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The Foundations of a Legend w/ Yates Associates Construction Company

the-first-beach-reclamation-and-original-restaurant-building

Part 1 of 4

Before the North Sound of Virgin Gorda (VG) became the billionaire yacht playground it is today, this popular tourist destination was a distinctly different location—physically and industrially. Looking through the scope of the 1960s, one would behold an extremely quiet VG with a single paved road and very few people or boats coming into the Sound.

So how did the Sound transform into the thriving yacht capital and poster for luxurious Caribbean lifestyle? Curious parties are compelled to turn to the individuals, that viewed the metamorphosis of these quiet isles.

Chris Yates—one of VG’s pioneering entrepreneurs and an expert in electrical engineering—is a key witness and innovator, involved in the evolution of the North Sound area – specifically, relishing ownership of Leverick Bay Resort and Marina.

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Chris Yates

Arriving on VG in 1968, Chris is one of few people that can testify to the Territory and its North Sound district as it existed before. A sparse region, VG airport offered airline services arriving from Puerto Rico with Dorado Wings, to newly opened Little Dix Bay Hotel, and island air taxies from St Thomas. In fact, the BVI in its entirety was going through changes.

“Tortola airport was a dirt runway and the British Royal Marines surfaced it in 1968/69,” said Chris, relaying background on the BVI’s topography. “We’re looking at a Virgin Gorda where there were no paved roads, except from the airport to Little Dix Bay. Most of the existing main roads were cut, but not paved. The VG marina was built in 1971/72 with the Little Dix Commissary—now used by Bucks Wholesale—and the shopping centre was built in 1974.”

When comparing Chris’ memories with the VG we have today, there’s been a dramatic increase in regular tourism, but back in the 1960s, resort options were considerably limited for the holidaymaker.

“Accommodation in 1968 to 1970 was Little Dix Hotel, Ocean View, Guavaberry Cottages, and Fischer’s Cove,” said Chris. “By 1971, electricity was installed in VG encouraging island-wide development. The North Sound’s retreat options were Moskito Island with a few cottages developed by Burt Kilbridge as a small restaurant/ hotel.” Since this time, the Sound can boast of exquisite, globally renowned resorts.

Another claim to fame for the Sound is its yacht traffic; the transition over time has seen that superb superyachts enter its harbours; yet in 1968, there was very little in the way of vessels sailing in. Renowned Bitter End was comprised of three moorings and a small restaurant managed by a couple – “If you ordered early, they would cook,” said Chris of a time when the Sound’s hospitality industry was more relaxed.

“Only about six to eight boats would sail into the Sound per week in those days,” she added, in stark contrast to today’s flourishing boat circulation. However, this wouldn’t last as astute business minds saw the potential of the islands.

“In 1969, the internationally renowned Moorings Yacht Charters started with three boats,” she continued, referencing the company here in the BVI, who are largely responsible for the thriving yacht industry of the Territory. “In the 1970s, VG had the development of Bitter End followed by Biras Creek and Tradewinds. Also, Dave Hamilton from St. Croix had started to develop Eustatia and Saba Rock.

“Notable people around at the time were Richard Branson who built Necker Island, Jan Michael Vincent from Airwolf, and Dick Cavett – there were other movie stars who visited the area for the privacy and seclusion it provided, as it was a very quiet place.”

Leverick Bay’s contribution to the exclusive North Sound we see today, commenced when Leon Stackler—a visionary realtor from St Thomas—bought the land in 1969/70. He built a dock and installed concrete roads in early 1972, constructing the first model house on the point just above the dock.

Between 1972 and 1977, six more homes were erected; three round houses by the dock area and three on hillside lots.

“On two of the round houses, the contractor misread the plans and put the floor eight feet above the cistern instead of on top of the cistern,” commented Chris. “Hence, the reason there’s the house on the very tall columns up the hill. Another contractor had the job to build the next two round houses and when it came time to furnish them, Mr. Stackler discovered one of them had only 12 sides instead of the required 13. When the Foreman was asked about it, he said he knew but thought the contractor, his boss, was trying to save money. Such were these types of occurrences, but it all worked out.”

Moving forward in Leverick Bay’s history, it was in 1977 when Chris Yates was fixing electrical and plumbing problems for Leon Stackler, that he requested her assistance in the construction of seven more of the round houses. Chris subcontracted the foundations and cistern construction to a known professional, Samuel Leonard while she did the assembly of the wooden building on top and the electric and plumbing.

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Samuel Leonard

This successful partnership conceived Leonard and Yates Construction Company to continue collaboration on other projects. Leonard and Yates ascended as the major industry construction leaders of Virgin Gorda, while observing the success of their work at Leverick Bay as the property buyers emerged.

“Original buyers of Leverick Bay property were doctors, dentists, writers, artists, and businessmen who all adored the water and sailing,” said Chris of the Sound’s growing allure at that time.

“House lots went from 25k to 70k for half to one acre lots and the round houses we built for $40,000 each, sold for $69,000 with 1/7 acre and full furnishing. They now sell for about one million.

“You did not have to be rich to buy at Leverick back then and most of the early homes were designed and built for under 200k,” continued Chris. “It was envisioned by Leon as a retirement/vacation spot for boating people.”

As residency at Leverick was seized and enjoyed, Chris was to embark on a brand new challenge that would assist in the transformation of the Sound.

“In 1979, Leon offered Sam and I with two of our friends, the opportunity to purchase the eight acres of waterfront land at Leverick, which was zoned for hotel/beach club use,” said Chris.

It was this purchase that would give birth to a brand new era in vacation lifestyle for tourists of the North Sound.

To be continued next month…

Erin Paviour-Smith

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