Managing paradise

You won’t find it on most maps unless you’re using a ship navigational chart for the northern Bahamas.

It’s approximately three miles long; 186 acres. Here you will find coconut palms, royal poinciana’s, wild orchids, bougainvilleas and hibiscus, along with rare albino white owls, hummingbirds and hermit crabs.

There are sandy coves and just off shore the coral gardens are abound with marine life. The sunsets are startling and the trade winds light and consistent. This is truly utopia.

What’s the big deal you say? We have all that in Cayman…. True.

However I have not yet mentioned the best part of this little paradise….it’s population. FOUR, yes when the tourists are gone, four lucky humans call Spanish Cay home.

French Canadian, Susan Cloutier is the manager of Spanish Cay , you might say she is the female equivalent of Mr. Roarke; remember him from the TV sitcom Fantasy Island?

Susan is the unofficial Minister of Tourism, public works, communications and finance, not to mention chef, concierge and animal care taker. She’s on the phone, on the computer, on the dock, in the kitchen and behind the bar. She checks the weather and stocks the shelves and even finds time for friendly chit-chat.

When in the company of this petite, dynamo you can’t help but wonder how she does it…or why she does it. There is a good reason for her dogged determination – it’s known as the off-season.

The private island of Spanish Cay is also a resort. The majority of their well to-do clientele arrive by private yacht while others fly in by private jet – and then hop aboard their private yacht. These luxurious, mini-cruise ships can be monsters. My 28-foot fishing vessel is considered a dingy by most boaters who hang out at the Spanish cay Marina.

Every day Miss Eulean Sands takes the 30 minute ferry from the small community of Cooperstown, five miles across the Abaco Sea.

Ms Sands is Spanish Cay’s only true government official. She is the immigration, police and customs officers all wrapped up into one.

Now this is good duty IF you can get it, because on Spanish Cay there are no commercial jet arrivals or tourist-packed cruise ships. On an average day it’s a few private planes and a yacht or two.

Eulean is a perfect candidate for this repose job; she greets everyone with a warm Bahamian smile and yet does not slack from her official duties.

Then there’s Mr. Scott Brandt; he’s Susan’s permanent secretary (so to speak).

Scott makes sure that everything from transportation vehicles (golf carts) to the refrigerators are tuned up and running. For Susan and Scott it’s not all bliss in paradise…there’s much to do.

Their affluent customers can be demanding, they want bait, ice, beer and service…. They want A/C, fresh water, internet access and phone connections. This is a place where platinum credit cards are more abundant than cash. To dock a 72-foot cruiser in one of Spanish cays 82 slips can cost up to $200 per night… To fill her up with gas, about $ 7,000.

Most of the year the island’s pace is humdrum; it’s busiest however during the annual fishing tournaments. The reefs, shoals and depths around Spanish Cay are active with everything from large game fish to hand line favourites like grunts, triggers and snapper, not to mention the 35-pound grouper my wife pulled in (with a hand line).

Considering my meagre catch she put me to shame that day and of course the big fish became the topic of afternoon happy hour until some jealous captain produced a photo of a 100-pound grouper caught just a week before.

During tournament time all 81 slips, 18 rooms and two guest houses will be filled to capacity.

Now Susan needs more staff, so she brings in cooks, waitresses and housekeepers from Cooperstown. If it’s been a good day at sea the anglers and crew want to celebrate their prize winning catch. They want a party; .they want to dance; so Bahamian musicians come from far away as Marsh Harbour, 38 miles across the sea.

There are savoury buffets and requests for special food items..

So these supplies are loaded on a private plane in Palm Beach, 155 miles away, and are on the dinner table that night.

Though there’s no Avis or Hertz on this little island you can rent a golf cart.

Pack a lunch and sneak off to one of the five human-free beaches or if you prefer to socialize there is a tennis court, pool and hot tub.

For even more seclusion and privacy hop in your dingy and spend the day on uninhabited Powell’s Cay just a few miles due south.

Here you will find miles-upon miles of talcum-white stretches of beach. The shallows team with bone fish and conch and the only dimple in the sand is that of some seagull or heron.

To keep paradise running, it’s not unusual for Susan and Scott to put in a 14 hour work day.

And they don’t mind because there is a light at the end of the tunnel – OFF SEASON.

By late August most of the luxury yachts have sailed back across the Gulf Stream to ride out the peak of hurricane season.

With the exception of a few frequent visitors, the private airstrip is almost shut down and the rooms and rental houses are empty, secured with storm shutters.

Now Susan finds time for a game of ping-pong with Scott, some DVD watching; even some beachcombing.

‘This is what all the hard work is for,’ reflects Susan. ‘For the next four months we have this little paradise to ourselves’.

Though Susan doesn’t hold the land title, the island is all hers during the off-season.

She can fish, tan, dive and sleep and then sleep some more.

Now let’s not forget there’s lots of time to commune with God.

‘Dear Lord please no hurricanes this year’.

For more information on Spanish cay – go to www.spanishcay.com

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