By ALEXANDER BRITELL
Brigitte Bardot used to skinny dip here. Right on this beach. Or maybe the one next to it. No one is quite sure. No one can remember.
Bardot used to come to Great Harbour Cay when the island was the Next Great Destination in All the World, when this tiny island in the Berry Islands chain of the Bahamas was booming, a magnet for Cary Grant and Paul Newman, when the Tamboo Club was jumping.
Half a century later, Great Harbour Cay is something very different. It is also precisely as it was.
The sparkling beaches are empty, the Tamboo Club is a graying monument to a gilded age and the 18-hole championship golf course is half covered in weeds, with nature clawing back this little speck of sand north of Nassau.
But what has survived has done so for a reason. In the shadow of a once-celebrated destination has emerged something else: a well-kept secret.
Today, the impossibly clear waters and endless beaches are only for those who have by some serendipity discovered this place — a grandson whose grandfather who once went to the Tamboo, a boater drawn to the protected marina, a bonefisherman.
But those who come here understand — why it boomed, why it went quiet, why once you come here you realize the trip was essential.
Because the siren song of Great Harbour Cay remains, the one that drew Marty and Angie back in 2005 before they opened the island’s best and only hotel, the Carriearl, in 2012.
Today, Angie Jackson and Martin Dronsfield are the warm British stewards of this place, the onetime home of Earl Backwell, the man charged with turning the island into a celebrity hotspot, and the stewards of his legacy, of Great Harbour’s legacy.
There are four well-designed bedrooms, a terrific restaurant and bar (one with a great rum selection, to boot) a beautiful pool and a short walk to one of the island’s stunning, deserted beaches.
Carriearl is the epicenter of the island, its bar always full of travelers and locals, with a Sunday brunch as much a social requirement as there be on a minuscule island.
It should be no surprise, then, that they don’t make hotels like the Carriearl anymore, and they don’t make islands like Great Harbour Cay anymore.
Because that was the destination dreamers’ great flaw — the island didn’t need to be made or remade. It already was paradise.
There was already a magnetism here, hidden in the brush and the shallows, a beckoning frequency.
Because the reason to come to Great Harbour Cay isn’t for celebrity or golf or flash.
This is a place to retreat from the world, to find the kind of tranquility no one can buy, to stay in a hotel that’s instantly your home and experience the almost mystical energy that you can only find in the far reaches of the Out Islands of the Bahamas.
Time has been a peculiar friend to Great Harbour Cay, lifting it and dropping it, pushing it forward and taking it beyond its shores, moving memories and reinventing them.
Sure, Great Harbour Cay never became that great international hotspot. But it was never meant to be. It was meant to be Great Harbour Cay.
Because it doesn’t matter which beach Brigitte Bardot used to skinny dip on.
What matters is that there was a time when she simply had to be here.
And now, so do you.
HOW TO GET HERE
Watermakers Air and Tropic Ocean Air fly scheduled and charter service out of Fort Lauderdale.
WHERE TO STAY
The Carriearl, of course, at www.carriearl.com.
See more in the video at the top by Guy Britton.