Uncovering Cooper Island with the Evanses

The British Virgin Islands were like a hidden treasure. The glimmering waters and dazzling beaches were more secluded and serene than popular tourist hot spots. Ben and Ginny Evans were one of the first few families to truly uncover the hidden gem that was Cooper Island. As more people have found their way to the area, the secret has gotten out – but what was it like to be there in the beginning?

The author spent many summers exploring Cooper Island.

The author spent many summers exploring Cooper Island.

Sunset Watch Villas: When was the first time you made the trek down to Cooper Island?

Ben and Ginny Evans: In 1971 we made our first visit. Good friends of ours, Nancy and Jack Fuller, had recently bought property on Cooper Island and they invited us down to stay for a week. We had so much fun fitting both of our families in one small house on Cistern Point. It was one of the first houses built on Cooper Island.

Sunset: When did you start building your homes and what made you choose that particular spot?

Evans: We discovered that there was a house next to the Fuller’s property that hadn’t been used much since it was built. We located the owners who had built it and made arrangements to rent it for our next visit. After renting, we asked the owners if they’d be interested in selling the property. And to our amazement, they agreed.

The house had one bedroom and a large living area with a rudimentary kitchen. The water system consisted of a cistern with a hand pump to a header tank on the roof. There was no electricity on the island so we used propane for the fridge and cooking. Our light came from kerosene lamps, candles and flashlights. With only four houses on the whole island, we never saw any of the other owners.

Sunset: Did you consider any other areas before settling on that one?

The warm waters of the BVIs as a summer playground.

The warm waters of the BVIs as a summer playground.

Evans: No, but just a few years later, Clarence Smith, who lived on neighboring Salt Island, offered to sell us three adjacent acres of beach-front property. According to BVI code, we had to develop this land by building a second house. This took months to build. The workers would come over from Tortola, arriving late in the morning and leaving early in the afternoon. We built a simple one-room beach house with a nice porch overlooking the sandy beach and Manchioneel Bay.

Later on we designed and installed solar electricity for both houses and put in ceiling fans and car radios using our 12-volt DC power system. We finally added a gas-engine pumping system to fill a large header tank on the hill behind the houses.

Sunset: What was like to be one of the few houses on Cooper?

Evans: In the early days of our life on Cooper Island, it was very peaceful and tranquil. Later on we saw more of our friends in the other houses on the island, like the Stonehouses from England and the Hooks from Maryland. After the Cooper Island Beach Club was started, we saw more activity in the bay and began renting out our houses.

Sunset: What are some of your favorite memories of the time you spent on Cooper?

We did a lot of gardening at both houses and we fenced in our land with the Fullers and theirs to keep out the feral goats that ate all our greenery. We had lime trees and even a cashew tree in front of The House on the Hill. We have fond memories of working together on projects around the houses.

Travel writer Brenda Evans spent her summers in the BVIs as a child.

Travel writer Brenda Evans spent her summers in the BVIs as a child.

We had great snorkeling right off our beach – we’ve never seen any better snorkeling in all our travels. It was also fun to hike down to the Hualovers where we were sure to find interesting items washed up on the beach.