Charter Advisors Special Feature
A Wild Time On Necker Island
by Capt. Kev
The morning sun rose behind our villa on Scrub Island casting a soft warm glow on the Caribbean Sea and Camino Island across the passage. The sounds of sea-birds and surf filled the morning air. It was a "perfect" Caribbean morning by any measure, but I was a little more ready to get out of bed on this particular morning. I had been invited to Necker Island for the day along with my family. My wife and kids were just as eager as I was for the day ahead. For my wife this is understandable, she loves going to Necker Island. My kids on the other hand, they generally hear "blah-blah-blah Island." Let's just say I drag them to more islands than they can probably remember. The excitement of sailing to an "island" in the tropics isn't quite as shiny as it used to be, unless it's Necker Island. In this case I'm pretty sure the kids heard "blah-blah-blah Lemur's, blah-blah-giant tortoises, blah-blah-blah flamingos!" It's true, all this is there on Necker, along with Sir Richard Branson from time to time, so yes, wildlife does indeed abound. And the rare type you don't usually get to see up-close, in person. I'm talking about the lemurs and such, not Richard (though I can understand if you got that mixed up). Before I get too far, it's likely you won't ever visit this enchanted place.
I don't mean to get you down but there are only a couple of ways to hang out on Necker Island. Option one, rent the whole island for a week or more. How much? As the saying goes, "If you have to ask..." Exactly. Or if you have no plans to sell your house in exchange for a lavish, bucket-list vacation, talk with my friend Gumption. This option is only 60 bucks a person but you will still need to get the ok to go. If you do, you'll get a few hours on glorious Necker Island, but that's about all you need to dehydrate and see a good majority of the island. Thankfully Gumption's supply of bottled water is plentiful!
Gumption is a local BVI Islander (belonger in island terms). He owns "Sea It Clear" glass bottom boat tours operating in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. His glass bottom boat tours quickly evolved after a few informal and formal meetings with Sir Richard Branson (the informal taking shape in a kite boarding / windsurfing trek from Necker to Anegada across the notorious 13 mile Anegada passage). Taking a shine to Gumption and his desire to do more, Richard and he joined forces. This led to Gumption's "Sea it Clear" Tours aboard his glass bottom boat and the special Necker Island wildlife tours, which we were about to partake.
It goes like this... Become a Friend of "Sea It Clear" on Facebook. Watch for tour dates. When something fits with your schedule, let Gumption know through the page that you'd like to be on the tour. After getting the "ok," you'll be notified if you are invited to come to Necker. Needless to say, security is tight and privacy of those on Necker must be observed (or is that unobserved as observing privacy wouldn't exactly be private, would it?).
We met Gumption in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda along with one other lucky family. Climbing into the glass bottom boat, the kids were instantly memorized by the big window in the bottom of the hull. Fish of every color of the rainbow swam lazily by under the boat right up to the point the engine roared to life. Fish darted, lines were untied, and we were on our way! I've made the trip from the North Sound to Necker before. It's a very shallow run even when you know the way through the reef. With the glass bottom I got a new perspective on just how shallow it really is. Passing Saba rock the seabed suddenly juts up to meet you. Coral heads and reefs stud the way like a beautiful, naturally random obstacle course, one Gumption knew like the back of his own hand. Nearing the cut in Eustasia reef, the waves built (driven a little bigger on this day from an unrelenting 20 knot sea breeze). Making our way over the frothy reef cut (and I do mean up and over) the seas became a steady wind-blown chop for the last 5 min. of our run to the dock at Necker Island. The sea state at the dock wasn't much better. Pulling into a rolling dock is always a challenge, but one handled by Gumption with, well, gumption! Once tied to the dock, the excitement in the boat swelled to at least match the excitement of the seas. Everyone was ready to experience whatever was in-store! Even I was antsy and ready to get a move on. I had never seen a giant tortoise or lemur before. The closest I ever got was watching "King Julian" from the movie "Madagascar" with my kids on movie night.
Gumption led our group of twelve people up the sandy path away from the dock. Rounding the palm and cacti laced corner we got our first look at the lemurs sitting in a very large netted off area. When I say large, I mean large. It was pretty clear; the nets were not there to keep lemurs in as much as they were there to keep predators out. The lemurs were off in the distance enjoying the shade, so we moved on. Gumption had plenty more surprises yet. After only a few more minutes of walking, I saw what has to be the biggest shelled animal I've seen in my life. Giant tortoises! Not in a pen, not in a cage, just hanging out under a tree. How cool is that!?
They had feet like a mini elephant, a neck as long as a moray eel, and a shell so large that it could easily be mistaken for a city car; this was Jurassic-era exotica on display. Seven in all were hanging out, getting lunch from their caretaker. Within minutes I had my daughter sitting with one of these giants for a picture. It was at this moment I turned officially into a tourist for the first time in over a decade. I couldn't resist! I was bordering on giddy! And I have to admit it was fun. Island regulars often pride ourselves on our "non-tourist" credentials. What a load of crap. If you're not a "belonger" or a resident, you're a tourist. It's just how it is. But I'm realizing that's ok. Being a tourist is letting go. Being a non-tourist "regular" is an exercise in self-centered indulgence while still being a tourist (which just might be worse)! Lesson learned. The tortoises somehow, unwittingly set me straight. I became lost in a sense of awe for these dramatically oversized animals. It was like witnessing some fairy tail creature come alive in front of me as they slowly animated themselves. Apparently I wasn't the only one. Gumption waxed poetic about how the long neck of the tortious reminded him of a creature out of the classic fairy tail "Never-ending Story." And he was right too. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the creature in the story, but I knew instantly what he was talking about.
We continued down the path, then up, then down again until at long last I impaled my flip-flopped foot on a rather large spiny cactus. Luckily the entire branch of the thing broke off and attached itself to my leg. On the up side the needles we're long and stout for easy pricking and plucking. A handful of prickers later, I rejoined the rest of the group who abandoned me to die in Richard Branson's back yard (not really). After exiting the "death by a thousand pricks" path (my name, others preferred, "beautiful" and "Breathtaking"), we found ourselves on a shell-filled beach on the other side of the island. To our right the Caribbean, to the left a great big salt pond filled with flamingos! There were more than I could count in varying color from bright pink to stark white, the younger ones still getting their "pink." I had a previous adventure here with these birds years before involving diapers and lots of massaging, but that's a story for another time. It was really nice to see them again as their presence is voluntary. From what I can gather Sir Richard refuses to clip their wings. He wants them to stay on their own accord. And it looks like they aren't going to be leaving anytime soon. I share their sentiment (after eradicating the island of cacti of course).
Flamingo pictures taken, we resumed our hike. Now in the heat of the day, the cool salty sea breeze carving though the palms felt nothing short of awesome. But unknown to us, an unmentioned treat was right around the corner. This time it was a small flock of Ibis. Nearly a dozen of them. I'm not a bird watcher or anything like that, but I do know that there are no Ibis left in the Caribbean. Well, up until the very ones we we're looking at made residency on Necker Island a short time ago. They went extinct 100 million years ago and are being brought back to life on this tropical island. Actually no, I'm thinking of "Jurassic Park," it was actually more like a hundred some odd years ago, and they aren't being brought back to life. More like reintroduced. Heck, we have a billionaire, a remote island, and extinct animals coming back, the story fits. But this is not a flight of fantasy from some Hollywood big wig. Reality here is so much better than anything Hollywood can come up with. No raptors, (thank you God) just beautiful Ibis, standing half the height of a flamingo but wearing a few shades brighter pink and a longer thinner, slightly curved beak. Think 80's fuchsia. Damn beautiful if you ask me. Richard is reintroducing this once native bird, starting with the very ones standing in front of me. Amazing. The rarity and the specialness of this opportunity caught me off guard. How often do you get to see and experience the "only" of anything these days. I was surprised by my own reaction to seeing these rare Ibis let alone the only flock in the Caribbean. Being steps away (no netting or cages mind you) from such a rarity felt very special indeed.
"The tour must be winding down," I said to my family. At least that's what I was thought. We had already seen more than Gumption billed for the tour. But the tour didn't end. We took a turn toward another area set up for lemurs and for a beautiful, big, glowing white cockatiel named Bella. I know because she told me. "HELLO BELLA," "HELLO BELLA" she said with a squawk. I assume that meant hi, my name is Bella. Either that or the little freak was calling me Bella. Glad I didn't think of that when I was sitting next to it. Just then, Gumption motioned for us to follow him, so we did.
More lemurs! Lots of them! And not behind a net, they we're behind my head, at my feet, next to my shoulder, and filling the trees over our heads. I couldn't believe we were actually with these little crazy things. Actually they were quite docile. And looked like a cross between a monkey and a cat. Feline features in their face and monkey hands, feet and tail (still furry though). Strange little things, lemurs. Interesting, but strange none-the-less and apparently quite rare. These were Ring Tail lemurs. All rescued from, shall we say, less than optimal conditions in their previous places of residence. But now they live in paradise. One that's natural and extremely spacious. Gumption reminded us that these are still "beasts" to keep us from forgetting cute or not, take care. These wild animals are still wild, but they have better care than even the most domesticated human I know. None of our group was noticeably phased by his "beasts" comment though. They are just so damn cute. And, I figured if one decided to try to turn my finger into a breakfast sausage, the worst that could happen is an extended stay on Necker. But none of these little docile things helped me test this theory. Oh well, some theories are best untested I suspect.
We fed the lemurs water from our water bottles, and did our best to move slowly, showing them our best "non-aggressive" friendly (no teeth) smiles. The calmer we were, the more of the lemur crew came to check us out. It's an odd surreal experience. Surrounded by a community of animals who have a curiosity all their own. We were in their world. In there home, and looking into that lemur crowd, the piercing golden eyes punctuating their stark grey faces. I was struck by a sense of freakish awe, again. An awesome weirdness that everyone (kids included) should experience. Gumption explained that these tours help raise awareness to the shrinking numbers of lemurs and the need to take extra care now before numbers dwindle further. It's true, extinction is something you DO want to get out in front of. Not much you can do after.
Leaving our new little buddies, we headed back down a wide sandy path where we stopped for a water break. I found a spot of shade and took a seat. Then I looked up and realized what was giving me shade. It was a small house sitting on tall stilts just above my head. It was the size of an overgrown tree house. Gumption said it was the Necker Library. It was all teak with a woven thatch roof and would not have looked out of place in some exotic location in Bali. But as it sat, it didn't look out of place in this exotic location either! I had to check this out. With permission, I climbed the tall ladder up to a curved entryway. Stepping up there was just enough room to stand in the middle and a small window on the opposite side, perfect for a birds-eye view of the natural beauty of Necker Island. Along the base of one wall sat a basket full of books and a thick colorful sitting mat and pillows for reading. Now this is how to do a library. A handful of favorite books, a salty sea breeze, in a bali-style hut on stilts. This was yet another Caribbean "happening" I'd never imagined, let alone done. It's times like this that prove this latitude is good for me. Heck, it's good for all of us!
Leaving our rest stop and my library turned happy napping place, back on the big sandy path, we passed one last group of lemurs. Red Lemurs. These guys are on the endangered list and indeed running out of time. Like the ibis, seeing these little red-ish furry guys was a special privilege, but even more so. Red lemurs are not just missing in some parts of the world, they have just about disappeared worldwide. The red lemurs were also rescued and now have a long lease on life. We didn't interact with these guys like the ring tail lemurs, but that's understandable.
A short walk later we were back were we started. Our time on Necker Island had come to an end. But what an experience! Too bad you'll probably never get to go. I do mean that (sorry, don't want to come off as being harsh). It's not because you won't be "selected," but simply because of the limited number of tours, limited number of people allowed on each tour, and the fact that Necker is a remote island accessible only by a small boat from a neighboring island that you'll also need a boat to get to (or helicopter if you're the type that will be renting the whole of Necker Island). But I do encourage you to try. To quote a recent movie... "ENCOURAGEMENT!"
Remember the secrete... Log on to Facebook, search for Sea It Clear Tours in the British Virgin Islands and become a fan. Gumption posts when tours are coming up and when new tours have been added. You can make a reservation (space allowing) by contacting Gumption directly through his Facebook page. Don't say I never did anything for ya'll. I know, we could just provide the link, but what fun is that?
Charter Often! But don't forget to check out what's on those islands you're sailing by. You never know what you might be missing! And in the case of visiting Necker Island, remember all it takes is Gumption!
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