Some things even a global pandemic can’t stop. Slow down, sure, but not stop.
And when you combine the money of a multi-millionaire with the heart of a kid, joy is just bound to be the result.
In 2018, yacht owner Carl Allen bought Walker’s Cay, the northernmost island in the Bahamas.
An American by birth, the island and its people are the stuff of his childhood.
“I’m 56 and I’ve been going there since I was 12,” he said. “When I was a kid, it was a magnificent place. In those days, it was just a hotel and restaurant, nothing fancy, but a gateway to the Bahamas where you could clear in and out. My stepdad was in love with the Abacos and Eleuthera, so we got to see Walker’s coming and going. We’d always head south, but I loved it. I always thought, ‘Why would you ever leave Walker’s’?”
Abandoned and desolate for the previous 15 years, Allen has set out to revive it. He’s got a dream of Walker’s hosting fishing tournaments again, of bringing families together, of welcoming wedding parties, and of being the stuff of dreams for a new generation of kids.
But life these days has presented plenty of challenges.
“I have a glorious plan for bringing her back, but I didn’t have a clue what we were in for,” he said. Though he didn’t want to elaborate — he only graciously called it “red tape” — think government regulations, bureaucracy, permits and permissions, all on island time.
That was the first year.
“Then Dorian hit and that set us back a full year,” he said, referring to the Category 5 hurricane that ran over the northern Bahamas, blurring Walker’s original May 2021 completion date. “Then here comes a pandemic, not once but twice. That’s put us back indefinitely.”
Well, not exactly indefinitely, even though it’s hard to see the finish line. About 80% of the marina is done, he said. But those final 100 yards will take some time.
“We used to have 40-50 workers on property; now we have 5,” he said in late August.
When Hurricane Dorian came through the Abacos at Marsh Harbour on Sept. 1, 2019, everything stopped. Though Walker’s was spared the worst of the storm, the island where those workers lived was upended. So Allen diverted his gaze and his resources to Little Grand Cay, resupplying the island, restoring power and water, and then rebuilding the majority of homes.
“When we were hit by Dorian, everything was devastated,” Allen said. Four days after the storm — the soonest they were able — he set the captain and crew of his shadow boat, the 183-foot (55m) M/V Axis, to work transporting as much aid as it could carry. Eleven times.
“It took us two months to deliver everything: generators, roofing, food, but we had the platform,” he said. “The 500 people on Little Grand Cay lost everything.”
Water was back running in two weeks, power in three weeks, phone service in a month, he said.
“We’re only as big as the island next to us,” he said. “There’s just no money here. Thank God no one was killed or got hurt.”
Allen donated money, too. He seeded a matching fund with half a million dollars, and when it was matched, he put in half a million more. And he funded an on-the-ground stimulus package of sorts where everyone over age 21 got $300 cash. He helped in other ways, less visible ways, with local kids and families who needed help.
“We were really obliged to do it,” he said. “There are 60 people on that island that we need to hire to work at Walker’s.”
This spring and summer was supposed to be when the Bahamas bounced back from Dorian. Then COVID hit.
As soon as he had healed from a pre-COVID hip replacement surgery, Allen joined his boats in Walker’s in mid-May and hasn’t left. He lives on the mothership, the 164-foot (50m) Westport M/Y Gigi, and keeps his eye on the vision. “This is my home. I’m dedicated to it for the long haul.”
The first thing to know about the revived Walker’s is that it is expected to be open to the public. The island itself is about 70 acres; one of Allen’s sons is developing about 20 acres for a private home. As for Allen, “My home is out in the harbor; it floats.”
The rest of the island will someday have all the upland amenities that make for a classic fishing resort: About 20 one- and two-bedroom “cottages”, a restaurant, a chapel for weddings, and a honeymoon suite.
The marina, though, will be the focus. While there will be room for superyachts, the bulk of slips will be for smaller fishing boats.
“We’re so close to South Florida, we can’t ignore the center console market,” he said. “I really have a vision of bringing back what they call the big shootouts, the big marlin tournaments. It’s a Mecca of fishing here.”
The goal now is to have those docks, with fuel and water, open by the end of the year.
“People who haven’t seen it in a while are going to drop their jaw and go, ahhhhh,” he said.
M/Y Gigi entered the harbor for the first time in mid-August, and a video posted on the Walker’s Cay website (walkerscay.com) marks the milestone.
“We’re in the best place we can be,” he said. “We’ve got 26 crew on three yachts. We can fish, island build and treasure hunt.
“It’s really a unique place, and it’s been sitting empty for 15 years. I pinch myself that I’m the guy that gets to do this.”
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor/publisher of The Triton. Comments are welcome below. See this story in our Fall/Winter print edition here.