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Wednesday 25th May 2016

Liming with the Fishes
A Unique Sport Fishing Tournament in Antigua & Barbuda
“It's not just the fishing … it's the lime... An undiscovered Caribbean tradition.”
Nowhere else in the sport fishing world does it go down quite like we do it in Antigua & Barbuda.

Its not just that the sport in the waters around the northeast bend of the island chain, where the Atlantic Ocean blends into the warmer Caribbean Sea, is as rewarding an occupation as can be found anywhere.  These are waters where the big game fish hunt along their ocean-spanning migratory routes; and where the dolphin, wahoo and other large pelagic species abound: a paradise for the dedicated deep-sea sportsman.

Antigua & Barbuda – the keystone of an island archipelago with a proud maritime heritage adds much more to the equation.  The tradition goes all the way back to the original islanders, the Taino and Kalinago who lived off the surrounding waters.  More recently, the Caribbean sea teemed with traders and pirates and rival kingdoms sent navies and armies to struggle grimly over the wealth pouring into Europe from the richest region in the west.

That oceanic heritage continues today with a new tradition – the annual Sports Fishing Tournament, hosted by Antigua & Barbuda Sports Fishing (ASF).  When in the dawn light of May 14 2016 the fleet ran for the open ocean in the exhilarating Bimini Start, it marked the 50th continuous year of professionally organized sport fishing in the waters around the islands.

Hosted by a dedicated band of avid game fishers who have pursued their love since 1966, the annual Sport Fishing Tournament happens in late Spring.  The 51st edition is set for June 2-4 2017, and is immediately preceded by the Mikey Pigott Jr. Memorial Classic (June 1-2).  Long before then though, sport fishing enthusiasts eager to sample the exotic flavors of cosmopolitan Antigua can join the fleet for the Francis Nunes Jr. Memorial Tournament – slated for September 23-24, 2016.

It's not just the fishing (which is always magnificent) that makes the events memorable: It's the Lime.  Deftly marrying fishing thrills with onshore pleasure, ASF serves up a unique experience that only “Fun City” Antigua & Barbuda can provide.  The thing is a natural combination really – deep sea sport on azure Caribbean waters blended with dry land action kissed with a tang of … Lime: a sure-fire recipe for finding bliss on a Caribbean island.

Definitions are in order – and come from the Unofficial Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage.  That sadly nonexistent publication offers several definitions of 'lime', including of course the standard botanical and mineral interpretations.  In our very special Caribbean world though, 'Lime' with an upper case 'L' carries surprising connotations:

    a. [n] a public entertainment event (as in 'party'); typically incorporates abundant supplies of tasty food & quality liquors; accompanied by intense socializing; heavily populated with top-class performing artistes musicians & Djs.
    b. [v] to hang out (as in 'party') and to recreate one's self in convivial company, often long into the evening hours, assisted by abundant supplies of delicious food, lubricating liquors and top-class performing artistes.
    c. [v-intrans] 'Liming'; [alt] 'Picking a Lime'.
    d. Origin (apocryphal): a shady streetcorner in Barbados, circa 1969.

This is the genius behind the ASF motif: “Enjoy the Fishing … Enjoy the Lime!”  From the moment the sport fleet surges out of Lord Nelson's Dockyard on the tournament's first morning the thrills never cease.  The focus shifts from sea to land to sea and back to land again, rocking on into the night and ending only when the last Limer can party no more.  When the sun comes up next day it shines on what is now only a golden memory … until next time.

The ASF Annual Sport Fishing Tournament  is a fixture on the regional calendar, regularly attracting teams from all sea-faring islands that decorate the northeast curve of the island shield.  Anglers come from St Kitts & Nevis, from Montserrat, from Dutch St Maarten and St Barths.  Top teams enter from St Thomas, Tortola and French St Martin.  Keen competitors bring their challenge from Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St Lucia.  When the region's top sport fishing enthusiasts get together in Antigua & Barbuda the occasion is a cultural and culinary entrepot that explodes in a kaleidoscope of color, sound and flavor, delighting all the senses.  Sport fishers come to enjoy the fishing … and to enjoy the Lime.

The fishing is always great … the food exotic, delicious and bountiful … the fine liquors free-flowing … the entertainment top notch … and the ambience convivial.  The outcome is one great cosmopolitan sport fishing festival that stands unrivalled in the northeast Caribbean.  ASF has hit upon a formula that, in its own turn, has launched an undiscovered tradition – the best-kept open secret of the sport fishing world – the Annual Antigua & Barbuda Sport Fishing Tournament, where the fishing is fantastic and the Lime is – well … out of this world.

Location is everything; and it certainly helps when the sporting venue is as rich with History as we find in Nelson's Dockyard.  The very name reeks with heroic tradition, recalling the day in 1805 when Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson led his 27 tall ships of the line out of English Harbour for the decisive encounter with the combined French and Spanish fleets off Trafalgar.  In that memorable encounter the British ships of the line destroyed 22 of 33 opposing warships without the loss of a single vessel.  Today, when the sport fishing boats cast off and surge out to sea they echo an action taken there many times before, as English ships sailed from the seat of British naval power in the Caribbean to assert the strength of a growing empire upon which the sun would (for a time) never set.

Today, the Dockyard is the crown jewel at the heart of the Nelson's Dockyard National Park – an ambitious and determined attempt by the Government of Antigua & Barbuda to capitalize on the immense historical, cultural and economic value of the area.  The Member of Parliament (MP) for the constituency that includes the National Park is the Hon E P 'Chet' Green.  MP Green also serves as Minister of Trade, Commerce & Industry, Sports, Culture & National Festivals – a combination of portfolios that gives him good reason to stand squarely behind ASF in its drive to develop sport fishing into a major contributor to GDP.

Hon Asot A Michael, Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment & Energy, is totally sold on ASF, and wants to see the schedule of annual sport fishing events grow into a significant feature of the national Sports Tourism effort.  Chet Green is especially keen to blend aspects of sport fishing, culture and entertainment into a unified package that will rival the economic contributions from the late-April Antigua Sailing Week.  That famous international regatta justifiably headlines our twin-island state's annual calendar of top-notch maritime events.

Owing partly to its favored position (location, location, location!) and partly due to an unparalleled tradition as a regional seat of early British Empire maritime power, Lord Horatio Nelson's Dockyard persists in its own right as a magnet for the ocean-going pleasure industry.  In addition to the efforts of the ASF and the attraction of Sailing Week, the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) regularly selects English Harbour as the start or end point for its trans-Atlantic events.  The Antigua Charter Yacht Meeting (held annually in early December) has showcased luxury pleasure craft since 1965, and Nelson's Dockyard is a favorite terminus for cross-Atlantic rows and races of every kind.  Everybody, it seems, wants to share in the unique cachet of 'dropping anchor' in the only 200-year-old working shipyard of the Georgian period left in the entire world that operates year-round as a full-service yachting marina.

So all things considered, Minister of Tourism & Economic Development Asot A Michael and Minister of Sports & Culture Chet Green are properly ebullient in their evaluation of the contribution sport fishing can make to Brand Antigua & Barbuda.  The Ministers of Tourism and Sports both heartily commend the organizers for their imaginative efforts.  Minister Green wants the event “replicated and duplicated”, bringing locals and visitors together in pursuit of a vision of sports tourism based on the rich resources of the islands' extensive maritime exclusion zone.  Michael and Green want to see the annual Antigua & Barbuda Sport Fishing event, and others of its type, eclipse all the rest in the region.

One of the real advantages of the Nelson's Dockyard venue is available first-class accommodations in and near the Dockyard itself.  The Copper & Lumber Store and Admiral's Inn are inside the actual site, giving anglers the opportunity to step off their boats directly into comfortable lodgings redolent with historical connections.  For those who fail to book early enough to snag the limited spaces available inside the facility there are several top-notch boutique hotels scant minutes from the quays.

The signal success of the annual ASF Sport Fishing Tournament is due in great part to the untiring efforts of a cadre of dedicated sports fishing enthusiasts, like perennial club president Phillip Shoul.  Serving indefatigably since 2004, President Shoul is our man in perpetual motion – everywhere at all times and especially where needed most at any time.  Phillip stands foursquare and medium height, with a low-key, laconic style that charmingly disguises an absolute command of any situation and the instant decisiveness that comes from years spent chasing the big billfish.

A titillating marriage of deep sea sport fishing and onshore action is not necessarily new … it's just that when a thing is worth doing it is worth doing very, very well.  This has always been the unspoken motto  of Antigua & Barbuda Sport Fishing, and Phillip Shoul has succeeded in bringing that ethic to sparkling life – and that fact accounts more than anything else for his longevity in the Club's top spot.  As CEO and head of marketing Phillip has helped forge a brand that has earned faithful fans for the ASF among sports fishing enthusiasts across the islands.

And the brand is steadily growing stronger.  Worldwide economic conditions have taken their toll on the region as they have everywhere, and in 2016 a total of 40 boats tied up to the quay: a striking contrast to the record 61 entries in 1995 – near the end of what were boom years for the regional economy.  So in 2016, as the world economy drags itself slowly back from the meltdown of 2008/9, when 40 boats show up laden with top sport fishers from islands where sport fishing (and Lime) is a way of life … well, that says a great deal about the event that Antigua & Barbuda Sport Fishing has built.

To a very significant degree the attraction of ASF sport fishing events lies in the Club's inclusive ethic.  These are, after all, relatively tiny islands; long-established communities with ties and connections that tangle across social and economic lines.  Under these very Caribbean conditions there is no room for exclusivity – and that means, in the words of Club Historian Michael Hall, that “... persons from all walks of life can enter any event, whether in a small wooden boat with an outboard engine or the big Sports Fishing Battlewagons with 2000 horse power.  Once you abide by the rules of the tournament and pay your entry fee, it's open to all.”

All of this makes for a unique sport fishing experience; and the democratic camaraderie of sporting professionals in friendly contest one against the other fuels the relaxed conviviality that provides the perfect ending to any day of deep sea action: human, boat, gear, line and lure against the ocean and its wild inhabitants.  And then, after a long day at sea, the shore awaits, with all it has to offer.

This is a tournament where all strict minimum weight rules are adhered to (450 lbs), and tag & release is greatly encouraged.  Conservation of marine resources is top of the agenda for the Caribbean sport fishing community.  With local sport fishing and guest charters filling a handy niche in the regional tourism economy everybody wants to maintain as high a population as possible of the big game fish, especially: our sports fishing industry thrives on it.  Besides ... a big billfish photographs much better when tail-walking across the waves than it does hanging head down from a scale.

This year the sport fishing was great, as it always is.  No sooner had the fleet put in their lines on the first morning than the reports started to come in – and they came in at a rapid pace during 2 days of intense sport.  By mid-morning on Day One hooks had snagged 22 dolphin, 5 tuna, 6 wahoo – and Chok Dee II had tagged & released 1 blue marlin.  Within two hours the tally had risen to 39 dolphin, 7 wahoo, 5 tuna, 2 kingfish. Sea Ghost had added another blue marlin tagged & released, and Tahla'o had tagged & released 1 white marlin.  By mid-afternoon the catch was 58 dolphin, 27 wahoo, 7 tuna, 2 kingfish, with no additional billfish tagged & released. As the first day of sport came to a close the statisticians had recorded 78 dolphin, 37 wahoo, 7 tuna, 2 kingfish, with Take off reporting another blue marlin tagged & released.

Day Two's start was comparatively quiet: by mid-morning only 17 dolphin, 12 wahoo and 2 kingfish had been hooked, but Incognito and Tahla'o had already tagged & released 1 blue marlin each.  The pace picked up though, and at noon the catch was 25 dolphin, 13 wahoo, 3 kingfish and 1 tuna.  The Sunday Dragon had tagged & released another blue marlin.  By 1.00 PM Vitamin B and Makalac added 1 more blue marlin each tagged & released, with Over Draft recording 1 sailfish also tagged & released.  The 2.00 PM report saw Incognito having tagged & released another blue marlin.  Chok Dee II chipped in with another blue marlin tagged & released.  The tournament final report read: 112 dolphin, 59 wahoo, 9 tuna and 4 kingfish caught; 9 blue marlin, 3 white marlin and 1 sailfish tagged & released.  Two great days of competitive sport fishing on blue Caribbean seas.  Incognito emerged as champion boat, edging out Chok Dee II only on the 'time' rule.

That all adds up to one hell of a serious tournament for sport fishing enthusiasts who are seriously bent on having a great time, whether at sea or on shore.  And there's prizes for just about everything  you can think of, which makes for a most entertaining award ceremony - that is, if we can apply the word 'ceremony' to the wild celebration that takes over Nelson's Dockyard to end 2 days of intense sport fishing competition. With all the tension released, everyone is free to take fullest advantage of spirited island entertainment, multi-cultural cuisine, and cosmopolitan company - in other words, you've enjoyed the fishing, now enjoy the Lime.

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