What it’s like to discover a secluded island getaway

Monday, February 25th, 2013

The Founders of Pine Cay

From Early Explorers to Count Ferdinand Czernin

French Captain N. Bellin, sent to the West Indies by King Louis XV in the mid-1700s wrote of Pine Cay: “To approach Island of Pines, you have to be careful because there is a sandbar. When you approach Island of Pines from the opening in the reef, you have to make sure the island remains to the SE so you can enter without touching the sand.” He wrote further, “The Island of Pines goes NW to SE. The land is low and not protected from the wind in the east, which batters the pines all the time. The trees on the fringe are uprooted and dried up, and the ones in the center are not doing too well.” He continued his description with, “The earth is full of sand on the perimeter and doesn’t look much better on the inside.” and, “The sea bottom is very wide in the whole bay, too wide to catch any big fish.”

Despite all these shortcomings, Bellin managed to find the one thing that has drawn explorers back to Pine Cay over the last four centuries. He wrote, “The most important feature in the Island of Pines is a big lagoon of sweet water close to the sea and where there is enough water to fill 50 ships.”

Pine Cay has played an important role in providing fresh water to seafarers since the days of Christopher Columbus. Historians estimate that Columbus’ first stop in the New World was in the Turks and Caicos Islands in October 1492 where he restocked the ship’s water supplies on route to Cuba. While the appeal of a permanent fresh water depot in the otherwise desert-like Caribbean archipelago continued to bring maritime voyagers to Pine Cay, there were few other reasons to set up camp on this tiny, windswept island.

In 1958 when the Turk & Caicos Islands were under Jamaican administration, Count Ferdinand Czernin came to visit a friend on South Caicos. While discussing the islands and climate, the topic of the lack of fresh water came up and a steward informed Ferdinand that indeed there was an island in the Turks & Caicos that had abundant supplies of fresh water. Without delay, Ferdinand chartered a sloop and made the 2-day voyage to the secluded island of Pine Cay in search of fresh water.

Here, in addition to finding a seemingly endless supply of fresh water, Ferdinand also discovered a peaceful little private island which had no occupants. Pine Cay had a gorgeous “white powder beach, blue and green water under cerulean skies and cotton ball clouds.” It was serene and untouched, teeming with iguanas, and great white herons, stretches of pines and palmettos, and abundant and varied flora. He thought that this secluded island hideaway in the Turks and Caicos could gradually be expanded to accommodate like-minded friends, who were eager to escape the stresses and demands of their more cosmopolitan lifestyles.

With original plans to farm pineapple, and vegetables and to use the solitude to write books, Ferdinand set out to determine who owned the land and if there was a formal registry system. He was granted a farming lease for a conditional five and then 99 year period. All he had to do was to construct a residential house and start the agriculture project. As construction plans were initiated, George Nipanich, a long time friend of Ferdinand tagged along to help negotiate construction terms and squeeze in a vacation on the island hideaway.

Work came to a halt in 1960 as a result of heavy rainfall and abnormally high tides throughout the islands resulting from Hurricane Donna. Many trees were lost, fresh water lakes turned brackish and flooding destroyed a lot of vegetation. This natural disaster resulted in the channel between Water Cay and Little Water Cay slowly filling in and then closing in completely by 1968.

During the same year that Hurricane Donna swept across the Caribbean, George Nipanich met his future wife, Maroussia, at a wedding party in Jamaica. Marou came to visit George on Pine Cay even though the self-proclaimed “city girl” hated camping, but due to a series of travel-related mishaps only managed to spend one day on Pine Cay! During her foray through the islands, she “thought it was fascinating, regardless of whether I was a city girl. I loved the whole area and thought it was a great adventure.”

As a result of the construction setbacks experienced with the upheaval caused by Hurricane Donna, Ferdinand received a two-year extension on his lease and used the time, (instead of farming) to prepare a projection of Pine Cay development possibilities. Unfortunately, though he had diligently persisted in realizing his dream of inhabiting a deserted island hideaway in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Ferdinand died of a heart attached in 1966. His wife, Helen, came back to Pine Cay and together with George Nipanich, decided to continue the legacy her husband had dreamed about.

In his proposal to the government, George prepared drawings and a Summary of the Proposed Development of Pine Cay where he introduced two names for the project: The Cays Development Company, Ltd., and the one which was adopted and which we know today, The Meridian Club. His plan called for a club house, marina, utility buildings, workers’ quarters, a power plant, water supply, sewage systems and recreational facilities. In November 1967, after receiving conditional approval from the government, George Nipanich moved to the island to devote himself to the development of Pine Cay. The Meridian Club – named for the proposed location of the clubhouse which came through the middle of the 22nd meridian and intersected with the 72nd meridian – opened its doors in the early 1970s.

George Nipanich passed away in 2002 after spending many happy years on Pine Cay and seeing his vision fulfilled. Today, 38 private homes and a 13-guestroom beach club offer an idyllic escape from the stresses of everyday life. Unspoiled beaches, turquoise water, fresh drinking water and an abundance of flora and fauna continue to be the hallmark of the secluded island hideaway that Count Ferdinand Czernin once fell in love with, and which continues to honour his pioneering spirit.

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