Vernon Soares

dean, vernon, mark soares

VERNON SOARES RECEIVES BVI’S LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD (BVI Standpoint)
By – Nancy Terrell (with sons Dean (left) and Mark above)

The highest honour any individual can achieve is to be recognized and acknowledged as a leading citizen and contributor to their community by peers. The BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association recently generously granted this award to Vernon Soares, founder and patriarch of Neptune’s Treasure on Anegada, BVI. Vernon is the supplier of fish for most of the BVI and is considered a pioneer in the founding of Neptune’s Treasure – the first restaurant on Anegada and internationally acclaimed fishing business in the BVI.

He tells me that he was shocked upon receiving this honour. “They must have be citing me for good behavior. I think it must have been because I became such a part of the community even though I wasn’t born here. I came to St. Thomas (to fish) on the Argus I, a 36’ sailboat that I had built in Bermuda in ’64. After living on Jost Van Dyke for a year I moved to Anegada with my wife, Julie, and my four children – Mark (9), Shelia (7) Linda (5) and Dean (3). We lived in a tent on the beach for three years before I purchased our present property of two acres +, where Neptune’s Treasure is now located. The entire family has put in 36 years of hard work to build the resort into what it is now.

I have always been a fisherman. When Castro took over Cuba I knew that Bacardi would leave and probably come to Puerto Rico, meaning there would be work in St. Thomas, which, in those days had nothing. There were just a half a dozen boats and the hotels there needed someone to fish for grouper and snapper. As they had the American dollar I figured that it couldn’t miss. Tortola was totally undeveloped at the time. There were only 13 Caucasians on the entire island and no roads to either West or East End. Anegada had virginal waters and 300 people with half of the population working in St. Thomas. When Laurence Rockefeller built a resort on Virgin Gorda people from Anegada went over there to work.

Fishing just got bigger and bigger. I established a retail store with Marty Halpern, organizer of the Dark & Stormy, at Sailors Ketch because we needed an outlet to sell fish, as the government couldn’t buy enough to support us and keep our boats running. We wanted to cater to the housewife. Tortola was growing and most of the women worked and needed a place to buy fresh fish for their families without waiting around for the boats to come in. That is how Sailors Ketch was started. We also sell to restaurants and hotels and that market has also grown tremendously throughout the years. Now we also have Ms. Penguins who is also a good outlet for us.

Julie and I built our first house after taking a year to clear the land. Our second building was a tool shed where the restaurant now stands. Then we knocked that down to put the hotel rooms and office in. We also built a boat for Mark to use; he would carry his brother and sisters into the Settlement each day to and from school. Five miles in and then five miles back, as there were no roads on Anegada at the time. I fished on Argus I until 1982 when I got Argus II. She was 35 feet and was built in Connecticut. Julie fished with me for years until Mark and Dean took over. We also planted 229 palm trees that provide us with the best shade on the island. Now we are expanding that and are building a second floor of hotel rooms. I always felt that it was safer to put my money into land, rather than a bank, so I just kept developing the land I owned.

I have 4 children, 14 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren - I have built something to leave them for the future – not just money that they can spend – but land that they can work on that will provide them with jobs, security and homes. It’s true that I am leaving a heritage for my family but it was Julie who held the family together. In fact, the Dark & Stormy was conceived to honour her in 1997, the year of her death. The actual name of the regatta is ‘The Julie Soares Memorial Regatta’ and our friends, who make Goslings Rum out of Bermuda, have always sponsored it. It’s a family race for cruisers. Marty sailed with the West End Yacht Club so we asked them to run the race for us. At the time we thought of it as just a one shot event and had no idea that it would turn into such a popular regatta.”

Marty Halpern has been a friend of Vernon Soares for 25 years so it is only natural that he would help in the promotion of the regatta, which this year drew 28 entries. “I met Marty the first time he came over from Virgin Gorda. Marty was a dentist from the East who had just purchased a sailboat built for him by Peter Legnos. When he brought the boat to the Caribbean he brought down items that I needed – chain, batteries, anchors and such. We have been friends ever since. He is also the one that contacted Smith’s Ferry about bringing 120 people over to this event from Tortola, which has really been a boost. Now it is a real community event. Lou Schwartz, a friend of Marty’s and mine and owner of the Jolly Roger Restaurant and Bar in West End, Tortola, volunteered to have the race end there, on the third day of the regatta, so the venue is really pleasing to everyone.”

Everyone I know attending the 5th Annual Dark & Stormy enjoyed it. As I finish my interview with Vernon Soares it is easy for me to understand the magnetism of this man and the reason he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association. Fortunately, his life has made a difference – not only to the island of Anegada and the business of fishing, but to all of us. His foresight will continue to provide cruising sailors with one of the most enjoyable weekends of the year and we will continue, in our pleasure of sailing the gorgeous waters of the Virgin Islands, to toast Vernon Soares and the great success that he has brought to the BVI.

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