Story By Michael and Mikki Witt, Times of the Islands Winter 2021-22
This is the story of three people who went into a difficult adventure that turned into a wonderful experience.
It all started in 1990 when my mother, Dale Marie Witt, had just lost her companion to a heart attack. She wasn’t sure what to do next and we went to visit her in Buellton, California. In the course of our conversations she said, “Why don’t we buy a bed and breakfast inn and the three of us could run it?” The three being my wife, my mother and I.
At the time, I was a consultant for the U.S. Government on some secret undersea submarines. However, there was a delay in the program so my wife and I said, “It sounds like a good idea.” We were also tired of traveling back and forth from Anaheim, California to Washington D.C. as often as twice a week. My mother said, “Let’s go to Hawaii.” We made reservations and were off to Hawaii. It was beautiful but everything was very expensive and we did not find anything that suited us.
Where to go next? I had read an article about a place called the Turks & Caicos Islands. No one seemed to know where they were, but the pictures looked good. After booking the tickets, we went to this place some- where south of the Bahamas and north of Hispaniola.
The airport where we landed in Providenciales was very small, as was the terminal. We rented a car and it didn’t take long to tour the island. We met with several real estate agents. Nothing was that interesting on Provo and we asked about the country’s other islands. Several islands were mentioned, including one that was large but not developed—Middle Caicos. It sounded interesting and one agent said they had a listing there.
A chartered flight by small plane landed on the short runway and we were met by taxi driver and landowner Carlon Forbes. He took us to Bambarra Beach at the east end of the island. He said his family owned land near some grass huts. It was okay, but almost even with the sea level. Once a year, the owners would have to allow people to walk across the property to attend a beach fes- tival. We decided this was not what we wanted. The plane would be back in a few hours so he said we should see some of the rest of the island. He drove us to a place they called Mudjin Harbour.
The only access was a small rough road that led toward this cove. When we arrived, we were astonished, as this was the most beautiful place we had ever seen. Crystal-clear, brilliant blue waters were surrounded by incredible rock formations. We assumed it was a national park. After a brief visit, it was time to fly back to Provo.
We went to say goodbye to Phillip Misick at Prestigious Properties, and to thank him for his help. We mentioned Middle Caicos and Phillip asked us how we liked the island. We said it was okay but the land we were shown was not what we were looking for. One of us said, “Now if you could get us Mudjin Harbour that would be different.” Phillip replied, “It’s for sale and we have the listing . . . but you said you were looking for 5 acres and that is 50 acres.”
It was owned by a German family. We asked if they would subdivide it and he said no. He told us the price and we gasped. Would they take terms? No, it would be cash only. Mikki and I were already thinking of our next destination in our quest for property in the Caribbean. Yet back at the hotel, we kept talking about Mudjin Harbour and how breathtaking it was. My mother said, “Let’s go for it!” We just looked at her in disbelief. She said, “We can take all the money that we have including the sale of my California home and come up with a reasonable offer.” Mikki and I looked at each other and said “Yes!” Phillip presented our offer to the owners and they accepted! The funds were transferred and the paperwork was completed.
We owned Mudjin Harbour! Now, what to do? We had no cash, a lot of land and we needed to sell lots to survive financially. Middle Caicos was truly undeveloped with only two telephones (police and the District Commissioner’s office) and no Internet in those days. Isolated from the other islands, the only access was by small plane or chartered boat. The only communication was by VHF radio. We went back to California.
My mother, Mikki and I returned to the Islands and started figuring out what to do. We leased a house in the nearby village of Conch Bar. One day we were sitting in the beach cave and my mother looked out at the rocks in the cove and said, “That looks like a dragon.” From then on, it was known as Dragon Cay. At nght, we sometimes had a visitor who sang outside our window. People told us that was the father of one of our neighbors and to just ignore him. There was a constant parade of chickens from some nearby houses.
I rented a survey land station and Mikki held a survey pole at hundreds of spots on the land. At night, we plot- ted the survey points and their elevations. After returning to the States, the contours were cut out and a scale model of the land made. A master plan with roads, etc. was sub- mitted and approved by the TCI Government Planning Department.
I finished up my consulting and the three of us went back to our rental house. Several of my engineering friends came down and bought lots. We advertised in some magazines and people would come and stay in our rental house. There were no survey markers. We placed rocks about where lot lines would be located. We took potential buyers to view the lots but it was the view that sold them. At that point, the parcels were surveyed.
I shipped a 24-foot Carolina Skiff and a Yamaha TW200 motorcycle to the island. Then, with a motorcycle ramp in the boat, we could go to the next island and buy groceries, gasoline and other items. There was no cause- way connecting North and Middle Caicos at that time.
How were we going to get building materials and supplies to the island? Occasionally, a large barge came around but not that often. On a trip back to Florida, I noticed a self-propelled barge advertised. It had a shallow draft which was needed for the local waters. Our friends Ty and Pat Merritt offered to help us buy the boat. We flew up to Maryland and bought the boat and named it Dale Marie after my mother. It was still a little too much draft with its propellers, so we bought out of Alaska and installed a water jet drive.
The boat was shipped to the Islands. Who was going to be the captain? I had heard about a guy called “Cap” (Lewis Neat—now deceased). He was good with boats and the biggest man on the island. We hired him. On the maiden trips from Provo to Middle Caicos, we had many adventures, from running aground to big swells coming over the bow. I knew what an admirable person he was when he said, “Mike—why don’t you stand in the exit doorway and I will steer as the boat might turn over.” Somehow, we made it. Along the shore of islands like North Caicos along the way were lots of people waving, as no one had ever seen a 48-foot boat traveling along their shore. Then, we built docks on both Middle Caicos and North Caicos.
We organized a “boat warming party” with the local people, politicians and the TCI Governor. Lovey Forbes’ band was on board and off we went to do a river cruise. Our friends Ty and Pat started dancing and everyone joined the celebration. A contract was completed with the government for weekend ferry service between Middle and North Caicos. Dwight Hall was hired as the first mate. It was very shallow in places so we did some dredging in Bottle Creek. When running aground, an anchor was placed and we winched the boat off the sandbar. One time, Cap was out in the water with the anchor and this really large shark swam right next to him. I yelled to Cap and he said, “Don’t worry,” and continued with the anchor. Another time, we came in at night and it was so dark that we could not find the Middle Caicos dock. So we just found a nice spot and anchored for the night. There were many trips to Provo and sometimes we went to South Dock twice a week. Once, we got back to Middle and opened the 20-foot container on deck to discover it was the wrong container! Oh well, back to Provo.
The first project on land was a metal pre-fab storage building for a workshop and a place to keep materials. Once the building was completed, we started on the roads. I bought a bulldozer, crane truck, rock crusher and a big rock wheel to cut trenches. Some days, we only did 10 feet of trench, as there was some really hard rock. For the next several years, we worked extremely hard and built the main house and two cottages on each side.
In 1995, we met Sara Kaufman. She was also inspired by the beauty of the area. We entered into a partnership with Sara to build three more cottages. With the other two cottages, this was called Blue Horizon Resort. Then, we all worked together and marketed the resort as a vaca- tion destination. This was done in magazines and later on the Internet. In the next several years, the resort became known locally and internationally. It was very successful.
Hurricanes could be a major threat. During our first few years in TCI, they were not a problem. In 1995, Hurricane Erin formed over Provo and created two tor- nadoes. In 1996, Hurricanes Bertha, Fran and Hortense looked like they were coming right at us but curved and stayed offshore. There were big waves, rain and some wind. Hurricane Bonnie passed offshore in 1999. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan came close with strong wind. Hurricane Chris was strong and the path uncertain so we stayed in the pump room of the new house we were building.
In September 2008, Hurricane Hannah passed to the west of North Caicos and looped near Provo. It raised the Caicos Banks to dangerously high levels. When the water tried to escape, a ten-foot high storm surge destroyed the recently built causeway between Middle and North Caicos. Middle Caicos became isolated. Mikki was in Mobile, Alabama and when she returned I had to hire a small boat to pick her up on North Caicos. Then about a week later came Hurricane Ike. This was a powerful hurricane that passed just to the south of TCI. However, the high winds were to the north and we received really bad weather. On my wind instrument, over 140 MPH was recorded! There was extensive damage to roofs and most of the power poles blew down. We were without power and telephones for many weeks.
The next series of storms from 2010 to 2017 were Tomas, Dorian, Bertha and Cristobal. They brought rain and a little wind but we survived okay. In 2017, Hurricane Irma caused massive damage and loss of power across the country. Hurricane Maria also created enough wind to cause additional damage. I had to go to the hospital for stomach problems and they were running on emergency generators.
On Middle Caicos, we became very involved with the community. During the week, my mother taught computer classes to the children and I taught adult classes on the weekend. The computers were donated by landowners and Blue Horizon Resort guests. This was the first computer lab in any of the islands beyond Provo. At Christmastime, we bought presents for the island’s children from landowner donations.
One interesting project was a garbage can painting contest where the winner received a prize. Another project was “Paint the Island,” with paint donated by Sherwin Williams and local houses (including their roofs) painted. We also built many paths around the resort, including the “Hidden Beach” stairs, the “Circle of Hope” with its stone bench, the benches in the beach cave and the ones overlooking Mudjin Harbour. The Community Centre was air conditioned. In partnership with the government, many other projects followed including improvements to the Conch Bar Caves, docks for small boats, a path into Indian Cave, improvements at the airport, school playground equipment and more.
In 2000, the three of us were granted “Belongership” which carries all the rights as if we were born in the Turks & Caicos. We were then able to vote and enjoy benefits like going through immigration faster. We continued to run the resort and it did well with a great reputation. My mother started to have health issues and returned to the U.S. in 2001.
Mikki and I started our home on “King Hill.” The house was constructed of solid reinforced concrete, all stainless steel fasteners, hurricane-proof windows and built to withstand a category 5 hurricane. All water on the island for household use is rainwater, so we added a 23,000 gallon cistern.
In 2007 we received an offer to buy the resort and land around it from an Englishman, Mr. Gill. We accepted the offer and moved into the King Hill house and sort of retired. However, Mr. Gill asked me to design and build a restaurant near Mudjin Harbour which was named Mudjin Bar and Grill.
I obtained my private pilot’s license and flew around the Islands in Cessna and Piper fixed wing aircraft. Then I followed a teenage dream and built a gyrocopter! It was really fun and I flew hundreds of hours over North Caicos, Middle Caicos and East Caicos. It became known as the “flying lawn chairs” or “bicycle in the sky.” It was a tan- dem design and I took many people flying. Unfortunately, in April 2017 I had an engine failure on take-off and crashed into a hillside. We walked away but the gyro was destroyed.
My mother died in 2016 and her ashes were brought back to be spread over the sea at Mudjin Harbour and the “Circle of Hope” was dedicated to her. There was a memorial ceremony attended by family and members of the community. They called her “Mama Dale” and she was greatly loved.
We bought a condo in Florida to be closer to med- ical care. The resort was sold by Mr. Gill and renamed Dragon Cay Resort. In 2019, we sold our house on King Hill. The couple were sitting in Mudjin Bar and Grill and the bartender, Garnet, mentioned our house was for sale. They came up to look and we had a meeting on the screen porch. During that meeting and from then on, it just flowed smoothly. They were not even looking to buy a house, but the view was too beautiful to pass up. The husband was a professor of theology and his wife men- tioned teaching at the local school. What a perfect match for Middle Caicos!
It was time for our departure and our move to Florida. Pastor Williams had a church ceremony and we received a beautiful plaque thanking us for our contributions and offering God’s blessing for our future. The church was an integral part of our life on Middle Caicos and a meaningful and wonderful experience for us.
Our 30 years in Middle Caicos were filled with many difficult challenges that were met and over- come. We have many happy and satisfying memories. However, the memories that we cherish most are the people of Middle Caicos and the rest of the Turks & Caicos Islands. Had it not been for their love and support, we would have not succeeded. Thank you and God bless you all.
Mike and Mikki Witt