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The Foundations of a Legend w/Yates Associates (Part 2)

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Following Part 1 of our series where we cast our eye on the North Sound of Virgin Gorda as it was in the 1960s, we investigate further into entrepreneur Chris Yate’s role in the North Sound’s development and her ownership of one of the most popular establishments in the area – Leverick Bay Resort and Marina.

There is an axiom that is often used to describe a contributing factor to success – it’s ‘being in the right place at the right time.’ Another is: ‘It’s not what you know but who you know.’

Chris Yates of Leverick Bay Hotel and Marina could aptly ascribe both truisms to her own remarkable success.

Yates arrived in the Caribbean in 1965 after receiving a degree in electrical engineering from the UK’s Manchester University. After a stint in Montserrat, she came to the BVI in 1968 and immediately obtained work with several pioneering businesses in need of her expertise. She was variously contracted by Bob Gray, a pioneer contractor/developer, Charles and Rowan Roy of Treasure Isle Hotel, the fledgling International Motors, and Anegada Development Co. – to name just a few.

She lived aboard a 24-foot sailboat with an extensive inventory and would sometimes swim ashore with her tools and parts on a ‘floaty.’

“One day I was asked to remove a gas pump from the old Ocean View Hotel in Virgin Gorda and reinstall it at Fischer’s Cove Hotel,” said Chris. “I sailed up to Virgin Gorda on my little boat and went ashore. I was in the middle of dismantling the pump when Robinson O’Neal approached me, shotgun in hand, and asked me what the hell I was doing. Fortunately, Andy Flax arrived on the scene and explained the situation. Then Speedy heard I was on the island and asked me to come and fix his broken welding machine. In this way, I met so many people.”

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By 1969, Yates was working for Island Electric and was very conversant with many businesses and start-up operations in the BVI; it was the beginning of the tourism industry as we know it today. In 1974, a local builder—Waldo O’Neal—was building two ‘Round’ houses at Virgin Gorda’s Leverick Bay and needed assistance with the electrical and plumbing installations; Chris Yates was given the job. On the successful completion of these projects, Leon Stackler a realtor from St Thomas with great vision was developing Leverick Bay estates and planning on building seven more round houses; Chris Yates was awarded the contract.

In those days, BVI dwellings had to be built with their own independent plumbing; septic tanks, cisterns for fresh water, pumps, and pipes to service the needs of the occupants. After great difficulty with many naysayers saying it couldn’t be done, Yates found one man with the necessary skill, right attitude, and positive energy; his name was Sam Leonard and he was contracted to do the job. Chris decided to pre-fabricate the houses on a site near Port Purcell in Tortola and then barge them to Leverick Bay by which time the foundations and cisterns etc. would be ready. All seven houses were completed on time and within budget. Soon afterwards, Leonard and Yates Construction Company was born and more projects were forthcoming.

“It was a wonderful partnership because we became great friends,” explained Chris, “but that is not to say we didn’t have disagreements. Instead of arguing over points of contention, we would both sit down and write each other long letters with our points of view. Then another letter might follow and even a third. On one occasion, we couldn’t agree so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll sell my 50% stake in the company.’ To which Sam replied, ‘Okay, then I’ll sell mine too – what shall we do next?’ We both had a good laugh and somehow it all worked out. In today’s world of hurried and sometimes thoughtless email communication, our method of written debate may cause a lot less embarrassment for people, especially politicians in the future.”

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For these two energetic and ambitious business people, the game of life was not only about succeeding in development but about having fun. They tried their hands at other enterprises like commercial fishing, wholesale foods, the local quarry, and time shares, but in the end their expertise in construction and development took up all their time.

The hotel, marina and resort at Leverick Bay is today recognised as one of the most attractive and charming facilities in North Sound, but its development took place over many years. The first dock was built in 1972 by Leon Stackler, a wood pile construction, which was rebuilt in 1983 by Sam and Chris using concrete with an associate Guy Blok after the wood one was destroyed by a hurricane; by the mid-80s, the facility was leased to North South Yacht Charters. Accompanying this was the Restaurant at Leverick Bay, which was renamed the Salty Whale.

“It was Leon Stackler who sold us the land where the hotel/condominiums, shops and restaurant are now. We partnered with some US financiers and acquired the land and Leonard and Yates did the construction. Slowly we bought out the partners. We formed the Leverick Bay Hotel and Marina Company and kept it separate from Leonard and Yates Construction Company.

“In 1990, Charles Tobias of Pusser’s approached us to lease the restaurant and a sizable retail outlet so we, with Roger Downing as architect, redesigned the whole facility, reclaimed the beach, built a new pool and what you see today is the result of these efforts. Jumbies Beach Bar and the hillside nooks and crannies with the small stage where Michael Beans performs his inimitable show, came later.”

By this time, Leonard and Yates Construction were the premier construction company on the island. In the following 25 years, many of the island’s developers contracted Leonard and Yates, which evolved into Yates Associates following Sam Leonard’s passing.

To be continued…

Photography courtesy of Yates Associates

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