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The Bitter End Yacht ClubAuthor: William Judson (More Trip Reviews by William Judson)
Date of Trip: April 2011
After 25 years of serious travel all over the world, from Santorini to Bora Bora, we found paradise in our relative backyard at the Bitter End Yacht Club. If I tried to detail every positive experience, this article could turn into a novel. So, I’ll try to just describe our highlights, and first and foremost would have to be the absolutely wonderful BEYC staff. Never in all our travels have I hugged so many people goodbye. It was very special. Plaudits should go to the managers, Mary Jo and the COO Sandra Grisham. They have assembled an all-star staff.
The Bitter End Yacht Club is, arguably, the preeminent yachting resort in the Caribbean. I had heard about the Bitter End years before I actually visited. My Father was an avid sailor and raced his Resolute every summer weekend on Long Island Sound. I was usually called upon to crew, along with a couple of his buddies. I was not along for my expertise. My Pop rightly figured I could get into less trouble if I was with him. My Pop and his buddies talked all the time about chartering a boat to sail the British Virgin Islands, and BEYC was always a part of that plan. Alas, they never did the trip.
Like many BEYC guests, I first visited the resort while on a cruise ship. Almost immediately, I realized this was a place I wanted to come back to for a real stay. While we were at the resort, I asked to see all three types of rooms and got a real feeling about what I wanted to do. I fell in love with the Beachfront Cottages, high up on the hill above North Beach. The next year, we were there for a land trip. Our first trip, I over-packed very badly, bringing sports coats and dress slacks. I nearly killed the poor gentleman trying to lug our bags up to our villa on the hilltop. But that never happened again. All you really need are shorts, a polo or two and flip flops, even at Dinner.
Three types of rooms are available to suit different tastes. The Beachfront Villas were much like our Overwater bungalows in Tahiti in terms of layout and feel. Tucked into the hillside, you get the feeling of camping out in luxury. There are trade winds blowing night and day, and combined with the ceiling fan over the bed, the villas are always comfortable. I love them. The Premium Beachfront Villas seem to be identical except they have air conditioning. I’ve always gone to BEYC in April or May, and unless you like sleeping in a meat locker-type climate, there was no need for A/C. In August, it may be different, I really don’t know. The third room option is the North Sound suites located at the other end of the resort. They are very nice, with an A-frame look to them, but more like a traditional resort room. They were not for us. The Beachfront Cottages are open all around but screened to discourage bugs. A terrace wraps all around the cottage and has a two-person hammock ideal for late afternoon siestas. The shower is screened in with wooden slats which open floor to ceiling, giving you the feeling of showering outdoors and featuring a gorgeous sea-view panorama.
Unlike most of the ships and resorts I’ve covered in these pages, the Bitter End Yacht Club is definitely a vacation for the whole family. There are two different programs for kids, one for ages 5-12, the other for kids 13-17 years old. But don’t get the wrong idea. BEYC has plans that are aimed at romance, and can make this as sensual and intimate a vacation as you want it to be. Bottom line, there is something here to love for everybody. And although it is a yachting resort, you need not be a sailor to find a million things to do. Whether it be getting certified for scuba, trail hiking, yoga classes, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, learning to sail at the Sailing School, watching movies at the Sand Palace, or just lounging by the gorgeous pool before your massage at the Spa, ranked a World’s Best by Conde Nast, there are unlimited possibilities for every taste. And if you are a sailor, choose from 100 vessels and get out there. I love the Hobie Cats. And to explore the area, you can’t beat a Boston Whaler. Oh, and don’t miss the day-long excursion to Anegada replete with sweet lobsters and fabulous snorkeling.
Our Typical Day at BEYC
Susie and I are up just before sunrise brewing up a pot of coffee from the provisions provided in the Villa. Sunrise is when the big rays come to shore to feed, and although we are high up on the hill, my zoom lens brings me right to the lapping waves. We watch the rays and sip our coffee out on the wrap-around terrace as the sun rises out of the sea. We are the first ones at breakfast or close to it. I like to eat a big breakfast as my lunch will be just freshly-caught fish and salad. We have brought all our suntan creams, books and sundries and set up in chaise lounges. Susie works and is not a water person. Her perfect day is reading, tanning, dozing and occasional dips in the unbelievably perfect water. In short, pure relaxation. I am retired and am a fanatic water person. I cannot sit still. I may put my things on a chaise lounge but it is unlikely I will ever sit in it. I take a morning swim and then a walk. The grounds are beautiful, bursting with flowers of every persuasion. At mid-morning, I grab my mask, fins and snorkel and join Captain Kinto for the morning snorkeling excursion aboard the Ponce de Leon. These excursions visit reefs nearby including two of Sir Richard Branson’s islands, Necker and Mosquito. I’ve come to like Kinto and he makes all the dives fun. He calls me the “Hot Mess.” I like to think affectionately. Or maybe not? After the dives as we skim across the crystal clear water, you can choose from Kinto’s jug of rum punch or water and soft drinks. I’d love a rum punch, but have bid farewell to booze, so water will have to do.
We arrive back at the pier just as lunch is being served. I order whatever is today’s catch of the day and head up to the extensive salad bar. The kitchen makes a creamy pepper dressing which is to kill for. After lunch, I return to the salad bar and hit the fruit section with mango, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon and other treats. I’m so proud of my dietary discipline that I can almost overlook that it was creamy pepper dressing.
After lunch, Susie returns to her reverie while I take out a Hobie Cat. Although I had been raised sailing, I hadn’t done it in forty years, and I went out with a friend twice just to get my bearings back.
Turns out everything came back to me, and for the rest of the trip, I took a Hobie out every day. I return to the dock in time to catch Kinto’s afternoon snorkeling trip. By the time we get back, I’m pretty beat and it’s time to head over to North Beach and check out the kite boarders. The wind picks up noticeably in the afternoons and watching these guys is a blast. There is a small jetty which runs out a ways into the water and has a thatched roof and chaise lounges. It also happens to be right where the kite boarders do their thing, so you know I have my camera. This is good for about 45 minutes and then the sun and sea begin to catch up with me. With the continuous trade winds blowing, it is easy to lose track of how much sun you’re getting. And with my English-Scottish complexion, I would probably beat Johnny Winter in a tanning contest, but not by much. Be smart, use a high SPF sunscreen and reapply.
As I sit and watch, I am greatly entertained by the never-ending battle between the pelicans and the black-headed gulls. If there is another name for the gulls, I don’t know what it is, so black-headed gulls they will be. Every time a pelican makes his kamikaze dive into the surf after spotting a fish from the air, the gulls are all over him. They sit on his back while he smartly keeps his head underwater until the fish is secured in his bill. Even then when he raises his head out of the water, the gulls are trying to poke their bills into the corner of his mouth. This does not end, and the pelicans seem to accept this with a Job-like resignation, like this is part of the pelican job description. Funnier still is when the pelicans decide to take a break and doze in the sun, there is always a gull or two who go and join him. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Who knows?
I’ve decided that the hammock on our villa deck is sounding really good, so I decide to head back to the room. I pass two young boys who have gotten two land crabs out of the rocks and are trying to race them. There are obstacles to land crab racing; a lot of them. For one, neither crab seems to be particularly eager to go anywhere. Then, when they do move, it is never at the same time nor in the same direction. I encountered a similar quandary when I went to Woodstock in 1969 and tried to walk three bullfrogs on a rhinestone-studded poodle leash. It was an interesting concept but difficult to put into practice. Watching the land crab “race”, I had the feeling that I could nap, shower, shave and dress and be back before the stretch run. I returned to the villa’s hammock, where the trade winds rocked me to sleep. Susie returned and woke me when it was time to shower for dinner.
Dinner for me was very similar to lunch. There are always steaks, chops and other alternatives available, but I live in New York City where I can always have these kinds of things. A piece of broiled fish just hours out of the water is something I can’t get all the time. So we generally adapt our vacation menus to where we happen to be, the local specialties.
After Dinner, as we stroll back to our villa, a brief rain shower passes over. This happens virtually every day. And after, a breathtaking rainbow fills the horizon. You never get tired of these kinds of scenes.
We reach our villa and it is very early, barely 8:30 PM. But I’m thinking shower, a little reading and bed. You can’t get up at sunrise, be moving all day and then break into party mode. I’ve had exactly the kind of day I had hoped for; there is nothing more to add to it. There may very well be good nightlife at BEYC. I’m just the wrong guy to ask.
In closing, I just want to give a shout out to some of the BEYC staff who made the resort feel like home to us. I know I’ll forget some people, and my apologies. At check-in, Kesheem immediately charmed us, as did Vonda. The entire group at Reception was warm, caring and made us feel like family. When we were checking out, we genuinely felt that they were very sorry to see us leave. In the Restaurant, we fell in love with Restaurant manager Maureen, Ophelia (I kept asking after Hamlet), Beverly, Beulah, Burton and frankly, everyone who served us. I will miss some names here who should be recognized for their excellence, but suffice it to say everyone was a winner. At the Bar, we had many fun, lively discussions with Titus and Willis. They took great care of us. Kinto, Maureen’s son, made the snorkeling excursions cool and memorable. There are thousands of beautiful resorts all over the world, and Sue and I have been fortunate enough to visit a great many of them. But a resort is only as good as the people who make it run. I had the chance to get to know Sandra Grisham, the co-manager and found her warm, easy to talk with and exceptionally competent. She gets it. Bitter End Yacht Club has a wonderful, warm staff. This is a resort we will keep going back to again and again. Virgin Gorda has a number of fine resorts. In the all important “Bang-for-the Buck” category, I place BEYC at the top.
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