Before the dawn of jet flight, the proprietor of a Caribbean hotel provided his guests with good beds, food and drink. He kept the scorpions out of the bedrooms, the flies out of the food and counted on the natural blessings of the area—the sand, sun and water—to keep business coming his way. Today these simple, agreeable appointments are rarely considered enough. Tourism is now a big industry; the mark of Hilton is not only on the land but on the sea as well, and Total Recreation is the order of the day.
A Caribbean resort may have the best beach this side of Bora Bora but, to be sure of customers, it must also have a swimming pool, preferably two. And convenient to these chlorinated wallows the resort must have various sheltered and open areas where the patrons can lunch, lounge and drink. There should also be one formal dining room where coat and tie are required, so that the guests, by shunning it, will feel they are going slightly to seed in the tropics. There should be one indoor cocktail lounge called The Buccaneer Room or perhaps Blackboard's Den, a dark and intimate place.
The complete modern resort has a shopping district, of course, and a casino, and tennis and golf. The golf fairways can be as wide as Red Square and so charitable that anyone can play around using only a wooden-shafted deck, as long as the layout is studded with coconut palms and is as well groomed as any in Grosse Pointe or Sewickley. To sum up, a successful Caribbean hotel need not have all the extravagant flourishes of Huntington Hartford's new Bahamian resort, Paradise Island, but it should be loaded with fun and games and have some of the casual magnificence of, say, Versailles or the Taj Mahal.
Considering all that Caribbean proprietors do offer and feel they should offer their guests, the little resort called Marina Cay in the British Virgin Islands is 20 graceful years behind the times. Marina Cay is a small island, a luxuriant, six-acre hillock that somehow managed to keep its head above water through the geologic contortions of the past. Although Marina Cay does not have the floss of a superresort, in every functional way it is modern. It is a suitable place for idle musing or profound thinking, and equally good for socializing, lolling, basking, dunking, drinking, boating, angling, casual snorkeling and serious scuba diving. The international set from the C�te d'Azur and the guys and dolls who play in Vegas and Palm Springs could not stand Marina Cay. If suddenly exposed to its low pressure, they would explode.
Marina Cay is by no means unique. Graceful recreation is still possible elsewhere in the Caribbean, but it is a losing cause. The travel ads promise lavishness, and the calypso drums throb loud. The tourist kingdom of Greater Caribbea is running out of unspoiled islands. Measured in time and space, the British Virgins are the end of the line. They are the easternmost mountaintops of a submerged cordillera fronting the Atlantic abyss. None of the 30-odd islands and islets in the group is very large, and because of their small size and situation on the windward edge of the Caribbean, they have usually been passed up by exploiters ancient and modern. The alluring come-on, "unspoiled," can still honestly be applied to all of them. They will succumb in time, but Marina Cay, one of the least, will spoil slowly, because it has several unusual forces working for it, the most tangible and obvious one being its proprietor, 47-year-old Allan Batham of England.
Batham is an innkeeper, a sailor and a diver, all by choice. He is a large man. His hands and arms are the sort dock workers need; his calves are the kind often seen in football defense platoons. In the face of minor setbacks, he sometimes erupts, fuming and emitting a few bellows, but before hot lava squirts from either ear he falls silent. Ordinarily he is soft-spoken and collected, his countenance often dominated by a wide smile that exposes some of his molars. Like many sailors and divers, Batham adheres to the rather old and humble idea that the human race does not own the world but is merely a tenant, privileged to use it and responsible for leaving it in decent condition. His particular ambition is that Marina Cay shall be for people who do not need or want Total Recreation—a place "for those who have enough inner resources to recharge their own batteries."
Certain requirements of Total Recreation, notably golf, are out of the question on little Marina Cay. A swimming pool could be blasted out of the cay's rocky core, but this will not happen as long as Batham is in charge. There already is water enough all around. A quarter-mile arc of fringing reef, fretted by surge and decoratively edged with palm coral, guards the windward side of the island—a suitable playground for shell collectors, flotsam pickers and novice scuba divers. The shoals off the north quarter support spotty pastures of finger coral and bramble patches of stag-horn, where spunky demoiselles and little wrasses play peekaboo for novice snorkelers. Between the snorkeling grounds and the western edge of the fringing reef, a sand bottom slopes away gradually enough to suit any dunker too timid to lift a foot from the bottom or put his head below the surface.
Presumably working on the absurd theory that beauty must be explained, on certain reefs of the American Virgin Islands the National Park Service has put underwater signs identifying the corals and fishes, crassly thrusting knowledge upon those who may not want it. On Batham's reef the corals still grow unnamed and the little fish still swim namelessly about. The mystery that enhances natural beauty is preserved.
In the perfect model of a modern resort in the sun, the coconut palms, the omnipresent totems of Caribbea, are often wired. They light up at night, washing away the stars. There are five young palms on Marina Cay, all of them situated on low ground near the edge of the water, where the cumbersome seaborne seed of the species normally takes hold. They do not light up. On Marina Cay the night overhead is preserved; the moon, the bright eye of Taurus and the jewels of Orion's sword belt are elegantly displayed. The nearby islands and the silver sea are sometimes glorified by the lightning winks of distant storm, and this is as much of an electrical show as Batham feels his small island needs.
There is one lounge, one dining area and no organized bar on Marina Cay. The guests bartend for themselves from a selection of very good whiskies, gin, rum and liqueurs stored in a dissected wine tun on a thatched roof veranda outside the lounge. The veranda, which also serves as the dining area, is architecturally ordinary, but like every portal and window on the island, it looks out on beauty. There are flowers close by—sea oleander, poinciana, yellow cedar and pride of Barbados—and in the background the many colors of the sea. Across the water the larger islands of the group ordinarily shine bright and green; but sun shafted through the clouds can suddenly turn any one of them to solid silver, while a nimbus cloud dragging rain changes another into a dark, soggy monster. There is no fixed tropical scene but, rather, a constant flux of colors and shapes, moods and perspectives.