The most boat-friendly island in the Caribbean, Antigua's deep bays and natural harbours have long been a calm refuge for ships – from ancient mariners escaping storm-tossed seas to modern super-yachts docking to enjoy the island's laid-back tropical vibe.
Despite its status as a popular beach holiday destination, most of its coastline is entirely unspoilt and a team of enterprising Antiguans have recently taken advantage of the island's natural riches to create a new attraction for locals and visitors.
Housed in a salvaged boat that sits in one of Antigua's most serene bays, D-boat is variously an adult aqua-park, sun trap, floating bar and lunch stop. Its owners have taken the concept of up-cycling to whole new levels with the refashioning of the old 140-feet-long polish oil tanker that took months of hard graft to complete. And although some of the boat's original features – such as the bridge – have been left intact, the result is a fully pimped-out playground in paradise that's already attracted the likes of Justin Bieber.
Opened fairly recently and moored in a sheltered spot between Shell Beach Marina and Maiden Island in Antigua's North Sound, it weathered the storms of last September and came through unscathed. I visited late on a Saturday morning to spend a few hours enjoying lunch and frolicking around this strange sea base.
D-boat's proximity to Maiden Island makes it an easy hop by skiff from Shell Beach Marina. My group was picked up by speedboat from the jetty and whisked up to D-boat in the late morning sun. The surrounding slim slivers of islets and green mangroves of the North Sound were highlighted with platinum streaks of sand.
Once aboard we were treated to a rainbow of cocktails, matching a rainbow streaking across the sky as a brief tropical downpour drifted in. The blue one (though much like Skittles I imagine they all taste the same) provided me with enough Dutch courage to dive right in and be the first among our group to attempt the jumbo slide.
Climbing to the top of the boat I braced myself for a steep drop down the lathered-up inflatable and into the ocean. After a little encouragement from the boat's lovely staff, an exhilarating ride was over in seconds, and surfacing from the clear blue depths I rushed to the top like a big kid to do it all over again.
But D-boat's watery attractions go way beyond the inflatable slide. The Fat Boys' giant bouncy bullet launches people into the air for a death-defying dive into the water, and the truly brave can walk the plank from the top of the boat and try the scary high slide.
Tarzan swings pendulum out over the water, the giant over-water trampoline is irresistible for both bouncing and sunbathing. And for more conventional water babies, there's a diving platform too.
View from the bridge
The view from the bridge was all platinum-streaked islets, thick mangroves, deep blue waters and boundless azure skies. Most of the boat has been repurposed but some of the original features, including the steering wheel and the ship's bridge have been left intact. Inside the bridge, a fascinating circuit board of vintage dials, knobs, levers and radio revealed the its rustic roots.
After a tour of the boat, I settled down in the sheltered eating area on the main deck for a tasty lunch of grilled chicken, salad and rice from the boat's galley. Fully refuelled, the group spent the next couple of hours alternating between frenetic fun and tanning on the sun terrace in the blazing tropical sun.
Ready for launch
As part of D-boat package, visitors get free Wi-Fi – great if you want to share your experience in real time. But although the boat is permanently moored, among its best features are the free snorkelling tours and access to exclusive desert island beaches via the skiff. A simple snorkel around the boat revealed glassy depths and silvery stripy fish weaving among the seagrass – enough to whet my appetite for a guided snorkel to see the turtles in the bay.
The boat has masks, snorkels and fins on hand for an excursion. We swam through the shallow islets to a patch of sea grass where a bag full of feed was produced to tempt in the sea turtles who loiter in the bay. Over by the mangroves, schools of glass fish weaved through roots and young fish took shelter from predators and the open sea.
I chose to swim up to one of the narrow strips of coralline sand to hunt for shells, picking up some baby conch and brittle whitened sea urchins to add to my collection. Later a few of us plotted up on the sand, soaking in the sun like Robinson Crusoe with no trace of civilization in sight.
One of those unique, rare places you can only reach by sea, D-boat's private aquamarine bay is the latest place to hang out, graze and lime in Antigua. It's a great base for a fun and relaxed day in the Caribbean and a fantastic bolt-on to the Island Safari four-by-four tour. It's also a novel setting for a cocktail that adds another dimension to a day exploring the island's newly-mapped beach bar trail.