"The Captain" - Robin Hood of the Amazon

"Over the course of my 43 years in the island of Antigua, I have seen many people come through, trying their best to wake us up to the ever-increasing problems of pollution which is these days manifesting itself in so many different ways. Although it is obvious to everyone, very little has been done to help save the world around us until, that is, the arrival of Captain Clive Kelly. This tireless gentleman spares no effort and has, over the years, kept up a non-stop war against all those who continue to destroy the very fragile environment, wherever it may be. It is imperative that he be given the support of all those organisations who are concerned about the slow destruction of this still very beautiful planet. The work of Captain Kelly must be given the recognition due to him". Joel Byerley, Commodore Antigua Yacht Club, 31st May 2000.


It was early August and I was sitting in my office trying to conceal myself from charter guests, two New York attorneys and their wives, who were quarrelling with our receptionist over the price of a hand of bananas.

Glancing through my glass-panelled office door, I noticed a gentleman whom I assumed did not belong to their group for he had what might be termed an unusual appearance, certainly not the type to haggle over the price of fruit. I caught his eye and beckoned, and he stepped into my office, hand outstretched, and introduced himself as Captain Clive Kelly.

Captain Kelly stood nearly six feet tall. Heavily tanned, and liberally adorned with tattoos, he wore a bandana around his head and was somewhat casually attired in a partially buttoned, floral shirt and a pair of shorts that looked as if they might have been fashioned somewhere in south Asia in the mid 60s. Most striking were the tattooed green and red lines running from the comers of his eyes - thin crows' feet etched onto his rugged features, that gave him a kindly yet faintly comic appearance. He wore a reed and ivory necklace and I felt that the only thing he lacked was a parrot on his shoulder.

I asked Captain Kelly how I could help him and he replied, in a gentle Merseyside accent, that he was "given to understand that we could provide him with Mick's phone number".

"Mick?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "Mick Jagger. I used to work with him, you know. You see, we've had this terrible accident and I need to call in a favour".

Captain Kelly explained that he was the owner of a trimaran, SURVIVAL, which had grounded off Young Island a few days previously. He had called the St Vincent Coast Guard which had responded by pulling him off the reef, depositing him onto another reef close to Sunset Shores Hotel, dropping his anchor over the side without ensuring that it was secured to the yacht, and then disappearing. Captain Kelly, aboard the yacht with his wife, had eventually managed to have SURVIVAL pulled by two tractors onto the beach adjacent to Buehler's Yachts and the latter had promptly (and, one might think, rather heartlessly) submitted an invoice for $EC 7,200 for their services.

Clive Kelly's tale is a remarkable one. A militant ecologist, artist and Oscar-nominated documentary film-maker, he has been living on board SURVIVAL for nearly 25 years, and has spent that time fighting for the causes of the Amazon Indians and for the protection of the world's eco-systems. In 1993 he was awarded Brazil's "Chico Mendez Prize" in recognition of his unwavering defence of human and ecological rights.

On the day that he was born, a German bomb demolished his house. As a child, his playground was a derelict bomb site until that was taken over by a car park company which chased away the children that played there. At the age of 14, he went to sea "to see the world" but by the age of 24 he had resettled in England and was a highly successful pub & club owner.

In 1962, he contracted with the Rolling Stones to play in one of his clubs but only Mick Jagger and Brian Jones showed up as the rest of the band were reluctant to tear themselves away from a nearby public house. Jagger promised that he would perform at a future date and thus, 38 years later, Captain Kelly sailed into St Vincent, hoping to meet him in Mustique and to redeem his offer in order to raise funds for an Amerindian museum and exhibition.

In 1977 Captain Kelly commissioned SURVIVAL, a 17-metre ocean-going trimaran designed and built by Nigel Irens and Paul Weycham of Bristol. Built of an Airex foam sandwich this large, strong vessel was originally intended to be used as a film-making platform in South America, but it also developed into an extraordinary floating Indian cultural museum and "ecological denunciation" boat.

In the South American jungle he met the Amazon Indian Chief Raoni, the subject of his 1978 Oscar-nominated documentary. A deep friendship developed between the pair over the ensuing years and Kelly spent long periods living with the inhabitants of the deepest parts of the Amazon rain forest, in the Pantanal region which borders Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Peru.

Raoni was troubled by the forcible assimilation of Amazon Indians into the Western lifestyle, believing that the preservation of indigenous culture, medicine, art and beliefs - all being systematically destroyed by "development" - were of paramount importance. "The Indians," said Kelly, "planted the Amazon about 70,000 years ago, and if the new owners of these lands destroy the forest as they want to. the world will die because it will not have a filter for the lungs of the world." In the Amazon. Kelly discovered a freedom that he had never previously known. He "became" an Indian and even wore a lip-plug for a while.

In 1994 Kelly visited the Bororo and Yanomani Indians, two of the few remaining tribes in the Pantanal, more than 200 others having being wiped out On this particular trip he noticed that the local tugboat company was causing extreme damage to the marine environment, and so embarked on one of his characteristic 'denunciations'.

"The tugs," says Kelly, "enter the shallow river waters and their enormous propellers suck everything in - birds, fish, alligators, you name it - and then chop them to pieces. They also pollute the water with tons of oil". But he was totally unprepared for the ferocity of the response he received. Even though he had photographic evidence, the tugboat company prosecuted him for slander and he was placed under house arrest for eight months. SURVIVAL was prohibited from leaving her mornings for a whole summer, with temperatures around 45° Celsius, clouds of fierce mosquitoes, and alligators which prohibited bathing and kept him awake by banging their tails on the hulls of the under-wings. The harbour wall was twelve feet higher than SURVIVAL'S deck and infested with rats. From this berth, 800 yards from the Bolivian border, it was also common to see packets of cocaine float by disguised as, or in, floating plants, dead snakes, cows, alligators & dogs.

Kelly remained on board, revolver at the ready. At one stage, a deadly Caninana snake was placed in his dinghy by an unknown person and on another occasion he was attacked by a pack of dogs whilst heading ashore. Finally, after many letters to government officials and international ecological bodies, he was released. "I was advised to leave the area as soon as possible, but before did so I was visited by a group of local forest police who told me that my denunciation of the tugboats had triggered the foundation of a "Clean Pantanal" project and had given them a voice. So, I am happy to say that the local Indians and animals can now drink the water..."

Another of Captain Kelly's successful denunciations concerned the use of jet skis. Whilst moored on the river Jaguaro, SURVIVAL was almost hit by one. So Kelly immediately painted a notice reading "Jet skis are the enemies of nature, peace and tranquillity", and advising that they stay clear of the yacht which was to be visited by 700 schoolchildren that week. "Jet skis," he says, "scare all the rare and near-extinct birds from their nests and eggs -- they never return, for fear of those noisy, polluting, motorised mosquitoes".

The local jet-skiers, however, were rich and powerful, and advised the Commodore of the local yacht club to tell him to leave, which he did. But he went straight to the Uruguayan side of Lake Mirin where he staged an exhibition, giving talks at the local people's hall. This led to the local residents putting their own notice up at the lakeside. Captain Kelly was then interviewed for the Uruguayan TV and press, telling them that the jet ski is the environmental Public Enemy No.1. He convinced the Uruguayan marine authorities who have now banned jet skis.

Before he left the Matto Grosso, Kelly was able meet a previously unknown tribe which speaks the Dravidian Language, thought to be the same as that of the Druids of Britain. A 73-year old woman doctor who has spent her life with them taught him the language.

In April and May of this year, Captain Kelly visited Antigua where SURVIVAL was opened to the public and the Captain gave talks at local schools. From Antigua, he headed south to St Vincent, after which he planned to take SURVIVAL back to London where, at St Catharine's dock, she would be moored and opened to the public as a floating museum with displays of indigenous artifacts. SURVIVAL'S accident may shatter these plans.

Captain Kelly, his wife and SURVIVAL are currently marooned on the beach adjacent to Buehler's Yachts in St Vincent, with approximately $US 20,000 of damage to the yacht. Barefoot Yacht Charters has so far raised $EC 6,000 to assist with repairs, and plans are afoot to stage an exhibition and possibly an auction in order to raise additional funds to enable the yacht to be re-floated. Contributions to assist Captain KELLY in the repair of SURVIVAL, the world's only floating Ecological and Amerindian museum, would be greatly appreciated and may be sent to Barefoot Yacht Charters.

"I wish, on behalf of my Ministry and my Government, to support the nomination of Captain Kelly as a leading environmentalist, conservationist and extraordinary champion of the Amerindian tribes of the Amazon, for the Global 500 Environmental Award and trust that he will be consequently rewarded for his unstinting sacrifices of over 30 years unique service for mankind". The Hon Gaston Browne, Minister of Planning, Implementation and Public Service Affairs, Government of Antigua and Barbuda, May 2000.

© August 2000    Narendra Sethia    Barefoot Yacht Charters, St Vincent & The Grenadines, West Indies

Antigua Sun Fri 7 April 2000 1


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