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Features - Jan 2012



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Long Island: a hidden gem

Long Island: a hidden gem

The remote paradise offers a real island experience, and a world-renowned regatta

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 19, 2012
January 19, 2012
Catherine Boal

Split by the Tropic of Cancer and with two very distinct coastlines, Long Island has a diverse landscape that makes it unique. On the Atlantic side of the island are dark, oceanic waters and rocky cliffs, while the more sheltered water above the Great Bahama Bank to the west has created wide, sandy beaches and clear blue shallows. Eye-catching natural beauty, prime fishing and a welcoming population have made Long Island a favourite with tourists and second-home owners alike.

The drive from Cape Santa Maria in the north down to Cape Verde at the southernmost point is considered one of the most scenic in The Bahamas. Along the way are dotted various settlement ruins–an indication of the island’s colonial past. Long Island’s capital settlement of Clarence Town, home to the local government headquarters, is inhabited by approximately 10 per cent of the island’s 3,500 residents. Located almost in the middle, it is the transportation and communications hub and boasts the only naturally sheltered deep water harbour on the island.

Economic fortunes
First populated by Arawak Indians, Long Island was originally known as Yuma. The first European to set foot on its shores was Christopher Columbus in what is believed to be his third stop in The Bahamas during his famous 1492 voyage. When Columbus disembarked at the northern end of the island he declared it “the most beautiful island in the world” and renamed it Fernandina in homage to King Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored the explorer’s voyage. The British later gave the island its current, more prosaic name.

In the Loyalist era, plantations sprang up and settlers tried to make a living from the soil, the primary crop at the time being cotton. When the cotton failed to thrive, they turned to pineapples and by the end of the 19th century this had become Long Island’s most successful industry.

However, competition soon swamped the sector and the once lucrative pineapple market trailed off, forcing farmers to explore other means of income. The resourceful inhabitants diversified into sponging, which kept the local economy buoyant for a number of years until a fungus wiped out the marine ecosystem. They again had to diversify, this time taking advantage of the island’s natural bounty, salt. In the 1960s, the Diamond Crystal Salt Company became the island’s biggest employer and the local economy enjoyed an upswing.

When the salt boom ran its course, Worldwide Protein (Bahamas) purchased the Diamond Crystal’s site and facilities, adapting the salt pans and pumps to farm Pacific shrimp. However, this venture only lasted a few years and Long Island shifted its focus to tourism, which remains the bedrock of the economy today.

Sailing sloops
Every spring, the Long Island Regatta, currently in its 45th year, takes over the island. Sailing enthusiasts flock from all over the world to enjoy the Long Island waters. Skippers compete for prizes at the three-day tournament, which is held at Salt Pond, near Clarence Town, and is a well-established local tradition.

“In the old days of the 1920s and ’30s people used to sail sloops to bring supplies to Long Island from Nassau,” explains president of the Long Island Chamber of Commerce Mario Cartwright, who owns the Flying Fish Marina in Clarence Town. “Then people started doing that on a recreational basis. It is a native sport.”

Events such as the regatta are big business for the island’s local establishments and resorts, which are usually fully booked during that week.

“The guest houses are full; all the rental cars are booked. That week is very good for us,” enthuses Cartwright, who adds that most of the guests are native Long Islanders who use the annual event as an excuse to return for a homecoming celebration.

In general, the busy tourist season in Long Island runs from mid-November through April, when the weather and the fishing are at their best. Cartwright says he sees an upsurge in business at the Flying Fish at this time. His wealthier clients, who keep their yachts docked at the marina year-round, will typically fly in on private jets and spend a few days fishing and sightseeing.

At the Stella Maris Resort on the north end of the island, typical tourist activities on offer include bonefishing, scuba diving and snorkelling. Resort manager Jill Smith says Long Island’s appeal lies not only in making the most of its physical attributes, but also in its image as an isolated paradise. “Long Island offers a unique combination of an old-world’s way of life with basically everything that modern life requires. The romantic quaintness of the island is a storybook answer to a city dweller’s island dreams,” she says.

Second homes
Indeed some tourists are so enamoured of the island they want to make it a permanent base. Cartwright estimates that there are around 500 second-home owners on Long Island and, according to him, this number could swell. “The second-home market is slowly growing. It is a beautiful island and we are very friendly, happy people. They want to come live among us.”

Erskine Knowles, owner of Knowles Realty, which has been selling lots at Stella Maris for more than ten years, agrees, and says that Europeans are especially keen to become islanders. “More than half the island is hills. It is really gorgeous and Europeans love it.

“There is quite a lot of interest in second homes,” he continues. “Europeans, Americans and Canadians … they all love it here.”

Knowles Realty is not the only company targeting the European market. Bahamian firm PSG Ltd has plans to develop a 950-acre plot at the north end of the island, creating Port St George–a $1.6-billion hotel and golf resort that it hopes will attract vacationers from around the world.

Director of PSG Ian Moorcroft says: “On my first trip to The Bahamas [to see the Port St George site], I came not expecting it to be anything we would pursue. Then I got there and got excited, because it is a beautiful place. You forget about the city and become what we call ‘islandized.’ It is just a fantastic place to be.”

The development will include a 274-room, five-star Langham Hotel, an 18-hole golf course, a retail village and 1,217 homes ranging from beachfront villas to mansion houses and luxury apartments. There will also be a 640-berth marina and commercial properties available.

All the permits and approvals are in place for the development and PSG hopes that construction will begin before the end of 2011. Once construction gets underway, the company estimates it will take seven years to complete and cost around $546 million.

A new chapter
In 2010 a group of private investors expressed interest in establishing a cruise port on Long Island. Although the idea was eventually shelved, the group indicated that if the airport at Deadman’s Cay was upgraded it could be revived. In May 2011, while delivering the 2011/2012 Budget, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that the government would invest in improving facilities at the airport, which many hope will pave the way for further development.

In the meantime, PSG is poised to begin construction of its resort. If it goes ahead, Port St George is expected to transform the local economy and create hundreds of jobs, as well as raising the island’s profile.

“[Port St George] will have a significant effect on employment opportunities. Parents can look at the possibility that when their children reach school-leaving age, they do not have to leave for Nassau to get work. You create an opportunity for those that want to stay,” says Moorcroft.

With Long Island’s natural attributes catching the eye of investors such as PSG and a growing number of foreigners wanting to make their homes there, the island is set to be discovered all over again.

Mario Cartwright, who can trace his Long Island roots back 240 years, says it best: “I am Long Island to the core. This is a beautiful island–the rocky headlands on the northeast coast, the beaches on the west. This island has character and depth. This island has such potential.”

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