Michael Ryan, owner and developer of Dragon Bay and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Resort, returned to Cayman’s shores from an international quest with a passion to create the perfect place.
You know you’ve found perfection in a place when you cannot imagine it being anywhere else in the world, or any different than it is,” Ryan said. “Its architecture, form, scale, colours and materials (whether a result of choice, history or circumstance) create a character, energy and spirit found nowhere else. A perfect place draws you in, making you feel welcome and rewarded; an imperfect place resists you.”
On his search for perfection, Ryan traversed the globe during an 11-month voyage on his 130-foot sailboat – visiting many of the world’s most appreciated coastal communities. Through his tour of international harbours, Ryan found the inspiration for his 360-acre Dragon Bay development, a luxury residential and resort community.
What Ryan found embodied in legendary communities defined by the sea, from Portofino, Rhodes and Crete to Thailand, Cambodia, Penang and Singapore, forms the essence or “spine” of the Dragon Bay development.
“Our goal at Dragon Bay is to make possible – not impose – such a perfect place in Grand Cayman, to nurture a community shaped by the sea, marinas, lagoons and canals and inspired by Caymanian history and British colonial legacy around the world. One whose residents are the engine for organic evolution and one that celebrates and sustains in substantive, meaningful ways the unique tropical environment of the Cayman Islands,” Ryan said.
Dragon Bay’s principal design concept is based on movement by water, or paths and roads along the water’s edge, to and through several community clusters that will extend across the width of Grand Cayman’s isthmus between the Caribbean Sea off Seven Mile Beach and the North Sound.
Current residential offerings at Dragon Bay include: The DeckHouses – 19 five-bedroom, five-bath private island estate homes with boathouses; Secret Harbour, 122 one-bedroom to four-bedroom Residences, Harbour Lofts, Skyhouses and Bridge Residences surrounded by the resort’s waterways and golf course with expansive views of the North Sound; and The Residences at The Ritz Carlton featuring elegant oceanfront homes that have brought to Cayman a new concept in luxury living.
The Secret Harbour development is the community that best embodies the combination of the elements that Ryan recognised on his voyage of discovery through world harbours.
“When we decided to design Secret Harbour, we asked ourselves ‘What can we do to make it extra special?’ Anyone can put condos on a piece of land on the water – but we wanted to make this perfect, so we began our search to identify what makes certain places extraordinary,” he said.
Ryan’s journey started in Grand Cayman, moved to Europe, the Maldives, Singapore. Indonesia, Australia, and every where in between as he looked to find the underlying elements that recur and resonate in the world’s most successful water communities.
“That’s why we say Secret Harbour is based on a world of inspiration,” Ryan said.
One commonality that Ryan found throughout his travels was that of architecture, “Wherever you travel throughout the world, you will encounter the timelessness of the stately, formal, British Colonial architecture,” he said. “Because the Cayman Islands is a British colony, we wanted to incorporate aspects of this architecture into our project.”
However, inspiration was also drawn from other cultures.
“When looking at designs we were wondering about building heights and how they would look in and around the harbour,” Ryan said. “And again, and again throughout my trip around the world I found that all successful harbours had buildings three stories or higher; Hydra, Greece is one of the first places to show this and creates the synergy of the harbour.”
The concept of a hidden, protected marina is a major component of Secret Harbour’s design – as can be construed from the name.
Visitors will enter Secret Harbour under the portal of the Bridge Residences. These are the jewels of Secret Harbour with stunning views of both the Secret Harbour and the North Sound.
One of the first sights on entering Secret Harbour will be the community’s grand clubhouse. Here, the British Colonial influence once again comes into play.
“The design of the clubhouse is based on the Fullerton hotel in Singapore– a fine example of the timelessness of the British Colonial era,” Ryan said.
The influence of Ryan’s travels does not stop at the external architecture of Secret Harbour, but also reaches inside. Ideas for the interiors of Secret Harbour come from the colored glass and mosaics of Turkey.
“What drew us to this design is the use of colored glass and mosaics against a neutral backdrop. We immediately saw, and our Hall of Fame interior designers D’Aquino Monaco readily agreed, how these materials and elements would accent and complement our designs and breathe life into the community,” Ryan explained.
Most developers would have just done an easy cookie-cutter design, but Ryan and his team took two years and went back to the drawing board over 32 times in designing Secret Harbour.
Ryan knew what he wanted and would not stop until the design fulfilled his vision.
A man known for his tenacity, Ryan completed his worldwide inspirational journey on a sailboat named ‘Tenaz’ – which means ‘tenacious or unrelenting’ in Spanish.
From pacing the seaside quays of the Mediterranean, measuring the façade heights across the Indian Ocean, wandering the streets of Penang and Singapore in the steps of Sir Raffles, looking down from the sands of the Sinai into the fabled ports of the Red Sea, Ryan saw the elements that all of them shared – and which he wanted to bring to Cayman.
Equally important were the ports and harbours, both ancient and modern, that did not succeed, that had either crumbled to dust or sat there empty and soulless.
After sharing these insights and experiences with his talented international team that was making the project a reality, Secret Harbour came to life.
“As Colonel Light did in the jungles of Penang, you clear the swamp, set down the key pathways and outline the standards then encourage the finest people to join and bring their passions to individual sectors and neighborhoods and thus, where the tale might be ending of the finest Ritz-Carlton in the world, the story of Dragon Bay, a new water-based community, begins,” he said.