Son of the soil Jerome McQuilkin was born in Carriacou, educated in England and made his fortune in Trinidad. His business partner, John Walker was born in Trinidad made his fortune there and has a love for Carriacou. Between them, these two businessmen decided to put there money where their hearts lay, and committed $10million US of their own money, to create one of the largest infrastructural projects Carriacou has seen to date. A full state-of-the art Boatyard & Marina consisting of wet berths and dry docking, the project will be named – The Tyrell Bay Marina.
Forming the company, CDC (Carriacou Development Corporation), McQuilkin and Walker began their vision for the future back in 2002. The goal was to create a world class full service marina & boatyard and place Carriacou and Grenada firmly on the yachting map. Located on the northern side of a south western facing Tyrell Bay, Carriacou is now poised to become a major centre in the heart of one of the world’s best cruising grounds, the Grenadines.
BG (BusinessGrenada Magazine) spoke with these two dynamic businessmen to find out more about the project.
BG: Could you offer us some background about the condition of the project site prior to your involvement in this very ambitious venture?
JM: (Jerome McQuilkin) “I don’t think a lot of people realize just about everywhere on the landside of this project was all mud. If you tried to walk to the sea through that area you would sink to your knees in mud. Animals, and particularly cows used to get stuck in there all of the time, especially during the dry season, they’re looking for greenery, they’d stroll into the muddy areas and be lost, drowning in mud.
When you finally got to the water you could walk to the outer extreme of where the marina is now. and you could walk out for 200 meters and be between your ankle and your knee in water, so the area was extremely shallow. What we did was we dredged the shallow areas and we put the fill from this onto the landside thus deepening the seaside whilst creating a solid base for a landside.”
JW: (John Walker) “As a Trinidadian one of the first things that you notice when coming to Carriacou and the Grenadines is the stunning turquoise waters that simply do not exist in Trinidad. I can proudly say that we turned an area that was basically a dumping ground for old boats, engines, animals and various scrap materials over the years, an area that was increasingly becoming a poor habitat for fish into what is now, a very healthy habitat for juvenile fish and a wide variety of marine life– the water is much deeper now (16 to 20 feet), it’s cool, it’s clean, its pristine, it’s a great environment. There’s lobster all around, fish all around. You look at all of the pile faces and you now see vegetation, seagrass, conch, and an abundance of Sea Urchins both white and black, which are a great indicator of good water quality. The environment now is actually a lot more healthy than it was before, purely because we have better water quality. As a Trini I value the natural beauty these islands offer, and as a business, our plan is based on preserving a stunning habitat and helping nature in any way we can, which we have done with this project so far.”
BG: The area being developed was also a major public health concern, with regards to rampant mosquito reproduction leading to high outbreaks of dengue fever and other mosquito borne viruses, prior to your construction, is that accurate?
JM: “The area especially to the south, was heavily infested with sand fleas and mosquitos. Since starting the development and doing the reclamation, we have hardly none now. It’s something that you have to manage, we listen to the advertisements and all of the government warnings about not having standing water in old coconut shells, conch shells, tyres, and so on, as these conditions create well known breeding grounds for these flying pests. Now with the area cleared of all the mud, and human debris, Mosquito’s and Sand Fleas (who like to live and breed in damp sand & mud) are no longer a public health concern.”
BG: Since your original concept you’ve had delays and some massive changes Can you elaborate on the circumstance that led to the new port being your neighbor?
JM: “First of all, having a port next to us wasn’t our ideal choice, we had to make it fit. The previous administration approached us, talking about a compulsory acquisition. They were talking about acquiring the property to build the port. We could see that the writing was on the wall. The jetty in Hillsborough had seen better days. Really you need a proper port, we can see that. If the jetty has been ok for the last 100 years, it’s not going to be ok for the next 100. So we do need a new facility in Carriacou. It was just a matter of time before a government administration would look at this issue again, so it was very difficult for us to plan ahead when we had this cloud hanging over us. So we decided to sit with the port and negotiate on a friendly basis to see what we can achieve together and if we can be neighbours, or partners and I believe we can. They identified the area that they were interested in, and we tried to make it fit, and we negotiated a deal which I think is an absolute sweetheart deal for them. There’s no way the Port Authority could have built the facility for the type of money they got it for.”
JW: It is obvious that I care about Carriacou, I can see the needs, and I can see the forward development of Carriacou being linked to a facility like this. With that in mind, we decided to work with the port, so they’re now what we consider to be a strategic partner of ours in Carriacou. We had to redesign everything to accommodate the new port. Part of the negotiation was the compensation where the government said if you’re going to be doing something with the port we’ll consider leasing you some additional land to the north.”
BG: What exactly will be the use of that leased land?
JM: “In the short term most of the property will be boat storage and repair facilities for all of the different contractors. We will also have a “Budget Marine” there. All the trades a yacht is likely to need we would like to attract and have there.”
BG: This project was stalled for 5 years, and you’ve literally been working on it for over 14 years what is your date of opening operations?
JW: “Our present target is to start lifting boats out of the water by 2nd quarter 2016. We are now waiting on a very large barge that will load the lift completely assembled. With a lift of this size, at 150 tonnes and a beam of 35 ft.
Our yard in Carriacou will be able to service the entire region. This lift is as big as anything that we have currently in Trinidad. We will be able to handle most yachts and many small commercial sized vessels. Furthermore with a draft of 20ft alongside our main dock, we will be deep enough to host the majority of mega yachts.”
BG: What will you be offering at your yard that will keep you competitive in the industry?
JM: “We’re developing and encouraging new skills that don’t exist in Carriacou right now. These skills exist in Grenada, if we are going to be competitive with everybody else, then we have to have a skill base that matches what we have in Grenada as well as Trinidad. What we need is different skilled tradesmen in Carriacou. If wood was the past, fiberglass is the present then carbon is definitely the future. So we need to constantly develop new skills and develop methods of working with new materials.”
BG: Employment is a large concern for Carriacou. Can you assess the state of the employment pool on the island?
JW: “We’re going to be focusing on the strengths that we have. We’ve got good carpenters, and shipwrights already existing in Carriacou, and of course a strong boatbuilding tradition. We also need to add to those strengths.
Ongoing employee training is an important part of this. We are very interested in taking on local people who have an aptitude for specific types of trade and assist in training them.“
JM: “There are places in Trinidad which can offer training and we’re also looking at a program offered by TAMCC (TA Marryshow Community College) in conjunction with MAYAG (Marine and Yachting Association of Grenada). A curriculum for maritime certification for school leavers, following the ABYC (American Boat & Yacht Council) Curriculum. We need specific skills in the yachting industry. Certification is important, so we will be very happy to work with them.”
BG: Your location has posed some challenges, both political and environmental. How do you see yourself in comparison to other marina’s in the region?
JM: “Our marina when it’s finished will be the Greenest Marina in the Southern Caribbean, we will have sewage treatment plants, you can’t put your sewage straight into the water, which takes place everywhere south of the Virgin Islands right now. We have been very conscious of the fact that some mangrove was lost in the beginning and we are replanting mangrove at a higher ratio than anybody else. It’s very difficult to have a waterfront development and not lose mangrove. We are trying to strike a balance between the needs of the Marina and the needs of the environment and so far we are doing well.”
JW: “One of the things we plan to initiate is a mangrove nursery where we can regrow mangrove, once the construction phase is finished. The mangrove community in Carriacou is very healthy and quite dense, so we can use this for the good of the nation. We will be guided by what the environmental groups tell us, or the government, in terms of where they want mangrove to be replanted and we will plant it. We would like to think of it like we are creating a ‘Mangrove Bank.’ Come to us and say I need x amount of trees in this area, and we’ll say ok you can use the mangrove bank, our nursery stock, for that purpose.”
BG: It seems you’re raising the benchmark for Marina’s in the Caribbean, going above the standard. How have your actions been received?
JM: “All of the environmental groups in Carriacou signed off on this project from the very beginning. That was a condition of the department of planning. Lots of things have been said, a great deal of it is not factual, it’s people’s personal opinions and it’s not science based at all. We’ve consulted with scientists and experts from the very beginning of this project, a couple of years ago an expert, Dr. Byrne came to Carriacou and he was very impressed with what he saw of the water quality adjacent to our new facility.”
BG: Are there any further changes that you feel could be adapted to improve the environmental consequences of Marinas in the region?
JW: “Yes, another initiative we would like to see is the testing of coastal water quality throughout the state, not just in Carriacou. Let’s do it In St David’s, St George’s, True Blue and Port Louis. In fact anyplace where boats congregate. Let us develop as a nation the standard measure of what good water quality actually is. Let us measure what it is in our communities now, so that we know if we are being negative to the environment or not. The regular scientific testing of coastal waters in and around Grenada would be an important indicator that would help assess the environmental impact of yachting on coastal areas.
JM: “The government standard right now according to the department of planning is for properties to use septic fields or soakaways. We realized that is not an acceptable standard for a large development, so we proposed from the very beginning that we install sewage treatment plants. They are quite similar to what you would have on cruise ship. But they do exceed the national standard presently adopted by the nation.”
JW: “We are also looking at utilizing methods of alternative energy. Solar & Wind energy are appealing, however this area is still governed by legislation that is not presently conjucive for a business to enter into at its present price structure. We hope that changes.”
JM: “We have to be cost competitive and we do face a lot of challenges in Carriacou. For example in Grenada, if you have a development, and you want water, you call NAWASA and they will run a pipe for you and you have water. Carriacou has no resevoirs or rivers so when we want water we’ve got to reinvent the wheel and that means catching rain or creating water via reverse osmosis. We are looking at the possibility of wells, but groundwater belongs to NAWASA, so we are in discussions with them. Our water will mostly be filtration from catchment and desalination plants. With our desalination plant we will supply ourselves, and all the boats that use our facilities with fresh, clean water.”
BG: Mixing business with pleasure – We know that you are a competitive racing sailor, and keen Billfish fisherman. How will you incorporate these pleasures into your business?
JM: “We started a sailing regatta, “The Carriacou Sailing Series” a few years ago but we had to shelf it as basically the event was being hosted on a construction site, and it posed challenges. We will definitely be bringing the event back once we have the facilities. We will fit in with all of the other activities that are happening around us. The Sailing Week in Grenada is very well established in January, so we will support whatever is happening in Grenada, to enhance the regatta circuit in Grenada.”
BG: You’ve won the St Lucia Billfish tournament, for the last three years in a row, winning an IGFA tournament qualifies you and your team to participate in the World Championships Billfish Tournament, – will there be an IGFA qualifying event in the future for Carriacou?
JM: “We’d very much like to stage a fishing tournament in Carriacou. We have been doing experimental fishing on the East and the West of the island and there’s lots of game fish. The Grenada Billfish Tournament is an IGFA qualifying event for the World Championships, Carriacou would be a great addition.
A Billfish tournament in Carriacou would have quite an impact on the local economy. It you look at the gross spend from fuel to food in Grenada, over $2million ECD is generated at the annual Budget Marine Billfish Tournament.”
JW: Ever since I was a young man I have been drawn to speed and have participated in The Great Race from Trinidad to Tobago many times. As an engineer, and as a competitor, these type of events are very appealing to me. One of our close friends Peter Peake who owns a boat yard in Trinidad, is also very prominent in power boat racing. Between himself and the team we have here, we would love to have a power boat event in Carriacou. Possibly in the summer when the weather is calm and the sea is flat. It’s something that we would happily undertake. The Carriacou Great Race!
BG: You seem to have some great events on the horizon… How many boats will the new marina accommodate?
JM: Our number of wet berths will be approx 180. For boats on the hard, we’re anticipating 10 acres of initial storage. and I’d say we will accommodate around 200 boats on the hard.”
BG: How do you feel about your location in the region, is it strategic for the access to the Grenadines?
JM: “We have very few facilities between Grenada and St Lucia. St Lucia has very nice facilities in Marigot Bay and Rodney Bay and Grenada has great facilities and is growing a lot over the last 10 years. 20 years ago we had GYS (Grenada Yacht Services) which is now Port Louis, and since then 3 or 4 other marinas have developed in the south so it’s an area of growth. I think the outlook is very good for the future of yachting. We will be the major boatyard and marina in the Grenadines.
BG “Will your marina change the model for yachting and chartering in the Grenadines?
JW: If you start your trip in Grenada it takes you roughly a day to get to Carriacou, Grenadines. So if you’ve chartered a boat for a week you actually get 5 days in the Grenadines and 2 days sailing to and from Grenada. On the other hand, If you were picking up your boat here, you’ll have easily the maximum amount of days on the water and in paradise, which is what most charterers want – the maximum amount of days in the Grenadines.
Our strategic location and world class facilities also mean that a number of charter boat companies are looking to have bases operating from here.”
BG: What will the business opportunities be like? And did you receive government assistance in the form of concessions?
JM: “We don’t want to run 100 businesses, but we do want to create an environment where 100 businesses can run. Small and large businesses can come here, and there will be opportunities to grow your business right here in Carriacou.”
JM: “We have concessions from the government implemented by the GIDC. We have had a very good working relationship with them and they’ve been extremely supportive.”
BG: How confident are you that the market will bear another marina in Carriacou?
JM: “As a business person you cannot afford to overlook competition, but the reality is the yachting industry in general, has been growing steadily for the last 20 years throughout the region. If you look at the examples in Trinidad the first yard to open was ‘Powerboats’ that’s 16 acres, they figured they had the market to themselves then ‘Peakes’ yard opened up with 20 acres, Then ‘IMS’ opened up and they’re full, ‘Crews Inn’ opened up they’re full, ‘Coral Cove’ opened up they’re full, ‘TTYA’ are still full every year. Then you have the yards in Grenada and they’re all pretty much full. The market is growing continually so it’s not a case of I’m going to be taking bread off of your table.”
JW: “While boat yards and marinas throughout the Southern Caribbean, are going to be competitors in a very competitive industry, the market is growing and I think there’s enough for everybody. What we all should really be focusing on, is providing world class services and facilities to clients who are in this area, if we do that, then we all succeed.”