Leaving the bridge: Captain Andrew Rigby
If you've ever done a boat trip to Papua New Guinea then you'll know the name Captain Andrew Rigby. And you'll also know he prefers the nickname Undies. Captain Undies and his wife started the first and only charter boat running out of Papua New Guinea, and they discovered and surfed many perfect waves along the way. Five years ago they bought their own vessel, the PNG Explorer, and extended the reach of their operation, however the PNG Explorer has just been put up for sale.
Time for a chat with the good Captain.
Swellnet: How long have you had the PNG Explorer?
Andrew Rigby: We purchased the PNG Explorer May 2009 in Fremantle. She was originally a gulf prawn trawler and was fully rigged with all the gear to go catch prawns when we bought her. Massive mission cutting all that stuff off then steaming 4500 miles to PNG.
What did you do before running the operation?
My father had been working in PNG as a marine operations manager for a company here in Kavieng. A business opportunity came up to go trading around the islands for lobster so my Dad purchased our old vessel the Exo, a 50 foot alloy ex-drop liner out of Cairns. He called me one day asking if my wife Jude and I could run it. I was working in the coal mines as a fitter living on our little 35 foot yacht saving cash to go cruising around the pacific when my Dad called. We dropped everything, sold the yacht and went to PNG for a new adventure. We discovered a heap of great waves on the lobster trading runs and when we realised the potential for running surf trips we jumped on it. Leased the boat off my Dad until we purchased Explorer, totally forgot about the lobster trading and went surfing!
I was going to ask why you chose PNG, but it seemed PNG chose you?
We totally lucked into it and always went with the flow, we approached PNG Surfaris operating as a surf business as a day by day thing until we borrowed up to the eyeballs to buy Explorer.
Are there many undiscovered waves in PNG?
Yes, absolutely. For years we have been doing annual exploratory runs to areas north and south, found a heap of amazing waves too. There are so many other areas yet to be discovered that work on different seasons, many are hundreds of miles away which is too far away for commercial charters. If you're patient, have a sense of adventure, and understand how the seasons work and the weather charts then you are in with a chance of finding new waves.
It's a very rugged country geographically and very remote, one really needs to be autonomous doing adventures either in the jungle and on the water. Everything from anti-biotics, suture kits, communications, fuel, water, food, local guides, and most importantly, your equipment needs to be in top order. One single reef cut left untreated can lead to an amputation scenario in just a few days. The heat, humidity, flys, the bacteria in coral all mixed together makeing infections run wild in just hours.
First the cut gets a little itchy, next the nearest joint starts to ache followed by the nearest gland going hard, then fever hits. If fever gets you hard then you need to be in hospital ASAP. The doctors in Kavieng have a state of the art hot knife to remove limbs and apparently the machine hardly ever cools down!
How come you're selling the boat?
Good question. My wife Jude and I started this business together and enjoyed all the good and bad parts of running an operation like this together as a team. Darty [Andrew Dart] joined the team as the new family member when we bought Explorer - then kids came along! When Jude first fell pregnant we were going to keep running with the grommet and Jude onboard as a family, but that pregnancy turned into twins Quinn and Ava. Jude now lives ashore in the surf seasons and I basically spend too much time at sea away from them. Now number three is on the way we have come to the decision to sell so I don't have to be away at sea all the time. Who knows? If it doesn't sell then we may just have to move the tribe onboard and get the kids working as deckhands. Either way a family needs to be together and not apart.
How do you feel about the impending change?
I will be happy to be with the family full-time, but very sad to see this operation we have put blood sweat and tears into sell to someone else. Not to mention we have almost paid the boat off so it's happy days debt-wise. All the crazy re-fits, all the good waves, the laughs, the best mates we have made over the years have changed my life forever and taught me so much. It will be a very sad day when I have to hand over the keys that is for sure.
Think you'll maintain a connection with PNG?
Absolutely! I love this place and love the quirky ways. Plus this country has a lot of opportunities work wise and seems to be booming from what you see on the ground here. There is some plans in the pipeline for another business where I get heaps of home time but utilise the maritime knowledge learnt over the 10 years of living here. Not tourism but dealing with vessels, refits, delivery's imports etcetera.
Lastly, for the record: PNG Surfaris is going to be sold as a going concern so everyone can relax, it's business as usual and the PNG Explorer will forever be dropping frothing punters into pumping waves for years to come. Next season is already filling up.