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as told by Richard Hokin, founding family member
While Bitter End Yacht Club dates back to the late 1960s (a few years after our family’s first visit in 1964 to North Sound), Caribbean archeological research suggests that its location 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.
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 sea-focused 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. 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.
The legacy that has grown and evolved organically over fifty years was forever changed on September 6, 2017, when Irma, the most powerful hurricane to ever strike the eastern Caribbean, passed directly over Bitter End. While our buildings, some of which dated back to the 1960s, were leveled, we are forever grateful that the Bitter End crew made it safely through the storm. Through this all, the strength and commitment of our community – the heart and soul of Bitter End – has grown stronger than ever.
While we knew that Bitter End the place was iconic, we learned firsthand that no storm of any category could extinguish our spirit, and that our need to stay connected as we rebuild the property felt more important than ever. A big part of remaining connected for us is our commitment to supporting our community through philanthropic outreach. We recently launched The Bitter End Foundation, a 501(c)(3) aimed at supporting the continued success, unique needs, and wellbeing of seaside communities by providing in-kind, financial, and educational support, protecting sea life, undersea and surrounding habitats, and encouraging conservation efforts.
Once we took care of our extended family, our crew set out to bring back Bitter End and preserve the place so many have grown to love over generations. With over 100 structures to remediate, we focused upcycling as much as we could from Irma’s wake. For almost two years, timber, concrete, and historical artifacts were carefully selected and preserved for future use. And once the property was ready, we begin the creative process of reimagining and preserving what had become a 50-year legacy. In December of 2021, over 4 years after the storm, the Bitter End Crew reopened our shores (and our hearts) to Bitter End’s global community. Today, our nautical village is rollicking once again, and we are messing about in boats just like we always have been since 1969.