needed rest. We slept like the dead and the next morning got fuel and left for the British Virgin Islands. As we arrived, the weather got so bad that i was worried about our trip from the BVI to St. Martin. Inside the BVI where it is normally calm there were huge waves and torrential rain. I heard later that several people died in flooding there. We arrived into Virgin Gorda's Spanish Town which was the last stop before our St. Martin journey, and it's where we were given the most hard core and disrespectful search by the customs officials yet. They wanted to "confiscate" a drill set and some other tools we had onboard simply because they liked them!!! After they left, i went to the BVI tourist board and made a formal complaint. It was that bad! Served us right i guess for being so honest. Most boats in transit dont bother clearing customs! Anyway, we moved around in the harbour to get a "birth". It was raining hard as hell and the boat next to us filled with a group of self proclaimed "red necks" invited us to have steaks with them on their yacht. We must have looked miserable or something, but the kind and warm hospitality was exactly what we needed. IT was some of the best steak i have ever had and the company was great too. I think they had been drinking all day in the rain by the time we got there and were very merry. At 5 am the next morning we set off for the 100 mile trip to St. Martin straight into some of the nastiest seas i have experienced. It was 8 hours of scary pounding into the sea with waves crashing over the bow and washing right across the deck and out the back. Chael and i kept on listening out for noises below deck and we kept checking the repairs that we could easly see. Having no life raft out there with a boat that already had problems in huge stormy seas was a stressful experience. St. Martin never looked so good. We arrived to flooded streets and mud everywhere but we were happy to be there. The next day we made our last 100 mile journey to Antigua. We had to laugh really because as we closed in on the final 10 miles the winds calmed down. In fact, for the next three weeks the weather was flat calm........1500 miles of rough dangerous seas where we nearly lost the boat, and we get home to another 3 weeks of perfectly calm weather.
Within a week we were taking full boats out on The new Eco Tour though and very quickly the news of the new boat spread. IT was as good as i thought it would be for the tour. We didn't have to change a thing and the tour was better now in my opinion. It really is a great design. We added one crew to make it easier to handle a larger group, and this worked great as well. I figured i could make it through the season with the repairs we had done in Provo since it had made it through all that rough ocean. Winter 03/04 was a busy season and spring stayed busy too. In fact summer 04 was almost as busy for the company as the winter season had been. We were turning away bookings again, and i started thinking about another boat and another tour. Why not? On the trip down from Florida, i had seen some boats by a company called Performance 40. Powerboat Adventures in Nassau were using these boats and swore by them. They were built stronger than normal and looked like fun. I enjoyed the Cooper boat but it was a bit big to take out on the weekend days off. These boats would be perfect for a new tour as well as a great boat to have fun with. Soooo...............................I went to Miami to see Bob the boat builder..........T.B.C.
Part 5 (published November 25, 2006)
.....continued from "part 4".......
After arriving in Miami, i went straight to see Bob the boat builder who was kinda short and to the point on the phone. He didn't try to sell me anything which i kinda found strange. When i got to his factory or warehouse he met me and took me to see several boats which were in varied stages of construction. He pretty much lets his boats do the pushing of the product. They are built tough like things were build in the USA in the "good old days". Of course, after my disaster with Cooper Marine, my main concern was strength, and you could see strength at every point with Bob's construction. He had been building boats for over 30 years and had seen it all. He told me storied about building boats with his best friend in the early 80s when most of the people who wanted "go-fast" boats were shady characters. His best friend went on to start one of the most famous "go-fast" boat companies...."Midnight Express", and Bob told me stories about how his friend building boats for people who would pay with cash in full. To me it sounded like something out of a movie like the Al Pacino film "Scarface". Later he mentioned that his friend did get arrested by the DEA for knowingly building boats for a big time drug runner. The joke was that part of his sentence was building several boats for the government. Funny......
Anyway, Bob was a no BS kinda guy. He said "what you see is what you get" and i believed him. When i asked him why he wasn't with his friend building the original Midnight Express boats he laughed and said that he had been hired by another friend, Ted Arison, to turn an old ship into a cruise liner. It took him several years but that ship ended up becoming the first of Carnival Cruise Lines' ships. He (re-)built that and put what is now the worlds largest cruise line on the water!!!
I was happy with what i saw for two reasons. Firstly, I could tell that Bob was an honest hard worker who didn't BS his way through life. The second thing that made me feel cool was seeing the boats being built. This was a very limited-production boat builder where each one is custom built to your needs. They are not finished like some of the big names out there like Contender, Intrepid, or Boston Whaler but there was no question that bob's boats were built to last a lot longer carrying much more weight through much worse seas. Bob said he could have one finished for me in just over three months, so I sent him a deposit the next day. I think that was in August of 2004, so i was thinking about having it ready for the busy winter tourist season.
The next month we did extensive work on the Eco boat built by cooper marine. It cost me a good chunk of change and poor Tony worked like a daemon in the worst possible conditions. When we stopped, i felt much better about the boat and was sure it would be fine through the next few seasons. We had beefed up and created more structure in the front of the boat using the best possible materials and workmanship. I had hired a professional Marine Surveyor and boat builder to oversea the job with Tony and together they had done an awesome job. I still would like to do more in the middle and aft of the boat but it was the front that was where my main concern was. The surveyor agreed and was happy with the outcome.
In October, i went to have a look at Bob's progress and was pleased to see that he had done some good work getting the boat prepared. I could see that it wouldn’t be finished for November like he had said, but I was fine with that considering I didn’t have all the money sorted out. Since my sister Nell was working with me, I decided to offer her some ownership in the business. She and my bro, Ali, were interested in finding some money to help pay for the new boat and come on board with my growing company. They quickly found out the same thing that I already knew. Banks in Antigua don’t care about your business! All they want to know is how much land you are gonna put up. Anyway, in the end (some time in May 2005) they managed to come up with $90,000 to help me pay for the Performance 40.
Yes May 2005!!!! What happened over the winter was quite simple. In December just before Christmas I had a disaster. We had just picked up some cruise passengers from the cruise terminal, and were on our way out when I heard a strange sound coming from the port engine on the Eco Boat. Immediately I knew it wasn’t good, and after taking them to a beach nearby for a swim and some lunch, we went in and dropped off the guests. We didn’t charge them a dime of course. Anyway, mechanics meet us in Jolly Harbour and tell us that we have big problems which require the engine to be taken apart. Looks like it may be a total wreck, but I am told that it is still under warranty. I think for a minute what the implications are……..Warranty………so what? In the Caribbean a warranty isn’t what it is in the USA. Here they take the engine to pieces in order to find what is wrong with it, then ship the broken parts which show the cause of the failure back to the manufacturer, then they decide if they are gonna replace or rebuild. I spoke with the good people at Marine Power Services who estimated that it could take 6 weeks or longer considering the holidays and holiday shipping delays. This was December 20th I think. MPS tell me what I am already thinking: “You could always buy a new motor, and end up with a spare when the other if fixed or replaced”. I asked them to immediately find out the cost and approximate shipping time. We had full tours for the next 2 weeks in between the holidays. It’s always the busiest time of the year for us. Perfect!!!!
I got a call an hour later saying that the engine was US $23,000 and could be shipped and landed here within a week only if we air freighted it. Wow! On the one hand, I could be up and running within 10 days, but on the other, I couldn’t afford the expense. So what do I do? If I don’t buy the engine I may have to close down because of not being able to operate for 6 weeks or longer, and if I do buy the engine I won’t be able to pay my regular bills at the end of the month……
I went to the bank and wired the money to Yanmar USA, and the engine was shipped later that day. The stress was pretty hard core, and my Christmas wasn’t as relaxing as everyone else’s. Over the next week we pulled the boat out of the water to do other maintenance and found major eminent problems with the propulsion systems as well. My girlfriend at the time, Chantal, who I had been with before I started the company, was about to go off to college too. I couldn’t spend time with her as I had to be at the boat. It was all too much for me, and I came down with the flu! It was the worst I had in years and when she left, I felt lower than I had done in years. The business was about to fail, I was sick as a dog, customers, their reps, and hotels were all pissed off with me, my girlfriend had gone, it terrible weather………..it all just sucked!
Anyway, Tony, who works for me told me to chill at home, and he would make sure the boat was sorted out. He worked like an ox again down in Jolly Harbour getting the steering and propulsion system all fixed and ready for the new engine to be put in. When the engine finally arrived I was better enough to help them put it in. The next day we were ready to put “Arawak Odyssey” back in the water. Two days later we were back in business and totally broke with all kinds of bills, employees, Harriette and banks to pay. Not to mention Bob. Tony knew what was going on and told me that he had money put away….he told me to pay him when things got better. He is the best! Harriette said the same thing…..always looking after me.
I called a friend in Miami and told him to go and take some photos of my boat being built to see what stage of construction it was in. This was the start of Jan and Bob had originally said it would be done in November. When I saw the pics I knew it still had some months to go, so I told bob that he had to wait for more money as well. By the middle of January it all looked as though things were gonna work out. We were exceptionally busy and the rest of the season looked good too. Bob didn’t finish the boat until May! I knew I would miss the season and I was also pretty tight on cash, so I didn’t get too mad with him. He had been building his house and had do deal with several hurricanes after the boat started being built.
After my terrible trip from Florida in the Eco Tour boat, I knew I didn’t want to bring the boat down again under its own steam, so we hunted for good shipping rates. They didn’t exist! Because the boat’s length overall was 45 feet long it was too long to fit on the 40 foot container “flat rack”. Also, at 10 feet wide it was too wide as well. The shipping companied wanted me to pay for the same shipping rates as four 40 foot containers. The rates were astronomical and we couldn’t afford it.
In late may, my brother Alexander and I set off to pick up the boat. Everyone was worried about our safety (not only because we were going to be out in the ocean, but they were more afraid we would kill each other).
Let’s save the next part of the story for another blog entry…….
The photo above is of the inside of one of bob's boats. You don't normally see that much structure in boats these days.
Part 6 (published November 28, 2006)
Alexander Fuller a.k.a "Ali" has been working for one of the gaming companies here on island for longer than my company has been around, and doesn't get to go out boating as much as he did when we were kids. Back then we were out almost every day either boating or windsurfing. Anyway, the late nights at the office keep him off the water way too much. He was due a holiday in May and decided to come along with me to collect the boat from North Miami Beach. All we had to do was outfit it with all the life jackets and anchors and general safety stuff. Getting bits for the boat in Antigua isn't always easy so we made sure we had everything we needed. The trip was 1350 nautical miles to Antigua and I knew how much open ocean there was going to be too. We got some nice rain jackets too just in case and a few other things. We Antiguans always shop too much when we go to the USA.
I thought about the problems i had in the Dominican Republic on my last trip down from Florida and decided that i would try to make the 350 mile trip from Grand Turk to Puerto Rico skipping the DomRep altogether. I needed more fuel than our tank held so we got 12 5 gallon tanks from Wal-Mart too. Don't u just love Wal-Mart? When buying our GPS (global positioning system) i made sure it was a very good chart plotter and got the chip containing the charts for Florida and the Caribbean. When i go to big boat supply stores i just want one of everything. My mother had urged me to buy a life raft, but i knew that my money was tight and had to decide between the latest EPIRB and the expensive life raft. An EPIRB or Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon sends out a distress signal that allows the beacon to be located by the satellite system and search and rescue aircraft to locate the people, boats and aircraft needing rescue. The one i was looking at was registerable which meant that you send in your info along with your closest family’s contact numbers. When the coast guard first receives the signal they get in touch with your contacts to make sure it’s not a false signal. This also alerts your family of a problem. I had heard too many stories where the end of those stories was "if they had an EPIRB they would be alive today", so i went with the US $1300 EPIRB. After all, if we sank and had the life raft instead of an EPIRB it could be days before anyone knew there was a problem and then where the hell would they start looking. The best option would be to have both, and next time i will.
Ali warned me that this was a holiday for him, and he wanted to 1) Eat well 2) do some fishing and 3) sleep in hotels each night. I knew where all the good fuel ports were from Miami to Antigua and knew that all had hotels and restaurants. I also knew that this boat was way way way faster than the Eco Boat (arawak odyssey), so went over the planned course with Ali who agreed that it looked good. We paid and thanked bob, loaded all the gear into the boat, got 360 gallons of fuel and set off for Chub Key which was gonna be the fist place that we could clear customs and immigration. Just as we were leaving the fuel station, a boat came in and said that they had tried to go out but it was too rough....!!!!! Great! Just GREAT!!!!!!!!
Ali and i had to get back in a week so that he could get back to work, so we were not gonna stay in port unless it truly was bad. Also, if anything was gonna go wrong with the boat, i wanted it to go wrong close to Miami. We left north Miami beach like a bat out of hell going directly into the grey waves. We left much later than we wanted to because the fuel station was having trouble processing my credit card for all that fuel. We were late and I was pushing it pretty hard and the boat was crashing as hard through the Gulf Stream’s nasty waves. Bam Bam Bam Bam CRASH CRASH....after an hour ali said we had to stop for a pee (and cigarette break) and to stretch the sore legs. Bob had told me when i first spoke with him about the boats "you will break your body before you break my boat". I smiled, shook my head and put the three engines back into gear. It got very rough at one stage and we did have to slow down, but we finally arrived into Chub Cay at about 4:50 pm. It had taken us four hours, and as we pulled in the fuel attendant told us that the customs and immigration people had already gone home. The thought of sitting and wasting time in tiny Chub Cay until the next morning when they returned to "clear" us into The Bahamas didn’t sound good to me, so i looked at the charts and decided to make a run for Nassau, New Providence which was another few hours away. We arrived at dark and pulled into a tiny marina on the main stretch on the Nassau side opposite Paradise Island and Atlantis Hotel. Technically we were not allowed to leave the boat until we had cleared customs (as with all countries), but we were tired and Ali had made me promise hotels. Don't tell anyone, but we did check into a nice hotel next door only to return the next morning to clear in and get fuel.
When we were collecting the boat from Bob we met up with Nigel, the owner of Powerboat Adventures on Nassau, who was checking out another boat that was being built. He knew that my engines were brand new and offered me the use of his boat life to do my 10 hour service. He also called his mechanic in Nassau who agreed to do the job for us if we brought the oils and filters. These high tech engines are the most expensive "four stroke" variety which are way more fuel efficient and have way lower emissions than the older models. They need careful maintenance, so we took the boat over to Powerboat Adventures and left it there to get the very important 10 hour break in service done.
Time for a "full english breakfast" which is one of my bro's favorite things in the world.
We got back as the service finished and off we went into the high winds and choppy waters off Nassau. We were on a long run to Long Island passing the beautiful Exumas. It was a long day covering well over 200 miles i think. We were about 20 miles away from the marina and hotel on Long Island when a gear cable came undone. When we stopped for a break out there one of the engines got stuck in neutral. After spending about 45 minutes inside the cramped consol, i figured how to temporarily fix it by jamming it into forward gear and over-riding an electrical control which stopped you from starting it in forward gear. We were on our way again and rushing one more time. Rushing....It is the thing i tell all new boaters to never do. You never should rush when you are out on a boat unless you are in a race. It is dangerous! Anyway, i didn't know the place well and wanted to get in before dark. We finally got in just after sunset and immediately started getting attacked by the most aggressive mosquitoes we had ever seen. Luckily we were met by the hotel mini van who rushed us off to the hotel. We had a lovely shower to wash off 8 hours of salt spray and sunscreen, and headed for the restaurant. We had seen two of the Powerboat Adventures boats in the Marina as well as another fancy powerboat, and remembered hearing Nigel say that his boats were helping a film shoot. At the bar downstairs we saw what it was about......There were actors and crew from the new Disney Pirates Of the Caribbean movie. If you saw the second one then you will remember the scene when they are sword fighting on a beach...., well that was 30 miles from Long Island in the Bahamas. Each day the boats had to transport the crew and actors out to that deserted spot to film. If you see it again check how windy it was!!!!! Windy = Rough!
So the next morning bright and early we set off on a long trip to The Turks and Caicos Islands. We studied the charts that we had and saw that there were several routes. One was shorter and took us outside Long Island into the rough seas which were super rough at that point....too rough. The other zig zagged along Long Island (which didn't get its name by chance) around a few other Bahamian islands and shallow spots. Ahhh yes......shallow spots..hahahahahaha
So we say that the chart said a 6 feet deep sand bank for like 30 miles along our route. We figured we would take this route because it was just too rough outside the island. Anyway, we needed just over 3 feet to be safe and figured that we would not go around the sand bank adding another 15 miles onto our trip. We would go over it.......BIG MISTAKE!!!! DONT RUSH!!!!!
We could see it getting shallower and shallower as the tide dropped, until we finally slowed down and decided to trim up the motors and fish slowly. We only had 2 more miles to go and we would be in deep water on our way to The Turks and Caicos in no time. We started fishing trying to see where it was deepest zig zagging through the very shallow spots on the sand bank. The tide kept dropping and I told Ali to reel the line in as we had more to worry about. I could see nice deep blue water up ahead but there was not a deep enough channel to it. So close and yet so far. We were starting to churn up sand behind the boat too. All of a sudden we were aground. we were only doing about 2 miles per hour so we revved her in reverse and got off, but now where?. We turned off the motors so not to suck up any sand into the intakes and stood up on the front of the boat to see if we could figure out how to get out of this sandy maze. We had to laugh at our situation......the most beautiful colours in the world, great fishing, calm seas clear skies.....but we were in danger. We possibly were stuck for 5 hours until the tides came up. In Antigua we don't have to worry about it because our tided are about 18 inches at a max and even that is in extreme cases. Here it seemed to be 4 feet. Ali jumped over and pushed the front of the boat around to face the 90 degrees off to our right pointing us toward the detour we had opted not to take. If we made it there it could be 12 miles just to get to the blue that was right in front of us on the other side of the sandy shallow spot. The water reached just above his knees. What a joke! We had some nasty white bread, mustard and packed tuna fish. Lunch first, and then we would try for the original detour. Anyway, after lunch we set off in the 3 feet of clear water just above the sand bank and carefully made our way out to what we knew would be a much longer but deeper water trip. After about 10 minutes when it got a little deeper, Ali saw something and told me to look off to our left. There was a 12 inch line on the bottom cutting through the sand and grass going in the direction we wanted to go. Some bigger boat had experienced the same thing but didn't have the luxury of trimming up their motors. They had kept on going cutting a tiny path through the sand bank. We looked at each other and knew that if they had done it then we could too. All we had to do was follow their "dredged" channel very carefully and very slowly. We did and in an hour we were in the deep waters at the bottom (south-east) side of Long Island. Yeee ha! We had a problem now......we were very late and not even half way to Provodinciales. Anyway, we zoomed down past Crooked Island, and then past Acklins Island each time staying on the leeward sides. It was about 5 pm when we got to the end of Acklins Island and i knew we wouldn't make it into The Turks and Caicos until way way after dark. It looked like with the winds and seas that we were now seeing it would be an all night session. Screw that i thought. Let’s get into a safe harbour as close as possible to the Caicos Islands and then set off first thing for "Provo".
Gosh it was rough! Pounding straight into oncoming waves that shook the boat and our bodies, i didn't like it one bit. The sun had now set and we were over 50 miles from Mayaguana Island which would be our last (unscheduled) stop in the Bahamas. The funny thing is that on my first trip down with the Eco Boat, we had also slept in Mayaguana. Both times we arrived at night in the dark into what the charts said was a small harbour protected by a barrier reef. Thank god for the GPS chart plotter. If we didn't have that we would have been just another of the thousands of wrecks across the West Indies. We could hear the waves breaking when we arrived but couldn't see them. We slowly powered into the harbour until it was calm enough and shallow enough to anchor. Xtreme as we were calling her for the trip, has a nice cabin and we had no choice but to try using it for the first time. There would be no proper hotel for Ali tonight, but we slept like babies with the gentle rocking and nice moonlight that reminded us of camping trips we did as kids. Before going to bed, we had more tuna and white bread with mustard sandwiches. YUM!
This journal entry is getting out of hand huh? A bit long.....so i will end it here for the time being. The pic above was taken by ali when we were beating through the waves on our way to Mayaguana. As you can see....it was rough!
Part 7 (Published Nov 29, 2006)
While we were filling in the forms he kept looking at the restaurant 150 feet away, so when we burst in there at 11, he was ready for action!!!!
We started with conch fritters which are better in the Turks and Caicos than anywhere on the planet. They even have a conch farm there. Then it was the mandatory chicken wings which we always seem to sample when we are at a new place. I don't remember what I had for a main but remember looking in amazement at the Kobe beef burger that Ali had delivered. It was massive and just what he wanted. The look of pure satisfaction was amuzing. I wonder if he even remembers. We were very tired still and decided to take a day off....after all....it was the NBA finals that night. We got a hotel room in the marina, and as Ali settled in for an afternoon of relaxation and sleep, i went back to see if i could properly fix the gear cable. Since it came undone just before Long Island, i hadn't had time to properly fix it, and had been starting the right engine in forward gear. It was permanently stuck in forward. After 2 hours in the tiny cramped space of the consol I managed to fix it properly with the help of some waterproof tape which held a pin in place locking the cable to the shift lever. You know, i didn’t have to mess with it for 6 months. Nothing in the world like waterproof duct tape. I don't even remember who won the basket ball that night, but know that the next day i was well relaxed and ready for the biggest and most dangerous of our entire journey. Turks and Caicos to San Juan. I knew how much fuel we had been burning up until now and calculated that if we topped up one last time on the outer most island, Grand Turk, we would have enough fuel to get us comfortably to San Juan, Puerto Rico. As usual things never work as you expect them to. We cleared out early that morning and made the fairly long run to Grand Turk where we were immediately told that we had to clear in again to get fuel, and customs was a few miles down the road!!! What!!! They got to be kiddin. Anyway after doing all of that we were once again behind schedule and rushing. Don’t rush!!!
We had to do 300 miles and it was 2pm when we left. This meant we would be at sea at night again. It appeared to be calm though which was cool with me. As the sun set we were passing the famous "Silver Banks" and saw many big fishing boats anchored there. They deployed smaller boats to go and do some sort of fishing and they were scattered over the place. All of the big boats had people on them waving us over. They looked like they were in trouble and were waving and waving, but Ali and i knew better. Here we are out in the middle of nowhere with some of the poorest people in the Caribbean calling us over to their boats. Hmm....we knew they were fine, and we were not as safe as they were. We still had 150 miles to do in the dark.....
Just before it got dark we noticed quite a bit of junk floating in the sea. Bits of branches, coconuts, a big piece of wood, plastic crates. It was as if we had come into some kind of current which passes through the Mona Passage (the channel out of the Caribbean Sean between The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I became very concerned upon seeing all this crap in the water because it was another way for boats to sink. I remember reading the awesome book "Adrift" about a guy who drifted for 76 days in a life raft after hitting something while sailing. He never saw what he hit and only had time to deploy the life raft and jump in before his boat sank of the Cape Verde islands near Africa's West Coast. Hmm LIFE RAFT..... We didn't have one, and as it got darker so did our mood. I can just hear my mom urging me to get the life raft. Moms always know best!
I have been told that the other blogs were too long soo i will leave this one here. The photo was taken by me as Ali drove the boat during our trip. Enjoy.
Part 8 (November 30, 2006)
......To make matters worse, the wind had been picking up very slowly as the sun went down, and by the time it went dark i had to slow her down quite a bit. We were slamming down off the waves, and the worst part was that i couldn't see them. When it’s rough during the day i can speed up in between waves and maintain a good average speed. I just keep my hands on the throttles and "work" them, but at night this didn't work. In the end i had to slow her down to 15 knots and even then it was scary. My brother loves to describe that night. He does a better job than i do because most of the time i was driving i was concentrating so hard i didn't have time to absorb the experience. I will try to describe it like he does....here goes:
"It was so rough that we were doing between 12 and 15 knots going directly into the waves. We couldn't see them but they were obviously huge as we would climb up them and then free fall crashing back down into the dark sea".
It was scary....very scary. When it’s dark at sea on a calm night your mind can run all over the place, but when it’s as rough as it was that night you think terrible things. After an hour or two i started to think about how much more fuel we must be burning since at 12-15 knots we were surely not being efficient. We burned less fuel per mile going 25-30 mph, so i began to worry about our range. At this rate of probable fuel burn we may not make it to San Juan. I told ali to take the helm and to slow down while i looked at the chart to see if there was another port closer to us. We were out in the middle of nowhere 1/2 way between Grand Turk and San Juan in a terrible unfriendly angry ocean. Of course cell phones don't work out there and neither would a VHF radio at that range. Nobody to ask for advice, and if anything were to happen to us.....it would just be the EPIRB that would save us. I had packed a "grab bag" which contained a waterproof VHF handheld radio, the EPIRB, four life jackets, a gallon of water, a flare kit, and a hand held GPS. It wasn't much but i kept looking back at it during the night to make sure it hadn't moved from where i left it.
I saw that Mayaguez on the West coast was a bit closer to us than San Juan was. It was also a better angle against the waves for us. Going there would put us back as much as a 1/2 a day possibly but i knew we would get there. Getting safely to San Juan was not looking great. Doubting yourself out there is a terrible feeling, but i am glad i did. We made the wise choice and started heading towards Mayaguez. Just at that moment we started seeing the lightning just off our right side. GREAT! Windy, rough, incredibly wet and cold, and now thunderstorms were coming. It got rougher...........and waves crashed occasionally into the boat.
It was about midnight and i had been driving since early that morning with only a short break in Grand Turk. I was totally exhausted, cold, and stressed out. Ali was not much different, but he had to drive as i was falling asleep standing up. He was cold and miserable but took over without complaining. I lay down behind him with half my body on the cooler and the other half on one of the two person seats. I was shaking with cold and clenching my teeth with stress and the cold. I think i actually may have slept for 30 minutes during the hour or two that i lay there which was plenty. Ali later told me that he would look back every few minutes to make sure i was still there. He said he was terrified he would look back and not see me, and he even said that if that happened he would just have jumped over too. Weird huh, but when you sit there in the darkness cold, wet, scared, tired, and stressed you think about all kinds of things. When a wave broke into the boat practically landing on me.....it was time to get up. Ali was happy to sit back down and hug his knees to try to warm up. We were not in the rain but the lightning was getting closer, and i was worried about how bad it could get. We were now in hurricane season and the weather can change pretty quickly. My mind started to wander. I though about my life up until that point, the places i had been, the things i had seen, the experiences i have had.........I though about my family, girlfriend, and friends. I thought about the young people in my life who died too young. I thought about the things they missed out on. I thought about my high school classmates: Kieth Scotland, Brian Dailey, and Mervin Barns who all died in a terrible car accident during our final semester at school. I thought about my two young aunts who were claimed by cancer. I thought about Inigo Ross who co-founded Wadadli Catamarans. He was lost at sea on a rough day between St. Vincent and St. Lucia. I think about these people often and that night out there I though about them again. What should i do if i make it back alive? What do i need to change in my life? I don't think i prayed, but i did lots of reflection. It was not a good night.....or maybe it was. It made me think about my life and that can be good sometimes i guess.
Anyway, the GPS said we had 40 miles to go and i could see the glow coming from the city of Mayaguez. At night in the Caribbean you can usually see the glow coming from the next island's lights, and finally this was a slight comfort. At this point i started hearing the US Coast Guard speaking to a boat somewhere that was in distress. Fifteen minutes later they made a report about another boat off the North Coast of PR that had made a single distress call. They advised boats too look out for any sign of that boat. Anyway, i kept on going and when we got closer the seas started to drop down. When we were about 8 miles away it started getting calm. At about 3 miles away it got glass calm as we were now in the behind the protection of West coastline. Ali moved to the front of the boat to lay flat on one of the bench seats, and immediately fell asleep. The sky had colour in it now and slowed for a second to take a photo. It was 4:38 am on June 8th according to the digital image i have on my computer and you can see the sunlight and ali sleeping in his wet clothes in the front of the boat. I will put that up at the top when i am done. Finally i cruised into what the GPS said was the harbour. It was still not light enough to see where i was, but i knew it was calm enough and shallow enough to anchor. We would rest a bit and then go look for customs and immigration, and then fuel. My fuel light was flashing and we had less than 60 gallons left in the extra plastic tanks. We may have made it to San Juan, but i am not so sure. It was a good thing we changed course. My dad and Steve Mendes had done this same trip before in similar conditions and had run out of fuel off san Juan. they were towed in luckily.
Anyway, after dropping anchor, i woke up ali to move him into the cabin and fell asleep in my wet and salty clothes.....thank God we were safe!
Part 9 (published December 1st 2006)
We woke up to the sounds of a city with all the car horns and sirens that make up that reality. It was about 8 am and we pulled up the anchor to move over to the main dock. I had found it strange that we hadn't been stopped by the coast guard yet. After all, this was a 45 foot off-shore boat with triple outboards. This was the stereotype for drug boats and I was sure that we would set off all kinds of alarms coming in from out to sea at night. Towards the end in the calm I was doing about 40 knots too!
We got to the dock and still saw nobody. I saw someone official looking speaking with the crew of a ship behind us and went to ask him where I could clear in. He looked at me in amazement and asked me to repeat myself. You see the dock was very high and you couldn't see our boat below the concrete edge. He immediately got on his VHF radio calling several people. He told me to go back to the boat and wait for customs. First came customs in a jeep with three officers and a dog. They may have been called homeland security.....I can't remember. There was another car that pulled up with local police, then another group who came from the ship terminal. We had officers all around the boat wanting to know what we were up to. Ali and I had our passports and boat papers ready but they were not happy with us. Why I don't know because we hadn't done anything wrong. I think they were ashamed that we had come in without anyone knowing. Anyway, they jumped on the boat with their dog and big black boots and started searching. They turned the boat inside out looking for drugs I guess. It was very hot and we were very tired. All we needed was some fuel and a meal. At about 10 am they told me I could now go and clear in with immigration which was in the town 35 minutes walk away. Nice huh? The fuel truck starting filling our tank and when he was done took me to pick up burgers, and even took me to immigration. It’s so nice to meet cool people every now and then when you have been surrounded by mean people. Anyway, at about 12 we pulled out of Mayaguez (FINALLY) ready for a quick trip to San Juan and then on to the BVI. It was pretty calm in the lee of Western Puerto Rico, but then we hit the North-West coast. Oh my God!!!! It was rougher than anything we had seen up until that point. There were waves about 10 to 12 feet high but the thing that made them super bad was the steepness. They were what you describe as short waves with one steep wave followed by another and another and so on. As had been the case most of the way down we had to go straight into them along the Northern Puerto Rican coast trying to get to San Juan. It was awful even though it was sunny and clear. The boat was taking a terrible beating and we got several big waves over the bow. What would happen is that I would get the timing wrong every now and then and the front of the boat would just go right through a steep wave instead of riding over the top. When this happened we would usually get about 300 gallons of water into the boat in an instant. This was never fun and after about 45 minutes of this I decided that the angle was just too bad. If we slowed down we seemed to get more water over the bow and if we went fast enough to avoid this, we ended up pounding the boat too hard after falling off these monsters. I decided to do something that I had never done in all the years of power-boating….I decided to “tack” like a yacht going into the wind at angles towards San Juan. I would go out to sea for 3 or 4 miles and then turn the bow through the waves and head back at a comfortable angle into shore a few miles up the coast. We were probably doing about 15 miles per hour but actually doing about 8 miles per hour towards San Juan. It was very very rough and windy. I think the currents coming out between Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic were going along the North-East coast of Puerto Rico in a North-Easterly direction, but the wind and waves were going the opposite direction making a dangerous mess of the ocean around us. We slowly got closer to San Juan where I expected the Coast guard, homeland security or some other authority to come out and stop us, but thankfully it never happened. We arrived outside San Juan Harbor sometime around 5 PM and stopped for a pee break and for ali to have a cigarette. We also stopped to try to decide what to do. We had two choices which comprised of chilling in San Juan for the night in a nice hotel or to keep going on to Tortolla where we would surely get in sometime after dark. Ali had to be at work in a few days and after all the stress in Mayaguez, we decided to push on to the beautiful BVI. We knew it well too which made us feel as though we were getting into our own neighborhood. After San Juan, the Puerto Rican Coast seemed to calm down significantly and we were able to point the boat right towards the North-West end of St. Thomas, USVI and cruise at about 25 knots. Before we left behind Puerto Rico we saw massive schools of small tuna thrashing about on the surface. We couldn’t see what they were eating but all the birds in the area had heard about the bounty too and it was a carnival of a feeding frenzy. We wished we had enough time to fish for a bit but we were in that RUSH which had plagued us since the start. After Puerto Rico and before the USVI the waves started getting confused again and we had to slow down a bit after getting some awful crashes off the tops of some steep ones.
It was very dark by the time we got to the USVI and we kept going and faster than most of our trip so far. The USVI and BVI has mostly protected waters and we were able to do about 35 knots going up in between these dark islands on out way to Nanny Cay, Tortolla.
I hoped nothing was floating out there in the channel that would end out trip for us. At that speed hitting a log wouldn’t be cool. Anyway, we pulled into Nanny Cay at about 9 PM and went to get a room straight away. We didn’t need fuel and we only wanted a place to sleep for the night. Like real naughty brothers we didn’t clear customs or immigration before or after our sleep in Tortolla. If you remember what happened the last time I cleared into the BVI you will know why. Before going to sleep we had dinner at Peg Legs and I think we were sleeping on the way back to the room finding it just by luck. As I said, we were outta there before the fuel dock or anyone was open to see a big go fast boat tearing out of Tortolla. We felt like real bandits as we pulled out but I don’t think anyone missed us.
Nobody should go to the British Virgin Islands without making a stop at The Baths in Virgin Gorda, and Ali stressed that we had to stop. It was out last stop before we went on to St. Martin and we took a mooring to have an early morning swim and snorkel. As usual the Baths were beautiful, and we relaxed there for an hour before thinking about moving on. The Baths consists of several beautiful coconut fringed beaches divided by massive smooth grey rocks and the clearest waters you have seen. You can walk/hike through and under the rocks between the beaches and/or swim around them. We did some lovely snorkeling……. swimming down deep alongside the rocks, then we swam through caves in the rocks, checking out all the colourful fish both big and small. We saw a huge barracuda and a pretty big ray as well as large schools of tiny pilchards. It was a lovely peaceful break and we had our fill before going back to the boat. It was the first time we could enjoy a bit of relaxation in days. When we dropped the mooring we had another 100 miles to go directly into the waves towards St. Martin, but something strange had happened. The winds had dropped! Was it possible? Were we going to get lucky with calm seas on the way to St. Martin? It sure looked like it, and we kept the speed at around 28 knots all the way to St. Martin going through what were probably 4 foot waves. Lovely! We had to stop about 10 miles off to add fuel from the plastic containers, but we still managed to pull into St. Martin in time for a late lunch. I wanted to stay there for a day and to clear in properly. We knew the immigration was near the cruise terminal so approached the area slowly to see where we could dock up. As we got closer we saw a guy in a golf cart on the main cruise dock waving us down. We went closer and he said he was from the port authority and that we couldn’t be so close in a boat like ours to the Cruise Ship that was in port. We told him that we were just there to pick up some bits and pieces for the boat and would be leaving later that day or early the next morning. The guy said not to bother clearing in and to just go to Bobby’s Marina and tie up. Crazy I know, but that is St. Martin for you. The Dutch side of St. Martin has no real customs as it’s a free port, and boats usually don’t bother clearing in. It’s not legal but seems to be ignored most of the time, and in this case encouraged by an official. I have friends in St. Martin and we met up for dinner later that night after some shopping on the famous “Front Street” and securing a nice hotel as well. It ended up being a very very late night of intense partying as ali and I celebrated making it this far. Our friend Ricardi was our guide to all the late night spots and as usual was the best host in St. Martin. The next morning was a hard one, and the pounding I had experienced in the boat all the way from Florida was now taking place in my head. “I am never drinking again” I heard myself say to Ali, and with that I heard a crash of lightning outside just to add to the pain. I took a look from the hotel window to see sheets of rain falling. Oh well….we were not in a rush because we had less than 100 miles to get back to home and we could be there anytime before 8 am tomorrow morning. We didn’t feel like powering 100 miles in the rain and lightning either. My Dad who loves to know what we are up to when we are having adventures, and he was extra happy now to be able to reach us on our cell phones. He kept calling with weather updates and assured us that it was gonna clear up. He is an addicted weather junkie. With a break in the weather sometime after lunch we set off on our last ride. It was pretty bumpy but the angle was good and within 4 hours we were closing in on Jolly Harbour…..Ali shouted out “let her run” and I cranked it up to max RPM @ 6100. The Yamaha F225 four strokes seemed to enjoy the last few miles at wide open throttle and just before we slowed at the harbour mouth we were doing 53 mph on the speed-o. Mom and Dad were there to welcome us and gave us extra hugs. I think they knew how bad it had been for us after speaking to us a few days earlier. Although Ali and I were glad to be home in one piece with the boat, we were silently sad that another big adventure was over. As brothers we don't get to do them like we did in the old days. The drizzle that started as we left the boat seemed to make the reality of being back a little more sobering. Ali had a 5-midnigh shift the next day and I had a hell of a lot of Red Tape to sort out. Back to Reality!
The top photo of the Moon Jelly was taken at the baths as well as the one below of Ali in the middle of the pilchards. Enjoy!
Part 10 (published Dec 4, 2006)
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 (december 2006) 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.