The Caribbean’s “Billionaires’ Playground” Is Making a Comeback
It’s tucked away at the far northeastern corner of the Caribbean, a protected harbor they sometimes call the Billionaires’ Playground.
But what’s here is both priceless and accessible, a Mecca for all those who love the sea, all those drawn here by the beauty of the British Virgin Islands.
This is the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, and it just might be the most rarefied, prettiest deep-water harbor in the Caribbean.
And after three years of hardship that started with a massive hurricane and now includes a pandemic, the North Sound is quietly in the midst of a renaissance.
In 2017, Irma hit this place hard.
The iconic Bitter End Yacht Club, the resort that was the siren song for nearly everyone who came to the North Sound, was destroyed. So was Saba Rock. And the Caribbean outpost of Sardinia’s renowned Costa Smeralda Yacht Club was lost, too.
But the North Sound is making a comeback, and in the age of COVID-19, it’s becoming an even more alluring destination.
First, there’s the Bitter End, whose rebuilding project is once again underway, according to Lauren Hokin, founding family member at the Bitter End Yacht Club, which first opened its doors in the late 1960s.
And then Saba Rock, the beloved bar and hotel that is now targeting a reopening in early 2021.
Sir Richard Branson’s Moskito Island, which formers the northwestern boundary of the North Sound, has been selling and developing real estate lots for several years, with construction visibly underway on several homes.
That’s along with Eustatia Island, the ultra-exclusive private-island retreat, which is rebuilding as well.
“The North Sound’s’ reputation as ‘The Billionaires’ Playground’ is definitely coming back,” said Sharon Flax-Brutus, the former director of the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board who is now leading Virgin Gorda-based White Oleander Destinations. “There are investments being made and there is quite a lot of excitement.”
Flax-Brutus also pointed to the recent approvals for the rebuilding of the former Biras Creek resort.
“And Necker and Moskito are adding to their already-luxe offerings,” she said. “Add Bitter End, Leverick Bay, not to mention Prickly Pear to the mix, how can we not be excited about the North Sound area?”
Of course, the biggest interest remains in the future of the Bitter End, the most iconic property in the North Sound and a true Caribbean Mecca.
Bitter End 2.0, as the Hokins call it, is targeting a debut for its first phase by the end of 2020.
“We had to pause our redevelopment activity for several weeks due to COVID-19 shutdown, but we are pleased to report the rebuilding project is well underway again and our 64 acres and mile of shoreline is a flurry of activity,” Hokin told Caribbean Journal Invest. “Mother Nature left us with a lot to clean up, but she also left us with even more beautiful beaches, an almost completely blank canvas, and a 50-year history to honor and build upon. And that is exactly what we intend to do.”
“Our plan for Bitter End 2.0 begins with a focus on the heart and soul of Bitter End – visiting yachts, yachtsmen, yachtswomen, and our local community. Our moorings and docks will be back in Phase 1, along with an all-new marina lounge with amenities,” she said.
That will be followed by a new Clubhouse, a new Club Fleet, a new boutique and a new general store, followed by plans for a return of the resort itself.
But the Bitter End’s return is just part of a wider trend, one that is turning the area into both a tourism destination (when the BVI eventually reopens its now-shuttered borders) and, perhaps more notably, as a real estate destination.
The aforementioned Oil Nut Bay, which is set on 400 acres on the North Sound, will have a total of 40 villas completed by the end of 2021, according to Shaylene Todd, sales and marketing director for ONB.
“Once we’re fully built, we’ll have over 100 home sites,” she told CJI.
Just before the pandemic hit, Oil Nut Bay had opened its new “marina village,” a public-facing town square of sorts, one that included an overwater restaurant, a pool, a boutique and public use of mooring balls, a first for the development.
And of the 40 aforementioned villas, 20 will be in the development’s popular rental program.
There are 200 construction workers on-site every day, Todd said, work that stopped for six weeks during the most severe period of lockdown but has since relaunched.
And while the community undoubtedly has a strong tourism future once the borders reopen, Todd said she’s seeing a renewed trend of people wanting to actually move to the North Sound, with the pandemic leading more high-net worth buyers to rethink where they live.
“It’s almost like Oil Nut Bay was built for this,” she said. “We’re a low-density development. People can fly here on their jets, they can arrive privately and they can go right to a villa, or still have a lot of property and get out in nature. We have very high-end infrastructure — you can Netflix or Zoom with your family. We’re built for it.”
“We’ve seen people from New York and the East Coast, and there are a lot of people who want to get out of Manhattan,” said Alexander Dobbs, a real estate sales executive at Oil Nut Bay. “There’s been a significant amount of interest.”
And that interest is likely to continue, Todd said.
“We’re likely to see more,” she said. “With all of the extra money these major countries have been borrowing, I think ultimately that comes back on the wealthy in the form of taxes. Being a tax haven really plays into this in the longer run.”
Because the things that made the North Sound iconic haven’t changed.
“There are few places in the entire world that are such large and protected areas,” he said “It’s a great place to overnight, but it also became an awesome playground. Not only could you bring your smaller yachts and your 350-foot superyachts, but you could go out and play. There was something for everyone.”
And now it’s coming back.
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