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Marina Cay — A Romantic History

When I first came to Marina Cay for Sunday brunch, in 1969, lobster was the only entrée and the critters were kept alive in a cage attached to the old concrete dock that Robb and Rodie built. The dock is still there in front of the restaurant.

Marina Cay in the 80s

Marina Cay in the 80s.

In 1937, while the U.S. was still in the grip of the Great Depression, newlyweds Robb and Rodie White bailed out of a life of luxury in Georgia and moved to the impoverished British Virgin Islands. Robb was a struggling writer who, in later life, wrote several successful movie scripts, teleplays and books. His most successful book was, “Our Virgin Island,” the story of their purchase, construction and life on Diddledoe Island, which they renamed Marina Cay, an act for which we are forever grateful. In 1958, the book was made into a movie, “Virgin Island,” with Sydney Poitier and John Cassavetes, and in the 70s, the book was rewritten and published under the title “Two on the Isle.” Rodie White never endorsed the rewritten book or the movie. Both books originally sold for just over $10 but hardbound copies of either book can fetch close to $200 on the used book market today.

Robb and Rodie battled bureaucracy, weather, and innumerable open boat roundtrips to Road Town to schlepp everything from water, cement, food and tools to the cay. In those days, the passage between Beef Island and Tortola was navigable which reduced the distance to and from Road Harbor considerably, but in their 17-foot open gaff-rigged sloop, each trip was an adventure.

The result of their labor was the coral and stone home which is now the Fritz Seyfarth Reading Room and book exchange at the top of the eight-acre islet. Bring some books to donate; the cool, quiet library is always in need of new titles.

Bordered on the south by comma-shaped Mother Turtle Reef, Marina Cay has gone through several owners and lessees since the Whites left. In the 60s and 70s, the Cay regularly monitored an aviation frequency (Unicom), and if a private pilot called in just before touching down at Beef Island, a Marina Cay skiff would be waiting at Government Dock at the departure end of the runway to whisk the passengers over for lunch. There was an “honor bar”; you served yourself and wrote down what you drank in a tiny spiral-bound notebook. Even today, free water-taxi service is available from Marina Cay over to Trellis Bay where a taxi can be hired for tours or shopping. The water taxi runs from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., approximately every hour on the hour. The only buildings on the island until the late 70s were the original house—which was the restaurant—with a small kitchen adjunct and four plywood “A” frame guestrooms on the windward side of the cay. More recently, these original “A” frames have been remodeled and a number of newer units have been added to the resort facility.

In the 90’s, Pusser’s Co.—the rum folks—began operating on the island and imported hundreds of palms and other plants which gave the cay its current, more tropical ambience. The old restaurant became a Pusser’s Co. store, and a new open-air dining room and bar was built above the beach.

The beach is public and has thatched umbrellas over tables and plenty of beach chairs. The restaurant is handy to the beach and it’s pleasant to sip a cool one while lying under an umbrella watching the pelicans dive bomb Mother Turtle Reef.

But every time I go to Marina Cay, I still remember the first time I was there. I had shot the charter-brochure photography for a steel ketch out of Sitka, Alaska named SEA OTTER. In lieu of payment, Capt. Matt offered me a long weekend charter for six people. I jumped at the chance, and that Sunday morning in March, 1969, we were the only clientele in the restaurant and the only transient vessel in the anchorage.

Check out Marina Cay’s nice beaches. It’s a perfect spot to dive or snorkle.


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