I began this series of commentaries on the Wagner family following the reopening of Marina Cay and the inauguration of direct flights between Miami and the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport on Beef Island. It was my hope to commemorate their part in the early history of aviation and the hospitality industry in the Virgin Islands.

In a July 20, 2023, commentary titled “Remembering the Wagners,” I wrote, “Let us salute the pioneering work of Captain Wladek Wagner, a Polish sailor who contributed to the early development of both facilities, entrancingly described by his late widow Mabel in Lest I Forget: The Wagner Family Pioneers of Trellis Bay, Beef Island, BVI (2015).”

However, I became so impelled to share their full story that it was not until the 10th part of the series that I mentioned Mr. Wagner’s purchase of Bellamy Cay on Feb. 4, 1954, and his interest in building the VI’s first airstrip on Beef Island (as described in my Jan. 31 commentary “Trellis history continues with account of house build”). I have yet to discuss Mr. Wagner’s interest in Marina Cay.


Ms. Wagner was 87 and had been widowed for 23 years when she published her book, so it is unsurprising that a few of the incidents she describes appear to be inconsistent with established facts. For example, she vividly recalls Mr. Wagner’s close business relationship with the manager of Caneel Bay Resort on St. John in June 1952, but Laurance Rockefeller did not open it until 1956.

Ms. Wagner was probably describing incidents that arose during the upgrade of a small resort which was already on the land when Mr. Rockefeller bought it in 1952.

Contrariwise, she is uncertain whether Pebbles was the first name of Mr. Rockefeller’s relation or his yacht. In fact, James Stillman “Pebble” Rockefeller was cruising the Caribbean in about June 1952 and, perhaps coincidentally, planning a trip around the world.

She was keen to demonstrate Mr. Wagner’s captaincy and engineering accomplishments, but not many considered worth mentioning his regular trips to deposit cheques and withdraw cash from a bank in St. Thomas. An examination of his pass book and statements might show the names of his customers and nail down their dates.

A Mr. Christiansen’s supply of $1,000 worth of roofing material for “Mr. Wagner’s family home” from his hardware store and lumber yard on St. Thomas — without taking a receipt — was a shrewd business move as well as a friendly gesture. It demonstrates Mr. Wagner’s good business reputation. When he was better placed, he bought a butane gas stove and refrigerator and gasoline generator from the store.

The butane gas cylinders came from Morgan Gas Depot in St. Thomas, owned by one of his yacht Rubicon’s earliest charterers.

I would encourage anyone interested in the production of a revised edition of Ms. Wagner’s book to share their interest with their friends and family in both this territory and the United States VI (including on USVI/BVI Friendship Days).


On the opening day of the fifth Wagner Sailing Rally last month, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley and Eighth District Representative Marlon Penn praised the Wagner family’s contribution to the VI’s economic development. Dr. Wheatley stressed their key role in the development of tourism in the territory, and Mr. Penn spoke of the employment opportunities they offered workers in the East End area.

Among the six men from East End who Mr. Wagner hired to build Tamarind House were members of my VI family, including Obel Penn, whom I used to greet as uncle. He was the Eighth District representative’s grandfather, whose loyalty and hard work the Wagners later singled out for special praise. Tamarind House was later destroyed when the airport runway was extended over Conch Shell Point.

Sustainable tourism

The government should invest our tax dollars in sustainable tourism, preserving our historic sites and maintaining the roads and natural environment. The BVI Tourist Board should increase its promotion proactively. For example, it could advertise a Polish festival centre on Bellamy Cay in advance, rather than wait for the Polish sailors to announce the next Wagner Sailing Rally.

To continue “The Wagners of Trellis Bay,” click here.