This past April, the marina at Nanny Cay on Tortola swelled to capacity as thousands of visiting sailors flocked to participate in the 40th anniversary of the BVI Spring Regatta. As it does every year, the regatta village shone as an unparalleled Caribbean sailor's scene. The docks, which run adjacent to the Peg Leg bar and restaurant, and the village, which stretches along the beach, provided the perfect setting for locals and racers to enjoy the event’s live music, great food and late-night fireworks.
Billionaire and Virgin Group chairman Sir Richard Branson, who entered his 105-foot luxury catamaran Necker Belle in the regatta, kept the boat there in between races, making it the largest vessel ever to dock at Nanny Cay. However, it looks as though that record will soon be trumped, as the marina begins expanding and dredging the small harbor to accommodate bigger boats and larger numbers of visitors.
The success of Nanny Cay, once a derelict marina on the verge of bankruptcy, is due in large part to the efforts of co-owner Cameron McColl, a friendly Scottish entrepreneur who has overseen Nanny Cay for the past 15 years. McColl is also a sailor and raced in the 2011 Spring Regatta on board the Swan 53 Na'ia. We caught up with McColl under a shady tree in the regatta village.
Q. This is a big week for Nanny Cay. There is a great atmosphere and everyone seems so relaxed. Where does that vibe come from?
A. There is a special atmosphere here, a tremendous sense of community. You can come here during the season and sit at Peg Leg's and you will see people like Sir Richard Branson chatting with riggers. It just happens, and it’s what makes this an inclusive place as opposed to an exclusive one.
Q. You mentioned that the race organizers feel a good regatta must offer time to relax. How do you do that?
A. There are no direct international flights to the BVI so some of the professional racing teams don't come to this event, and we’re okay with that. This regatta is packed with serious sailors, but at the same time, it’s intentionally low-key, so we make sure to consider the “hangover factor.” We want people to stay and drink and socialize and have fun and still be able to get up and race all day.
Q. Tell us about your future plans for the development of Nanny Cay?
A. We are putting a $30 million plan through to expand Nanny Cay, to build a big breakwater and bring in more super yachts. We are also building 32 townhouses and 35 luxury condominiums—many of them with docks—and we’ve already sold the majority of units. I think people are excited at the idea of having a place to vacation with friends and family that they can also rent out when they’re not here. It’s a big investment but it is really worthwhile.
Q. How do you think all the expansion will change things at Nanny Cay?
A. Right now we have to turn people away who want to stay here. They sail past our front door because we don't have the room for them. With the expansion, we’ll be able to accommodate more and bigger boats. We will have a mix of dock space with seven slips for vessels up to 120 feet, five slips for vessels up to 300 feet and 180 slips for regular-size vessels.
Q. Do you think Nanny Cay will eventually become a destination for the super yachts and the super rich?
A. No, because we’re expanding our docks but not our prices. I do not want bigger and bigger boats here. I want boats here that owners love. If we are going to flourish, we want yachting enthusiasts.
Q. Knowing that in the BVI, fresh water is at a premium and everything else needs to be trucked in, how does Nanny Cay cope?
A. We are completely self-sufficient. We have our own fresh water tanks and sewer treatment plant and even fiber optic cables so we can provide the best Internet access on the islands. When there is a hurricane, we are designated as a place to seek refuge and people literally travel from the hills of Tortola to Nanny Cay when a hurricane comes.
Q. Are you concerned that many places in the BVI are becoming too developed?
A. I think we have passed the point of scary and unfettered development. All of us here in the BVI are increasingly awareness of this. We talk to each other about this issue and how to treat it. I believe, if we play our cards right, there is a decent chance that the BVI will remain pristine.
For more information about Nanny Cay, go to www.nannycay.com.