Virgin Islanders can relish a moment of pride when they pass a news stand and see a cottage on St. John’s Oppenheimer Beach pictured on the cover of Coastal Living magazine.
A large portion of the November issue of Coastal Living is dedicated to showing the world that Caribbean islands devastated by Irma and Maria, the hurricane twins, are open for business. The first section of the 15-page feature story focuses on St. John and begins with a description of beachfront cottages owned by Teri Gibney.
Visitors to Oppenheimer Beach, one of the three major beaches within Hawksnest Bay, may not have noticed the cottages if they were there before the hurricanes hit in September 2017. The classic West Indian-design rental villas were hidden among the palms and seagrapes until Irma’s winds and storm surge swept through the property, toppling trees and tearing out vegetation.
Gibney has worked tirelessly this past year to repair the cottages and replant the garden, and she was eager to let Coastal Living’s senior travel editor, Tracey Minkin, stay in the beachfront unit when she arrived on island to research her story in May.
On her first morning there, Minkin waded out into the limpid waters of Hawksnest Bay and glanced back to look at the landscape. She looked at the the cottage pictured serenely on the beach and thought, “That’s our cover! It’s escape: It’s a beautiful garden, it’s private, it’s a dream. And there’s the Virgin Islands National Park recovering right behind it.”
Minkin said visiting St. John was a bittersweet experience.
“You felt the storm’s effect,” she said. “Some of the green had come back – so there wasn’t the post-storm searing [from earlier photos.] I could see where a roof was missing, where a beach was damaged. I also felt the coming together in the aftermath. People wanted to share their stories. There was a quality of, ‘We’re glad you’re here.’”
The article Minkin co-wrote also updates the recovery process on Anguilla, Dominica, the British Virgin Islands, and St. Barts. St. Thomas and St. Croix are mentioned, but the magazine’s editors decided, “We couldn’t hit them all; we’d just focus on one island in the USVI.” For a variety of reasons they chose St. John.
Coastal Magazine, which has been available through subscription, is going through its own renaissance. The November issue is the last monthly issue as it makes a switch to quarterly publication. The magazine was part of the Time Inc. family of publications, which was bought by the Meredith Corporation, now the largest magazine company in the world.
Minkin said she is often asked about her personal preferences for vacation destinations.
“I never want to pull a person away from one destination,” she said. “But I’m saying, ‘This year, why not go to a recovery island? You will get a deeper sense of what’s at stake and how hard people are working. You can go to a gorgeous island and have a perfect time, but it doesn’t touch you.”
Coastal Living is trying to promote the Caribbean without candy-coating the reality of what visitors will encounter, she said.
“Being on St. John and seeing the damage and recovery is like looking at someone you love and seeing a scar – it quickly becomes part of what you love about that face.”