Getting to Know

A Long Journey (by Boat) to Paradise

Beryl Nelson
By Jody Rathgeb ~ Photos by Tom Rathgeb and Courtesy of Beryl Nelson

Q:  How did you come to live in the Turks & Caicos Islands, Beryl?

A:  Well, it’s a long story . . . 

After years of “hippie life,” living on the edges of society, Beryl Nelson is a law-abiding citizen of a country where he truly wants to live—the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Actually, the story itself is simple: Beryl Nelson, who grew up in Michigan and Indiana, decided when he came of age that he did not want to live in the turbulent and violent American culture of the late 1960s and resettled himself on Providenciales. Simple, right? Ah, but the details of his journey between 1969 and 1985 make for a more complicated tale, involving anti-war protests, trips abroad, work in The Bahamas and many boats.

The boats are the standouts when Beryl, now 77 years old, retired and living in Long Bay, talks about his life. He punctuates his stories with details of the sailboats he has captained, refurbished and lived aboard, describing them with the spark in his eye that marks a true sailor. The boats and the trips are jumbled in with Beryl’s Quaker roots, political activism and the desire for a peaceful life. “Classic hippie stuff,” he comments.


While even his earlier days involved working around boats and on the water, perhaps the start of his 17-year journey to Provo was aboard the Phoenix of Hiroshima in 1968. The 50-foot, 30-ton yacht was designed and owned by anthropologist Dr. Earle Reynolds, who in the late 1950s became interested in protests against nuclear weapons tests. Inspired by Quaker activists, Reynolds put his yacht to use in those protests and other anti-war activities. In 1967–68, the Phoenix delivered medical supplies to civilians in both North and South Vietnam. (Reynolds recounted those stories in his book, The Forbidden Voyage.)

Enter Beryl Nelson, who had been knocking about among jobs at a Fort Lauderdale shipyard and with the Michigan State Waterways Commission; following an interest in underwater archaeology; and visiting friends in various places. In Philadelphia, visiting his sister Marjorie, he saw a film on the Phoenix activities and became a volunteer for A Quaker Action Group. He spent 1968 on the Phoenix, and on his return continued anti-war activities. “That was when I decided I didn’t want to live in the U.S.,” he says. “I figured my only option was to build a sailboat and sail away.”

For several years Beryl shuttled between Michigan, where he was building a boat (never completed) on his father’s property, and Florida, where he was working at a shipyard and “learning more about boats.” He also became involved in salvage operations and delivering boats to The Bahamas. Those first tastes of The Bahamas made him start thinking about emigrating, which lent more reality to his “sail away” fantasies.

Sheila A

A young Beryl Nelson navigates at the helm of the schooner America.

Then he fell in love . . . with a boat. During a delivery trip stop in Georgetown, Great Exuma, he saw the Sheila A, “and I thought she was very pretty.” The 22-foot wooden sailboat with canvas sails was a Bahamian “B Class” racing sloop. Beryl borrowed money to buy her and lived on the beach while he emptied and cleaned the boat. “I ended up at the Out Island Inn. They let me tie up to their dock, and I would fish for them. I could use their toilets, and then I made a little extra by saving the backbones and heads of the fish and trading with the locals. Of course, this was all highly illegal.”

When the authorities began sniffing around, Beryl moved on to Nassau in Sheila A. “I got into a white Bahamian crowd and did carpentry work for them and other odd jobs.” There he learned about the Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island, where he became first a volunteer, then a staffer. He also spent time on Rudder Cut Cay, where he sighted a disabled 40-foot houseboat in a pond. With some help from Swami Vishnu and a loan from his father, Beryl bought it and named it Ashram.


Eventually, Ashram would take him to Provo. But he got sidetracked when he was asked to take another sailboat, Jubilee III, to Newport, Rhode Island for the 1977 America’s Cup race. From there he landed a job as first mate on the replica of the schooner America. A bit later, during a trip on the schooner to The Bahamas via Norfolk, Virginia, Beryl received his 100-ton Coast Guard license and became its captain.

Beryl had offers for other jobs at this time, but “I wasn’t looking for a career in running yachts,” he says. Instead, he found work in the Exuma Cays, first as the assistant manager of Lee Stocking Island, then as the first park warden for the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.

This is Beryl’s houseboat, Ashram, in Great Exuma. When he moved to the Turks & Caicos, he tied up Ashram at his property and lived aboard until he built a house.

During his three years as park warden, Beryl became more aware of the Turks & Caicos Islands and began thinking about settling there. He had met Chuck Hesse, founder of Provo’s Conch Farm, at a Gulf Caribbean Fisheries Institute Conference in Nassau and became interested in the conch mariculture process, then began looking at land on Providenciales. “My sister Marge had talked to me about buying land in The Bahamas,” he recalls, but he wasn’t impressed by the way The Bahamas handled land registry. The Turks & Caicos, however, did impress him. While still working in the Exumas, he bought land on Long Bay. After his park stint, he moved to TCI in 1985, towing his 40-foot houseboat. He tied up by his property and lived aboard while building his house himself and establishing a business and residency.


The business, Local Knowledge Computer Services, became his entry into the developing island, where Beryl made computer repairs and computerized the billing systems for various island mainstay businesses, such as Barclays Bank and American Airlines. “I watched Provo develop,” he recalls. “I saw Club Med being built, and all four terminal buildings at the airport.”

After years of “hippie life,” living on the edges of society (sometimes illegally), Beryl Nelson became a law-abiding citizen of a country where he truly wanted to live. “I intentionally emigrated out of the United States. knowing that I could NOT accept living in that culture,” he notes. “This meant that it was necessary for me to find a life where the culture and people I was surrounded with did not violate my inner beliefs. How blessed and thankful I feel for living in the Turks & Caicos Islands. I look back and think through the experiences I’ve had and realize many of them grew out of, and refined, my desires and attitudes which I feel are being fulfilled here.”

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David Avery
Jan 21, 2023 16:05

Beryl, You may not remember me at all but we grew up in the same church. Your father was my SS teacher for quite a while. We even vacationed together at your place on Lake Huron one summer but you would have been quite young then because I was still pretty young myself and I think I am 4 or 5 years older than you. Anyway, I was prompted to try to find you after I read your sister’s obit in the recent Kokomo Tribune. Marjorie was a year older than me and I think your brother Keith was a year younger. I didn’t know that Keith had passed until i read it in the recent obit for M. My condolences to you for both. I spend much of my time these days on Big Pine Key, Florida but I believe you live in a more enviable place. After I located you and read this interesting brief account of your activities over the years, I decided to try to get this message to you and wish you Godspeed and a Happy New year. Sincerely, Dave Avery, 317-442-2831.

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