Robbie Caponetto

With your own house and boat for a week on a private Caribbean island, you can explore these gorgeous waters from sunup to happy hour.

By Susan Emack Alison

The Caribbean-blue shirt worn by Libby Brown reads, "Life isgood." She should know. Libby and her husband, Stewart, own a pieceof paradise 240 miles southeast of Miami. The Browns' tiny, idyllicisland resort suffers only from a name visitors always have tospell for the uninitiated: Fowl Cay.

So called for the roaming chicken population that flourishedhere more than 100 years ago, 50-acre Fowl Cay sits in the centralExumas, a mostly uninhabited chain of 365 breathtaking Bahamas cays(pronounced "keys"). "I've traveled all over the world, and nowhereis as spectacular as this," says boater Michael Geiger, a dinnerguest. Word of Fowl Cay's excellent cuisine and equally nourishingviews has spread among yachters. Each evening, they gather at theresort's Hill House for happy hour and fresh local fare.

Before arriving, weeklong guests fax a contract and grocery listto reservations manager Ellie Caplice, the Browns' daughter. FromNassau or Fort Lauderdale, they hop a small charter flight to theStaniel Cay airstrip. There, one of the resort's nine employeesawaits with a dinghy for the trip's last leg, 1½ miles overgreen and indigo water to the private island. The first greeters atthe dock are a waddling blond couple: Zeke and Lulu, residentyellow labs. Their propensity for enjoying a cool drink andlounging in the shade or shallow water soon becomes contagious.

After settling in one of three houses (one-bedroom Lindon or three-bedroom Blue Moon and Sweetwater) and selecting snorkeling gear, visitors face anarray of choices. The games, exercise room, swimming pool, andalways-open bar at the Hill House vie for time with sea kayaks,sailboats, horseshoes, and umbrellas at South Beach. A walkingtrail winds from the golf-cart path near the tennis court to WestBeach. But nothing can compete with that huge salty playgroundbeckoning from every direction.

The first morning brings a boat orientation with Stew, theBrowns' son and resort manager. A 17-foot skiff will be at theguests' disposal for the week. "Watch out for some of the darkerspots―they might be rocks just under the surface," Stewexplains over the humming outboard. "Stay in the green water, andyou'll get a feel for how deep it is by how light the green is." Hepoints out surefire bonefishing flats, his favorite snorkelingspots, and key landmarks. "And over there on that sandbar, you canalways find sand dollars early in the morning," he says. Thenguests take charge of the schedule.

"We try to give just the right amount of attention," says Libby."I can't stand it when I'm in a hotel room and there's a knock onthe door with a 'Housekeeping!' We don't want our guests disturbedor interrupted." That's why visitors are on their own for breakfastand lunch―as simple or elaborate as the mood strikes.

Boaters, even those well worth their salt, should spend thefirst day or two within a half mile of Fowl Cay, as the vast wetand rocky seascape at first all looks the same. (If they get lost,they simply radio the Fowl Cay office.) Within that radius, though,lie many of the sights and activities in the resort's 10-page "FunStuff to Do List."

One of the coolest is snorkeling into Thunderball Grotto. Namedfor the James Bond movie filmed here, this cave opens to acathedral-like domed room, with jagged "windows" above and belowwater as well as a "skylight" sending sun rays down to countlessstriped and spotted tropical fish. Neon blue-green parrotfish openand close pink lips as they pass zebra-patterned sergeant majorsand vibrant queen angelfish.

This is one of the few places on the list where swimmers mightencounter anyone else. Guests can come in from a morning offishing, grill a burger, take a nap, then boat off to a beach stripwhere theirs are the first and only footprints of the day. Or theymight pack a picnic at daybreak and not come back until the 5 p.m.daily boat return. If they're pushing 5 while lingering over aKalik (a Bahamian beer) at nearby Club Thunderball, they simplyhave to radio the office to say they're running late. In true locallaid-back fashion, that's just fine.

"We want people to come for a whole week, so they can forgetwhat day it is," says Stewart. As guests get familiar with thearea, they'll head south to Iguana Cay to feed the namesakes, andventure north to Compass Cay, where they can swim with tame nursesharks at the marina. Compass Cay's proprietor, Tucker Rolle, letsvisitors toss hot dogs to the silent, swirling regular lunch crowd.He always offers this advice: "Don't tickle the sharks' bellies orpull their tails." No problem, mon.

Perhaps guests will skip the shark swim and hike in to Rachel'sBubble Bath. This shallow pond gets its name from its east end,where the icy cold Atlantic crashes over rocks and into the warmwater. An hour or so sitting there―dissolving every ounce oftension with each foamy splash―and it's easy to forget whatday it is.

But this you'll remember: Life is good, indeed.

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