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Mayreau--Private Caribbean Island Goes Public

February 05, 1989|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

MAYREAU, Grenadines — Turn your head to one side and there's a sailboat anchored off the quiet beach of Saltwhistle Bay in the sapphire blue waters of the Caribbean. Look the other way and watch the whitecapped Atlantic surf creating sculptures along a Robinson Crusoe shore.

These are moments on an island that may never have entered your daydreams, one unknown to most travelers to the Caribbean since the voyages of Columbus.

Mayreau measures only 1 1/2 square miles. It has no roads and no airport. The population is about 170, mostly fishing families. It's a private island that doesn't appear on most maps of the Caribbean, but it has never been one of those private islands that are for visitors only, whether as a resort or a cruise ship beach.

Soon it is expected to make the transition from basically private ownership to being in the public sector of what has been the independent country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since 1979.

One of the Dots

The Grenadines reach south from the main island of St. Vincent nearly to Grenada. If your map doesn't name Mayreau, you can find it as one of the dots close to Union Island and Palm Island.

Mayreau was listed as a new stop on our nine-day cruise from Miami to Puerto Rico. Princess Cruises had negotiated a lease for a strip of beach where passengers could swim and picnic for a day and local people could show their handcrafts.

I made a call to the Saltwhistle Bay Club to talk with Undine Potter. She and her husband, Tom, came from Canada 11 years ago to build one of the top small resorts in the Caribbean.

Later we met up with Undine Potter. She was barefoot in a rubber boat and waving to take us out to a catamaran.

A tent was the Potters' first home on the island, followed by a small bamboo house, which termites practically devoured. They began building their permanent home out of blocks of island stone, doing much of the work themselves and training locals from the village on the hill behind the bay.

The beachside restaurant was their first commercial project, serving guests mostly from the yachts attracted to Saltwhistle Bay.

Part of the Tradition

Two-story stone cottages became guest accommodations, sometimes built with skilled help from St. Vincent and other islands. Handcrafted furniture, ceiling fans and hardwood louvered windows are part of the traditional Caribbean furnishings on the lower level. The upper level is a roofed observation deck, complete with hammock.

There are five cottage units for double or family occupancy and nine open-to-the-sea-breeze rooms in a larger unit. Four suites are being built. Each cottage roof is constructed to collect rainwater. Larger storage tanks have been installed to conserve water from the rainy season. The sun heats the water for showers and baths.

The dining areas around the restaurant are circular stone booths topped by thatched canopies. The menus feature fish and lobster from the coral reef waters of the bay, along with selected continental cuisine.

Dinnertime is the social time at Saltwater Bay Club, but there is no evening entertainment. Guests prefer the stars, the moonlight and the sounds of the sea.

By day there are the beaches and the bay on the Caribbean side, for sunning, swimming, windsurfing and snorkeling. The spectacular Atlantic shore is great for walking. A scuba center will open soon.

The day begins with the sound of the birds. Breakfast and dinner are part of the package price and luncheons are a la carte. Sometimes for lunch, guests take the 20-minute walk up to the small restaurant in the village.

Most guests get here by flying regular airlines to Barbados, then taking a twin-engine plane to Union Island. They are met there by the catamaran from the club, with welcoming drinks before the 40-minute cruise to Mayreau.

During high season, Dec. 16 to March 31, Saltwhistle rates are $320 for two, double occupancy, including breakfast, dinner, windsurfing and snorkeling equipment. After April 1 the rate drops to $190. The flight from Barbados to Union Island is about $105 per person each way.

For information and reservations, call the Saltwhistle Bay Club's Toronto office toll-free at (800) 387-1752.

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