- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

PETIT ST. VINCENT, Grenadines — “My absolute favorite thing is to observe our guests when they step off the boat — they’re nervous, they’re worried about their luggage and whether it got here.

“And then observe them 48 hours later. The transformation is most incredible,” says Haze Richardson, owner of the Petit St. Vincent Resort as well as the entire 113-acre island.

Hanging up his U.S. Air Force wings decades ago, Mr. Richardson charted a course for the Caribbean aboard an old wooden yacht christened Jacinta. However, unlike countless distinguished drifters of his day, the 1950s military pilot discovered paradise and built a most successful life here.

Today, with his charming wife, Lynn, by his side, Mr. Richardson welcomes to his hideaway (a member of the Leading Hotels of the World) 44 privileged guests who occupy 22 stone cottages — some on the beach, some dotting the hillsides, ours set into the side of a cliff. Oh, and also dog-paddling around the island is the couple’s large and obedient family of yellow Labrador retrievers, which have numbered as many as 13.

“It’s not unusual to have one or two jump in bed with us at night,” Mr. Richardson says of his handsome labs, which heel to names such as John Adams and Abigail. “We got those two after 9/11 and were feeling patriotic,” he says.

Before stepping ashore on PSV, as it is called here, I was curious how many people confuse this tiny private island in the Grenadines with the much larger St. Vincent 40 miles to the north. Try comparing a shiny marble to a bowling ball.

Planting one’s feet on this peaceful outpost is easier — and surprisingly more affordable — than I thought. The fastest way is by air, departing from any number of U.S. cities to Barbados, then climbing aboard reliable puddle-jumpers that make amazingly quick stops on Grenadine islands such as Bequia, Mustique and Carriacou.

Union Island is where PSV guests hop aboard the resort’s motor yacht (it is moored just steps away from the airport’s short runway) for the 20-minute run to heaven.

“Welcome to Petit St. Vincent,” says Mrs. Richardson, who awaits our arrival on the wooden dock. “You will be staying in cottage number one.”

This is where the “transformation” Mr. Richardson enjoys witnessing begins.

I hold out my hand for the key to Cottage 1, and Mrs. Richardson hands me a pina colada. There are no keys on the island, I later discover, because there are no locks. Similarly, there are no registration forms to fill out because there is no registration desk. Which means no imprint is made of my credit card. In fact, credit cards are no good here. Neither is cash. Don’t even try tipping, because it’s not accepted.

“I call it the no-hassle check-in,” Mr. Richardson says.

What happens next reminds me of the classic TV show “Fantasy Island.” As I turn around to check on our luggage (yes, I am one of the stressed), a turquoise-colored motorized buggy, the only transportation on the island, pulls straight onto the dock and whisks my travel companion and me — and all of our suitcases — to our secluded cliff-side bungalow overlooking Conch Bay. Even the bathroom, I’m amazed to discover, provides a million-dollar view.

So how is it possible that a husband and wife and their pack of Labradors pamper guests like royalty?

Across the tranquil harbor from PSV lies the small island of Petite Martinique, formerly a haven for smugglers whose descendants today earn an honest living fishing, building boats and seafaring. Those who didn’t take to the sea happily work for the Richardsons, several in their fourth decade of service.

“This is the strangest place,” says Mr. Richardson of his 88 employees. “We are like a big family rather than a ‘management-labor’ sort of thing.”

“I’ve been here 23 years,” Norman, PSV’s bartender, boasts as he pours a lime-flavored Mount Gay rum and soda.

Once every week, a barbecue dinner is served on the white-sand beach, and fortunately for us, it’s the evening of our arrival. Tables for two are placed at the water’s edge, but first our orders are placed at the large outdoor grill, its flames licking the palm trees overhead. The beach-side menu offers lobster and red snapper, juicy steak, chicken, fruit and vegetables.

“The fish is all local, as is the chicken,” Mr. Richardson says, “and we grow many of our vegetables, including several varieties of lettuce.”

Surely the beef is not of tropical variety? “My meat supplier is a rather interesting story,” he says. “Julia Child’s old butcher works out of Boston — he’s still right there on Charles Street. He’s my meat man.”

After our tasty dinner, we catch a buggy back to our unique Bluepitch stone (quarried from the island) cottage. Each bungalow has a bamboo flagpole holding one yellow and one red flag. This is important because there are no telephones in the cottages. When a guest needs something — be it mango, pawpaw, eggs Benedict, a spiny lobster coated in butter-vanilla sauce, a cheeseburger, morning coffee (the iced coffee is fabulous), afternoon tea, transportation to the beach or another cottage, a hangover cure — simply run the yellow flag up the pole.

The red flag signals one thing only: You don’t wish to be disturbed. Enough said.

The cottages are quite comfortable and cozy. They come with queen-size beds, living rooms with sofas, dining areas, dressing rooms, bars, patios with hammocks, ironing boards and irons, hair dryers and, yes ladies, 110-volt electricity. (My friend actually called ahead to check on the electrical current.)

Because PSV lies in the path of trade winds, there is seldom need for air conditioners, which is a good thing because there are none. We air-conditioned Americans felt a bit uncomfortable our first night, but we grew accustomed to nature’s natural cooling by the second day.

Chilled bottled water is available, but the water from the taps is perfectly fine for drinking. Where does it come on this practically deserted island? The Richardsons collect rainwater and augment the supply with reverse-osmosis machines that convert seawater to freshwater.

We had to laugh at the note placed in each cottage from Mrs. Richardson: “Our family of Labradors are well fed even though their longing eyes might make you doubt. Please refrain from feeding these critters, especially the fat ones.”

Most intriguing to me, and no doubt a draw for other visitors, is the truly petite size of Petit St. Vincent. If you’re a beachcomber, you can walk around the entire island in 45 minutes. If you prefer lounging in the sun, it has several secluded beaches. We picked the tranquil Caribbean side (the Atlantic side has crashing waves and coral), where private beach huts are separated by plants and flowers. Each shelter is equipped with chairs, tables, a chaise lounge, a hammock, and even a flagpole for luncheon delivery service. (I recommend the lobster roll washed down with bitter lemon bottled on the big St. Vincent.)

A married couple from Ohio, Dick and Wendy, tell us they have been coming back to PSV for 11 years .

“The food is my favorite thing,” says Dick, and it promises to get even better this season, with input from two New York City culinary artists assisting PSV’s local chefs. Their individual talents and recipes appear in chalk as the evening’s specials: grouper with stew, rich spinach pasta, tangy roasted duck, and lobster prepared every which way under the sun and moon. Candlelight dinner is served every evening in the open-air dining room, which overlooks the harbor, from 7:30 to 9:30.

There also is an impressive selection of wines, including hard-to-find South African varieties. If you order wine and don’t finish the bottle, Norman, the bartender, gladly stores it behind the bar, or you can carry it back to your cottage. (There are no constables on Petit St. Vincent.) So, I ask myself, how does one work off all this food and beverage?

Chester Belmar, who lives on Petite Martinique, has been associated with PSV for 35 years. In 20 minutes, his speedboat carries us past Union and Palm islands to Tobago Cays, a national marine park of five uninhabited islands boasting one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.

Although I was a novice snorkeler — currents can be strong, but Capt. Chester, as everyone calls him, knows the best places to anchor — all it took was opening my eyes to behold a kaleidoscope of tropical fish: blue tangs, sergeant majors and triggerfish, to name a few of the more vibrant swimmers.

After snorkeling, we cruise the short distance to Mayreau, described as a “one road, two-car” island, where the captain drops anchor in charming Salt Whistle Bay. Here we enjoy a leisurely swim and explore the sweeping half-moon beach until Capt. Chester toasts our exhilarating day with the pink rum punch he smuggled aboard.

PSV is blessed with its own multicolored reefs and offers excellent snorkeling. There also are beach toys for the taking at PSV’s dock house, from Sunfish and Hobie Cats to windsurfers and glass-bottom kayaks. We plop into a pair of ocean kayaks and paddle halfway around the island in no time. Though we don’t opt for tennis, there’s a lighted tennis court of country-club quality. Rackets, balls and even a serving machine are provided by the Richardsons.

My favorite activity is climbing to the top of Marni Hill, the highest of PSV’s three peaks, and taking in the marvelous view of the northern Grenadines. An easier climb, which the two of us make each evening for the sunsets, is to the top of Telescope Hill, where a delightful view of the harbor and Petite Martinique awaits. There’s even a director’s chair on the top. (We’re told the other one blew away.)

Other unexpected PSV discoveries:

• I have never seen so many brilliant stars and constellations, cast like confetti across the night sky — Orion, Aries, Pisces, Phoenix, Capricorn and Pegasus, all performing throughout the night.

• Returning to the cottage one evening after dinner (each bungalow is equipped with a flashlight for late-night strolls), we encountered a prehistoric-looking land crab the size of a breadbasket. PSV is home as well to some good-size lizards, one of which scurried across our bedsheet one night. Rest assured, you can’t see them when the lights are turned off.

• Each cottage contains colorful postcards of the island, but these are stamped. Just leave other outgoing mail in the small office adjacent to the gift shop, and the resort is happy to post it free of charge.

• There are no newspapers or televisions on PSV. (The Richardsons have a TV in their villa, but Mr. Richardson says it’s on the blink.) For a short time, he offered visitors a news summary faxed daily to the island, but he canceled the service when he noticed that his guests were fretting over the stock-market listings. For news junkies, each cottage has a radio with hourly updates.

Bon Appetit magazine asked: “What’s the most romantic spot on earth?” The writer answered: “It could well be Petit St. Vincent Resort in the Grenadines.”

In the middle of the exterior wall of Cottage 1, we were delighted to discover a perfect heart-shaped stone set into the concrete — perhaps by Mr. Richardson.

“My favorite thing about ownership of this island is to see what you’ve built,” says the gray-haired owner, who laid his stone here in 1966. “It’s nice when you see your personal trademark in the resort.”

• • •

Contact a travel agent or Petit St. Vincent Resort, 800/654-9326 or 784/458-8801.

Double-occupancy rates range from $585 to $910 per day, depending on the season, and include all accommodations, meals and use of facilities. Reservations are secured by a deposit covering three nights’ accommodations.

Barbados is the major gateway for PSV, with affordable air service to nearby Union Island aboard local feeder airlines.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide