The mark of a true paradise resort is how you feel when you are trapped there: Jumby Bay has passed with distinction.
At 7.30am yesterday morning, the phone rang in my ocean-front hotel room at Jumby Bay. 'Mr Cash, we've just had confirmation that you have a seat on the 8.30 flight – can you make the 7.45 ferry to the mainland?'
'That's in ten minutes' I replied.
The prospect of being a human guinea pig as one of the first in the world to to fly into European air space to test whether the volcanic ash cloud was safe was not enthralling. I passed on the offer.
Besides, I was already expected on Thursday as a guest of the Jamaican government to report on the real-estate boom for our upcoming Spear's Caribbean property special report (and to watch the Jamaican Polo Open, the oldest polo tournament in the Caribbean).
About four hours later, after a three hour wait on the tarmac at Antigua airport, I finally saw that BA flight 2256 – scheduled to leave at 8.30pm on 19th April and grounded at Antigua airport since last Thursday – roar up into the sky above the beach at Jumby Bay (you can see the airport, three miles across the water, clearly from the white sand beach here).
By noon, as I spoke to BA in London, it turned out that my fears were entirely justified. Conditions had changed again and BA flight 2256 – so I was told – was going to have to be diverted mid-flight. As I watched the BBC World News reporting that British airspace was being closed again, I could imagine the scene on the aircraft as the pilot announced that they wouldn't be flying to Gatwick at all. Landing in Portugal? Spain? And a two day trans-European coach journey? No, I don't think.
I sat at breakfast reading Ben Fogle's feature in The Telegraph about how he crossed half the world to get back for his charity and work commitments, wading into the crowds of thronging, smelly hoi polloi queuing at Rome airport in his Indiana Jones desert shorts and gear whilst being accosted by Italian news crews and members of the public almost fainting on recognizing Fogle: '”If you're here we don't stand a chance of getting home,” smiled one stranded English family. “We feel so much better seeing you,” said a group of backpackers.' I almost expected the feature to end with the line 'Ben Fogle has not received payment for this article. His fee was donated to Comic Relief'.
Then I read another equally strange article by a Daily Mail journalist talking about how her paradise trip to Oman had turned to hell as she was resorted to stealing muffins from the buffet to feed her family and was starting to panic about her 'extras' bill. Poor darling.
All I can say is that Jumby Bay off Antigua – where Piers Morgan and I have been holed up for the last week – only gets better by the day, especially after we got a letter yesterday evening confirming that BA 'will accept charges for all guests affected from the date of your cancelled flight' to the tune of $500 per room per night with an extra $100 per person for food and drink. The mark of a true paradise resort is how you feel about the place when you are trapped there, and that is a test that Jumby Bay has passed with distinction.
I can be a pretty restless person (I loathe boats, subscribing to Dr Johnson's view that all boats are just a 'floating prison') and I have been trying to figure out why I have been feeling so relaxed here. I mentioned before that there are no cars on the island and you drive around on electronic golf buggies which makes the place – as you travel between, say, from one's $20 million beach-front villa to the old Estate House for dinner – feel as you drive around as if you have suddenly acquired membership of one of the world's chicest country clubs, even if you've never played a round of golf in your life.
Interestingly, there is very deliberately not an actual proper golf course on the island, something that immediately makes Jumby stand apart from, say, Sandy Lane at Barbados which boasts no less than three courses and 45 holes of golf which makes the place feel very much like a golf resort.
It's always interesting to see how a country relates to golf from a social point of view. Americans view golf as a national metaphor for The Good Life as well as a middle-class aspirational sport which reflects the social mobility of the American dream – all fairways lead to potential membership of the elite Country Clubs (something which the Brits do not fully understand) and social validation that many Americans crave.
President Obama, it has just been reported, has played 32 rounds of golf since becoming president – considerably more than the WASP George Bush who gave up the game whilst president as he didn't think it was appropriate to be playing whilst American soldiers died on duty on his watch – including playing a round on the afternoon he was meant to have been in Poland for the state funeral of the Polish president.
Whereas golf in Italy, for example, is considered a very much upper class game, Brits tend to regard golf as the sort of Saturday morning home counties game favoured by the likes of Terry Wogan. When I lived in LA in the nineties, I couldn't but help notice that some of most expensive and desirable $10 million plus mansions in LA were houses that were actually on – or were overlooking – the Bel Air Country Club golf course in the exclusive Bel Air neighbourhood, a fact that was heavily highlighted in the glossy real-estate brochures of 'Bel Air Country Club' view properties.
Over the last twenty years, Jumby Bay must rank as one of the great beachfront property investments in the world. Originally sold in 1915 for just £250 – 'with livestock' – the island was sold by the IRS (who were owed money by a colourful electronics tycoon called Bob Davis who had acquired the island in 1966 but had been ruined by the OPEC crisis of 1973) for just $150,000 on 31st January 1980.
The buyer was Bob Davis's stepson Homer Williams who was able to snap up the the 300-acre island at a firesale price after managing to get the firesale auction moved from taking place in Puerto Rico to his home state of Portland by sending them a certified check for $150,000 to cover what the IRS thought the minimum opening bid should be.
There were no other offers and Homer Williams then borrowed a considerable sum to start developing the island into its modern incarnation as a super-exclusive private island resort, owned by 42 homeowners, with a five-star hotel whose well off impulse buying clients have traditionally always been the main source of new homeowners on the island. Bought for just $150,000, thirty years later the island's real estate alone – according to one long term resident who has been here twenty years – is now worth around half a billion dollars.
What's more, the island's property market has been curiously unaffected by the credit crunch or financial crisis as prices have continued to rise by approx 15-20% – and more – a year over the last five years with no sign of the market slowing down as the world population of high-net-worths continues to grow at 8% a year.
The reason that properties continue to be in such demand on Jumby Bay is that there are very few truly private islands in the world that are owned by the homeowners – rather than a development company – with a constitutional Master Plan than strictly limits the building of any more properties.
The island does not exist to make a commercial profit for the Jumby Bay Company (which all homeowners owners have an equal single share each however large their house), rather it exists to maintain the island's individual character and traditions for the benefit of the homeowners (it requires over 75% of the vote to make any changes to the Master Plan).
Currently the most expensive house on the island currently for sale is on at $34 million – including your own private croquet court (made from artificial turf), a game which is taken seriously of the island – and the two exquisite new houses that have been built whilst the hotel has been refurbished are on at just under $20 million.
Still, being stranded here has got the mind whirring as to exotic possibilities and methods of travel. Whilst having lunch a few days ago at a restaurant in Falmouth Harbour whilst watching the preparations of the Antigua Classic yacht race, I noticed that Antigua's harbour is the world HQ of transatlantic ocean-crossing rowing of the Ben Fogle school.
On a notice board by the loo, I spotted an ad for an ocean crossing rowing boat – a 'Challenge class' and made of plywood – called Carpe Diem which was for sale for £9,000 (including trailer and a single set of Macon oars). 'Built in 1997 in Bossums Boatyard in Oxfordshire , she has successfully crossed the Atlantic 2 times' ran the ad.
Further details informed me that she had crossed from Tenerife to Barbados in 1997 and appears seen in the Guinness World Records Book (2008) as the first ever 'Mother and Son' team to cross the Atlantic by rowing. For a wicked moment, I thought of writing a letter to The Telegraph asking whether Ben Fogle might like to offer his services to row us back to England.