Police sailor Wladek Wagner quickly recovered from the brutal attack on him recounted in the last commentary in this series (published on May 30). However, when he was invited to conduct a lengthy island-hopping cruise, he worried at the prospect of leaving his wife Mabel alone for four weeks. Fortunately, an old friend who came to see them happily agreed to stay at Tamarind House while he was away. Shipyard work resumed when he was back.

Commissioner Henry Howard was very interested in Mr. Wagner’s plans to build a clubhouse on Bellamy Cay and guest cottages on Trellis Bay beach. The men cleared brush and debris from the cay, piling up the rocks and stones for construction materials and leaving behind just bare rock. Then they used stones and cement left over from boatyard to build low walls around its edges to prevent wave erosion. The cottages would have been easier to do, but Mr. Wagner decided to start on the clubhouse first, even though the workmen and materials for it had to be transported by sea.

Coral gravel

Mr. Wagner built a flat-bottomed cargo punt with which Hubert Frett and a helper collected coral gravel washed up at the east end of the bay. They paddled against the wind empty and came back full.

Bellamy Cay was cut down to nine feet above sea level, and then Henry Glanville and two helpers cut another two feet down where the clubhouse was to be sited. The extra stone would be used for future walls, and shallow ditches were filled with large stones and concrete up to floor level. As had become customary, boards were erected for the inner walls, against which the masons built a blue granite-like stone found mainly on Beef Island. Meanwhile, carpenters Laurence Penn and Hugh Varlack prepared doors and windows from ample supplies of pine at the boatyard.

Airstrip proposal

However, Mr. Howard was particularly interested in Mr. Wagner’s detailed proposal in a letter on Jan. 23, 1955, to build an airstrip on Beef Island. The commissioner traced a copy of the accompanying map before returning it on Feb. 4, 1955, with his apologies for the delay as he had just missed the government messenger.

Mr. Howard wanted to discuss the plan further with Mr. Wagner and Carris Penn (my future father-in-law), who was the government agent for East End, before presenting it to his superiors in London, but he first had to attend a royal visit on Antigua.

Letter delays

Ms. Wagner commented on how difficult communications with the outside world were on Trellis Bay in those days. The despatch and receipt of even important letters depended on who would be going to Road Town and whichever men could pick them up from East End. The men had then to row across the 300-foot channel to reach Beef Island. Mr. Wagner made that part much easier by constructing the “Do-It-Yourself Ferry” — a small barge operated by pulling ropes and pulleys across the divide. It was strong enough for Mr. Jacobs, the Road Town harbour master, to take his car across on it, confidently, when he visited Trellis Bay.


Herbert and Belinda Lee, yacht guests visiting from Boston, Massachusetts, were so impressed by the development of Trellis Bay that Mr. Lee discussed entering into a partnership with the Wagners before rejoining their hosts. Mr. and Ms. Wagner were completely nonplussed by such an offer, but they were tempted to consider it when they visualised how much sooner their dreams could be realised.

However, Ms. Wagner was diagnosed with cervical cancer by her doctor, who arranged for her to be admitted to the Presbyterian Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Wagner family moved back on board their yacht Rubicon for the day trip and took along Myrtle Penn (my future sister-in-law) to take care of the children. (An amusing incident after my own wedding on Tortola led me to discover my Virgin Islands family links with the Wagner family, 30 years later, as recounted in my Sept. 13, 2023 commentary “Brit recalls his early married life in VI.”)


The surgery was successful, but Mr. Wagner was offered a charter which he couldn’t in the circumstances refuse. His wife remembered a Puerto Rican family who had repeatedly invited them for a holiday after they’d visited Trellis Bay. The Wagners were overcome by the hospitality and kindness their hosts displayed while Ms. Wagner recovered.

They moved back onboard Rubicon after Mr. Wagner returned and Ms. Wagner’s final checkup, then rushed around for supplies and materials for Trellis Bay. Young Ms. Penn was a great help, but Ms. Wagner felt she needed more time to rest.

The partnershp agreement was finalised from Puerto Rico with Mr. Lee’s attorney in March 1956. Then Ms. Wagner had to type seemingly endless documentation on her small Hermes Baby portable.

Mr. Wagner had leased various plots of nearby land since they bought Trellis Bay, including some on Great Camanoe, but Ms. Wagner’s prime concern was the children’s welfare. Commissioner Howard was replaced by E.A. Evelyn, an acting commissioner who was just as friendly and supportive.

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

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