The BVI North Sound Success Story
- February 3rd, 2014
- in Lifestyle
The North Sound Success Story
An exclusive review of one of the most attractive destinations in the BVI – North Sound
Photography provided by Smiths Gore, Victor International, Bitter End and Saba Rock
After the quietness of the summer months, North Sound comes to life for the Christmas and New Year holiday, providing the playground for land and yacht based visitors keen to take advantage of one of the BVI’s best known destinations.
North Sound has always been known as a yachting centre, but now the location is going through a change as land and marina based developments seek to rebrand North Sound’s identity as a luxury locale, competing with the best in the region.
While the rest of the Caribbean was reeling from the impact of the recession in 2008, discussions were underway between resort developer, Victor International, and the owners of the 400 acre Oil Nut Bay Estate with the sale of the property eventually concluding at the end of 2008, just a couple of months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Two years earlier in 2006, David V. Johnson of Victor International, had taken a long term lease over Biras Creek Resort, upgrading the hotel and keeping the resort operational, which in turn facilitated the on-going development of Oil Nut Bay.
Recognising the importance of North Sound as a yachting destination, David V. Johnson also acquired a dormant marina development project located in North Sound adjacent to Biras Creek, transforming this into the North Sound Yacht Club with the development of a 900 foot long super yacht dock, a yacht club and Harbour master’s building.
In 2010, Mr Johnson entered into negotiations with the Sardinian based Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, who at the time were seeking a Caribbean base for its members. With H.H. the Aga Khan as president, the YCCS Yacht Club and Marina Virgin Gorda has established itself as the leading, event-based regional super yacht facility.
At the other end of North Sound, Mosquito Island was quietly firming up plans for a private island development with owner, Sir Richard Branson, offering a limited number of lots for sale through private contacts, all of which are now committed.
Based on sustainable development initiatives, the development at Mosquito Island has implemented strict development protocols that limit the carbon foot print of the development. Each owner is required to construct in accordance with the island’s green guidelines which are equivalent to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum scheme with renewable energy sources being favoured. Construction began in 2011 with the main communal areas now close to completion.
The three year period between 2009 and 2011 saw a number of resort developments in the Caribbean fail through changing economic conditions, with many developments that had relied on bank financing to cover infrastructure development and pre-sales to pay back loans, forced into receivership.
Meanwhile, in North Sound, the three major development projects at Oil Nut Bay, YCCS and Mosquito Island, maintained a level of construction not previously seen in the BVI for many years. This helped keep the economy of Virgin Gorda, and many firms from Tortola, rolling through the worst of the downturn.
In contrast to the heavily indebted projects elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Oil Nut Bay and YCCS projects are not externally financed which enabled the developer to ride the economic downturn. While the rest of the Caribbean struggled to find its footing as the downturn continued, North Sound has emerged from the recession as a leading destination and one of the few regional locations where significant investment has taken place in the luxury sector of the market.
As we start 2014, North Sound is in a very different position from what it was five years ago, providing both visitors and potential investors a wide range of options. Whether visiting new resorts, marinas and restaurants or even seeking a home site within a resort environment, the area has it all.
YCCS Marina’s high season yachting regattas include the annual Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta & Rendezvous in March, which is being preceded by the inaugural Caribbean RC 44 Championship Tour in February – the equivalent to hosting a Formula 1 event on the ocean. These regattas bring not only a completely different scene to North Sound in terms of international yacht racing, but the publicity generated by the events puts North Sound, Virgin Gorda and the BVI as a whole into the international spot light.
Oil Nut Bay has matured as a development, with Christmas and New Year 2013 hosting a range of guests in the recently completed villas and community facilities.
Recognising the failure of so many regional developments, Victor International have completed the upfront infrastructure for the project together with the public areas of the resort which now include the Beach Club, fitness centre, Nut House (kids club) and Nature Centre, two tennis courts and the resort’s Palm Centre management offices.
With eight villas completed, there are a further ten homes under construction with over $56M in contracts being bid locally to contractors from the BVI. The next phase of development includes the completion of the Marina Village by the end of 2014 and completion of additional back of house facilities and a utility distribution centre.
Development at Oil Nut Bay is also strictly controlled with an emphasis on energy conservation through the use of renewable energy options – the developer has initiated a Community Stewardship programme whereby each sale at Oil Nut Bay will generate income for a community fund.
Recent developments in North South include a small, exclusive estate community only accessible by sea, which commenced construction in the latter half of 2013 after several years in the planning; this included the submission of detailed environmental reports. The project is designed to be ecologically sensitive, with an environmental team headed up by a leading expert in marine biology.
Blunder Bay Estates will provide an attractive niche market between its larger neighbours, catering, as it intends, to owners who value the ambience of a retreat and a peaceful place to build a villa of their dreams, close enough to, and yet far enough away from, the busier marinas and resorts at the other end of the Sound.
Comprising just 10 estate lots, ranging in size from 1 acre to more than 2.25 acres, Blunder Bay Estates is located opposite Mosquito Island at the entrance to North Sound. The development will focus on a family orientated experience with a range of common facilities, including a Managers Residence, a 12-foot-wide road within a 24-foot-wide easement which will provide access to each lot, fibre optics and high-speed internet access to each villa, beach recreation areas and watersports facilities. Four of the lots will have private docks while the remainder of the lots will have a shared dock facility.
While much has changed in terms of new luxury development and exposure to new markets, the overall ambience of North Sound remains focused on water sports activities taking advantage of the sheltered waters of the Sound.
Complementing the new development are the existing resort facilities at Bitter End Yacht Club, Biras Creek, Saba Rock Resort and Leverick Bay Resort and Marina, each of which caters to a different section of the tourist market.
At the heart of North Sound is Gun Creek, a charming community adjacent to Leverick Bay which houses many of the local population who staff the resorts and provide many additional services to the guests and tourists who frequent North Sound.
Any article on North Sound would not be complete without a mention of Necker Island, Sir Richard Branson’s first base in the BVI, which is now synonymous with luxury island rentals. After a devastating fire destroyed the main house in the summer of 2011, Sir Richard and his family have dedicated the last two years to rebuilding the Great House with the project completed in the summer of 2013.
While maintaining the ambience of the original structure, the new Great House combines the attributes of a private home with the necessities of resort living. Necker Island’s impact on North Sound and the BVI cannot be underestimated with many A-List celebrities and wealthy entrepreneurs now familiar with the BVI as a result of a trip to this property.
With development, change will inevitably come to North Sound. Increased boat traffic and development of previously untouched hillsides have the potential to change the very fabric of the Sound. However, carefully managed, North Sound can continue to provide tourists with an un-spoilt destination, cater to wealthy investors in the various residential resort projects, and provide the back drop for the international yachting regattas, visiting yachts and super yachts. The stakeholders in the Sound need to manage the resources for the future and ensure that North Sound remains the favoured hotspot in the BVI.