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Bringing Back Bitter End Yacht Club: How to Rebuild a Legacy


Post by Janelle Cox - Published on 8/3/21 8:30 AM

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the Caribbean and Florida, leaving a path of destruction in their wakes. The hurricanes caused a total of $155 billion in damages. Among the wreckage lay the Bitter End Yacht Club. Their entire 64 acres of land was obliterated as Irma, the first of the two storms, hovered over the property.

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The Bitter End Yacht Club was founded in 1969 and acquired by the Hokin family in 1973. They have remained the owners for more than 50 years and three generations. Since the acquisition, Bitter End “evolved from a rustic retreat for one family into a casual, friendly paradise for people of all ages, from every corner of the globe.” 

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Before the storms, the BEYC was an iconic island destination. They’re known as a sailing mecca because of their world-famous regattas, and sailing school, and more. They’re also a highly sought-after destination for watersports, including windsurfing, kiteboarding, scuba diving, snorkeling, and more. When you weren’t on the water, their visitors enjoyed private beaches, a freshwater pool, shopping, restaurants, and the oldest bar in the British Virgin Islands. Bitter End was a place for people who had the sea running deep within their veins.

While it may seem daunting to rebuild such a massive and storied property after a hurricane like Irma, the team at Bitter End Yacht Club looked at it differently. Owner Richard Hokin said, “My theory is that mother nature thought we were messing the place up, and she came along and said, ‘I’m the reset, and I’m going to make sure you do it.’”

We spoke with Kerri Quinn Jaffe, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Bitter End, about their rebuilding efforts. She explained what Richard meant when he said this.

“Richard has a great sense of humor, which helped all of us get through a challenging situation,” Kerri said. “We have a relationship with the environment that is rapidly changing. We now have an opportunity to take that knowledge and our rich 50-year history to rebuild Bitter End while maintaining a small carbon footprint.”

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Bitter End plans to reopen its doors to the worldwide maritime community in the winter of 2021, over four years after the disaster. The name “Bitter End” carries a dual meaning. It means the end of a nautical rope or line and points to the resort’s location as the final island outpost before the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. It’s now gained a third definition—the start of something new. Here’s Jaffe, in her own words, on what has gone into that restart.

Launching the Bitter End Foundation 

During Hurricane Irma, in just a few hours, all 64 acres were decimated. It was a very emotional time for the owners and the entire Bitter End staff. At that point, we had about 180 employees working for us. The owners, Lauren and Richard Hokin, jumped on the first plane they could after the hurricanes. For them and the Bitter End crew, the first order of business focused on the suffering that everyone in the British Virgin Islands and Virgin Gorda, including our employees and the local community, had endured due to these storms. One of the most touching moments was the owners, members of our Quarterdeck Club, and friends from Puerto Rico coming to the rescue with their fishing vessels to help evacuate people, bring food, water, and supplies.

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Through the extraordinary generosity of our constituents around the globe, we were able to launch a fund within days. We ended up taking the fund and establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States, called the Bitter End Foundation. Since Irma, we’ve raised over a million dollars. We continue to support projects ranging from health and educational initiatives and environmental stewardship, which is a big part of our mandate. For example, our foundation collaborates with Sunchaser Scuba to conduct Sea Sweeps to clean the seabed. It was littered with all the destruction from the hurricanes. Additionally, we’ve donated Chromebooks to schools and students throughout the North Sound and Virgin Gorda. We do anything we can do locally to help restore the vibrancy of the community.

Why customer input was at the heart of rebuilding Bitter End 

Once we established the Bitter End Foundation, we started to look at how we’d bring back Bitter End. We have families who’ve been vacationing here for multiple generations that feel like it’s their second home. So, we sent out a survey to all our past guests to ask them what they wanted to see in Bitter End 2.0. We were blown away by the support and generosity of our long-term guest that came pouring in when this disaster struck. It elevated our spirits, and we were able to charge forward because we knew the Bitter End spirit would never be destroyed by any storm, no matter how strong. Their feedback was instrumental in our rebuilding phase as we plan for Bitter End’s next chapter. It’s been an incredible experience to work with the owners and receive excellent input and opinions from folks who’ve been coming here in our 50-year history.

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We respect the environment that surrounds Bitter End. We want to protect it and steward it for the future. Therefore, we salvaged, upcycled, and recycled as much of the destroyed property that we could to limit our footprint and, at the same time, retain its rustic spirit. We’ve collected massive amounts of timber, concrete, signage, boats, lanterns, and anything else we could recover that we felt would regain a sense of nostalgia. All our buildings are brand new, but we’re rebuilding many with the timber that you would have seen in structures before the hurricanes. It brings history and authenticity to the rebuild we couldn’t achieve through purchasing new materials.

Many of our buildings were built in the 60s and 70s when Irma hit. We have brought in a state-of-the-art construction crew and team to ensure that the new constructions could withstand any natural disaster that could take place. We are doing everything we can to assure today’s technologies are incorporated into our build while respecting the history and legacy of our open-air timber structures. It’s been a delicate balance, but we’re confident in the team we have on the ground.

Having the opportunity to reimagine our nautical village with all that we’ve learned over the past 50 years feels natural. The owners are incredibly involved in every decision we make. We’re rebuilding Bitter End from their perspective, respect, and love for the sea and adventure.

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What to expect from the new Bitter End

We’re focused on maintaining the legacy, the history, and the overall vibe of Bitter End, which is laid back, communal, and aligned with our environment. The overall experience centers on entertainment in and around the water. We know this is what our clients and guests from all over the world expect. So, we’ve reimagined everything with that in mind. That said, we’re upgrading everything. All our buildings will be brand new while incorporating our 50-year history into our design, making your stay and experience at Bitter End unique. 

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We launched a lifestyle brand called Bitter End Provisions during our closure, which features apparel and accessories for water sports enthusiasts. $1 of every purchase goes back to our foundation to support all our initiatives and mandates. It allowed us to keep the Bitter End spirit alive and stay in touch with our community, knowing we were going to close for a few years as we prepared for the next chapter. 

Bitter End is more than just a place; it’s a community of kindred spirits all over the globe who share our same love for the sea. We want to see that community come back. We want to see those multi-generational families learning to sail, snorkel, dive, kite, and windsurf continue to pass on that sense of play and adventure to future generations who share a love for this place and a wonder for what’s under the sea. We want to see that tradition continue. We hope that Bitter End will continue to inspire people to connect and gain new experiences, so they’ll come back year after year.

 

Want to see more of the Bitter End Yacht Club? Visit their website and or follow on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Quotes have been edited for clarity. Stay up to date with our First Mates series and more on our blog and join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Post by Janelle Cox

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