Resort Report

Salt Cay Sunset House

sunbldA place to remember in a land time forgot.
Story & Photo by Anthony Taylor

There are few, if any, places in the world that can quite prepare you for a first visit to Salt Cay. This tiny island nestled in the south-east corner of the Turks & Caicos, just below Grand Turk, was once a thriving metropolis compared to today.

In the early part of last century, it was one of the world’s finest salt producing locations and home to over 1,000 people. Then the bottom dropped out of the industry and people left in droves, virtually abandoning the island and a whole way of life. All that was left were the salinas, windmills and other signs of a once-booming industry, exposed to the merciless effects of heat and salt. It remained that way until a century later when, thanks to the ease and vogue of global travel, it is arguably one of the finest secluded island retreats, and a permanent home to 70 full-time residents and a few cows, donkeys and dogs.

Given the history, it’s perhaps fitting that one of the oldest buildings in the country is helping restore the island’s fortune. Salt Cay Sunset House, or the “Brown House” as it is commonly known, was built in the late 1700s or early 1800s by a Bermudian sea captain named Jones. His daughter sold the home to the Harriott brothers sometime between 1835 and 1850, who used the grand building to produce salt while building the “White House.”

Over the years, decades of neglect, hurricanes and termites took their toll on its magnificent wooden structure. However, in 1997, all that changed when Michelle Wells, a world-recognized shipwreck researcher and salver, and her partner, Paul Dinsmore, an ex-Special Forces soldier, carefully and painstakingly restored it and opened their three-bedroom bed and breakfast and ocean-front cafe.

“It was in quite a state when we got here,” recalls Michelle. “There was no running water or electricity. We came down with two full containers of materials and tools and lived in the house while we slowly renovated it.” While working on the building, the pair were careful to preserve its original features.

While it may lack the plush finish of modern buildings, nothing can compare to its aura of history, strength and calm. The strength of the structure and the fact that it is still standing are due to its mortise and tenon joined, rough-hewn yellow cypress plank construction. “We really wanted to capture the beauty of the place and its rustic charm and not to sanitize it too much,” says Wells.

From the instant you climb the wooden staircase and pass through the cross-hatch door, you know they achieved their aim. Before you stretches a corridor lined with as eclectic a mix of books as you are likely to see outside of a library. “As you can see, we are both readers,” comments Michelle. To the right are the three guest rooms and a bathroom. The first, a three-bed, is called the Jo-Jo Dolphin Room after its first guest Dean Bernal, founder of the world-famous JoJo Project. “Dean fell in love with this room and stays here every time he visits, so it seemed only appropriate,” Michelle explains.

There are also a four-bed family room (Salt Cay Windmill Room) and the two-bed Galleon Room on the east end. All have ensuite bathrooms with showers and plenty of soft towels. (It’s worth remembering that, as with most places on Salt Cay, Sunset House relies on rainwater, so care with conserving water is appreciated.)
All rooms open onto a large living area divided by two beautiful antique sliding pocket doors. At one end is a dining room table and what Michelle calls their “operations centre” hidden from view against a wall.

The living room dominates the other end. Blessed with high ceilings, a cooling breeze flows through the open double doors that lead to a balcony. Comfortable, “mature” chairs and sofas adorn the room, making it the ideal place to wile away the hours reading, or enjoy one of the many board games available. There is also a television, video and DVD player should the fancy take you.

Should the weather be its usual, the chances are you won’t want to spend too many hours inside. While not directly on the beach, Salt Cay Sunset House is right on the ocean. From the patio at the back of the building–which also serves as the dining area for Blue Mermaid Cafe–there are steps to the ocean a few feet below and pristine snorkeling only a few yards out.

Should you wish to explore the island a little more, Michelle will gladly put you in contact with Nathan Smith. A true entrepreneur, Nathan has more jobs at once than most of us have in a lifetime. One of those is owner of a golf cart rental business, the preferred mode of transport on Salt Cay. Always smiling and friendly, he’s traveled the world and returned to his native home and is one of the Island’s many characters.

There’s always time for a cold beer and good book on one of the several hammocks or sun-loungers in the shade of the newly built tiki hut, which is located on the waterfront jetty.

When it comes time to eat, Michelle has honed her cooking skills to produce a range of options, including vegetarian dishes, each as tasty as anything you’ll find in many Providenciales restaurants, and lower in price too!

Not only do Paul and Michelle provide bottled water on the house, they employ a self-service system trusting guests to note down what they have on their tab. “We prefer to do it that way, as we feel it makes people feel more at home,” says Michelle.

With comfortable accommodation, good food and a plentiful supply of cold drinks, there’s really not much else left to worry about . . . except relaxing. “That’s the way our guests want it,” Michelle adds. “We see ourselves as stewards of the quiet and solitude that Salt Cay embodies.” Men’s Journal magazine does too, as it lists Salt Cay as one of the top ten hideouts in the world in its July, 2001 issue, describing it as “a place you’ll never want to leave.”

I couldn’t agree more, as even after two short days in Salt Cay, bustling Providenciales seems like the London I left three years ago. Even though time may have forgotten Salt Cay, I know I’ll be back.

For more information on Salt Cay Sunset House, visit www.seaone.org.



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Photographer/videographer Gary James, owner/director of Provo Pictures (provopictures.com), originally shot this image for Wymara Resorts and Villas. It perfectly captures the natural “social distancing” available on the Turks & Caicos Islands’ beautiful—and uncrowded—beaches.

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