Above and Beyond
WORDS: GEMMA HARRIS | IMAGES: MIKE REYNO AND LUCY TULLOCK
Although he grew up on the Norfolk Broads, Tom Hollyhomes discovered sailing a little later in life. At the ripe age of 18, he had his first experience in the yachting world, working for Sunsail in Turkey, and in his words explained; “I had no idea what I was in for.” Little did he know then that it would take him on a whirlwind adventure with eleven Caribbean seasons under his belt. Having good mentors to guide him through the industry on S/Y Andromeda meant he progressed through his qualifications quickly and, in his early 20s, found himself onS/Y Marie.
Ticking off even more qualifications, he completed a final yachting stint on S/Y Nilaya, his first Captain command. Or perhaps, as he looks back now, “aviation was always the end goal.” It was in his blood, with a father who is “extremely passionate” about flying, and a brother who works as a big jet pilot. Tom on the other hand decided to take the sailing route. After an extensive and highly competitive regime training in Canada, he landed his first job without leaving yachts too far behind. “The first company I worked for in Vancouver was for an owner that also had a small yacht he wanted me to look after,” he recalls with a smile.
But, eventually, flying took over completely. Tom now splits his time between Vancouver and Antigua. “I have a soft spot for Antigua. It’s great to be back and to see a lot of old faces, a nice blast from the past, and to know the ins and outs of the island is a plus for me flying here.” He continues, “I look back over my messages, and I was in touch with the helicopter scene down here [in Antigua] for quite a few years, pestering pilots back then about wanting to be a pilot. I bugged them long enough that once I got the qualifications and experience I needed, I contacted CalvinAir.” Luckily, they had just purchased a third helicopter ready for someone with aviation experience and a love for Antigua.
From morning tours to afternoon private jet transfers, a day at CalvinAir is far from boring for Tom. Sometimes he even assists with emergency calls. “CalvinAir sponsors anything to do with search and rescue for Antigua and Barbuda; we do that as part of a service to give back. Even if it’s a minor injury in Barbuda, where access is limited, it could turn major without having helicopter access. We also support loads of other different foundations around the island,” he continues. “It is really nice to be involved with a group that genuinely cares about the island and is having a positive impact.”
When asked about his favourite tour they do, Tom jumps immediately to Montserrat. “Flying over the volcano is tough to beat, and it’s unbelievable to see the sulphur dioxide,” he explains. “We fly at a low level over Plymouth - the town that was destroyed - and we put a really great soundtrack together for the flight. It’s like nothing our clients could imagine, flying through the islands, canyons and valleys.” As well as doing tours around Montserrat, CalvinAir flies scientists to the volcano to monitor its activity. The clients love it.
Flying around Antigua has its benefits for Tom, too. “We spot humpback whales, occasional minke whales, and it’s a regular event to see dolphins, sea turtles, and stingrays off the coast.” Tom continues, “sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind me how cool my job really is; it’s only when I don’t fly for a few days that I miss it and want to get back up there.”
Back down to sea level, sailing still finds its way into Tom’s days. “When the regattas start kicking off, we will be heavily involved in photographing them.” These are familiar sailing grounds for him, having raced them previously. “Flying the course for the photography of the RORC is most exciting for me as I understand the racecourse as well as the aviation.”
The good mentorship Tom enjoyed in his sailing days has extended into his aviation career, and he proudly describes how, “all the pilots and engineers [at CalvinAir] have a wealth of experience with different backgrounds, and it’s great to be surrounded by that.”