Leaving the bridge: Captain Andrew Rigby

Stu Nettle
Talking Heads

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. 

Photos this page Joel Coleman/Saltmotion
Homepage photo Steve Arklay/A-Frame Photography

Comments

maddogmorley's picture
maddogmorley's picture
maddogmorley commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 11:22am

Sorry to contradict you Ben but they didn't start the first and only charter boat out of PNG - at one stage there were 2 charters - the PNG Explorer and the Tiki Tu run by Adam and Dani Smith. The Tiki Tu was first (I did my first trip with them in 2009 and they had already been operating for a number of years) however they pulled up stumps 2 years ago.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 11:27am

That was my error Maddog. Thanks for the pick up.

wellymon's picture
wellymon's picture
wellymon commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 2:06pm

"One single reef cut left untreated can lead to an amputation scenario in just a few days."

Thats pretty full on, why is this scenario differnt compared to Indo? Or does this occur in Indo.
Is it the bacteria in the coral which is diffrent, the geographical position of PNG.
Interesting stuff.

Our brains are too small at the moment to comprehend the reality of what's happening in our forests . We're only just waking up so to speak . The big problem is we think we know everything, we are specks of dust on a timeline and we know nothing .

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 4:01pm

wellymon wrote: "One single reef cut left untreated can lead to an amputation scenario in just a few days."

Thats pretty full on, why is this scenario differnt compared to Indo? Or does this occur in Indo.
Is it the bacteria in the coral which is diffrent, the geographical position of PNG.
Interesting stuff.

That what i was thinking, i think I'm going to take more care next trip just incase.

maddogmorley's picture
maddogmorley's picture
maddogmorley commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 5:00pm

I've been there 4 times now and have seen some horror injuries. One of those involved a bloke who ended up getting septicemia after going into shock on the plane trip home. He was taken straight to hospital from the tarmac.

I'm not entirely sure why PNG is so nasty compared to Indo but I can take a few guesses. The water is warm, unusally warm really. Most of the time it hovers around 29 degrees C. Secondly the reef's are really shallow especially on the inside sections and there are a lot of those nasty mushroom coral heads that poke right out of the water. Perfect for getting cut up. Lastly the reef is alive, like really alive. Bright colours and super sharp. Way more than Indo - well from what I've seen in Indo anyway. This may be due to the small swell window PNG gets as 9 months of the year it resembles a lake. If you don't scrub your cuts out, like really scrub them out and take care of them then in a few days it's trip over.

It's also really humid - 29 degress in and out the water and plenty of rain so ya cuts don't heal until you get home - in fact they usually just get bigger. This doesnt help matters either.

Bucky Goldstein's picture
Bucky Goldstein's picture
Bucky Goldstein commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 8:00pm

Was in PNG in the mid 90s, so many unbelievable waves, were truly looking for others to surf with to know where to paddle out/sit etc. A lot of the locals had hideous septic boils that apparently just don't heal due to the local bacteria.
As long as you had a few beetlenut you could pretty much travel anywhere and find a friend.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 8:41pm

The PNG explorer went to Manus island and scored ... got any info on that trip Stu ?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 8:54pm

Yep, photos coming soon.

saltmotion's picture
saltmotion's picture
saltmotion commented Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014 at 6:08am

Hey Udo (and others) if you want to see what went down in Manus, have a look at this: http://www.saltmotion.com/journal/2014/12/manus-perspective/

Cheers.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014 at 6:17pm

Nice article and website and some of the best pics I've ever seen.

floyd's picture
floyd's picture
floyd commented Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014 at 6:54pm

Fantastic

floyd's picture
floyd's picture
floyd commented Monday, 8 Dec 2014 at 10:13pm

Been PNG and can only agree with maddog. Very hot day and night with ridiculous humidity; shallow reefs with huge coral heads. 2 guys on my trip needed medical attention back home caused by coral cuts going wrong.

benski's picture
benski's picture
benski commented Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014 at 6:07pm

Had a sensational trip up that way a few years back.

I bumped the outside of my shin on a log while swimming in a river and thought nothing of the tiny graze it caused. It was quite literally a few little red spots where I barely broke the skin. A couple of days later I had an open wound about an inch long and a quarter inch wide, oozing all sorts of different coloured shit. This was accompanied at different times by throbbing, stabbing, tingling and shooting pains at the wound and down into my foot. It was then that I legged it into town and bought some antibiotic cream to go with those water proof wound covers.

Nothing serious in the end, although it took about 6-8 weeks to heal properly. Got a decent scar now and a bit of a depression in my leg where it was.

Not knowing the potential risks, I stupidly kept surfing while I was there. Got a fair few more days of good surf too, but stayed out of the water a few weeks once I got home.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 9 Dec 2014 at 6:36pm

Anybody heard of coral ear some thing you can catch swimming or surfing in New Guinea when coral polyps are spawning ?