A New England family finds shelter on Tortola, 26 years after a fortuitous fishing trip led them to this spot.

By Anna Kasabian
June 08, 2007
Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

More than two decades ago, Dick Friedman and his family traveled to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. One perfect day, Dick and his son Alex cast their fishing lines near a picturesque bridge joining Frenchman’s Cay to the larger island. In the quiet moment, they didn’t realize the impact this little journey would have on them in years to come.

For Alex, the intrigue was catching a fish. For Dick, it was the discovery of this mostly untouched spot. He wondered what the property looked like around the corner. “Alex was so excited he made me take him back to that bridge every day,” says Dick. Curious about what was on the other side, Dick expanded the daily adventure to include a hike up a nearby logging road. “When we got to the top, the view took my breath away. I had never seen a more beautiful place,” he says.

That view, that spot on the map, stayed in the back of Dick’s mind for 26 years, surfacing only in wishful thoughts on cold days at home in Massachusetts. It became tangible again when he saw an advertisement in a Sotheby’s real-estate guide listing a house for sale on Frenchman’s Cay. “It said the home was on the highest point,” says Dick. “And all I could think of was the place I visited so many years ago.”

So Dick hopped on a plane and headed south. “I had to go and see it,” he says. To his amazement, “It sat exactly on the spot where I had stood—the place I imagined having a house all those years,” he says. The Caribbean plantation–style home embodied everything he and his wife, Nancy, hoped for in an island getaway—open, airy rooms with high ceilings and the wide porches that wrap the entire house to provide stunning water views. “It is genius in its layout,” says Dick. “It has great bones.”

But the abandoned property needed some work. The garish color scheme and overdone gingerbread wood trim had to go. The moss-filled pool and forsaken landscape desperately needed attention.

With serendipity on their side, Dick and Nancy were undeterred. After all, these were just cosmetic problems, and they knew they could return the house to its intended grandeur.

Soon after the purchase, 30 workmen arrived to clean up the home so the couple and their young son, Jake, could escape another New England winter. The crew worked furiously from October to December, and Dick, Nancy, and Jake flew in for the holiday.

Quickly adjusting to the new latitude, the family has since remodeled the kitchen, shipped in new furnishings, and added some mini-escapes within the property. There’s a hot tub, a new gymnasium and game room, and an outdoor cooking center that overlooks the turquoise harbor.

If they didn’t have other responsibilities, the Friedmans might never leave this sanctuary, caressed by cool trade winds that carry the intoxicating smell of jasmine and gardenia across the deck. But because they only spend a few sporadic weeks a year here, they make the home available to others. “If you have a house in the Caribbean, you almost have to rent it,” says Nancy. “It keeps it open and keeps the mildew out.” Property manager J.C. Pierce ensures that things run smoothly for both guests and homeowners year-round.

Though renters have the option of hiring a chef, the island offers a small but good selection of restaurants and markets. For leisure time, charters and ferries leave daily from the airport, Road Town, or Soper’s Hole Wharf & Marina. J.C. connects guests with their favorite pastimes, whether fishing, diving, or just lying in a hammock with an icy-cold Carib in hand.

Once a month, he sends them to a full-moon festival at Bomba Shack, a beachside watering hole that draws people from their boats and other islands. Narrow dirt streets close to accommodate partygoers and vendors at this fantastical celebration. “It’s a friendly island, much like a small town where everyone knows each other,” says Dick.

The Friedmans relish time spent at their island home. “It’s the only place I have ever lived where I see an unobstructed sunrise and sunset. I love that—seeing the cycle of the day,” Dick says. Now that he’s reclaimed the spot he found so many years ago, Dick and his family don’t mind sharing the view.