This weekend, the Caribbean Explorer II will set sail from St. Maarten on its 30th Anniversary cruise. To celebrate, we are reminiscing about our first voyage! You can learn about the history of the vessel and more details about the itinerary in this previous blog post, but today, we want to highlight one of our long-time friends and a delightful fixture of the Northeastern Caribbean itinerary - Percy in St. Kitts!
Several months after beginning operation in June 1987, we decided to branch out from our normal itinerary diving St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius, and ventured a bit further south to the lush shore of St. Kitts. It was November 1987, when Taxi driver, Percy, was sitting by the dinghy dock in Basseterre, St. Kitts and watched as the original Caribbean Explorer anchored in the bay.
Percy says, "I remember it very clearly even though 30 years has passed! It was a Tuesday or Wednesday morning just after breakfast…around 8:30-9am." Captain Ron Palmer brought the dinghy in, and Percy was the first to welcome him ashore to the beautiful Caribbean island of St. Kitts. Captain Ron needed to check in and out of customs and Percy simply said, "Follow me." This is how a 30 year relationship between Explorer Ventures and a wonderful Kittitian man began!
Clay McCardell, then (as now) owner of the company, stayed aboard that day to watch the vessel, but remembers well those first few visits: “Port Zante, the current marina we use, wouldn’t exist for almost 15 years; the high commercial dock we needed to use back then jutted hundreds of feet from shore, and its wooden pilings and shifting plank deck made docking a pretty big challenge. I remember Percy taking me, the following week, to clear Customs/Immigration – the large government building sat along the shore, and you entered a maze of lizard spit green high-ceilinged rooms, with large fans swinging lazily overhead. Each room had old wooden tables groaning under the weight of stacks and stacks of entry ledgers and immigration papers. The head of Customs/Immigration sat behind an old desk in the last room, scowling and chain-smoking. I remember glancing at some of the ledgers and papers, waiting until he deigned to see me – there were ships’ manifests and entry ledgers stored there that went back 100 years! It was truly a remnant of the old Caribbean.”
In 1987, communications and shore support were hard to come by; but, Percy told the Captain that he would be there and waiting every week even throughout the off season, when most services are not available. He’s kept his word, week in and week out. Percy recognized the value of diving to the island and was ready and able to provide service at the drop of a hat.
Over the years, Percy has helped us in so many ways, from transporting guests to the boat and coordinating with on island contacts during emergencies to tracking down vital parts and even delivering bananas when we ran out. Now, as then, Percy continues to provide a tour of his beloved St. Kitts for guests looking to explore beyond the depths of the sea.
But Percy is far more than just a Taxi driver. Some years ago, after working with us for so long, he became a registered Ship’s Agent, and now can legally assist us with Customs and Immigration (along with many other things) as necessary. One thing we’ve found is that Percy knows EVERYBODY. Organizing diving in many destinations is a political exercise in many ways. Over the years, Percy has smoothed the waters for us in countless ways, from talking to the Sandy Point Fishermen’s Coop to organizing meetings with the Prime Minister to fix immigration problems.
Once a week, guests are offered the option to venture on island where they are greeted by Percy, who provides a personal island tour including the magnificent Fortress at Brimstone Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Caribelle Batik at Romney Manor, once owned by Thomas Jefferson’s great great great grandfather. Aside from its history, St. Kitts is also celebrated for its lush vegetation, stunning ocean vistas, and vibrant culture. Kittitians are known for their hospitality, kindness, and friendly smiles and Percy exemplifies all of these and more.
Percy committed himself to the service industry and tourism in 1969 with studies in history and social studies; his positive attitude comes from a mindset where he treats every day as if it were his very first day working with us. It shows, and we’ve been very lucky to share our adventures with him!
Percy ~ Our guests, crew, and team at Explorer Ventures want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for 30 years of amazing service, friendship and true Kittitian hospitality!