It’s been said that every crisis leads to opportunity. Though it was difficult to picture the opportunity when the British Virgin Islands’ beloved Bitter End Yacht Club lay in pieces following back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes in September 2017. But not only did the boutique resort and marina on Virgin Gorda rebuild in a more sustainable way, it also launched a philanthropic arm of the family-owned business that has done a lot of good for the local community and the sea on which it depends.
“In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, we had this incredible response from our audience. People just wanted to help in any way possible,” says Lauren Hokin, a member of the founding family that has operated the Bitter End Yacht Club since 1973. “Our response to that tremendous outpouring of concern and care was to create this foundation.”
Initially, the yacht club launched the Bitter End Irma Relief Fund to meet the immediate needs of the Virgin Gorda islanders, from distributing food, water and medical supplies to providing direct emergency assistance to employees and passing out toys during the holidays. In time, as the dire situation stabilized and the community got back on its feet, the fund evolved into the 501(c)(3) Bitter End Foundation, which has a much broader mission to care for the Caribbean community and the world’s oceans.
“Since then, we’ve raised over a million dollars, and we’ve given away more than $800,000,” says Kerri Quinn Jaffe, Bitter End’s Head of Marketing.
Much of the foundation’s success can be attributed to its loyal fan base. The Bitter End Yacht Club represents more than a vacation destination for many of its guests. It holds a special place in the hearts of families from around the globe who appreciate the retreat’s unique spirit. They return year after year to share in the relaxed, old-fashioned fun that can be had on and under the waterline of the spectacularly beautiful North Sound. The sale of resort memorabilia that was retrieved from the storm rubble brought in $40,000 alone, and the foundation continues to raise money through fundraisers and auctions.
“The overwhelming generosity of our past guests opened our eyes to people’s connection to Bitter End, to the place and to the local population in the BVI. We knew there was a connection, but we didn’t realize the extent of it,” Jaffe says.
Individuals can also support the Bitter End Foundation through the Provisions for Good program. For each purchase made either online or at select marinas, yacht clubs and airports worldwide from Bitter End Provisions—the foundation’s lifestyle brand of apparel and accessories—$1 is donated to the foundation, which customers can augment with a discretionary donation.
Introduced six months ago, Bitter End Provisions’ newest addition is its Dritek collection, which quickly became its most popular line. “When we launched the 501(c)(3), we worked with our design partner to assess how we could design shirts from ocean plastics; there’s been a lot of movement in that area,” Jaffe says. Dritek’s sun shirts of at least SPF 30 are made from 76 percent recycled polyester manufactured from plastic bottles salvaged from landfills and ocean waste. So, each featherweight, super-soft polo, T-shirt and hoodie—which also feature Coolcore tech, a chemical-free solution to keeping the wearer cool—contributes toward a cleaner ocean. “It’s both a stylish and functional material. It feels good to wear and it feels just as good to help steward the oceans,” Jaffe says.
The product line aligns with the Bitter End Foundation’s greater role as a steward of the planet’s oceans, protecting sea life and encouraging conservation efforts. Ocean cleanups, a local coral-reef restoration initiative and youth education have been a few of its beneficiaries.
“Kids are the real answer to long-term protection of the marine ecosystems and the surrounding terrestrial ecosystems,” Hokin says. “Believe it or not, a lot of kids and adults who live in the islands don’t know how to swim, and obviously that poses a significant challenge to health and wellness. So, with our friends and neighbors at Unite BVI, we support a multipronged youth summer program that has components of learn to dive, learn to snorkel and learn to swim, and a curriculum around marine science and environmental stewardship. They’re doing all kinds of stuff, from addressing ghost nets and pots, which are basically abandoned fishing gear that wreak havoc on reef systems and shorelines, to some more sort of foundational programming around marine science. Those are the sort of things we are excited about.”
During the pandemic, the Bitter End Foundation supported a program that made sure that each child in the BVI had a Chromebook for remote learning, and it supported a meal program and food-voucher program to feed those in need.
While the vast majority of its work has been focused on the BVI, the foundation has a broader mission to be a long-term force for positive change in other communities that similarly depend on the sea, through programs that support a stronger, healthier and more sustainable future. For instance, it made a gift to the P.E.C.E.S. organization in neighboring Puerto Rico to help restore the island’s fishing fleet lost in Hurricane Maria.
It all goes to prove that while Mother Nature has the power to literally knock island communities flat, the power of people to effect recovery and enduring change for good is far greater.
Donations can be made at bitterendprovisions.com.