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Island charm

Island charm

Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands is the pick of the bunch for high-end investors

The Bahamas Investor Magazine
June 26, 2018
June 26, 2018
Gillian Beckett

For many first-time visitors to the Berry Islands, their experience is just as sweet as the islands’ name suggests. Situated almost 90 miles northwest of Nassau, the Berrys consists of a cluster of 30 cays, most of which are uninhabited, but each as beautiful as the next with sun-swept beaches, crystalline waters and unspoiled tranquillity.

Great Harbour Cay, the largest island, is known as “the gem of the Berrys.” Once regarded as The Bahamas’ best kept secret by the likes of Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman during the 1960s, Great Harbour Cay has retained its quiet allure, but is fast becoming known as one of The Bahamas’ best island getaways, not only for sun-seeking tourists, but also second homeowners and investors.

All of Great Harbour Cay’s commercial properties are now operated by Great Harbour Management Ltd. This includes the marina, golf course, the airport and a few other properties left behind in its original trust and development set up in the ’60s.

“The dream of Great Harbour Cay in the late ’60s was based on pristine beaches, quick travel to and from the US for tourists, great fishing and a quiet, laid-back lifestyle–all those wonderful elements are still here,” says Great Harbour Management Ltd island manager Steven Johnson.

Marc Fender, Great Harbour Management Ltd owner and trust manager, says that now is the perfect time to invest in the island. “Great Harbour Cay is really ripe for investment and development. There are a lot of benefits to developing here.”

Fender says that ultimately “they are looking for potential partners to develop properties into hotel sites” and “revitalize the golf course.”

“All of the infrastructure is already in place. Its proximity to Florida is a real bonus and we hold some extraordinary properties.”

Island community
With first-class amenities surrounded by stunning natural beauty, it is easy to see why Great Harbour Cay has established a reputation as a “millionaires’ retreat.”

According to Johnson, there are a little less than 1,000 full-time residents and just over 100 families in Great Harbour Cay’s Homeowners Association, which comprises owners of beachfront properties.

“These residents enjoy significant infrastructural support, including a full-time physician and clinic, school, government offices, a full-time police force, WiFi and cellular service, four restaurants, a hotel, and grocery, liquor and hardware stores,” says Johnson.

Great Harbour Cay has a protected, full-service marina with 65 slips that can accommodate yachts of up to 130ft, as well as an airport, which supports two commercial flights daily to Nassau and six weekly commercial flights to Fort Lauderdale.

Real estate offerings on Great Harbour Cay have also experienced an uptick of activity in recent years. “There is a large townhouse community surrounding the marina, a beachfront villa community north of the airport and many upscale beachfront single family homes, with more being built by local builders each month,” says Johnson.

Prices for single family zoned undeveloped beachfront lots currently range from $150,000 to $1 million, depending on size.

Wealth of attractions
Despite its tiny size at only seven miles long by two-and-a-half miles wide at its widest point, Great Harbour Cay offers plenty of things to see and do for visitors and residents. Chief among them is fishing, which is putting Great Harbour Cay on the map among avid fishing enthusiasts.

“Fishing the flats for bonefish, spearing the banks for lobster and trolling the ocean for wahoo is as good here as anywhere in The Bahamas,” says Johnson.

What brings fishermen back to Great Harbour Cay, however, is the quality of the local bonefish guides, as well as the overall peace and quiet that some of the larger Bahamian islands lack.

“Bonefish are plentiful in many of the islands, however, local knowledge and professional service has folks from all over the world calling on [guides like] Percy Darville to arrange trips,” says Johnson.

Capt Darville is a local legend in the Berry Islands, known as one of The Bahamas’ top guides for bonefishing, deep-sea fishing and bottom fishing. His prowess was recognized with the coveted Bahamas Cacique Award for Sports and Leisure, which he won in 2007.

In addition to excellent fishing, Great Harbour Cay boasts many other pursuits. Boating is a highly popular activity, as is snorkelling and simply exploring its spectacular beaches.

“This island offers enough for visitors to do on the beaches and under the waters, fishing and exploring, to leave them exhausted and happy at night, ready for the next day’s adventure,” says Johnson.

Rest and relaxation
While several of the island’s second homeowners offer their properties as vacation rentals, many who choose to stay at Great Harbour Cay, whether for an overnight visit, a few days, a week or more, opt to stay at the cay’s only hotel–the Carriearl Boutique Hotel.

Owned and operated by British expatriates Angie Jackson and Martin Dronsfield, the adults-only hotel is small with just four rooms and five staff, but is consistently booked, welcoming approximately 1,100 guests per year plus 3,000 guests to its restaurant and bar, known as among the best on the island.

“We have a mix of guests come from all over the world,” says Jackson. “Some come by boat, some in their own planes, some just come for dinner … they come here to get away from the stresses and strains of their busy lives. They can read a book by the pool or by the ocean, walk on the beach and enjoy our wonderful culinary delights.”

Among Carriearl’s repeat clients are executives from the Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines, which own nearby private islands Coco Cay and Great Stirrup Cay, respectively.

“We often accommodate their executives and the executive chefs love to give us new ideas,” says Jackson. “Royal Caribbean also brings their VIP guests here for lunch and would like to start official tours [to the Carriearl], so we are going to need a boat and a dock to service this.”

As Great Harbour Cay and the Carriearl “become more well-known,” Jackson says they are in “desperate need to expand.”

“We have plans to build five self- contained cottages and seven bedrooms,” she says. “We have the financial projections for this expansion and architect’s concept plans; all we need now is an investor for the expansion, boat and the jetty.”

Chance meeting
It’s not unusual for first-time and repeat visitors to become so enamoured with Great Harbour Cay that they choose to stay or invest there.

Such was the case for Jackson and Dronsfield, who, before setting their eyes on the island, were living in Cheshire, England.

Jackson was a flight attendant with British Airways and due to retire in 1995 after 33 years, and Dronsfield was a volunteer crew member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Trearddur Bay, Anglesey and had designed and developed fast response jet boats which the RNLI had purchased for the River Thames in London.

“We were hoping to retire and live happily ever after, travelling the places in the world we had not already visited. We were looking for sunshine in Europe and we both love learning languages, so it was an exciting prospect,” says Jackson.

But it was after Dronsfield saw an article on property in Great Exuma that they decided to visit The Bahamas, where neither had been previously.

A chance encounter with a couple of fellow Britons while waiting for their flight from Nassau back to the UK convinced them to try Great Harbour Cay, instead.

“A chance meeting at the airport and a few drinks at Compass Point sealed our friendship with Ron and Gill Armstrong, who had been visiting Great Harbour Cay for 30 years or more,” says Jackson.

During the flight back to the UK, the Armstrongs talked about their home on Great Harbour Cay, where Jackson and Dronsfield were invited to stay. After visiting, both were entranced.

During their tour of Great Harbour Cay, they came across an overgrown property–the Carriearl–which was built in the late 1960s and once owned by society and celebrity impresario Earl Blackwell, who named the home after his mother Carrie and father Earl.

Jackson and Dronsfield purchased the property in 1995, initially planning to restore it and later sell as their pension fund. However, when the financial markets collapsed in 2008, they couldn’t sell and decided instead to turn it into a hotel and restaurant, which they opened in 2012.

“The Berry Islands had not had a hotel for over 30 years,” says Jackson. “We applied for permission and the Bahamian government granted it with open arms.”

Although neither had owned or operated a hotel before, Dronsfield once owned a restaurant and boulangerie in the UK and Jackson “was a well- travelled food and drink lover.”

“The best thing we did was to become a member of the Bahama Out Islands Promotion Board and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association,” says Jackson. “They have mentored and helped us in numerous ways and we cannot thank them enough.”

Island community
As for island manager Johnson, his introduction to Great Harbour Cay came from “sheer luck.”

“About 15 years ago, I stumbled across an e-mail saying ‘I need to sell my lot in Great Harbour Cay’ so, I bought it.

“I didn’t actually go and see it until four years later,” he says. “I fell in love with the spirit of this island and ended up building a home within a year–that was 10 years ago. I have been a full-time resident for the past one-and-a-half years.”

Johnson is also fairly new to the job as island manager, which he has been for just over a year.

“I thought I was coming up to a nice cushy job in a marina, you know, tying up boats, meet and greet, etc. It’s so much more–having to control fuel, water… We also offer a lot of services to the community, which although demanding is also very rewarding.”

Being part of the community is one of the island’s charms. “Great Harbour Cay is not a resort town as many of the Bahamian islands have become,” he adds. “You make genuine relationships with the locals and other homeowners, and you are instantly a part of the community.

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