When Hurricane Irma unleashed the fury of her Category 5 winds on the BVI’s Bitter End Yacht Club in 2017, reducing nearly every building to rubble, the destruction was so complete that you would be forgiven for thinking it was the end of the Bitter End — but you’d be wrong.
Thirty hours after the storm the owners, Richard Hokin and his daughter Lauren Hokin, were on a plane to the islands. “We made up our minds on the way down that we would make this an opportunity, not a catastrophe,” Richard says. The rebuild began with a massive cleanup that left the area as virgin as Richard and his parents first found it in the mid-1960s. They fell in love with the perfect anchorage tucked within Virgin Gorda’s well-protected North Sound, framed by verdant hills and blessed by the reliable tradewinds. When they purchased Bitter End less than a decade later, it was a quaint gem with just a couple docks, a restaurant and some very basic guest cabins.
Over the ensuing decades Bitter End grew in amenities and scope parallel to the BVI’s blossoming charter business, and in the ’90s it doubled in size to 64 acres when the Hokins acquired an adjacent property. When Irma hit, it was essentially two resorts put together back to back, as Richard describes it. “Use of the shoreline and land was very inefficient and didn’t take advantage of the natural features of the place.”
Then Irma gave them a reset button. “Mother Nature scolded us with Irma for having created all this sprawl on her masterpiece, so we’re taking her at her word,” he says. “We are putting it back together in a way where we are better stewards of the land.”
“We’re trying to be very sensitive to our environmental footprint, returning as much of the shoreline as possible to its natural state,” Lauren adds. “The beach is coming back in a really beautiful way, wildlife are returning and we’re planning a mangrove restoration project.”
An unexpected gift from Irma is a much larger beach than before. From here, the transition to the nautical village on shore is gentle and organic. Guests can expect timber construction and very little glazing, with plenty of open-air ventilation and AC only where needed. It’s rustic yet beautiful, with soft surfaces underfoot that lend themselves to bare feet and seamless integration of the indoors and out.
The new development will be a fresh and exciting departure from the pre-Irma resort but at the same time it will be sweetly familiar. Over the last three years, the resort has kept in constant communication with what they call their extended family across the globe and they got the message when 2,000 nostaglic guests answered a survey with the overwhelming sentiment of “keep it the same.” While replicating the old development would not have been practical, the new resort preserves a sense of history and place by incorporating memorabilia and artifacts that were discovered amid the storm debris. Signage, vintage lanterns and bits of nautical hardware will remind returning guests of the old days.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Bitter End 2.0 will honor the resort’s unique character and communal spirit. Originally built by a charter captain, it was a quirky spot attracting an odd cast of salty sailors before the Hokin family entered the picture, and when they did they weren’t looking to get into the resort business. First and foremost, they wanted a family retreat where they could do what they loved: sailing, fishing, diving, beachcombing. The commercial operation was merely a justification for the purchase, and this relaxed ethos has prevailed over the years. It’s a place where fast friendships are formed, where America’s Cup yachtsmen can mess around on boats alongside a family who is just learning to sail.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We are about having an awesome time on the water, letting your inner kid free. That’s the spirit of the place,” Lauren says.
Hence informal beer can regattas will be central to the sailing program when Bitter End reopens in 2021. Phase one, to be completed in the first half of the year, focuses on the marina. It will offer a similar capacity as before with 26 slips and 72 moorings, but amenities will be much improved, like wifi that reaches throughout the mooring field and upgraded bathing facilities. The new two-story marina building will feature a panoramic members’ lounge, and the clubhouse will encompass a multi-concept restaurant, including the all-important pub. Adjacent to this will be a gourmet grocers offering expanded wares. The nautical village’s retail shop will showcase a new addition to its select nautical goods and gear: Bitter End’s own apparel and accessories line called Bitter End Provisions, which was launched online during the rebuild to stay connected to the yacht club’s loyal fan base.
Of course, the famed fleet will be restored, providing favorites from paddleboards and Hobie Cats to one-design keelboats, as well as new additions with foils — something Richard’s “inner kid” is personally looking forward to.
“In the early days, we did some kind of wacky stuff,” he says, recalling “the Good Ship Bert and Ernie” — two Lasers strung together with plywood and duct tape for one big party. “I want to get that going again: keep the fun meter all the way over at full bore.”