Boating and fishing featured largely in Eli Fuller’s childhood. His grandfather, Nick, ran a small hotel, the Lord Nelson, on the north shore of Antigua, and Eli grew up visiting the many small islands, learning about the fauna and fauna and negotiating the numerous treacherous reefs in that region. His father, John Fuller, remains a keen fisherman himself.
In the early 1980s, Nick bought wind surfing equipment auctioned off by Customs for the hotel. While guests remained unimpressed, young Eli and his friends more or less taught themselves; the Lord Nelson was an ideal location for windsurfing. This inspired Andre De Saint Phalle to establish a windsurfing school right there and, in 1985, he launched the annual Antigua Windsurfing Week. This first regatta included a race to Montserrat and 12 year-old Eli was an enthusiastic participant.
In 1988, Antigua planned to send Eli’s older and more experienced friend, Inigo Ross, to the Korean Olympics. Asked to train with him, Eli found himself more often alone due to Inigo’s other numerous commitments, so eventually Inigo suggested Eli go in his place. The young schoolboy diligently trained every day on the big, curved board, but with absolutely no wind in the months preceding the Games. Korean officials assured Eli that the conditions there would be exactly the same, so the 18 knots of wind in the first race came as a considerable shock. Things went from bad to worse: it blew 20 knots in the second race, with 15 foot waves, and the third race was cancelled due to extreme conditions. Eli hated every minute, particularly the cumbersome board, coming 31st out of 45. But he did beat Barbados and the then-USSR. Not so bad for a young lad of 16.
After graduating, Eli went to university in Florida, and open class wind surfing—naturally he raced more than he studied. He gained valuable experience with a custom-board manufacturer and sail maker, and sponsorship made it possible for him to use the latest equipment. His successes earned him a wild card entry into his first professional regatta. He started participating internationally, not only in the Caribbean but also Brazil, the Canaries, Greece, Germany, Great Britain and Hawaii. He took part in various international regattas, including HiHo, which he won outright four times, including 2009.
In Hawaii, Eli first encountered kite surfing, but did not like the idea of going downwind only. As the equipment improved, so did Eli’s interest. Back in Antigua, he encouraged fellow surfers to try out this more extreme and often dangerous sport. Kite Surfing Antigua was set up at Jabberwock Beach, just down the coast from the former Lord Nelson Hotel and with exactly the same ideal conditions. However, a broken knee with complications meant that Eli could no longer take part in the surfing circuits as a full time occupation. He started to consider other ways of making a living—so long as it had something to do with the sea.
With a minimum budget coupled with his knowledge of the north sound of Antigua, Eli introduced a small ecological tour, first on a pirogue and later on a scarab, for tourists at a time when concern for the environment was growing. As the business grew, a second powerboat with a similar focus for round the island excursions was successfully added. However, the recent rising price of fuel and the carbon footprint interest prompted Eli to look at wind power—primarily for sailing charters but also to satisfy his passion for racing.
Fascinated by the incredible speed of the Carriacou sloops in the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, he ordered one for himself in 2007. Meanwhile the owner of another half-finished Carriacou sloop, Ocean Nomad, asked him for help in completing it. They reached an arrangement and whilst waiting for his own sloop, Eli agreed to take it on. Despite every prediction to the contrary, he sailed it to Antigua arriving three days before the start of the regatta in April 2008. Frantically painting the deck and the cabin and trying to ignore the termites and mildew below, Eli and Ocean Nomad crossed the start line of the first race in good company and finished the regatta with justifiable pride in second place.
Eli spent the rest of the year getting Ocean Nomad into better shape, adding an engine, proper ballast, a head and fresh-water tanks, enthusiastically assisted by Carl Mitchell of A1 Marine, Jolly Harbor, himself originally from Grenada. In April 2009, Ocean Nomad won four prizes in the Antigua Classic Yacht regatta—a job certainly very well done.
Meanwhile Eli’s own Carriacou sloop is nearing completion and the big launch is expected to take place toward the end of this year. Traditionally, the name will only be revealed on launch day—which will be on a Sunday, after Mass—followed by a big party.
Therefore, we can look forward to seeing both Ocean Nomad and Eli’s new Carriacou sloop at the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta in April 2010—and elsewhere around the Caribbean, so that Eli can continue to satisfy his love of long distance sailing in a perfect environment.
Biologist and former Eurocrat Gilly Gobinet took up permanent residence on Antigua in the Caribbean in 1984. She has been painting and writing—and sailing—ever since. Her work can be seen at originalcaribbeanart.com