Off the Mainland

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Some might consider living on an island an inconvenience, but to the people that have chosen to live away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland, their piece of paradise is worth it – even the boat ride home on a cold night in February.

“When I get on my boat and leave the mainland, I shut out the rest of the world and it’s just peace,” said Jennifer Doe, who for seven years has made her home on Smith’s Island in St George’s Harbour. “If I could bottle up the peace I feel here and give it to all my friends it would be priceless.”

Ms Doe, who shares a one bedroom, one bath cottage with her boyfriend, Dennis Seymour, is no stranger to life on islands or boats. As a child she lived for several years on Bethel’s Island in Elys Harbour and afterwards lived on a boat with her family until she was 13. In 1994, her father, Bobby Doe, renovated a ruined stable on Smith’s Island that dated back to 1882. Over the years she spent time visiting and housesitting at the secluded cottage, and when her father moved to Australia he suggested she move into the space.

The couple have created a hidden enclave in the middle of the 68-acre island, even stringing fairy lights around their cosy garden patio, creating a world away and complete seclusion.

While living on an island accessible only by boat does allow for solitude but it also inspires a close-knit community and even more so since the pandemic.

“We have our neighbourhood community and there is interaction but there is still privacy,” said Peter Flook, who has lived with his wife, Sheryl, on Smith’s Island for 23 years.

From morning walks, to a helping hand during storms and even an Ag Show and mini-Walkabout during the Covid lockdowns, there is a real sense of community on the island. For the kids, there was some normalcy particularly during the lockdowns, says Ms Doe.

“As a child living on an island and a boat it was the best childhood and just helps create the imagination,” she described. “Out here it is a true neighbourhood experience for the kids like it was in Bermuda in the past.”

Michael Fahy never owned a boat before moving to his property on Hinson’s Island. Now after just over a year of living full-time on the island his 17’ whaler is his “car and no longer a pleasure craft but daily transport.”

“You have to be confident on the water and that only comes with practice,” he said. “I never owned a boat before. You get used to looking at WindGuru every day and the marine forecast and the height of the waves and the radar for squalls and just timing your runs.”

While Hinson’s is more inhabited than Smith’s Island, with 26 homes and 50 residents, there is still plenty of peace and quiet to be found. The island has no motorised vehicles except when construction is taking place around one of the properties.

Mr Fahy decided to take the plunge with owning property on Hinson’s after spending time going back and forth visiting his then girlfriend, Eimear, who rented a cottage on the island. In February, the two wed at a ceremony held at their two-storey property overlooking the Great Sound.

“You do have to have a sense of adventure to live out here,” he said. “I don’t mind doing what I have to do to make it work.”

He adds that it does become a lot about logistics and making sure to plan carefully and also have a very good rain suit.

“Is it inconvenient?” he mused. “Possibly, but only if you have that mindset.”

For the family it is just a quick trip off the mainland but once you’re home: “it’s a different world.”

Back on Smiths Island, Mr Flook says growing up in St David’s there was a similar vibe. He eventually gave up his job at Cable & Wireless to fish full-time and found that Smith’s Island was also fertile ground for growing produce, which he often provides to his neighbours, family and the people he sells fish to. Many have come to love and request his fresh Bermuda garlic, in particular. Around their waterfront property fruit trees grow, and Mr Flook tends a small piece of farmland with a neighbour, where they grow carrots, corn, onions, garlic and plenty more.

“We don’t make a lot of money off the farming but we eat like kings and queens,” said Mr Flook. “The fruit trees especially grow well out here.”

There are days when it’s not ideal weather but the wildness is something he loves.

“I love all of it,” he stated.

“Every day you see something different,” explained Mrs Flook. “We’re closer to nature here. The birds wake you up, fish jumping just off the dock and you see so much that other people don’t ever get to see. The really good days make up for any bad days.”

Mrs Flook travels back and forth from the mainland daily due to her job and she says the couple have only had to spend two or three nights away from home due to bad weather.

Ms Doe, who is a hairdresser, and also travels to the mainland daily, said there are a few more factors to consider when making her commute: “Every morning you wake up and cross your fingers that the golf cart is going to make it to the dock, that your boat will start and then your car also at the end will work. Hopefully all three of them are behaving nicely so you can get to work on time.”

Learning to travel by water comes quickly once that is your main mode of transport, said Mrs Flook, who has become boat savvy over the years and says “having a knowledge of boats is crucial.”

But she and her husband believe there is “no other way to live.”

There is a sense of protectiveness of how special island-living is but also a desire to see more people live more intentionally.

“I want everyone to live like this but I don’t want anybody to see this,” Mr Flook said. “This is the way we should all be living.”

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