by Larry Smith
GREAT HARBOUR CAY, the Berry Islands -- "I call it the knowing. I know what's going to happen," 58-year-old Craig Wells confided to me from beneath a raggedy straw hat at the dilapidated beach bar here, just across from the airport terminal.
"I knew someone was coming to meet me today because I saw the spider last night."
Craig is the son of one of the first real estate salesmen brought to the island by Great Harbour Cay developer Lou Chesler in the halcyon years of this once spectacular resort community. He arrived at the age of 16 with his father, a Long Islander who passed away in the 1980s - at about the same time that the development failed. But Craig never left.
When he is not spearfishing, or playing petanque at the beach bar, Craig whittles away the time at Harold Christie's original 1960s beach house, an appropriately rustic shack set in a grove of tall casuarinas that are spectacularly adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of years of eclectic beach combing.
It was arch realtor Christie who introduced Chesler to the Berry Islands after the Canadian entrepeneur fell out with Freeport founder Wallace Groves. In 1960 Chesler was a successful land developer brought in by Groves to spearhead resort activities on Grand Bahama.
But according to architect Peter Barratt, Freeport's retired town planner, Groves and Chesler didn't get on, and in the mid-1960s Chesler received a $17 million payout and began searching for other opportunities.
"I remember him storming out of a meeting with Groves late one Saturday morning after they had a falling out," Barratt told me. "Chesler made a packet in Freeport and with the spare cash decided to invest it back in the islands."
Meanwhile, Christie had been busily acquiring property ever since the 1930s, becoming the most successful land promoter in the country. In fact, he was at least partly responsible for almost every major development that took place in the Bahamas until his death in 1973 on a European promotional tour.
The Berry Islands had been sparsely settled by freed slaves after 1835. Great Harbour Cay is the most northerly and the largest of these cays, and Christie had acquired most of it by the time Chesler was looking for something to do with his money.
Aside from the tiny Bullock's Harbour settlement there was nothing on the seven-mile-long island when Chesler bought it, except an airstrip that Christie had built to fly in prospects. Chesler master-planned the entire resort community - golf course, clubhouse, airport, marina, beach and sailing club, villas, home lots, roads and utilities.