The Pineapple House

The Pineapple House in Antigua is to youth hostels what a Rolex is to wrist bands, it covers all the same area whilst achieving something altogether more spectacular.

Despite feeling like you’re nestled in the midst of a tropical rainforest the place is in fact just a minutes walk from the Super Yacht hub that is English harbour and a stones throw from the Caribbean sea.18083706_10158606207825055_1623539110_o (1)

I first stayed at The Pineapple house in 2013. I flew into Antigua on the 23rd of December, when my taxi driver asked me where I wanted to go I assumed “Take me to Pineapple House” would suffice, it did not, after suggesting that it must be somewhere near a lot of yachts we fortunately made our way to English Harbour.

The prospect of spending Christmas alone, away from all family and friends on the other side of an ocean is never going to be a good one. However no person could ask for a better surrogate family for the festive period, or indeed any other time of year, than the one I found at The Pineapple House.18159805_10158625620520055_147699917_o

The moment I knocked on the door the top half of a very pretty blonde girl (the likes of which are often found staying at The Pineapple) popped up on the main veranda “Just push the door and come up, it should be open” was the advice. So it was and so I did. I was given a brief tour, the main hall of the house offers four queen size four posters, two lounging areas, a communal bathroom and a kitchen. The rest of the Pineapple House is spread out over the hill behind the main house, with a selection of beds away from the hustle and bustle of the main house and a range of beautiful private cottages for those desiring a little more personal space.

I chose a bed at the far end of the main hall, boxed in by banana tree leaves on two sides and enclosed all round with mosquito netting, it was to be my home for the next week or so.
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I’d no sooner dropped my bag than a trio of fellow work seeking house mates invited me to join them for a run. We ran/ scrambled around the “Goat’s Trail”, swum across the mouth of English Harbour to Galleon beach, playing a quick game of water polo with a floating coconut on our return swim then ended the day with a few infamously strong rum punches up at Shirley Hights where a live band plays every Sunday.

Christmas at Pineapple was a fantastic experience. I made the obligatory Skype call with parents then it was up for a champagne breakfast with the new family. After filling a cooler with more champagne and, of course, rum, we marched down to Nelson’s Dockyard. We spent the day basking on the lawn or sprawled under the palm trees that grow there, occasionally dousing ourselves in the ocean before returning to the grassy dance floor to jam with reggae santa. I made friendships that day that will last a lifetime.
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The Pineapple could almost be considered more of a social club than a crew house. The heady mix of sailors, locals and holiday makers that gather most evenings in the main house is what really brings life to the cluster of buildings on a hill. A constant supply of rum punch is always to be relied on, drunk solely from left over jars of various shapes and sizes, people were drinking from mason jars at the Pineapple long before hipsters turned it into a cliché. If you do end up staying in one of the beds in the main house it is best to adopt an attitude of “If you can’t beat em, join em” as what can start as a few quite drinks on the balcony will often escalate into a full-scale, dancing on the bar, swinging from the chandeliers (don’t), crew party and indeed The Pineapple House boasts quite an impressive PA system.
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Over my three winters I spent in Antigua I would regularly pop up to see what was happening in the house, not to stay there as I had my own accommodation but to meet friends and usually just to check out how the party was. Without fail upon entering I would be embraced in an almighty bear hug from Libby. Libby is the owner, proprietor and designer of The Pineapple house. She is a fantastic woman who exudes love and compassion, she’s always the first to suggest a party and would be the first person I’d turn to if I got myself into any difficulties in Antigua.
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I recently stayed for a week in the “Rum Jungle” one of the private cottages, just below the main house, actually vacationing for the first time in over five years. It was just the perfect place for a solo traveler to stay and I loved my week there. I would make myself some eggs in the morning before walking the five minutes the beach, where I could spend most of the day just drinking banana coladas with my book. I ended up racing on the classic yacht “Adix” for two days, after two other Pineapple House residents suggested I should invite myself on board,  I even won the gig racing event in The Pineapple’s own little gaff rigged “Scruffy”.

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I found myself becoming quite emotional packing my bags on my last night, listening to José González probably didn’t help. Many great memories have blossomed at The Pineapple and I’m already counting the days, though I don’t know how many there may be, until I have reason to return.

As it’s written above the door “Heres to the nights that turn into mornings and friends that turned into family.”18175372_10158626616560055_1136906797_o

Everything happens for a reason, really.

Everything happens for a reason, when one door closes another door opens, what will be will be, they’re all classic clichés that people love to post with inspirational text on social media. No doubt most will scoff and scroll on by. Perhaps though these posters have a point. I thought I’d try my hand at […]

Everything happens for a reason, when one door closes another door opens, what will be will be, they’re all classic clichés that people love to post with inspirational text on social media. No doubt most will scoff and scroll on by. Perhaps though these posters have a point. I thought I’d try my hand at one of these “inspirational” musings and write about why I do happen to believe that life may not be quite as random and tragic as it seems at times.

I was distraught when I was sacked from my dream job in Greece. I’d been having the time of my life working on that beach. I was working with amazing people, making friendships that would last for life and I had an absolutely cracking tan. I bawled my eyes out the whole trudge back to my accommodation after the blow was dealt, I hadn’t cried like that since I was a child.

After a week at home, most of which I spent in bed feeling very sorry for myself, I went out for a sail, we rafted up alongside a motor boat owned by a man I’d never met before. We chatted for maybe half an hour about how the sailing I’d done and how I was somewhat between jobs at the time. After which he casually offered me some work helping him cruise his other, much larger, yacht around the Bahamas, I obviously jumped at the opportunity.

I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t been sacked from that dream job. I was so disappointed at the time, everything had been leading up to being on that beach. It was really all I had planned for and then without warning the sandy rug was pulled from under my feet and I landed back in a very cold and wet Scotland, it was almost snowing when I arrived back in August. Now looking back I thank my lucky stars for losing me that job, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be where I am now.

This became something of a theme in my life, massive disappointment followed by life altering always for the better.

Doors

My next fiasco occurred when I was working in a ski resort the following winter, the job in the Bahamas didn’t come to fruition for another year or so. I had been offered another job on another beach in Greece, the company sounded like a lot of fun and people who I knew said they were so much better than the last company I’d worked for. I was couldn’t wait to start so I found myself in tears once again when I broke my leg, meaning that I would spend my summer in crutches rather than on the Island of Lesvos. After I had recovered from my spiral fracture but before the company found a new place for me I had time to sail with a sail training charity called Ocean Youth Trust Scotland. It was during this time that it was suggested to me that I should sign up to sail with them for a year and gain some valuable sailing experience and qualifications, this I did after a few months teaching dinghy sailing in Turkey.

My time with the Ocean Youth Trust was without a doubt life changing. It made me a much better person as well as forming the confident young  Ocean Yachtmaster that I am today. If I hadn’t broken my leg, I would have just ended up doing what I’d done the summer before but on a different beach in Greece. I would never have gone sailing with OYTS and again I wouldn’t be where I am today, working as a Chief Officer on board a 105′ luxury catamaran cruising around the Caribbean.

Things ran pretty much according to plan for almost a couple of years before I had another big disappointment. The next mission was to sail across the Atlantic. There was a beautiful 60′ Yacht looking for someone just like me to cross the Atlantic and then cruise the Caribbean for the winter, and they were willing to pay the right candidate. I had two phone interviews and they really seemed to like me, all was going well until a month before departure when they told me I was a very strong second choice, they’d found someone else. I frantically searched the online crew websites and eventually found a much smaller yacht willing to have me as a crew member if I was willing to contribute €200 to the cost of food. Coincidentally, when I joined the boat in the Canary Islands, two spaces down the dock was moored the beautiful 60 footer that I had missed my opportunity on. I got to meet the guy who was first choice. He was a nice enough fella, I couldn’t see why they had chosen him over me though. I spent a couple of nights out drinking with him, all the while my resentment building, especially with the knowledge that his ride would be probably a week shorter, a lot more luxurious and profitable than mine. When I did arrive in the Caribbean I headed for Antigua where I spent four months walking the docks looking for my first job on a Super Yacht. Very little time and energy was put into the job hunt, I spent a lot of time on beaches and in bars. I made amazing friends, had unforgettable experiences and generally had an absolute blast. A few months into my search I bumped into old “First choice” he was not having such a blast. When I met him he was by himself, utterly sloshed, propping up the bar in “Cloggys”. He told me what a dreadful time he was having, being worked to the bone by the elderly couple that owned the boat for very little pay, he had no friends and the boat moved so often he never had enough time to get to know anyone his own age. “Bullet well and truly dodged” I thought as I left him slumped at the bar to join my group of friends on the dance floor. God! Just imagine I’d been their first choice, that would have been me slumped alone at the bar. It was around this time that I fully started to appreciate that things really do happen for a reason or at least have a way of working out for the best.

clichés

One more pivotal disappointment occurred just last year. I had been asked to crew for another trans-Atlantic delivery with a couple of friends, I said yes as it coincided perfectly with me leaving the yacht I’d been working on for two years. Then I was offered a job on a 105ft yacht with an amazing owner and really fun sounding itinerary. I chose to do the Atlantic crossing and hope the position on the yacht was still open by the time I’d reached the other side. We had such a chilled crossing, no bad weather and my best friend, Joe, and I got to basically hang out on deck for three weeks playing cards, chatting rubbish and working on getting “Beach body ready”. When we arrived in the Azores I had an email waiting in my inbox telling me the position had been filled leaving me to spend the rest of the delivery to Palma worrying that I’d made the wrong choice and maybe that was a big opportunity I’d just missed out on. A month later I was ready to punch walls in rage because I’d taken the delivery over the job, I really thought I’d screwed things up for myself.

As it turned out, the guy they’d found for the position didn’t work out, I got emailed back a couple of months after I got back to the UK offering me the position again, things had worked out just perfectly.

I was sitting having lunch when a message from the captain of the yacht I’d crossed the Atlantic on popped up on Facebook. I only read half of it before the world came crashing down around my head. Joe, my best friend and sailing companion, had died in a free diving accident. I haven’t lived long enough yet to find out if that happened for a reason, I suspect nothing will ever justify that but if ever I manage to find a positive spin I’ll let you know. However, had I not taken that delivery, if I’d just accepted the job when it was offered to me like I had been wishing I’d done for months, I wouldn’t have had those three halcyon weeks with Joe. I would never have said good-bye and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Perhaps the next time life seems cruel or unfair, if you’ve suffered a blow or made a mistake, it would be worth taking a look back at your previous trials and tribulations and realise just how formative they were. What may seem like the end of the world at the moment may in fact be your ticket to freedom and future success. Dare I say it? If life gives you lemons, make lemonade….. It may be naff and corny but if we all strive to live by these cheesy mantras then just maybe we can all achieve greatness.

The Grecian Chronicles

It was literally the dream job for me. As a family we had been going on beach resort holidays every Summer or Autumn since I’d been 5 years old. I’d imagined myself working at these resorts from a very young age. So when the bus dropped my bulging suitcase and I in a remote village somewhere near my new home for the next 6 months on the west coast of Greece it would be fair to say I was very excited.

All the resort staff had flown out together. What a fun journey that was, thirty odd odd twenty odds in a plane together, free booze and, as yet, not relationships to worry about. Followed by a five hour bus ride from Athens with plenty of time to get to know each other in the back of the bus.

Of course I wasn’t on the plane or the fun bus because of bloody Iceland. As I mentioned in my first blog post, Mount Eyjafjallajökull had erupted, halting all air traffic out of Northern Europe meaning that I ended up flying out to Greece three days after all the other staff had arrived in resort. I got to take the flight and ride the fun bus all on my lonesome (there were other people travelling alongside me but I didn’t consider them by travel companions). I had been told by whoever was responsible for me that I should ask the bus driver to drop me by the hospital, under no circumstance was I to get off at the school. Less than 48 hours prior to my boarding the bus in Athens I’d been running around Val d’Isere at three in the morning looking in every bar I’d been in that evening trying to find my missing ticket for the bus to take me to Geneva airport. I’d had time enough at home to chuck my salopettes and snowboard boots out of my bag to be replaced with board shorts and flip flops before being ushered into the Greece bound plane. My point is that I was tired. When the bus driver woke me up and told me that it was time for me to get off I rubbed my eyes, ambled down the isle and got off the bus like I was told to. Now I had done my best to explain to the driver where I was and was not supposed to get off but through a combination of his non existent english and my non existent greek, the message was clearly lost, so, as a result, was I.
I looked across the street at the school and thought something along the lines of “Bugger…” That’s how I found myself, at three in the morning, god knows where in Greece trundling my bag down a bumpy street wondering what on earth I was to do. This was before the days that we all carried smart phones with built in GPS and 4g internet so it really was starting to look like I was in a bit of a pickle. Amazingly after what felt like hours, but may have in reality been just 20 minutes, had passed a taxi rolled down the street with the name of the company I was supposed to be working for displayed in it’s front window. The driver spotted me with my long hair, bulging bag and bewildered expression, opened the door and merely gestured me inside. I was deposited with a key outside a newly constructed accommodation block and pointed in the direction of a door. On entering I discovered that three of the three beds were occupied, fortunately I was able to push all the clothes and windsurfing gear occupying bed number three onto the floor and catch a well earned three hours sleep.

Maybe it was me falling asleep during one of the first staff briefings I attended or maybe she just didn’t like my lovely pink hat but I think it would be fair to say the assistant beach manager took an instant and resolute disliking to me. In fact, although they may have helped, I don’t believe it was my impromptu nap or my floral chapeau that led to the wrath directed towards me.

We were out on the water in a safety boat, maybe eight of us and the assistant beach manager. She was teaching us the proper technique for towing another boat.
“Now, the most important thing is to make absolutely sure you do not get your tow line wrapped around your propellor”.
In hindsight I could have been a touch more tactful thirty seconds later when she did what you were absolutely not supposed to do.
“Oh! You just propped yourself.” Says I, with a look of glee in my eyes.
“No, Really?!” She looked a little panicked.
“I shit you not….. You just propped yourself.” That was the moment I lost my job, not literally, that would have been a tad excessive, but it definitely sewed the seed that became my eventual dismissal.

I was nicknamed “Disciplinary Dougal” after maybe week one of guests arriving. I don’t remember what that first one was for, maybe I was five minutes late for work or, heaven forbid, I was wearing a bracelet on the beach. I do know I got one for not shaving in the morning, I told one of the nannies about my latest disciplinary on our lunch break and she remarked “Well at least you’ve been back and shaved now.”
“No. This is what I’m getting in trouble for”  I said, pointing to the virtually non existent stubble clinging to my less than hirsute chin. When you consider that officially we were supposed to be dismissed after our third disciplinary (verbal warning, written warning, sacked being the order of play) it says something about the frivolous nature of my reprimands that it wasn’t until my ninth that they saw fit to let me go.

Despite my persecution, I did have a fantastic time working on that beach. Physically the work was very demanding, we’d be running up and down the beach all day, in over 30ºC heat, catching and launching boats, waving masts around our heads or speeding across the water in safety boats rescuing any capsized dinghies. All this activity, however, gave us no appetite for sleep. We would make our way back to our accommodation at the end of the day, jump into a cold shower, fortunately there was no need for hot water as we didn’t have any, then get straight on the beers (we convinced ourselves that pilsner tasted better warm as we certainly had no way of cooling it off) before heading out to party the night away in one of the few bars on offer. By three or four in the morning most of us would have made it to bed so that after three hours sleep and a bowl of Choco Balls we were ready to hit the beach once again.

I remember falling asleep twice at work. On one occasion I was driving one of the safety boats out to the edge of the sailing area, which was about half a mile away, I woke up just soon enough to avoid crashing back into the beach from which I had departed two minutes earlier. Another time I managed to fall asleep mid way through teaching a sailing lesson. I had my students following me like an obedient little raft of ducklings, the idea of the lesson was for them to do as I did and this way cover all the points of sailing. When I woke up my dinghy was pointed into the wind with my sail flapping idly in the breeze. I quickly looked back to see my clever little ducklings doing just the same. “Excellent job everyone! And that is how you stop your boat.”  With a quick thumbs up we were off again, I don’t think anyone noticed….

Do you believe in a thing called luck?

“You’re so lucky Dougal! You get to work in such lovely places and meet such fascinating people. I wish I was as lucky as you and got to travel the world, sailing beautiful yachts and getting paid for the privilege”

I am incredibly lucky. To the extent that I was born with relatively few health deficiencies,  to two very supportive parents in probably the best country in the world. Really being from Scotland is like winning the lottery if you want to travel, no-one has any negative preconceptions about the Scottish, we are internationally blessed with popularity.

However me swanning around the Caribbean like a Ray-Bans clad Jack Sparrow has very little to do with luck so I resent the remarks I invented for the start of this post.  I believe I am where I am today not necessarily through lots of hard work but by making the right decisions. I chose to not go to university (after I got rejected), I chose to take a job on a boat in the Bahamas (after I got sacked from my summer job) and I chose to hitch a ride on a yacht sailing across the atlantic when everyone else was heading back to the mountains and the snow. I think you have to make your own luck, if you have at least some idea of what you want to do in life then do yourself a favour and throw yourself bodily in that direction.

Although there may be some exceptions. I often noticed whilst sailing on a previous yacht that, regardless of how miserable it seemed the conditions were going to be, when the owner (a very wealthy banker) showed up for his weekly yacht around The Hamptons the weather was invariably impeccable. It could be an all out storm, lashing rain with thunder and lightning thrown in to boot but by the time he stepped on board the grey clouds would have parted. The birds would set up a whistle like they were in on the joke, the sun would be bouncing off the startled wavelets and with a clap of his hands Mr Boss Man would say “Right what are you all standing around looking so soggy for? Let’s go for a sail!” Of course it would be perfect. We’d up anchor and a fresh breeze would take us up and down the sound for as long as the ladies could stand the gentle motion of the ocean. Then, as soon as the chauffeur driven car had disappeared around the corner, the first rain drops would start to fall. Our seven hour sail home would become ten ours with the cruel head wind that had blown up and we’d have to zip our heavy waterproofs right up to our eyeballs to keep the wet out.
Kraken 2
Another meteorological example occurred this morning. A different yacht and another ludicrously wealthy boat owner. This incredibly successful entrepreneur had organised the sinking of an old ship to become a diving attraction and ultimately a new living reef. They made a big wire Kraken and had it designed so it looked like it was consuming the back of the ship, I’m told they’re going to implant coral on it and there will be Go-Pros set up to capture the whole process with time lapse photos. It’s going to look pretty awesome. The day of the sinking arrives, I could hear the rain hammering on the hull when I woke up. Sitting on the aft deck having some breakfast it seemed like they wouldn’t need to put any effort into sinking the ship but merely wait for the thing to fill up with rain. At 10 o’clock we climbed into our tender, all of us bedecked in fowl weather gear, and headed off to watch the sinking. Before we got to the sight, about 10 minutes drive away, it had stopped raining. We now learnt how long it takes for a ship to sink and for those of us who happen to work on them it was a reassuringly long time. Had it been pouring with rain it would have been miserable, had the sun been out it would have been torturous (especially for me as I’d forgotten the aforementioned Ray-Bans) but it wasn’t. Of course the conditions were nothing short of ideal, the sky was almost entirely overcast for the three hours it took The Kodiac Queen to go down, which during the Caribbean summer is pretty darn pleasant. In the very last moments though disaster seems to have struck, the ship is going down on it’s side, it looks like it might even land upside down, completely crushing the intricate Kraken structure which has taken a team of men months to construct! Just imagine the sorry sight of the upturned hull with all the wee Kraken legs sticking out the side like a squashed Daddy longlegs. Of course it didn’t though. During the 60ft decent the remaining air in the hull righted the ship and she landed evenly, Kraken side up. That was lucky….
Kraken 3
I did intend to write about my time working in Greece and eventually get to how I came to be laying on a spinnaker on the bow of this 105′ yacht but I guess being british talking about the weather just comes all too naturally to me. Next time, I promise.

So it began- High expectations and very cheap wine.

People always say “You can do whatever you want to do, you can be whoever you want to be” and by people I mean my mum and by “you” she was referring to me.

My dad asked me, when I was 18, what I wanted to do with my life. I answered “I want to work somewhere sunny, do as little, and make as much money as was possible.” He laughed. Five years later he reminded me of this conversation and congratulated me on achieving exactly what I had set out to.

As I begin this blog writing experiment I am laying on a spinnaker on the bow of a 105′ luxury sailing catamaran which is tied to an island in the British Virgin Islands and I’m drinking a vodka soda all of which are owned by a multi billionaire.

The plan was to follow in Dad’s footsteps and become a doctor, fortunately that plan required a lot of hard work and studying, which I was not prepared to do, so it never came to fruition. I distinctly remember being sat in chemistry class and wondering how to get a job that would provide me with enough money and free time to be able to go sailing in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. It occurred to me that I could simply find work in the sailing and ski resorts that I so enjoyed visiting so much and thus cut out the hard work inducing middle man of actually getting a real job.

My first foray into the world of Seasonnaires was working as a kitchen porter (which is a euphemism for dishwasher) in the Hotel Val-d’Isère in a ski resort, funnily enough, called Val-d’Isère. If you know Val-D, then congratulations you may well be middle class, especially if you call it Val-D, you may also know that it has a reputation of being something of a party resort. This came as a bit of a shock to the system of the 18-year-old fresh out of the Highlands of Scotland that I was. We had a game in the kitchen called “Dorris, cheque on, song change challenge” try saying that after several glasses of cheap house wine. The premise of the game was simple. In the middle of the kitchen there was a small table with enough glasses for everyone working in the kitchen, one of the glasses was a half pint the rest were those miserly small juice glasses you’ll find in any hotel, each glass was filled with very cheap wine of varying colours, predominantly red or white. Dorris was the name of my washing machine, and a very warm and wet girl she was indeed. Every time I closed Dorris on a fresh load of dirty dishes the entire kitchen staff had to run to the “wine table” and down which ever glass they could get their hands on, if you were the last to the table you would have the pleasure of a half pint. The glasses were refilled and the process repeated whenever a song playing on the stereo changed or whenever a food order came in, in our defence we usually waited until we were about a third of the way through the desert orders before we started playing. I recall one time waking up, in my boxers, covered from head to toe in Bolognese sauce with my phone in my hand letting me know I’d had a half hour conversation with my mum. I don’t think I have any recollection of ever finishing an evening shift.

I had to quit that lofty position of kitchen porter after little more than a month to take up the real dream job of being a sailing instructor in Greece. My flight home was delayed by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, causing me to somewhat empathise with this fellow Scot, but after a lonely flight from Geneva (I was one of only two people brave enough to be on the first plane to take to the sky) I had less than 24 hours back at home before jetting out to Greece to start having what could conceivably be called the best time of my life.

I’m concerned this may be a touch long for my first blog post so I’ll have to get to how I came to be laying on this spinnaker in the next post.

An introduction.

I’ve decided to write a blog, hopefully I’ll have enough fun things going on in my life to keep a few readers entertained. I’ll write them on here from time to time and see where this blog and my life take me. The plan is to have it be a sort of an ongoing autobiography with occasional musings interspersed throughout. I’ve never written anything before so it’s something of an experiment to see if I actually can write or not. Feel free to comment if you liked the post or, if you like, let me know where you think I could improve.

All the best,

Dougal.IMG_1686