The beautiful island of St. Kitts has never been an obvious sailing destination, largely due to the absence of boatyards, good anchorages and/or marinas. However, not only has it managed to produce the splendid gaff cutter Kate, it now boasts the totally innovative Fortress Marine Ltd Boatyard, currently building a 70 ft catamaran, and an operational marina with one of the biggest lifts in the Caribbean.
The movers and shakers behind these marine projects are three friends who grew up in St. Kitts in the 1960s, Philip Walwyn, Dougie Brookes and Patrick Ryan. With a love of sailing boats in common, they participated in the various annual Caribbean regattas, such as Antigua Sailing Week, the Route du Rhum etc. Patrick, a trained pilot but unable to get a job at the time, took his first job on board a yacht and Dougie and Philip ventured into boatyards and boatbuilding.
Patrick went on to become a LIAT pilot based in Antigua and it was here that he was instrumental in setting up the Jolly Roger together with Dennis Roach from Barbados, where the first such venture was launched. The Jolly Roger was a wooden fishing boat converted into a pirate ship for tourists, and its tremendous success enabled the expansion of the company to include two catamarans, Tiami and Excellence.
The high-powered Excellence is now unrivalled in its popular day trips to Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda. Tiami, on the other hand, is a lightweight 52 ft. sailing catamaran used for cruises round and about Antigua itself. It was both designed and built by Dougie Brookes in 1985 and has been going well ever since. However, with the growth of tourism and the increasing demand for comfortable catamaran trips, the need for a similar but bigger boat became evident. Who better to do this than Dougie Brookes himself, and this is how the Fortress Marine Ltd Boatyard (www.fortressmarineltd.com) essentially came into being.
Dougie Brookes and Patrick Ryan are equal partners in the company and Philip Walwyn is a Consultant and Director. Fellow Kittitian Reg Francis is the marina and haul-out developer. His Travelift is one of the biggest in the Caribbean with a 150-ton lift and the ability to handle multihulls up to 35 ft beam.
The name of the boatyard and marina derives from its location at the bottom of Brimstone Hill, site of the famous eponymous fortress. It is also where Philip Walwyn launched Kate. Like Dougie Brookes, Philip’s has been building boats for years, and Kate is his most recent and probably his best-known venture. As his 60th birthday approached, a 60 footer seemed entirely appropriate.
When asked what was the original inspiration for Kate,he charmingly admitted to a long love affair with Metre boats, having owned three Six Metres and even having won the European Championship twenty years ago. He felt that a modern “12” to be a bit of a brute whereas First Rule boats, developed in 1906, were relatively light (at 20 tons) with a cloud of sail. Lastly there was the appeal of a gaff rig.
Kate took Philip and two men four years to complete, including building the spars and casting the 11.5 ton keel. As this took place in Philip’s back garden, 350 ft above sea level, the trip to the launch site eight miles away raised both eyebrows and cheers as the boat navigated the narrow roads before successfully setting out on its maiden trip offshore.
So far, Kate has been to the Virgin Islands for the Sweethearts Regatta and Guadeloupe on the way to Antigua for Classics in 2007 and 2008. She also sailed in the Heineken Regatta in St Martin in 2007, the Golden Rock regatta in 2008 and the Sint Maarten Classic Regatta in 2007 and 2008.
In 2009, Philip hopes to sail north to the USA and participate in all the summer’s East Coast wooden boat regattas and he is currently looking for crew, so anybody interested should get in touch with him.
In the spirit of “been there, done that,” Philip is now turning his sights to a bigger boat. Kate is also up for sale, and when he does sell her, he intends to build a 19 Metre – 95ft on deck and about 120 ft from bowsprit tip to boom end. With Fortress Marine Ltd Boatyard, all the skills necessary are available in St. Kitts and Kate has been the perfect prototype for the bigger boat.
These exciting developments in St Kitts will definitely put this beautiful island on the map as another Caribbean sailing destination. We will follow with interest the construction of the new 70 ft catamaran that Fortress Marine Ltd Boatyard is currently working on as well as awaiting completion of the marina (it seems that another marina is also planned on the Southeast Peninsula).
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