You know the saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? That pretty much summed up my relationship with Saba Rock. Until now.
Saba Rock (often confused with the larger island of Saba, located south-east of the USVI) is a small, acre-sized British Virgin Island in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda, and a nearby neighbor to the famous Necker island, owned by Sir Richard Branson.
In the 1960s, Herbert “Bert” Kilbride, marine archaeologist, scuba enthusiast, and lovingly dubbed “The Last Pirate of the Caribbean” purchased a leasehold for the barren island and made it his home and business headquarters. Beyond his enjoyment of recreational diving, Bert researched and documented shipwrecks in the surrounding area, including his discovery of the RMS Rhone, one of the most popular dive sites in the Virgin Islands – although he would quickly correct anyone who asked about it, saying “I didn’t discover the Rhone; it was never lost.”
If any of you have taken a resort scuba diving course while on vacation anywhere in the world, you have Bert to thank, as he was the creator of the program.
After moving to Saba Rock in the ’60s, Bert and Gayla (Wife #5) grew increasingly frustrated by the uninvited tourists who swam out to their private island from their boats to get a closer look at this little island gem and their house made out of driftwood and rock. He finally gave up trying to keep the tourists at bay and decided, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.
With the addition of a diving base and popular bohemian style bar named the Pirates’ Pub (considered by many as one of the best bars in the Caribbean), Saba Rock quickly became a secluded traveler’s paradise for divers, drinkers, and adventurers, and an island playground for movie stars, the Rich & Famous, and the yachting crowd.
After a series of hurricanes in the mid-’90s that damaged the dock and left the bar without a roof (and Bert thereafter renaming it the ‘Topless Bar’), he sold Saba Rock to a restauranteur from Hawaii, who added a resort, restaurant, and full service marina.
I knew Saba Rock was ‘out there somewhere’ in the mix of the other British Virgins, and I promised myself repeatedly that I would make a plan to stop there one day to pay my respects while soaking up the rich history left behind by this Virgin Islands legend.
Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma had other plans. In 2017, the resort was damaged beyond repair, and at the time, and much to my disappointment, I heard rumors that there were no plans to rebuild. All of my opportunities were missed. Or so I thought.
Despite the rumors, and much to my excitement, reconstruction of the resort began in 2018. This week, the resort manager provided more information about their re-opening date, and their upscale “barefoot luxury accommodations”.
Featuring seven beach-themed rooms, two suites, two bars on each level of the resort (including a pirate and dive story at no additional cost), an open air restaurant serving lunch and dinner, and an on-site dive shop, the construction continues, with an optimistic early-2021 re-opening. The dock is installed, and the exterior and guest rooms are nearly complete.
Built with a more luxurious flair than the previous resort, manager Alain Prion says they have stayed true to the island’s roots. “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be casual. We aim to please the entire BVI community.” While the resort itself will offer high-end accommodations at a high-end price, Prion says the prices in the restaurant and bar will remain accessible to day-visitors boating up for a drink or a meal.
When the resort officially re-opens, those wishing to visit Saba Rock – whether for an afternoon or a week-long stay – can take one of the resort shuttles from Virgin Gorda or Tortola, and those lucky enough to have their own water transportation can dock at the resort or a nearby mooring.
Sadly, Pirates’ Pub is no longer in existence, but the new Saba Rock Resort intends to provide the same party-like atmosphere, closely following its reputation in the 60s. “It’s going to be very, very new and improved,” says Prion. “But what we want to do is bring back the vibe, the fun, the laughter that was there. It’s exciting and we’re not opening, if you would, a new hotel; we’re re-opening what was prior.”
So who’s with me? Saba Rock, 2021?
*Note: The BVI reopens for guests arriving by plane on December 1, 2020. The date for boat arrivals has not yet been decided. A passport is required for travel to the British Virgin Islands from the USVI and the continental US.