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Richard Hokin on the offer his parents couldn’t refuse
Bitter End Yacht Club dates back to the late 1960s, a few years after our family’s first visit in 1964 to North Sound; but Caribbean archeological research suggests that its location on North Sound, Virgin Gorda almost certainly has attracted visitors for millennia, making even Christopher Columbus and Sir Francis Drake Johnny-come-latelies.
So, it’s relatively recent history that, when Columbus sailed past this dense array of islands in 1493 without ever setting foot ashore, he named the archipelago in honor of St. Ursula and her 11,000 virgin martyrs; and Virgin Gorda for her resemblance to a voluptuous reclining woman. Drake’s connection is more intimate because in 1595 on the voyage that cost him his life, he and Sir John Hawkins assembled a fleet in North Sound for their failed assault on the Spanish in San Juan.
Nearly 400 years later, Drake’s attractive, protected and breezy anchorage in North Sound’s northeast corner became the destination of choice for yachtsmen, charter skippers and adventure sailors. One of those skippers, Basil Symonette, acquired the adjacent shoreline and hillside property at John O’Point in the late 1960s and built the Bitter End Yacht Club, consisting of a small jetty, a few moorings, five rustic hillside guest cottages and a seaside pub, which remains the core of today’s Clubhouse.
Following our family’s 1964 exploratory visit, we established a beachhead in the Virgin Islands centered around Alianora, a 72’ North Sea sailing trawler, rigged for tradewind cruising; and Reef Sampler, a downeast-style lobster boat equipped for sport fishing and diving; and destined to become the flagship of Bitter End’s utility fleet. Naturally, there were many visits to the North Sound anchorage during Bitter End’s early years, so my parents, Myron and Bernice, got to know Basil pretty well.
By 1970 we were convinced that North Sound was the epicenter for all of our passions – sailing, fishing, diving, beachcombing, exploration and just being surrounded by magnificent nature. My mom, in particular, was intrigued by the idea of having a shoreside cottage at John O’Point, so one evening at cocktails she asked Basil if he’d sell or lease them an acre. He responded that he had to think about it and would have an answer the next time they visited Bitter End. When they returned a few weeks later, his answer was, “I thought it over and you can’t have an acre but you can have the whole place!”
As soon as I got wind of that I regressed twenty years, back to the ten-year old unbearable nagging persona that had dragged my parents into the passions that would result in an irreversible mutation of our family DNA. This time I wasn’t starting from scratch so it took a much smaller dose of nagging to open what turned out to be a three-year negotiation with Basil Symonette.
When the transaction finally closed in 1973, we set about making Bitter End into a family retreat with just enough commercial activity to convince ourselves that it wasn’t pure folly. But, soon we found that Bitter End was riding the wave of a new yachting experience called bareboat chartering, a phenomenon that would bring the magic of North Sound to many more adventuresome visitors. Once we realized that, our mission became sharing with like-minded adventurers from the world over the magic, character and passion of our family retreat. As a family, to this day we remain committed and passionate stewards of the Bitter End experience, character and, most especially, the exquisite stage Mother Nature has built for it.