BUILDERS OF TORTOLA
Anthony (Tony) Snell
It’s hard to write a few words about somebody who has written a brand new 250 page book about their life (Tony Snell, 2009, Spitfire Troubadour: Not a ‘Play’ but The Theatre of Real Life. (Trafford Publishing)! Tony Snell comes from the spa town of (Royal) Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England, about 31 miles southeast of central London. He currently lives on Bellamy Cay in Trellis Bay, home of the famous Last Resort restaurant and bar, as well as spending time in the UK and in his house in New Hampshire, USA.
Born in 1922, Tony left Tunbridge Wells to go to war (the Second World War) as a Spitfire pilot (later flying the new Gloucester Meteor jet). His wartime exploits and his early peacetime adventures (brushes with local authorities, traveling all over the world, his stage career, his time in theatres, making records in New York City - where he also met his late wife Jackie, who was working for Harper’s Bazaar, at a party) are well documented in Spitfire Troubadour. Suffice it to say that by 1966 he was chartering, with Jackie, a 30-foot catamaran named Manito in Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands, 79 kilometres off the coast of Valencia, Spain.
On one of his charters in 1969 he met Ian Brakenbury who asked Tony and Jackie to come to the BVI to run a charter boat operation called Virgin Voyages he owned along with Robin Tattersall, a BVI surgeon and government doctor. Tony and Jackie accepted the offer and moved to Road Town where Virgin Voyages had a fleet of three boats. At that time Charlie and Virginia Carey who began The Moorings had just five boats and CSY (Caribbean Sailing Yachts Corporation) seven. This venture didn’t work out well as CSY did the bookings and booked their boats first. Robin and Ian then sold their boats (see also http://www.allatsea.net/article/December_2004/Still_Crazy_after_all_these_Years_Tony_Snell_on_Life_Love_and_Living_in_the_BVI).
Fortunately Tony knew (through Robin Tattersall) of some Canadian surgeons who were trying to develop a resort on 80 acre Little Jost Van Dyke. He and Jackie got married in England and moved over to act as caretakers of the property on their “honeymoon island”. While on Little Jost they started a restaurant known as The Last Resort. They had planned to call it the Last Outpost and decorate it with pith helmets and the suchlike, but a friend, John Green, suggested ‘Last Resort’ and they went with that. After a good first year, it all went up in flames –“literally”. The Canadian-owned company folded up due to financial difficulties that prevented development. The land reverted to the government. That dream was over.
The Snells went back to Ibiza to sell their catamaran and then returned in 1972 to the BVI to reopen the Last Resort on tiny Bellamy Cay (which they leased – originally from Norwegians, now from Chinese) just offshore in Trellis Bay. Bellamy Cay was once the home of Black Sam Bellamy, the “Prince of Pirates”. They salvaged their generator from Little Jost Van Dyke, but not much else, and while living in a houseboat in Trellis Bay started building again from scratch, building their restaurant on the ruins of a derelict building on the island that had once been a part of the Trellis Bay Club (also once known as the Belle Amie Cay Club when it was owned by a Frenchman). Since The Last Resort was built it has become a great success known to yachtsmen and others worldwide. Its ducks, cats, dogs, donkeys, goats and parrots were also well known.
Tony not only co-owned the restaurant and bar, but also was the main entertainment. Jackie was the chief cook – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was a staple of the menu. His ‘troubadour’ activities became well known, as he sang, played the guitar, the piano, and the chromatic harmonica (that according to Wikipedia, uses a button-activated sliding bar to redirect air from the hole in the mouthpiece to the selected reed-plate desired). In true troubadour fashion he also composed many of his own songs. Others were composed by Donald Cotton, who is also known for his writing of historical comedic pieces for the original Dr. Who series on British television in the mid 1960s. He also helped Tony Snell write the satirical 1968 album Medieval & Latter Day Lays, also known as Englishman Abroad. Although Donald Cotton never visited the Last Resort, many other famous personalities did – including Teddy Kennedy, Frederick Forsyth, and Richard Branson..
Since Tony arrived 40 years ago Tortola has been transformed by finance and by of course, tourism. Fortunately, he feels it hasn’t become another St. Thomas. In many ways Tony says he is a “true colonial person” and preferred many things the way they were. A big change has been the coming of the cruise ships, which are to many people of debatable value to the economy, but they affect Trellis Bay less than other parts of the BVI. Cane Garden Bay, Tony feels demonstrates a lot of what is bad about contemporary tourism. Charter boats have, also helped to transform the BVI, with CSY and The Moorings continuing to grow and be successful, although Tony is not sorry that his career took a turn away from Virgin Voyages. He sees the BVI as particularly attractive to the more amateur yachtsmen as they have much safer waters and so many islands to take shelter in. Agriculture has undoubtedly suffered as tourism and finance have grown. If tourism went into a downspin or if the Trust Companies pulled out, the economy of the BVI would be severely hurt.
Tony notes that people in the BVI are much better off (financially) than when he first arrived four decades ago. But drugs are a particular challenge for contemporary Tortolans that have come along with financial success. Tony feels that it would be harder to build a Last Resort for somebody coming here now. The paperwork and other challenges are much greater.
Tony is now officially retired from The Last Resort, which is run now by his son (born in the UK), his daughter (born here), and his son in law. But he is still considering buying more land and even thinks of starting another business. He is a belonger although he spends time in his house in New Hampshire as well as in a flat in Brighton, in England. Bruce Springsteen is credited with saying “when it comes to luck you make your own.” But this could easily be a further subtitle for Tony Snell’s life story.
Draft of January 22nd of interview of January 19th 2010
Builders of Tortola Guide
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