After being rebuilt from the ground up, Saba Rock Resort is preparing to open in the spring, more than three years after it was destroyed in Hurricane Irma. (Photo: PROVIDED)

At the North Sound outpost Saba Rock Resort, pandemic-related uncertainty hasn’t dampened the determination of the management team to finish re- building and finally reopen more than three years after Hurricane Irma demolished the property.

“The island itself was basically totally devastated, so we’ve had to rebuild from the bottom up,” said General Manager Alain Prion, who joined the team in February after managing properties in Guam, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Marco Island, Florida.

The resort on the 1.5-acre island dates back to the 1960s when scuba diver and treasure hunter Herbert “Bert” Kilbride used it as his laid-back hideaway, attracting sailors, divers and other travellers who still remember it fondly.

“People are really, really ex- cited about the reopening, and we want to keep that excitement going and we want to keep that vibe,” Mr. Prion said.

The resort, which Mr. Prion said was purchased after Irma from its second owners, the McManus family, by VI developer Doug Riegels — who also spearheaded the post-hurricane revitalisations of properties including Nail Bay Sports Club, Anegada Beach Club, and De Loose Mongoose — will keep
the same feel of the original, but with an upgrade.

It will feature seven “beach- chic” rooms and two suites, along with two bars — one on each level — and a full-service restaurant helmed by Belgian chef Frederic Cougnon.

A watersports shop will offer diving, snorkelling and kiteboarding excursions.
And it all will be built to last.

“It’s a new, modern Saba. … Our construction is up to [Category Five hurricane] standards; a lot of concrete, a lot of steel,” Mr. Prion explained. “So hopefully if something like [Irma] comes down the pike at some point in the near future, we won’t be blown away. The previous re- sort had a lot of wood, obviously, so that, combined with the effects of the winds and everything else, destroyed the property.”

The island was originally scheduled for an October opening, but the pandemic got in the way, first as lockdowns prevented Virgin Islands crews from working and then as specialty workers were barred from entering the territory. Mr. Prion now estimates a March open- ing at the earliest.
He himself is in France, waiting for a permit to reenter the VI along with four other members of the management staff.

“We need to get those people in to finish the project, from St. Maarten and from the United States and Europe,” he said. “So that’s why our timeline keeps kind of getting pushed back. Government is being very careful about letting people back in.”

When Saba Rock’s doors do open, guests will find rooms up- graded to what Mr. Prion described as “barefoot elegant.”

“We’ve got some great gifts for our guests coming in: embroidered Turkish towels and things of that nature; an in- room exercise facility for the guests, since we don’t have a gym, that guests can exercise in the room, via their TV,” he said.

Ferries will whisk guests back and forth from Beef Island and help them explore the rest of North Sound.

“Unfortunately, with the re- building of North Sound, there are not many places you can go to, but we are available to take people around,” he said.

Saba Rock’s neighbours, however, have shown more and more stirrings of life, with properties such as Leverick Bay and Oil Nut Bay open and Bitter End Yacht Club rebuilding.

“The challenges of rebuilding on a small island are always there, so that really didn’t change in this environment. Thank God that we were able to get stuff fairly quickly, and on time,” Mr. Prion said. “The government’s rebuilding is an unproven thing for everyone, so they’re trying to do the best they can, and obviously we’re looking to fast track a little bit because we need to get our people on.”

Opening protocols

Even after the resort is completed, it may face challenges hosting tourists if the Covid-19 pandemic is still here by then. Mr. Prion said the requirements for mandatory Covid-19 testing and sanitising of the property are no problem, but quarantining guests on a small island like Saba is likely to be difficult if not impossible.

“Unfortunately, if we have an ongoing stream of visitors coming in, we can’t quarantine people for four days and then let them out and have another group in quarantine for four days, and we can’t have staff on island,” he said. “We don’t have a facility for that.”

However, the island continues to prepare optimistically for the day when Saba Rock will once again be a buzzing North Sound oasis.

“One thing that my boss said to me directly is ‘I want to keep the vibe, but I want to bring up the service,’” he said. “That’s what we’re looking to do, and … I think we’re on a good road to be doing that, and a good road to recovery. And hopefully this pandemic won’t keep going.”