Southern Boating returns to Chub Cay in The Bahamas – the first destination published in our debut issue – to see what’s different, what’s the same and what everyone who’s been there insists must never change.
In 1972, a three-martini lunch was not only tolerated in the business world but derigeur in Madison Avenue establishments like the Jockey Club. It was the Mad Men era, and fortunes were made on Wall Street. The wealthy bought homes in the Hamptons. The uberwealthy took their yachts and airplanes to private clubs on remote islands in The Bahamas, where shutter-hungry photographers didn’t have access. One of those clubs was on Chub Cay, a 1,000-acre spit of coral rock in the southern part of the Berry Islands.
The Crown Colony Club attracted an international, affluent clientele. Socialites, industrialists, former presidents, and actors and actresses frequented the island as often as their schedules would allow, and it soon became their favorite tropical playground, though not for the reasons one would expect. Compared with the glittering lights of casinos and luxury resorts, the accommodations Chub Cay offered were quite modest. But luxury wasn’t the main attraction.
Chub Cay’s location provided convenient access to the Bahamian waters known as “The Pocket,” which are arguably the best fishing grounds in the entire Western Hemisphere,
and, perhaps, the best for billfishing anywhere in the world. The Pocket is the area in the upper northwest part of the Berry Islands where the deep Tongue of the Ocean meets the shallow waters of the islands; when the wind is from the southeast, fish are pushed into the pocket.
Few places offer competitive anglers such an opportune area to catch trophy-sized billfish. Consequently, fishing tournaments became a huge part of Chub Cay and the Crown Colony Club. Men and women alike competed for their names to be displayed on the coveted trophies. Yet for non-anglers, the resort’s swimming pool, 3.5-mile sandy beach and crystal-clear water for snorkeling offered relaxing enjoyment at a secluded tropical hideaway few knew about, another reason Chub Cay was so favored.
The island has changed hands a half dozen times since 1972, and the current owner, George Bishop, acquired Chub Cay in 2014—when it was in bankruptcy— and briefly considered keeping the island restricted for his friends and family. He quickly realized, however, that a private island wouldn’t provide enough of a benefit to the Bahamian
employees, a testament to the character of the new owner.
Bishop’s vision for Chub Cay far surpasses simply restoring the property to its former glory, even if he has to do some of the work himself. When he’s on the island, the successful businessman from Texas can be seen behind the wheel of one of the maintenance department’s fleet of heavy equipment, smoothing a spot on the road or transplanting trees or bushes from the nursery.
The nursery also supplies fruits, vegetables, and herbs for both guests at the hotel restaurant and employees in the air-conditioned dining hall in the employee village. All employees are provided with individual private cottages painted in tropical hues.
Of the 50 or so employees on the island, at least 30 are long-standing workers, having seen both prosperous and not-so-prosperous times with the different owners, but there was something on Chub Cay that compelled them to stay. Waiters John “Remedy” Rolle, for example, came to Chub Cay in 1976 from Nassau, as did Charles Ferguson in the early 1980s.
“I don’t just like what I do; I love what I do,” says Ferguson. His first position was as a waiter for the Fly Bridge Restaurant (it no longer exists) that catered to yacht crew. In those times, the crew restaurant was in a fishing village on the opposite side of the marina, where the fish would be weighed and cleaned.
The Harbour House was the members-only restaurant and decidedly more upscale for the wealthy yacht owners. It’s refreshing to meet two gentlemen who experience such enjoyment from serving others; their smiles exude something more akin to delight. Throughout Chub Cay, it’s evident that profound job satisfaction is the prevailing attitude regardless of the position, and it’s demonstrated to guests upon arrival and throughout their stay.
No matter when they arrive, boat and yacht owners and crew will have the pleasure of meeting Fuel Manager and Senior Dockmaster Tito Darville, who previously attended Langston University in Oklahoma. Midway through his college program, Darville came to the realization that his studies were for a career that held little interest. He recalled that some of his fondest memories were from childhood when he spent his summers washing boats at Chub Cay.
“The first boat I washed, I found out how much money I could make doing something I liked. My mom would buy school supplies that I needed, but I wanted the [cool things that] other kids had, so that’s what I’d spend my money on,” said Darville, who at age 12 or 13 knew that he wanted to be a dockmaster.
In addition to managing three full-time employees and one who works part-time, Darville manages the marina and fuel dock, including fuel for the resort’s power plant. For guests
arriving by boat, he checks them in if they’re staying at the hotel and makes dinner reservations as well. During the busy season, Darville’s day starts at 7AM and doesn’t end until midnight, but even then, he says it doesn’t feel like a job. “I don’t see myself anywhere else,” Darville adds. “This doesn’t feel like work! I have to say that I am in love with Chub and my job, so I know that Chub will love me back.”
Returning guests have their own reasons to love Chub Cay. Issy Perera, president of Apex Marine in Miami, Florida, has been going to the island since 1999. In fact, his first trip to
The Bahamas was to Chub Cay. “It is quiet and secluded, has a beautiful beach and the fishing all around it is fabulous. I go there at least four times a year. Two of those trips are purely fishing trips, and the other two are family trips with grandkids,” says Perera. “It is special because you have nothing to do! You can escape, grab a book, read, and forget about the world at large. It is a great place to rest and recharge your batteries.”
Doug and Kay Sartoris—with boating friends of 25 years, Tom and Cindy Wintermute—returned to Chub Cay in 2017, visiting twice on their 12-day Bahamas’ cruise. They keep
their 53-foot Ferretti Sarlusso in Palm Beach, Florida, but live in Corpus Christi, Texas, and commute monthly in order to spend as much time as possible on their boat. Their first visit to Chub Cay was the summer of 2016 when the hotel was still under construction. However, the pool and marina had been completed, and the Harbour House Restaurant was still open.
By then, the new owner’s development plans were taking shape, and boaters were beginning to return to the island. Then on October 6, 2016, Hurricane Matthew unleashed
its fury on Chub Cay, which was in the direct path of the northeast part of the eye of the storm. The hotel and villas held up under the Category 4 storm, but everything else on
the island was demolished. The work that had been done to restore the resort and provided steady employment for so many was destroyed.
“It was heartbreaking after all the work we’d put in,” says Anthony Del Duca, a business associate of Bishop’s, and the construction project manager. “It was very difficult to see the devastation and even to get our psyches to think about rebuilding. But both Mr. Bishop and I said it wasn’t going to defeat us, and we got back to work, removed
and cleaned up trees and replanted.”
By any standards—let alone how projects in The Bahamas are frequently reduced to a maddeningly slow pace—the rebuild schedule was aggressive to repair damage to the hotel, villas and other buildings, and to replace trees and vegetation.
A soft opening was planned for mid-June 2017—just eight months after the hurricane—with the Grand Opening scheduled for a mere two weeks later on the July 4th holiday weekend. Their moxie paid off, and a well-managed social media campaign publicized the openings.
Their grand celebration included a “Coachella” of sorts, that they dubbed a “Chubchella.” A professional singer was brought in to sing the national anthem for the weekend guests.
Bishop’s wife insisted that a second celebration be held after the guests left for employees to enjoy their own festivities.
Yet with all the work that’s been accomplished in restoring the resort to its former—and future—grandeur, there’s still much to be done to fulfill Bishop’s vision for Chub Cay, which is what attracted Stephen Robinson to the island. Formerly at the renowned Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island since 1998, Robinson was promoted to Director of Food and Beverage at the Ocean Club, the very upscale property that caters to an elite clientele and safeguards their privacy. Now, as Club House Manager at Chub Cay, Robinson is intent on elevating Chub Cay Resort and Marina to a level that surpasses the Ocean Club.
In fact, it was the development plan and opportunity that attracted him, since his experience with bigger developments is that they require many restrictions for decision-making. “After being with a large resort like Atlantis, the smaller quaintness of Chub is like a family,” says Robinson, who enjoys the freedom to create and develop future plans.
For now, his priorities include adding an exercise center, spa and beach sports, since not everyone who goes to Chub goes fishing. Anglers, however, will appreciate that plans are in the works to re-introduce fishing tournaments beginning in Spring 2018.
Whether for anglers or cruisers, couples or families, the accommodations at Chub Cay Resort are first-class. In the hotel, 11 rooms—including a two-story Presidential Suite—offer ocean or marina views. On the reception level, oak beams on the ceiling are from century-old Texas cattle barns, while the lobby floor—complete with a compass rose—
is made of Brazilian Ipe wood.
Ten out of the 11 villas available to lease are also for sale and offer two-, three- or four-bedroom floor plans. Additionally, eight one-bedroom beachfront cabanas all come with outdoor showers for guests to rinse off sand and saltwater and then go directly into the interior shower and bathroom. Chub Cay Resort, in fact, would be an ideal location for a private, island-themed wedding.
Furthermore, 60 residential, 2-acre lots are available for building private residences—all beachfront. But if you’re concerned about sharing your semi-private island with a high-rise condo or the 18-hole golf course that the island’s previous owners planned, that’s all in the past. Bishop is committed to making the least disruption to the natural environment and estuaries, and only approximately 160 of the 1,000 acres are slated for development.
Future projects include installation of a solar energy system and upgrades to the airport and runway. The airport—which provides on-site Bahamas Customs & Immigration for clearing—was built in 1960, and plans are being made to raise the runway and add hangars.
While many developers in The Bahamas have exploited the purity of its natural resources—the land, the pristine water and fishing stocks, for example—the new owners of Chub Cay are not your typical developers. What they are doing on Chub Cay is more aptly described as rebuilding hopes (of employees), dreams (of beachfront homeowners) and memories (for guests). But ultimately, by their commitment to Chub Cay and the people
that enjoy the island, the Bishops are rebuilding lives.
By Liz Pasch, Southern Boating September 2017; Photos
Photos: Ariel; Liz Pasch, Historical Photos; Courtesy of Chub Cay Resort, Bahamas Tourism.