Laurance S. Rockefeller purchased Sandy Cay in the 1950s, around the same time as his purchases of vast tracts of land on St. John. On St. John, Rockefeller turned this land, with the exception of the coastal area and beaches from Salomon to Hawksnest Bays, over to the National Park. The land that he kept was developed and eventually became the exclusive Caneel Bay Plantation, managed by Rock resorts. (The word “Plantation” was later changed to “Resort” probably because of its inherent political incorrectness.)
Meanwhile Rockefeller managed Sandy Cay creating his own little botanical garden. For many years the man on the ground there, doing much of the actual work, clean up, trimming and planting was Jost Van Dyke’s own “Nippy,” who to this day maintains a small business selling his wares to captains, crews and passengers of visiting yachts from his little dinghy “the traveling salesman.”
On May 1, 2008 Sandy Cay was transferred from the Rockefeller’s estate to the government of the British Virgin Islands and the island is now managed by the BVI National Parks Trust.
Rats were eliminated from the island in 2002 and in 2010 moorings were placed off the beach on the west side of the islands.
The above photo is an outtake from a photo shoot on Sandy Cay around 1996, when I filled in for the “old” male model, who didn’t make it down for the shoot.
If you look on the east side of the steep hill going down to Hawksnest Bay you should see an old stone stairway. This was once the entrance to a house that at one time belonged to Laurance Rockefeller. The house eventually became the property of the Virgin Islands National Park and was demolished. Nothing remains.
Today if you climb the staircase you’ll notice a trail leading through the bromiliads that takes you to the ruins of a stone structure that is said to have once belonged to Peter Duurloo, born on the island of Statia in 1675 and died on St. John 1746. I have also seen his name spelled Durloo and Durloe. The three islands, Henley Cay, Ramgoat Cay and Rata Cay are collectively known as the Durloe Cays and were undoubtedly named after him
Peter Durloo was one of the original planters who took possession of parcels of land on St. John when the Danes laid claim to the island in 1716. Durloo took up what is now some prime real estate, Cinnamon Bay and Caneel Bay, which he named for the bay rum trees (Caneel in Dutch) that were so plentiful there.
Charlotte Dean Stark, who wrote Some True Tales and Legends about Caneel Bay Trunk Bay and a Hundred and One Other Places on St. John, had this to say about Mr. Durloo:
“He was a colored man from one of the more southerly islands, probably Satia, where the Dutch were struggling to keep their foothold. It seems likely that most of the Dutch planters in St. Thomas were the colored sons of Hollanders who had been brought up by their fathers to learn the business, whatever it might be. Not many women went out with the original explorers who seized islands in the chain to the south of us.”
The site has been cleared by Jeff Chabot and his volunteers, but is unlikely to stay that way. So if you’re interested in a little history and don’t mind the uphill walk from the Hawksnest parking lot, you may want to pay a visit while the visiting is good.
All about St John in the beautiful US Virgin Islands (USVI) American Paradise