Resort Report

Getting Out of the Loop: Windmills Plantation on Salt Cay

windmills-aerialBy Michelle Belanger-McNair ~ Photos by Chris Sanders

Cell phones are forbidden; shoes are optional. The bar is always open. Check your worries at the door. This is the Windmills Plantation on Salt Cay.

Salt Cay is a laid back, out-of-the-loop-of-life, island in the sun. The Windmills Plantation takes you even further from the frenetic pace of everyday life and makes you unwind. And, if you must, you can leave the Plantation for a few minutes and venture out into the environs of Salt Cay to consider using that cell phone, fax or Internet connection. But, most likely, you won’t care and you won’t miss it.

Windmills PlantationWindmills Plantation, Salt Cay

Sharon and Jim Shafer used to take their busman’s holiday at Windmills when they were resident island managers of the Meridian Club on Pine Cay. From their first visit, the Shafer’s dream was to have their own place on Salt Cay and turn it into the most special place in the Islands. In 2000, when Guy Lovelace, the resort’s first owner and developer, was ready to retire, the Shafers were ready to take the plunge. They never looked back.

Guy Lovelace was inspired by the concept of the plantation, much as it existed in the Turks & Caicos Islands at one time. (Ruins of Loyalist cotton plantations can be found on Providenciales and the other Caicos Islands.) His project started in 1982; it took an entire decade to finish the original buildings. It was a difficult and arduous building process, as Salt Cay had no infrastructure in the North Beach area. Islanders carried supplies from the Salt Cay dock on their heads and by foot. There was no road, only a path.

Now that path is a gravel lane through the cactus, brush and sand. A lone telephone pole houses an Osprey nest at the turn in the road. And on off-the-beaten-path Salt Cay, Windmills Plantation is similarly remote, standing by itself on beautiful North Beach, a 2 1/2-mile stretch of pristine white sand.

The buildings’ Plantation style is inspired by the fact that a planter could not get the same materials, paint, builder or workers from one good year to the next. If the crop was a success, you added on to your home with whatever was available. Paint was any color you could get at the time, thus the Windmills’ multi-colored roofs and shutters.

Windmills Plantation, Salt Cay

The Windmills Plantation originally consisted of the Boat House, Tea House and Great House. Now, additions are in the works. During summer 2005, ground was broken for The Cottages at the Windmills Plantation. Eight, one-bedroom cottages are being built just west of the main house, using the same theme and style. Each will be privately owned and available for rent as part of the Windmills property. (Some rooms in the main house will be retired to retain the hotel’s quaint nature. No more than 16 guests are allowed at Windmills at any one time.) Each cottage will have footpath access to the main house and swimming pools. The Shafers’ goal is to keep impact on the vegetation minimal and preserve North Beach’s natural sand dunes. The couple is also working towards the preservation of Salt Cay in general, with restoration of at least one windmill and a working salina planned.

Existing rooms at Windmills Plantation have mahogany, antique reproduction, plantation-style furnishings, including four-poster beds with deep, comfortable bedding. Several rooms have private courtyards, outdoor showers and personal plunge pools. All feature cool stone floors, open verandas to the beach and local artwork. Guests literally step out their door to the North Beach.

Not one room has a phone, television, satellite or other alphabet device. There is no intrusion from the outside world and that is what visitors here are seeking. (For the record, most adapt quite well and do not want to return to reality.)

windmills-jim-sharonThe proprietors
Jim & Sharon Shafer

Sharon and Jim Shafer discovered the Islands “way back when.” Sharon took a dive trip to Providenciales in 1976 and never went home. She found work in real estate, property management and at a boutique. Jim’s parents were early homeowners on Providenciales. He came to visit, went home, spent a couple of years deciding that suits and shoes were no longer a meaningful part of his life and returned for good. The two met in Providenciales in the late 1970s when there were only 500 people, everyone knew everyone else, and the island had one phone booth and no electricity.

The couple wore lots of hats in those early days to make a living. They had a glass company, then managed Turtle Cove’s hotel, restaurant and bar. This experience led to their positions as Meridian Club’s resident managers for 14 years. In 1991, they took a sabbatical from Pine Cay to help build and open a hotel in Tahiti, returning to Pine Cay in 1993.

windmills-beachWhen Jim and Sharon needed a “holiday” from Pine Cay they stayed on Salt Cay and planned what they would do to make the perfect island hideaway. Since 2000, they’ve made those dreams come true.
Sharon prepares gourmet meals and extraordinary desserts. (She even offers cooking lessons for the guests.) She maintains a boutique of unique clothing and collectibles. Sharon is the perfect hostess who makes you feel as if you are visiting a home and not a hotel.

Jim is bartender extraordinaire and “Mr. Fix It.” As on Provo in the early days, one has to be able to “do it all” on Salt Cay now, whether it is fixing the washing machine, flying a plane, repairing a golf cart, captaining a whale watching adventure or regaling guests with true (and not so true) pirate stories and adventures.

Both know how to make every guest feel special and together they make a heck of a team. It is this combination of talent and atmosphere that has guests returning year after year.

Jim and Sharon are complemented by an excellent, dedicated and beloved staff, described by Sharon as “the most wonderful in the world!” Edwin Lightbourne has been at Windmills since its first stones were hauled. He knows every nook, cranny and inner working of the labyrinth of buildings and stays busy keeping the paint fresh and the grounds ship-shape. Gervais Simmons helped Edwin with the construction and basically grew up at Windmills. He is now Chef Gervais, working with Sharon in the kitchen and helping in every aspect of running the resort. Guests love his easy, slow-speaking sense of humor. Kathleen Simmons heads up housekeeping, ensuring that all guests’ needs are met. Kathleen is a real Salt Cay “gal” who loves to tell guests about her island. Together with Gervais, they run the dining areas and make sure every course is served to perfection.

The Windmills Plantation guest philosophy is simple: personalized service, cater to each guest, know what guests want to eat, drink and do during their stay. Encouraged are: basking in the sun, sipping cool drinks and letting go. As a result, the most common guest complaint is that they have to go home!

Windmills Plantation Beach, Salt Cay

Keeping busy?

The uninitiated might wonder what there is to do on a tiny, isolated island. In fact, the Plantation’s “things to do” list is voluminous. Off North Beach, there is snorkeling on your own schedule, your own way, over beautiful coral heads and among bustling marine life. Scuba diving on some of the world’s finest walls is available through Salt Cay Divers, a full service PADI dive shop. Most popular is a dive on the HMS Endymion, a 17th century warship sunk on an open water coral head.

When you want to boat, there are kayaks, a sculling rowboat, canoes and picnics to the uninhabited islands of Great Sand Cay, Cotton Cay and Gibb’s Cay, where you can swim with and feed the stingrays. Guests often travel to nearby Grand Turk to tour the island, do some shopping and visit the Turks & Caicos National Museum.

On Salt Cay, guests explore the island on foot or by golf cart or bicycle. Jim and Sharon offer guided island tours, detailing the history of Salt Cay and the Turks Islands.

There is guided deep-sea fishing and bonefishing with Uncle Lionel Talbot. You can whale-watch, bird- watch and take nature walks. Beach glass collectors and beachcombers will delight at the treasures that wash up on Salt Cay’s eastern shores. Rocky rollers and all forms of flotsam and jetsam can be found on easy shorewalks.

Back at the Plantation there is a library, two pools, hammocks, a gazebo, and a bar that never closes with a view that never gets old: the expanse across the pools and sea pines to the azure blue waters of the Columbus Passage.

Plantation cuisine
Despite Salt Cay’s isolation, Sharon procures the best in fruits, vegetables and other fine foods. (Nothing except your Bloody Mary juice comes from a can.)

Dinners are traditionally a four-course affair, highlighted by “pend-on.” Pend-on simply means “depends on what the fisherman brings in.” This can be conch, wahoo, tuna, snapper, grouper or lobster. All are accompanied by fresh greens, vegetables and traditional island-style peas ‘n’ rice.

Meals are catered to guests’ requests and served poolside or in the boathouse, gazebo or pavilion. Dinners are served by candlelight, with fine china, crystal and silver, although attire is casual and no shoes are required! Guests can choose a romantic dinner for two or join new friends.

The wine list is extraordinary and overseen by Jim to include some of the world’s finest wines. If the bar doesn’t have your favorite beverage in stock, Jim will get it before you arrive. How? Because that’s an important question asked when you make your reservations!

Desserts are legendary, with a new offering added daily. There may be Pina Colada Cream Brulee, Spiced Rum Cake or Warm Banana Tartin and always, homemade sorbets and ice creams in cooling tropical flavors.

But, some days, no one feels like cooking. Then it’s time for a road trip to Salt Cay’s beach bars and bistros for an all-new dining experience. Guests meet the Islanders, generous and easy-going people, most born and raised on Salt Cay.

Windmills Plantation, Salt Cay

windmills-shadowThe facts

Visiting the Windmills Plantation is the opportunity to visit a sleepy island where donkeys have the right-of-way on sandy roads and ruins of the past offer the opportunity to see what Salt Cay looked like over a century ago.

Room rate include all meals, welcome rum punch, twice daily maid service, fresh fruit in your room every day and turn-down service each night with homemade cookies, candies, bottled water and bougainvillea petals on the bed.

Salt Cay’s airstrip is a 3,300 foot sand-sealed, stone runway. At press time, lights are installed for emergency use only. The airport is serviced by Air Turks & Caicos and Global Airways, with flights from Providenciales and Grand Turk.

Visit the Windmills Plantation’s website at www.windmillsplantation.com for information, special offers and packages. Sign up to receive e-mail specials, for a spur of the moment trip. For more information, contact Jim and Sharon Shafer at windmillsplantation@tciway.tc.



6 Comments

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HIRO Hitihiti
May 29, 2009 14:43

Hello,
This is a message for Jimmy and Sharon SHAFER, from an old friend from Huahine, Tahiti FRENCH POLYNESIA. I’ve been trying to leave a message on the email: windmillsplantation@tciway.tc. but failed. Jim, Sharon, you can send a message to the email above or via Skype with the same email.
I hope you’ll get this message.
Best regards,
Hitihiti HIRO

cloud
Dec 9, 2010 2:09

One of the nicest place to spend your vacation. It is a perfect place to forget about video games, facebook, internet, etc. Cloud from snowboards for sale

S. Falen
Feb 27, 2011 17:34

You must not have heard that the Windmills resort was destroyed in Hurricane Ike in 2008. I was just on Salt Cay a week ago, and rode a bike up to the site — it’s a wreck. There appeared to be one habitable cottage, but everything else is a zone of destruction. Good luck finding your friends.

timespub
Mar 1, 2011 9:01

Please note that this article was written in 2005, prior to the sale of Windmills and the destruction of Hurricane Ike. That is why it is in the archives.

Howard D. Williams
Jul 27, 2012 1:46

In about 1976 I made my first trip to the Island of Salt Cay. Mr. Morgan ran the Mount Plesant Guest House and Sandy Leggett ran the Brown House. When I first got off the airplane with my good friend Senator Cleeta John Rogers a fellow legislator from the State of Oklahoma we walked over to the North Beach. Nothing had been built their.

We spent the first night at the Brown House which was run down and in terrible condition. I later bought the old 165 year old plantation home from the owner. Dr. Covert. We established a 700 club mission project at the Brown House and restored it the best we could for the next 25 years.

Praise the Lord. The Brown House has been fully restored by Mrs. Helen Kriebel and stands as a tribute to the blessings that was brought to the Island of Salt Cay by keeping the faith and teaching the people to Praise the Lord. Written by Howard Williams on July 23, 2012.

If anyone wants this story confirmed, you my contact Kingsley Been, in the Turks & Caicos Islands. He was ou next door neighbor. At that time he was 18 years old, and he and my son were the same age.
We have remained good friends to the day. PTL HDW

Cathy Perry
Feb 27, 2016 23:12

Wanted to know about Sandy Leggett as to whether he is still alive. He took care of my husband, Dale and I when we were on a mission there from our church, First Baptist Church, Orlando FL. I think the year was 1978? Any info about Sandy would be appreciated
God Bless
Dale & Cathy Perry

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