Thursday, June 26, 2008

Launching the yacht for the 2nd time

As you know if you are a regular reader of this blog, i had a traditional yacht (a.k.a. "work boat") built in the Southern Caribbean island of Carriacou. The history, tradition and process that goes into building one of these amazing yachts is something which adds incredible value to them and gives them spirit and an almost life like atmosphere once aboard. Anyway, we launched the yacht in Carriacou then had to get her rigged with a mast, boom and sails and made the 300+ mile run non stop to Antigua where we slapped a thin layer of paint on her and competed in The Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. Since then we have been trying to finish her to the point where we could do day tours and private charters in Antigua under the name Sailing Antigua. For the past 8 weeks there has been non stop work done on her and we are about to launch her for the second time with an engine and with all the additional lead ballast installed. We had thousands of dollars of paint carefully applied after very careful prep work including sanding the entire interior. Getting 3500 of lead was a whole story alone and i will save that for another day. The engine is in and the rudder was modified and finally is getting fastened today after plenty of stainless steel fabrication. Will take photos later today. This is just some news of what we have been up to. After we launch we still need to do some interior wood work, but keeping her out of the water isn't good for the wood and once the rudder work is done we should be able to launch tomorrow. May go for a sail this weekend and get some nice sailing shots. Will keep you informed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

St. Nicholas school field trip

It's becoming quite a major part of our business to take groups of kids out on private tours. After all the children's birthday parties we go into more educational and alternative field trips. As you saw last week, we took 6th grade from Island Academy to Barbuda on a camping trip. (photo above thanks to Thorsten who happened to be doing a Barbuda tour on the chopper)The most recent educational adventure we have done with children was with the 6th grade from St. Nicholas school. Mrs Dean has been a reader of this blog for some time and actually asked me to come and speak about environmental issues some time ago at the school. I spoke to 5th and 6th graders and was so impressed by how smart these little adults were. Anyway, we spoke about doing a trip back then and now just before grade six of 2008 say goodbye to the school they decided to come on my Eco Tour. A few parents, Ms. Dean and most of the class got on board with Wan Lovv, Tony and Ross at Dickenson Bay and did the regular eco tour. What makes this tour the best tour on Antigua in my opinion is that is was designed around childhood adventures that my family had up in the North Sound islands and that it has themes of history and ecology. For many Antiguans who do the tour the best part is discovering new places and learning loads of new info about an area in this small country that most people don't know about. Of course there is snorkeling, boating, beaching, wildlife, caving discovery and all the other things that make a good Caribbean adventure. According to reports on our Adventure Antigua facebook group the tour went very well. We hope to do more of these kids trips because there is no doubt that helping kids see how special these delicate and wondrous areas are will benefit the county as a whole in the future. We'll see. The photos were taken by Mandy Cheremeteff (one of the moms) and were shown on the facebook group. Thanks Mandy!

Friday, June 20, 2008

"whats the weather like in Antigua right now?"

Apart from the "Are there sharks in Antigua?" question, i think that the weather one is probably the most asked question on the internet when it comes to Antigua. If you are a regular Antigua message board reader then you will know that i have spent years trying to convince worried holiday makers not to cancel their flights by telling them that has got it wrong. All year long they say its raining in Antigua even though we are one of the driest islands in the Caribbean. We know why they get it wrong every day on their silly animated forecasts but the local government hasn't done anything about it. Oh well, i will keep telling people that its nice and sunny in Antigua unless once in a blue moon it rains like today. The radar shows more to come too. Havent seen it like this since last year and we may have a proper rainy day today. We have been in such a terrible drought here in Antigua that we have had water rationing by the Gov. All the time and yahooweather have been reporting on their silly animated 10 day forecasts relentless rain. Anyway, with all the grass almost dead and people having to truck in water to fill their empty cisterns a tropical wave has finally brought us some rain. Its been raining on and off since about 3:30 this morning. We have two tours today which are about to be cancelled. We hardly every have to do this (because it hardly rains for longer than a few minutes), but for a change today's forecast isn't looking that good. Blistering sunshine is on the cards for tomorrow, but the ship will be gone..... Oh well the dry island needs rain and we will be hot and sunny and DRY in no time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Barbuda Camping trip (Island Academy 6th grade graduation)

I know my last blog was about a trip to North Beach Barbuda and you probably are getting sick and tired from hearing about how beautiful it all is over there, but i have to tell ya about this weekend's trip. One of the parents from The Island Academy School contacted me about taking some of the Grade 6 class on a camping trip to Barbuda. It sounded like something new and fun so i geared up with the owners of North Beach to offer them a good rate on this adventure. We left Jolly Harbour with 15 kids and 10 adults some time around 11 am on Sunday. We had just loaded enough bags to stay a few weeks even though it was just a one night trip. Ross and I couldn't believe how much stuff people were bringing, but the boat handled the weight well. We were in Barbuda in about 90 minutes. We cruised up the West coast counting turtle tracks along the pink sand beach. It is nesting season now of course. We got to Cedar Tree point and anchored for a lunch stop and a swim. Just as i mentioned the words swim, we spotted the little sharks. There were quite a few little reef sharks swimming up and down the shoreline looking for pilchards. I explained that this most wonderful threatened species gets its start in the shallow inshore habitats at this time of the year once the mommy sharks have given birth to them. I told the kids how the mom's know by instinct that they have to leave the area once they had birthed their young ones so that they wouldn't mistake them for their next meal. Upon hearing that the mom's had gone back out to sea two or three of the kids jumped in. We were only a few meters from the shore but i was still impressed at how brave these kids were. Before long we were on board again going further up towards North Beach which would be our camp for the night. We were going to use one of the cottages for showers and the pavilion as a dinner spot, but the tents would be sleeping quarters for the group. Ross and i would be sleeping on the boat. Once tents were up I took some of the kids up the coast on a beach combing mission. You know from my blogs that i love inspecting the flotsam and jetsam, and i had told the kids that we would probably find at least one message in a bottle. Most of them didn't believe it, but one little girl was very confident and walked ahead eagerly checking each washed up bottle. I collected my usual string of fishing floats which i hang around our boat lift and at my home all the while looking for messages. Its incredible what floats up.......far too much. Some of the kids found a large wooden spool that i suppose must have contained cable at some point but was now lodged in the sand just of the shore. They pretended to sit around it so that i would take a photo of them. That would have been the perfect lunch spot and it reminded me of how we started the company doing the "eco tour" way back in 1999. These photos were taken by Roddy during the early days of "eli's eco tour". hahaHow time flies along at a rate of knots! This photo looks like it was taken just yesterday. That boat is now in Thailand!Anyway, a few minutes later the little girl who had been searching so hard for a bottle managed to find one. There were moisture in the bottle and most of the ink was gone, but we could tell it had been sent from a German cruise ship somewhere in the Atlantic way back in 1998 when these kids were only a year old. Crazy but true. I think the message must have been stuck in the sargasso sea or something, but here is was ten years later on a beach in the Caribbean. Some of the kids thought i had left it on the beach for them. I had heard this from a grown man once before while doing a charter here in Barbuda. Some people just find it hard to believe. Why?
We were gone for a few hours and by the time we got back it was time for tea and showers. The kids quickly got into a hard core game of volley ball and something else very noisy while the adults got dinner sorted out. A large mass of fire wood had been collected by the kids and they kept asking me when they could start the fire. The sun was still up, but they wanted the fire. I told them that after dinner and when it got dark we would light it. One of the kids asked me if he could light it with his own little box of matches. I laughed and said that i would let him try once it got dark. I asked him how many matches it would take for him to light it. He said one match would probably do it but at the most he would use two. I laughed again, but later after dinner he astonished me with a fantastic fire set with just one match. How did he get that good? I was scared to find out....
Anyway, the fire lasted all night and so did the kids. When Ross and i left them in care of the parents back in the North Beach base is was after 10:30 pm and they looked no more tired than when we first saw them that day. Out on the boat the moon was bright enough for Ross and i to go for a little snorkel session without underwater flash lights. It was a pretty cool experience, but once back on the boat the the shower was very cold. It didn't take long for both of us to fall asleep. At 4:30 i woke up and in the distance could see kids still playing by the fire. I was so happy to have moved off shore for the night. Orders to the kids were given fairly early the next morning. Tents were to be packed up before b'fast and once we had all had some eggs we were to load the boat. The first part of the orders went as planned but the loading was done mostly by Ross, an adult and me while the kids kayaked and played in the sea. I couldn't blame them though as when i was their age i could never get enough. We were on the move after saying goodbye to the guys at North Beach before 10 am and cruised slowly down the coast above the amazingly colourful waters that are typical there. The plan was to go to "Louis Beach" which is where ocean waves generated by Hurricane Louis washed through the beach and made another entrance into the lagoon. It was now covered up but still called Louis Beach. Boats from Codrington Village were going to collect the gang and taken them to the Frigate Bird Sanctuary deep inside the mangrove habitat. I stayed back and made lunch which was just finished in time for their return. After lunch and a little playing in the pink sand we cruised up to Coco Point for a little snorkeling before our cruise back to Antigua. Ross took a group of little ones and a few parents outside the reef and managed to see a small hawksbill turtle as well as many other fish. One of the kids who had never snorkeled before said she saw a "dorey" fish: "the one like in finding nemo". The ride back wasn't too bumpy and we were in Jolly before 4 pm. All in all it had been a fun trip and Ross and i were going to sleep very well that night. I am sure that everyone had a good time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An adventure in Barbuda with friends...(photo story)

Even though the real name for the country is Antigua and Barbuda, most people only know of it as Antigua. Barbuda hasn’t just been left out of the name but has been left out when it comes to most things associated with this twin island nation. Those of us who know Barbuda and grew up spending loads of time camping there have tried to keep it secret. My dad and his brothers used to do the 26 mile Atlantic crossing on little Boston whalers when they were teenagers spending a week or two camping and fishing on the deserted coastlines. As soon as I was old enough I started taking the pirogue seen in this pic over as well. I think I was about 15 on my first trip and even though I have been doing regular “Buda” trips ever since then, I never get tired of the adventure. Long time friend and former kitesurfing student (haha), Andre Phillip, told me recently that he’d like to go over for a session with some kite gear and asked if I’d be interested in shooting a few pics of the adventure. If he had mentioned it several years ago I would have laughed at the idea. You see, many of us have tried for generations to keep this hidden jewel from being discovered. It was working well until the internet changed everything. Photos and stories of the once hidden paradise are now appearing all over the net. Everything from hotel booking sites, to message boards, to photo sharing sites, to blogs. Although Barbuda isn’t our little secret anymore, I hope stories like this one will help people see what makes the place special. First settled by Amerindian natives some 4000 years ago, Barbuda’s name before the Spaniards arrived in 1493 was Wa’omoni. The Spanish named the island Barbuda but never settled on the dry inhospitable place. The British started a colony there in 1666 and later the island was leased by the monarchy to Christopher Codrington for one fat sheep a year. What a good deal that was. For hundreds of years the small village there survived partially on subsistence farming, but it was the sea that brought bounty to the islanders and it wasn’t just in the form of fresh seafood. There are probably more ship wrecks there per mile than anywhere else in the Atlantic and over the years we have snorkeled on too many to remember. Being extremely low lying and the most North Eastern island in the Caribbean archipelago ships slightly off coarse never knew it was there until the sound of the breakers told them it was all too late. The deep Atlantic gets pushed up from the abyss to a treacherous and sharp coral barrier stretching the entire windward coastline, and with no lights at all on the coast, ships met their end there all too often.
Speaking of boats meeting their end on Barbuda, my girlfriend thought it was gonna be our turn as we left Antigua last Friday. IT was blowing and the shallow passage made those short 9-12 foot waves stand up pretty tall. Thank goodness we were not doing the crossing on the old pirogue. This time we were on Xtreme, my company’s 40 foot off shore power boat designed to be out in the rough Atlantic. I know some readers will say “impossible” but we maintained 25 knots and were in the lee of Barbuda’s 14 mile deserted beach within an hour. The boat was built to carry 23 passengers and 3 crew in almost any seas and easily handled the pounding crossing. One good thing about the strong winds was that Dre was gonna get to do some powered kiting. Without a proper north ground swell the barrier reef was a mess and looked impossible to shoot anyone kitesurfing safely. Instead we opted for some shallow flat-water action with the rays and turtles near “fishing creek”. Parrot fish and others have been making sand from Barbuda’s coral reefs for millennia and perfect sandy beaches, sand banks and sea scapes create breathtaking vistas in every direction. While the crew sat down for the show Dre dazzled and I tried to record the awe. After getting his fill we all went to the beach for some chill time. Actually, we had two newbie kitesurfers on board who had to get out there after the inspirational show Dre had just delivered. The rest of us went off beachcombing. Barbuda has over 15 miles of deserted windward facing shoreline as well and collects all variety of flotsam and jetsam. Beachcombing has been one of my life long passions there and finding messages in bottles and other interesting bits and pieces is a sure thing if you keep your eyes open. Mykl and I found two messages…..well almost two. One was a perfect message in a bottle and the other was two single us dollar bills. Quite often the ink fades or gets washed off by months and sometimes years of condensation. Anyway, when we opened them later the money had no ink other than Uncle Sam’s very own unwashable green. The other bottle had a very interesting message send from the island on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands off Africa. That huge circular Atlantic current goes clockwise connecting the canaries, Africa, the Caribbean, the USA and its gulf stream, Newfoundland, Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, and back to Africa. We have found messages from all of those areas which have drifted up on Barbuda’s windward shoreline. While Olly and JD did a perfect and picturesque kitesurfing downwinder, we followed in Xtreme doing a little fishing. All seven of us were going to be staying at North Beach Cottages which is a locally owned “hotel” on a deserted stretch of sand out in the middle of nowhere. In other words we had the perfect place to spend the weekend. Reuben, the owner built these cottages just after a category 5 hurricane flattened his last attempt back in 1995. The three little cottages are built around a central pavilion and kitchen. All food and drinks are provided and all you have to do is enjoy the idyllic natural surroundings of your own private bit of paradise. The only other souls you see while staying there are the occasional fishermen going past after making the 30 minute trip from town. We had a blast and Dre made the most of the protected shoreline adjacent to the property. Late in the afternoon and again in the morning he sessioned the point just five minutes walk from our cottages. Kitesurfing within this natural coastal environment made Dre extremely proud to call this home. Its one thing to go with a bunch of industry associates on a work related adventure to some remote exotic shore somewhere hidden in the pacific ocean, but being right at home with a few friends doing it for real is way more rewarding and relaxing. Reuben, the owner of North Beach, is a long time family friend and let us do our own thing after showing us how to run the generator and reverse osmosis system. With the old pirogue from my childhood days, we caught fish for dinner and explored the mangrove inlets at the entrance of the lagoon. The incredible eco systems worked in harmony around us as we visited as if aliens secretly viewing a far off planet. As I said earlier, I won’t ever get tired of doing this kinda stuff and I pray that the people of Barbuda don’t allow big hotels to come in and spoil it all. There is only one large hotel and even that isn’t that big. Before making our crossing back to Antigua, two nights and three days after arriving, we made a stop at the closest point to home. Coco Point that is. Coco Point Lodge was started in 1962 as fishing and hunting lodge by a wealthy New York lawyer. I read his book once and he described chartering a plane in Puerto Rico and searching for the Caribbean’s most perfect beach. There isn’t much doubt in our minds that he found it back then and its perfect for just about everything including kitesurfing. As we arrived on Xtreme we noticed that guests staying there had about 5 little kites flying from the palm covered beach. With 164 acres of land on its very own peninsular, the 34 hotel rooms have amazing views of both the Atlantic on the windward side and the Caribbean Sea on the lee side. Dre and Olly had to experience the views from a different perspective….from the water! Wow it was beautiful to see even from behind the viewfinder, and as if the wind gods were listening to my girlfriend, it started to get light just when we were ready to make the move back to Antigua. The fast ride home was smooth, and we were back in port with plenty of time to get washed up and run off to the cricket match with bottles of rum in toe. Cricket is another Caribbean story all together!