Posts Tagged ‘Beach Front House’

Viewing the Islands from the Water

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

Everyone says the same thing, and it is quite accurate. If you really want to enjoy the Caribbean, do it from a charter,on the water, where the views are wonderful and the pleasure is all yours. There are many different kinds of charters – variety that will match you taste, interests and budget. The charters range from about $200 to up to $2000, depending on what you are getting.

The least expensive and the least flexible are the large group charters, where the boat carries up to 20 people, or 12, depending on their insurance.  These will take you to some nice spots, but the experience is about what you would expect for a group charter of anything.  They provide the snorkels and the fins, and normally stop along with way at one of the restaurants close to the water.

If you want to scuba dive, the costs go up significantly — $200 to $350 per person generally, and you will go with a licensed dive instructor if you are not yourself certified.  Again, they provide the equipment and the craft, crewed with one of two people, and there is greater flexibility where you go.

Of course, there are sail boat charters, with or without a captain, and there are larger yachts that can be taken out for days and even weeks, usually with a licensed captain and crew, unless you have a captains license and are experienced in the Virgin Islands. The constancy of the prevailing Easterlies in the Virgin Islands makes the area one of the best sailing areas in the world.

The most enjoyment, of course, comes when you charter a luxury craft for a day, with your own captain and mate, a gourmet lunch, and you choice of destinations.  We offer two craft, POSH and Ponchis, for just such occasions.  Both craft are 48’ Dyna Craft, with three cabins, two heads, and plenty of room for lounging in the up top, on the back, or in the main cabin.  When you charter these boats, they can carry up to six people, plus a licensed captain and a mate who are there to take you to the best snorkeling or diving spots in the US and British Virgin Islands.

For business associates or simply family enjoyment, there is simply no better way to see the Islands, the wonderful beaches, the underwater world of the sea, and the spectacular views.  The family of the Virgin Islands is one of the most beautiful tropical island groups anywhere in the world.  St. John, for example, is largely a national park, so much of the Island appears the way it must have appeared to the first voyagers who arrived at the Islands on Columbus’s second voyage of discovery.

These are pleasure boats.  They are not equipped for fishing, and if you want to go deep sea fishing for Marlin or Tuna, our experienced concierge, Angela St. Hilaire, will assist you to find the right charter for you.  The Puerto Rico Trench is only a few miles from St. Thomas, and the drop off is one of the best places for Marlin fishing anywhere.

Both yachts have dive platforms for scuba diving, however, and dinghy’s take can take you to the beach or to one of the BVI towns on Tortola.  Remember, however, to bring your Passport, which is a requirement for travel to the British Virgin Islands.

Beachfront that is Not Beachfront

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

The villas in the Virgin Islands are often labeled ‘beachfront’ or ‘waterfront’, both by the owners and often by the real estate agencies that market the homes to the public. We have lived here now for five years and we have learned not to trust the descriptions any longer. I will start with some specific examples to make the point. We live in Peterborg, a narrow peninsula of land that is the border for Magen’s Bay.On the Ocean side of Peterborg, there are many properties listed as ‘waterfront’, and that might be true in a technical sense.  What the ads don’t tell you is that there is no beach at all, only rocky cliffs that overlook the ocean. 

On the Magen’s Bay side of Peterborg there are a very few houses that have actually small pocket beaches to which the property has access.  These houses are very seldom on the market; they sell generally for much higher prices per square foot, and rent for more than most other properties. Interestingly, the Western shore of Magen’s Bay, across the water from Peterborg, has some waterfront property, but there are no sandy beaches at all because of the currents in the Bay.

The truth of the matter is that there are relatively few houses on St. Thomas and St. John that can boast of being on the beach. More beachfront property exists on St. Croix, which is the largest of the three islands, but the surf is rougher and the sand generally less than on the other two islands.

So, when you read online that a villa is a “waterfront” or “beachfront” property, you need to understand the three meanings of that description, because the marketing materials seldom make it clear.  First, there is waterfront that has no access to the water at all, usually because the houses are located on cliffs above the ocean.  Second, there are homes where you can go down to the water, but where the beach is rocky, strewn with boulders, and not useable. Finally, there are a handful of properties that actually have direct access to a stable, usable, sandy beach. I use the word stable because many beaches on the northern coast of the Island disappear entirely when the Christmas winds whip up the surf.  I love Sandy Beach at Botany Bay, but it should be renamed boulder Bay in the winter season.

Villa Cote Sud and Villa Eau Claire are two villas that fit the third, and preferable, definition of “beachfront,” meaning they have direct access to a sandy beach.  Cote Sud has 345 feet of pebble beach, with a 100 foot pier into the Caribbean, which provides direct access to excellent snorkeling. The pier has been there for nearly 50 years, long before the coast was regulated, so it is permitted to remain under the CZM code. Cote Sud also has a 400 foot walk to Green Cay Beach, a half mile of largely deserted sand beach.  Eau Claire is, on the North side, is about 40 feet over a small sandy beach on Magen Bay, and has a private deck, shower and lighting for night time use.  So, if you really want to enjoy real beachfront, these two properties will provide that enjoyment.

House Buying in a Salty Environment

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

My wife, Annika, and I are like many of you. We lived in the continental United States, in Upstate New York, and decided in 2003 to try Island life. We picked the American Virgin Islands because the property laws are basically the same as New York State, there are few territorial taxes, and St. Thomas is, after San Juan, the easiest place to reach in the Caribbean. That latter point was important to us because we have an apartment in Paris and travel a good deal to see children and grandchildren.

After we got down here, we decided to use some of my capital to purchase deteriorating villas, which were situated on particularly beautiful lots, and rehabilitate and beautify them, bringing the structure up the standard of the lot on which it was located.. We have bought and successfully sold four properties, and we currently own two, with a third villa about 80 percent completed. We have learned a few things along the way, and of the lessons, our experience with salt is among the most important.

St. Thomas is an island in the Caribbean. It is a volcanic island, which is composed mostly of ancient gray basalt, pushed out of the earth about a hundred million years ago, and weathered various shades of gray, yellow, orange, and browns over the eons. When the rock is broken, you can see the perfect and beautiful gray face that is the original stone.

A part of the weathering process here is the fact that salt is everywhere – in the water that surrounds the Island, in the soil, in the air constantly, concentrated in rain, particularly during hurricanes, and in every cistern on the island. When you design, build or redecorate a house, the presence of salt should affect every single decision you make about furniture, fixtures, and other issues of construction. If you think otherwise, you will be horrified at how quickly the salt destroys the materials in your home. For example, all electronic equipment – televisions, DVD players, computers, printers, etc. – will not survive more than a year to 18 months if they are exposed to breezes carrying salt. And this is just the beginning of the problem.

There are many strategies that you need to learn to cope with this ever present reality. For example, with all kinds of furniture, use woods that are customary in the tropics – mahogany, bamboo, and the like, and always use the more expensive fabrics that resist both the sun and the salt. For fixtures in bathrooms or kitchens, choose only products that use stainless steel for their working parts. For roofs and other construction, use only stainless steel screws because treated or regular screws and nails will be completely gone in a couple of years.

This is not always easy, and many builders do not respect the demands of salt, particularly builders whose primary experiences are in the northern climates. Some people, for example, will advise you to install an expensive water filtration system to clean the water of salt and particulates. We bought a villa that had such a system, and we never used it. Why? There is so much dust in the water in the cisterns, that it will clog the filters requiring that you replace them frequently, sometimes weekly, or have no water pressure at all. The alternative is to use the water for bathing only, which is fine, and use bottled water for drinking and cooking. The water filtration sounds good, but it is a very bad solution – financially costly and time consuming.

No matter how much foresight you use, the salt will win in the end, and our precautions only delay a process that is continuous. Even aluminum corrodes and disintegrates eventually. Polyurethane last much longer, but the product availability is limited. However, the “delay” means less expense over the lifetime of your ownership, and less heartache when you see you best laid plans destroyed by the elements. If you build or if you remodel, remember the word “salt” for every decision you make, and use that insight to guide you to the best products.

If you are just furnishing a house, you might want to consult with my wife, Annika, who is our designer of all of the interiors you see. She has spent a very considerable amount of time locating suppliers, many from Indonesia and the far eastern islands, who specialize in products for tropical climates. She knows from well earned experience what works and what does not work, and many of the best products are actually far less expensive than anything you can buy in Europe or the United States.