If you charter the Over Yonder Cay private island in the Bahamas, you get your own marina, a 35 metre sloop yacht, two villas – and the world’s first bona fide eco-island. Sacha Bonsor and Stewart Campbell meet its proud owner, Ed Bosarge.
Ed Bosarge would make a great Bond villain. The eccentric owner of the cannon-packing 55 metre sailing yacht Marie has a PhD in applied mathematics and physics and worked on NASA’s Apollo programme. He can pick up the phone and call some of the world’s most powerful people and he even has his own private island retreat in the Caribbean. The only problem is, instead of wanting to destroy the world, as any decent Bond villain would, he’s trying to save it. And he’s starting in the Exumas.
His island, the 30-hectare Over Yonder Cay, is the first fully green island on the planet, according to Bosarge. It’s totally cut off – no cables run along the seabed bringing in power, or providing a back-up if the sun fails to shine on the island’s solar array, or when the wind’s not spinning its windmills. Renewable energy provides 95 per cent of the seven-star island’s power needs, and enormous battery banks can harvest extra energy and power the island for three days when nature’s not playing ball. As an emergency failsafe, two diesel generators can be switched on to meet demand, and also recharge the batteries.
“I wanted to make the island totally green,” he says when we meet at his home in London’s Belgravia. “I said: ‘Let’s do wind, let’s do solar and let’s do tidal,’ because we have a big, fast tidal race on the north end of the island. And we engineered all of that. We’re the first totally green island in the world.”
What he’s created is an isolated “mini grid” and it’s a model that he believes can be replicated all over the world in places unreachable by mainstream power supply. “We realised there’s not enough copper cable to spread across Africa and India, so whole countries have to be created with these tiny electricity grids. We have the model,” he says.
There’s no shortage of interest in his eco-friendly plans, especially from islands in his own backyard. “The Caribbean is the perfect place to do this. It’s in the wind belt, it’s in the sun belt and each island is a tax haven with a 50 per cent fuel duty, which makes diesel seven dollars a gallon, which makes the payout with solar and wind much faster,” he says. “We have all kinds of other islands signed up and which are now working with us, like Haiti, Cat Island and Puerto Rico.”
It doesn’t stop with power. Workers on the island are now creating a garden to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, fed by rainwater re-mineralised by machines. Excess water will be bottled, branded and packed on to the mailboat to sell to nearby islands. “We can produce water for a third of the price they sell it for in Nassau,” Bosarge says. “The biggest import in the Bahamas is bottled water.”
Can he see a time when the island will be self-sufficient in food? “Not for the ribeyes,” he laughs. Nor, probably, for any other luxury demanded by an exclusive clientele that pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to charter the island. The list of visitors reads like a celebrity Who’s Who and Bosarge claims the “eco” angle is particularly attractive to the Hollywood crowd, for whom everything is included in the charter price of the island. “We have a great wine cellar and all the Champagne’s included,” Bosarge adds. All the food is prepared by a chef who lives permanently on the island, alongside 20 other staff. Eight more workers fly in for charters.
Much of the food is caught on the reefs that surround Over Yonder Cay, or over in the Tongue of the Ocean, an oceanic trench a half-hour boat ride from the island. “A lot of grouper, a lot of conch. You can furnish the whole island on seafood,” Bosarge says. “You can go out and catch 20, 30 or 40 snapper. We don’t have a big cost for seafood bills.”
Twenty-eight people can be accommodated in the two villas, but Bosarge says the ideal charter party is between 15 and 24. All the architecture is inspired by the ancient Minoan civilisation, who were renowned inventors after his own heart. “The Minoans had air-conditioning in something like 3000BC,” says Bosarge, who has spent his own hugely successful business career inventing ways to make financial markets more efficient, particularly in the field of high-frequency trading.
Nothing is denied the island’s guests – except sugar. “It’s a wellness resort, so we don’t allow any sugar on the island,” Bosarge says. That wellness ethos is carried over into the activities on offer: tennis, volleyball, any watersport you can think of and even a nine-hole par-three golf course designed by Bosarge’s son, along with American pro golfer Rickie Fowler. “We’ve had all the big golfers out there and they love it,” he says. “You’ve got eight holes over the ocean, in a kind of Pebble Beach style.”
Bosarge’s very own 35 metre sloop Tenacious, which sits in his fleet alongside Marie, is also available to guests. In fact, Bosarge was on the yacht cruising the area back in 2008 when he discovered the island, and immediately saw its potential, being home to the highest point in the Exumas, and having the best views. He was drawn to the area initially by its abundant sea life. He started off exploring the Caribbean in the British Virgin Islands, visiting St Thomas in a 22 metre schooner. He went through a 24 metre ketch before buying Tenacious, by which time, he says, the BVIs and Antilles had been fished out. “So, we started going to the Bahamas.”
The Tenacious yacht is kept in the island’s purpose-built marina, which is dredged to four metres, allowing some big yachts to enter. “We can take six to eight 150-footers (45 metres),” Bosarge says. Guests on private jets can fly into Georgetown and be on the island in 15 minutes. Or they can fly commercial to Nassau, and have one of Bosarge’s two seaplanes pick them up for the half-hour buzz to the waters off Over Yonder Cay.
It’ll be a visit as enlightening as it is relaxing. Bosarge is a firm believer in leaving the planet in a better condition than he found it – but with an eye on the bottom line, too. “David Copperfield owns Musha Cay to the south of us and he used to be the charter king, but we’ve taken most of his business because we’re new, we’re green and we’re novel.”
Another neighbouring feature is the spectacular cave system Thunderball Grotto, made famous by the Bond film of the same name. In the film, 007 helps save the world by discovering a wreck off the Bahamas of a plane that is missing a couple of atomic weapons – and typically by having an underwater assignation with beautiful secret agent Domino. Bosarge’s plan to power the planet with mini-grids isn’t quite so sexy, but neither is it fantasy.