I knew little of Marina Cay when my husband suggested we stayed there moored for the night. The island seemed like one more speckle developed to the bone, with yet another Pusser’s store and restaurant (a brand found in several islands). “That’s not the Caribbean I want to see,” I thought, not knowing that I was wrong. In a way, Marina Cay fits the plastic Caribbean description, but I was about to find an inspiring story in the background, hiding behind the touristy façade.
As we approached the island we encountered a placid lagoon. A reef protected the area where fish hovered stilly knowing they were sheltered. And on the summit of Marina Cay, another kind of shelter crowned it: a quaint home, seemingly standing alone and bearing witness to life on the island. Marina Cay was covered chiefly with trees and undergrowths, surrounded by an active subaqueous life and made famous by a worldly, mini monopoly bordering its coast.
The house's location spoke volumes. Right on the top, right in the middle and facing Tortola -- it was surely the first thing built on the island.
I set foot on Marina Cay right before sunset looking to explore the mysterious, lonely house and see how it came to be. So I was now following a trail that wrapped the east side of the island in search of a passage north. A crowd of people formed near me and moved towards the restaurant. Others walked to the beach -- or what was left of it. The Pusser’s store was constructed on top of the only sandy beach of the island, occupying it almost completely and interrupting the flow of the water. Seeing the destruction of a beach is infuriating. But I'm was not there to discuss faulty development, I was there looking for a house. I decided not to follow the masses and take a detour to my left.
A lovely path going up hill appeared and I figured it would surely take me to the house. It was flanked by bougainvilleas and banyan trees, making an idyllic landscape. I was elated and gleefully hounded the colorful stretch. I walked for a few minutes, and suddenly, the 600-square-foot house came into sight, its details emerging for me to capture. Simple blue moldings framed an otherwise flawed ledge. Concrete blocks peeked through the poorly executed plasterwork. The construction wasn't stellar, and yet, when the late sun casted its glow over the house, it risen from the ground with dignity and poise, shimmering in all its beautiful imperfections.
Until 1937, Marina Cay was uninhabited. Then, writer Robb White and his wife Rosalie "Rodie" Mason -- who were married four months before -- found it while sailing. After living for a few months in Sea Cow’s Bay near Road Town, the couple was disappointed and looking for a new home. It is said Robb used to take his typewriter to their old 13’ foot sailboat to write because mosquitos were “eating him alive.” They sailed often searching for a new place until they came across the nine acre Marina Cay. By foot, the couple circled the small island in a matter of minutes and realized it was a tiny, deserted paradise. A perfect match, they thought, and Robb tracked down the owner in Tortola and asked if he could buy it.
Robb was offered Marina Cay for the sum of $60. Yes. Sixty dollars. The equivalent of $961.02 today. Excitedly and in awe, the couple bought the island. Obviously.
Robb and Rodie moved right away (against her mother’s recommendation) and lived in a tent while slowly building their humble abode. During this time, they were able to hack a cistern out of the rocky landscape and ship what materials were available to continue the construction. But more astoundingly, they survived a tropical cyclone, forestalled a depraved Nazi skipper, and aided Jewish refugees.
The pair was able to live on the island for about four years only, leaving the Caribbean when Robb was called to serve in the military during World War II. Sadly, they lost Marina Cay when the British government denied them a title of ownership, claiming Robb’s writings regarding the BVI’s were misrepresentations of the place.*
Robb and Rodie moved to Thomasville, Georgia and had three children. They later divorced. Robb married twice again, and at age 76 -- four years before his death -- wrote Two On The Isle, about his memories with Rodie on Marina Cay. In the opening lines of the book, Robb wrote, “Marina Cay was separate from a lot of the world.” He also seemed happy to learn about the kind of visitors Marina Cay attracts today -- those who are not looking for “any of the typical tropical plastic entertainments.”
Robb and Rodie really loved Marina Cay, but sadly, they never returned.
As I walked inside their former home, recalling the story and the courage it took to leave it all behind for a dream, I was shaken. The love and the felicity they shared were palpable -- it could be felt on the uneven walls, the crooked window panes, and even in the Spanish lime tree outside. Remnants of a great adventure now reminding us that life is oh-so-short and inviting us to live our most intimate dreams, no matter how unconventional they may be.