Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Night in the British Virgin Islands

ONE night in the BVI??? Yep, that's right, we spent only a single night in the beautiful British Virgins!  Once we left St. Thomas, we were on the move to travel to Sint Maarten for the annual Heineken Regatta beginning in early March 2014.  We had no time to spare. We were meeting our friends Rene and Stacy on Pipe muh Bligh and looking forward to meeting (and partying with!) new friends.  We were invited to crew on a sailboat during the race. Never having raced before, it was an opportunity to see what racing was all about and see the races up close.  And we had not seen Rene and Stacy since when we went in opposite directions in the Bahamas in May 2011.  We were ready for a reunion!

As we arrived in the BVI, there were sailboats of all sizes on the move everywhere! Here is a large sailing yacht motoring across the bay. Lovely!

And another big sailing yacht cruises by... it's size dwarfing the 40 ft charter boat heading (too) close by. 

The BVI is a popular place for bare boat sailboat chartering (no professional captain on board) and we were on the lookout for charter boat sailors (also known as "credit card captains").

Nothing against these sailors, but it is a known fact that many of them do not have a lot of experience anchoring and are likely to drag into you if there is a blow. Fortunately, most of the charter companies require them to take a mooring to minimize this possibility!

Photo credit: Alternate Latitude website

Hey guys, there's an easier way to do this! How about a charter with your own personal chef with our friends, Steve and Deb Schlosser on Alternate Latitude. Alternate Latitude, a Voyager 44 catamaran, offers 3 kinds of charters – Captain only, half-board or all-inclusive. Check out their website!

After a 6-hour sail from St. Thomas, we dropped the anchor on the east side of Prickly Pear Island near Eustacia Island at 3:30 p.m. 

Our anchorage was across from Necker Island, the famous home of Sir Richard Branson (of Virgin Records and Virgin Airways fame) and an ultra-luxurious private retreat for celebrities and CEO’s.  I’ll have to admit that I got the binoculars out to see if I could see some of the rich and famous prancing around on the sugar white beaches (naked, even!), but alas, there was nary a soul to be seen. There was a mega yacht anchored right off the shore and I saw some smaller boats running about, but not a rich or famous person in sight!

The story of how Richard Branson acquired the island is an interesting one.

Sir Richard Branson first became aware that some of the islands in the British Virgin Islands  were for sale in 1978. He was just twenty-eight years old. He promptly went to the British Virgin Islands for a holiday to investigate the prospective real estate. On first observing the islands, he envisioned using them to put up rock stars for his record label. Upon arrival to the BVI, he rented a luxury villa and travelled around islands for sale by helicopter. 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The final island he saw was Necker Island, and after climbing the hill and being stunned by the view and wildlife, fell in love with the island. After making a lowball bid of $100,000 for the $6 million island (due to his relatively modest funds at that time in his career), he was turned down and evicted from the island. A while later, the owner, Lord Cobham, in need of short-term capital, eventually settled for $180,000 after Branson had offered his final price of $175,000 three months before the actual sale took place. However, the government imposed a relatively common restriction on foreign landholders: that the new owner had to develop a resort within five years or the island would revert to the state. Branson committed, determined to build a resort on his tropical dream island.  

Photo credit: Necker Island Website
When Branson bought the 74-acre island, it was uninhabited. He purchased the island at the age of 28, just six years after starting Virgin Group. It took 3 years and approximately $10 million to turn it into a private island retreat. Using local stone, Brazilian hardwoods, Asian antiques, Indian rugs, art pieces and fabrics and bamboo furniture from Bali, the architects and elite designers created a 10-bedroom Balinese-style villa crowning a hill above the beach. Each of the 10 bedrooms has open walls giving a 360-degree view and cooling winds from any direction in the house. The island has accommodation for 28 people and rents out at $62,000 a day, meaning, less labor costs, the entire island cost could be recouped in a mere 4 months. All that includes two "private" beaches, private pools, tennis courts, breathtaking views, a personal chef, a team of about 60 staff and a wide array of water sports equipment.

Photo credit: Necker Island Website 
The island is available for weddings, relaxation breaks, sports vacations, and even complete rentals for any purpose. One high profile guest, Larry Page, Google billionaire co-founder, married his girlfriend, Lucy Southworth, on the island in early December 2007. Larry Page rented a portion of Virgin Gorda as well, as Necker was far too small to fit his 600+ guest party.  Mariah Carey has been a frequent visitor, and Prince Harry vacationed on Necker Island before his partying down episode in Las Vegas. The list of megastars from Hollywood and the world of sport to have holidayed there includes Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Oprah Winfrey, the Rolling Stones and the likes of John McEnroe and Novak Djokovic. It has also been a haven to some of the biggest names in politics such as Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair. 

In the early hours of August 22, 2011, The Great House, as it is called, burned down in a blaze believed to be caused by lightning from Tropical Storm Irene. The house was occupied at the time by as many as 20 guests, with Sir Richard Branson himself staying in a residence nearby. All 20 of the guests escaped unhurt from the burning house, which according to Sir Richard Branson was totally destroyed. Among the 20 occupants were actress Kate Winslet, along with Branson's 90-year-old mother Eve and his 29-year-old daughter Holly, when the fire broke out in the early hours of the morning. Kate Winslet saved Branson’s mother by carrying her out of the house.  The Great House has now been rebuilt with the Great Room expanded from but in a style strongly reminiscent of that lost to the fire.

Although the land on the island is entirely privately owned, under BVI law,  all beaches up to the high-water mark are Crown Land and are open to the public. In practice, the security personnel who accompany guests to Necker Island are known for making it difficult for ordinary members of the public to enjoy the beaches, particularly when high-profile guests are in residence.  We stayed on our boat and didn’t venture over.

The next afternoon, we departed our little anchorage at 5:00 p.m., heading to Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten.  We passed several large ships during the night and had a pleasant 14 hour 80 nautical mile sail.  We dropped the hook in the basin outside of Simpson Bay and waited for the Simpson Bay lift bridge on the Dutch side of the island to open.  

Wanting to surprise Stacy and Rene, I used the hailing alias "Wild Thang" to get through the bridge and we headed to Simpson Bay Lagoon on the French side of the island to anchor.  We dinghied over to knock on the hull of Pipe muh Bligh at 10:30 a.m. Rene came out and asked "Can I help you?" He was sleepy and it took him a few seconds to recognize us!  Stacy came hopping up from the inside of the boat and we had our big reunion.  Dave and Lisa from KeOla'Kai and John and Jolanda from JoHo dropped in to welcome us to Saint Martin.  

We were ready to party!  We made plans to meet at happy hour that afternoon at a local Greek restaurant, Barnacles.  Good fun, good friends, and new friends... What a welcome to the island of Saint Martin!

References:, Necker Island website.

No comments: