It was morning in the British Virgin Islands. The warm salty breeze was working its way though the buffet line at the Bitter End Yacht Club (BEYC) in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda. There's nothing quite like starting the morning with a plate full of eggs, sticky buns, pastries, bacon, and fresh tropical fruit under a thatched umbrella three feet from the waters edge. That salty breeze streaming in over the glowing blue Gorda Sound mixed with the wonderful delights on our plates, waking up ALL of our senses. In other words, just your usual ho-hum Caribbean morning.
The crew was enjoying a blissfully serene start to the day ashore when an old friend, someone who had previously managed watersports at the BEYC pulled up to the clubhouse dock in a large glowing white RIB from Necker Island. He hopped out dockside after a quick tie off he caught our eyes table-side. We were sitting with the Irish contingent of the Mayday Crew who we're pretty well known around these parts. He raised show horses, she an equine-sport Olympian and one of the top veterinarians for the Irish Government. Our old friend walked up in his bright white polo and matching "Necker Island" shorts and greeted us with a hearty "good morning!" Then he asked if it were true that one of us in the crew had experience with animals. Our Irish crewmember raised her head slightly and said curiously, "Yes, why?" This created a big smile on his face, like it was all a joke, but it wasn't. Not in the slightest. He was smiling because what he was about to ask was as strange as it was intriguing. And funny had he been kidding around. He began, "If you guys have a few hours free today, we could sure use your help on Necker Island." Then he filled us in, which left us all laughing, slightly confused, yet ready to help.
For those who don't know, Necker Islands is Sir Richard Branson's private island and home. An invitation here is rare. You see our friend needed some help and an expert on hand. This is where our friend the Irish veterinarian came in. Expected within the next couple of hours was a fresh batch of Flamingo's. He explained, "Richard doesn't clip the wings of the birds to keep them on island. He wants them to be free and stay on their own accord. Some do, some don't". The new Flamingo's were in special crates and were arriving via a private charter flight from Cuba. They then were boated to Necker, but it all had to be done in a short amount of time to prevent the big pink birds from stressing out. That's where we came in.
Our friend and his glowing RIB headed back after we assured him we'd be there. A couple hours later, we loaded into a dinghy and prepared to shove off when some folks we had met at the yacht club walked up and asked what we had on our plate for the day. So we told them, "Just heading to Necker to help keep flamingos from stressing out". Blank stares. "No really you guys, what's the plan for the day?" one asked. "Really, that's the plan" we answered. "Ok, well if you don't want to tell us..." and they walked off.
We drove the dinghy carefully as we approached the cut in the Eustasia Reef. The bow pointed at the sky for a brief moment as we rolled up, then over the nearly breaking swell at the deepest spot on the reef (which isn't very deep). With the only obstacle in our way out of the way, we let er rip across the chop between Eustasia Island and Necker, pulling into the work dock on Necker Island only a few min later.
A large blue tug of sorts was already there, beginning the process of unloading the Flamingos. They sat two to a crate, separated by a dividing wall. Each had a seat where they rested and lots of ventilation. We mustered ashore where we received a crash course from an avian expert on how to handle the birds, how to hold them, how to carry, and how to take off their diapers. Huh? Diapers. Yes, diapers. That was a surprise to us too. But not the weirdest part of the briefing. Our expert slid the top off of one of the crates, and carefully lifted a beautiful bright pink flamingo out. Sure enough, it had diapers on. He cradled its body like a running back does with a football, tucking its head under its wing to help keep it calm. Now it really looked like a football, all-be-it one with long skinny legs. Then his assistant walked behind him removing the diaper. But it's what he did next that surprised us the most. He began stroking and massaging its legs. Curious glances and a few giggles and off color jokes bounced around our crew. "So, whatcha doing back there with its legs?" came the inevitable question. Apparently, their legs get a bit sleepy when they sit for shipping. Part of our job was to help get things moving, quite literally in this case.
We lined up in twos to retrieve the crates and flamingos from the old blue tug. The crates were wooden, standing about 4 feet tall and 2 and half feet wide. The crates had some heft, but lifting with two people, we were able to off load smoothly, gliding the crate through the air as softly as we could knowing the delicate cargo inside. Shore side the top slipped off and it was time to pick up the first flamingo. Capt. Kev was the first. Reaching in he lifted a neon pink flamingo out of the crate doing his best wildlife expert imitation, tucking its head carefully under the wing and assumed the Heisman Trophy position with the bird cradled in one arm. Another crewmember swung in behind removing the diaper. Captain Kev made his way up the ankle deep powdery sand to the salt pond. It has been section offed from the local flock by a fence to allow the new birds some time to assimilate. Standing at the edge of the water our wise captain realized he was missing something. Namely his partner, who opted to stay back and help with the second bird in the offloaded crate.
Capt. Kev gently set the tall flamingo on its webbed feet, but it wasn't ready to stand just yet. It was then that Sir. Richard appeared walking down the trail. "Looking good! Need some help?" "Yes Sir! That would be great came the reply". Like an expert, Richard stepped behind the snuggly held flamingo, wrapped his hands around one leg each and began gently rubbing the length of each. Within a min, our little flamingo football was ready to stand on it's own two feet again. Capt. Kev set the pink yard ornament at the waters edge, slowing easing its weight down. It stood only a moment before making a beeline for the fence in the middle of the salt pond to get a better look at the local flock. One down, 34 more to go.
Walking out of the salt pond, Richard turned to Capt. Kev and said jokingly with a his trademark smile, "Next time, I'll do the holding and you can do the stroking."
When every bird was unpacked and accounted for, being the gentleman that he is, Sir Richard invited us up for a drink. Which being the fools we are we thanked him and declined. Actually, there is some logic here. For one, we figured it had already been a surreal day. There we're no additional thanks needed. And second, the sun was starting to go down. True, sundowners with a billionaire on his private island is probably once in a lifetime thing, but there was also the reality that if we did stay for drinks, we'd be driving a dinghy at night, across a shallow breaking reef, to a destination on the other side of Eustasia Island. Probably with a light buzz. Next time we're asked to help with flamingos on Necker Island, we'll anchor close by. Drinks were in order after a day like this, so we thanked our host and his flamingos, they thanked us for spending the day helping, and we were off cruising easy with the sun setting into the Caribbean Sea off our stern as made our to the Pub at Bitter End. Pulling up we saw the same folks we saw when we set out that day. "So what did you guys do today" one asked. "Spent the day uncraiting flamingos, removing their diapers and hiking to the salt pond on Necker" shot the response from on of our crew. "Come on guys, really? You wont tell us?" Capt. Kev spoke up, "Actually if you really want to know, they are leaving something out. The part about massages." Quickly on of our new yacht club acquaintances said, "See, they really went and spoiled themselves getting massages!" And just as quickly the captain answered, "No, no, no, not for us, the flamingos!" The crew broke out laughing. "You guys still putting us on, huh?!" We were ready to get a drink so we let them have it their way. "Yea, your right, we like to mess with people, now, lets get a drink!" As we climbed out of the dinghy, one in the yacht club group noticed something. "There's something pink on your shirts. She asked, you really did work with flamingos today." Captain Kev replied, "Why don't you come up to the bar and buy us drinks and we'll tell you all about it."
- Charter Review: The Moorings 5800 Ocean Suite by Captain Kev
- Charter Review: VOYAGE Charters, VOYAGE 520 Silver Lining by Capt. Kev