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The BVI’s Billionaire Playground Uncovered! Part 2

(1) USE THIS - Oil Nut Bay Beach Club View

The famous North Sound’s phenomenal story and influential people

Photography by Rainbow Visions BVI

By the early 1970s, Leverick Bay could be reached by a paved road from Spanish Town, there was electricity in North Sound, and for the first time residents could own a car.  A consortium from Norway had purchased the land at Biras Creek and was preparing to develop it. Yacht charters were bringing visitors to the BVI, but it was North Sound that was making them stay.

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Little Dix Bay, at the other end of Virgin Gorda, had already been welcoming visitors for several years at that point, opening up a wealth of opportunities to those living in North Sound.  For many people, including Ashburn Harrigan who was born and raised in North Sound, his 16 years working at Little Dix Bay gave him invaluable exposure in customer service. He says: “I learnt so much from the management and from the guests.” It was literally the first time the people of Virgin Gorda had been able to get a job on the island other than in agriculture or labouring.

Ashburn spent his time wisely, getting to know what the visitors wanted from their vacation and, with a true entrepreneurial spirit, planning to supply that demand. When he left Little Dix he bought a 13-foot whaler and started offering boat charters. Since then, he has not looked back, buying increasingly bigger vessels, expanding his business ventures and is now the owner of an exciting new development at Blunder Bay Estates in North Sound where preparations are being made for a  22-acre luxury residential waterfront development.

The land is divided into 10 building plots, each with its own unique character from being right on the white sand beach, to having a private dock a few feet away. Before any work began at Blunder Bay, an extensive environmental report was commissioned. Fully aware that they are the custodians of a naturally flawless area with a finely balanced eco-system, Blunder Bay’s team includes environmental experts to ensure that every detail of the development adheres to strict green architecture guidelines combined with thoroughly up to date technology, a 12 berth marina, four private docks, a private road within the estate, a helipad and beach facilities.

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In 1964, Myron and Denice Hokin sailed around the BVI for the first time. At that time North Sound had very little organised hospitality to offer bareboat visitors. Consequently, the restaurant at Bitter End, owned by Basil Symonette, was a frequent stopping off point for the Hokins. So much so that they approached Basil to buy an acre of land at Bitter End for themselves to build their own cottage to use whilst in North Sound. Basil refused to sell an acre, but offered them the entire property instead. The Hokins’ son and present-day owner of Bitter End, Richard Hokin, persuaded his father that it would be worth buying the property for use as a family vacation spot and the Hokin Family became the proud owners of prime beachfront property, a restaurant, and five cottages on the hillside behind.

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In those early days, the Bitter End was kept very much as a family retreat, although the restaurant remained open to visitors. There was never any intention to develop a resort even when the hillside cottages were remodelled. The Hokin Family had no experience or indeed any interest in the hospitality business, but the resort growth happened regardless. Bareboat charters were still very primitive and sailors repeatedly requested to come ashore for a hot shower and a comfortable bed. There was no master plan. The Bitter End grew gradually as a result of the demand and this year celebrated its 40th anniversary.

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John and Nici Dobson’s story is a similar one. Having first visited the BVI on a sailing holiday, they chose Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda for their honeymoon in 1987 and by 1989, were returning to Little Dix Bay for their second wedding anniversary.

Part way through their stay, a hotel waiter who remembered them from their honeymoon, suggested to buy some property, since they clearly loved Virgin Gorda. This enterprising young man, Ashburn Harrigan, borrowed a car and showed the Dobsons’ property all over the island, ending up in Leverick Bay where the temperature felt a good 10 degrees cooler and the breezes were constant. They decided on a lot that day and the sale was initiated.

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John worked closely with Chris Yates of Leonard & Yates Construction to design the house and construction began in 1991, spanning a two-year period due to the difficulties of building at that time. Leonard & Yates, the only construction company at that time, had one small cement mixer and no concrete pump, so it was a slow process. The house, Dos Sols, remains today and is still enjoyed by the Dobson family, and repeat rental guests who return for the uninterrupted views of Mosquito and Prickly Pear. The friendships they formed in those early days have continued to this day. It is the beauty of North Sound that draws people in, but the local people who make them stay.

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Ed and Jackie Silvers built the very first vacation home in Leverick Bay back in 1975. Ed was a Warner Brothers Music executive when he first visited the BVI and fell in love with Virgin Gorda instantly. He bought land and Leonard & Yates built the first wooden house at Leverick Bay as an all-inclusive package, which was subsequently replaced in 1991 with a concrete house on the same spot, designed and built by Sam Leonard. It was Ed’s close friendship with Sam Leonard that persuaded him to make the move to Virgin Gorda permanently and he retired from Los Angeles in 1981.

Sam was half of the only construction company Leonard & Yates and he was a well-loved member of the North Sound community, always smiling and involved in all aspects of local life—even playing the organ at the Catholic Church.

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His untimely and unexpected death in 1995 shocked the North Sound community. The fact that his name has come up so many times in the research of this article is testimony to the cherished position his memory has in the community. As for Ed, he cannot picture himself anywhere else: “I am the luckiest guy alive to have ended up here. Here my life has purpose.  I celebrate with friends, I try to be helpful to some and am helped by others.”

Sir Richard Branson’s purchase of Necker Island in 1978 and subsequent development of the ultimate private island destination, shone a spotlight on the area and, although it has taken more than 25 years (we like to take things at a steady pace in the islands), it was inevitable others would follow to such an idyllic location.

Into the 20th century and the North Sound is now seeing some dramatic and rapid changes. As former Chief Minister O’Neal predicted, the North Sound has indeed become a yachting mecca.

In 2011, developer David V. Johnson completed the North Sound Yacht Club and Superyacht Marina with the vision of attracting the world’s most impressive superyachts along with their owners. The marina has 38 berths (nine have been sold) for yachts up to 300 ft. Though he still owns the Marina, Johnson finalised the sale of what is now Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) Virgin Gorda to His Highness The Aga Kahn in October 2014.

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The Yacht Club and Marina play host to some of the most spectacular regattas in the Caribbean, including the Loro Piano Superyacht Regatta and Rendezvous held in March each year. Not only hosting some of the world’s largest yachts, the North Sound is now also home to probably more billionaires per square acre than even the most affluent Caribbean islands.

Johnson is also well under way on the development of Oil Nut Bay, a 300 acre luxury, multi-generational residential resort on the very far Eastern tip of Virgin Gorda. Purchased in 2008, the property is being developed in harmony with the natural land and has dedicated 50% to green space.

The low-density development will ultimately have 88 homes spread across 8 different neighbourhoods, each with unique topography and sea views. Of the 46 lots released to date, over 50% are sold with twelve villas complete and an additional twelve under development. All of the resort amenities and infrastructure are complete, including the Beach Club with three pools, restaurant, bar, Wellness Studio, tennis and pickle-ball courts, Nut House Kid’s Club, and Nature Centre as well as onsite emergency medical treatment.

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The Marina Village on Deep Bay will open next season with a second restaurant and boutique shops to go along with 92 boat slips and twin jet heli-pad. Oil Nut Bay is the new Mustique of the Caribbean and it, along with its neighbours are setting a new paradigm for pricing in the British Virgin Islands.

A few years ago, Sir. Richard himself purchased a second island, Moskito Island, and development is now under way on a very special community of residences for himself, his family and a few, very fascinating friends. Moskito, named for the Moskito Indians, will showcase the world’s best approach to eco-friendly development according to its charismatic owner.

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Ralph O’Neal remains an outspoken advocate for North Sound and is still vocal with his call for the continued monitoring of the impact that current and future developments will have on the economy and environment of North Sound. It is his hope that such development will continue to provide attractive opportunities for investors, whilst still benefiting the broader community in Virgin Gorda and the BVI as a whole.

Chris Smith
Chris arrived in the BVI in 1992 to work for Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island. After several great years on Necker, Chris moved to Virgin Gorda and became involved in real estate sales and development, and vacation villa rentals and management as managing broker of Coldwell Banker.
Chris Smith

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