The proud owner of Rat Island spends his first summer on the isle he snapped up for $176,000
- Last Updated: 5:45 PM, June 19, 2012
- Posted: 10:58 PM, June 18, 2012
Clambering over the rocks like a schoolboy on an outdoor field trip, Alex Schibli points out three speckled eggs inside a nest.
“The seagulls are going to hatch in a day or two,” says the former Port Authority engineer, glancing at the sky as the expectant parents circle overhead.
“These birds are very respectful,” he says with a laugh. “When the owner [of the island] arrives, they leave for a little while, and then come back.”
That owner is Schibli, 72, who takes a deep breath of ocean air and beams with pride. Standing on the unfortunately named Rat Island, he feels like the luckiest man alive.
And with good reason. While most New Yorkers are busy carving out their own small turf on the isle of Manhattan, Schibli has his own private island at the northwestern end of Long Island Sound.
The softspoken Schibli paid $176,000 for the 2.5-acre slab of rock, beating out seven other bidders, including a fisherman and a nonprofit organization, in a sale last October. The island, which is zoned for residential use and costs $2,000 per year in taxes, was auctioned on behalf of the previous owner, 70-something retired businessman Edmund Brennan of Jupiter, Fla.
It’s believed to be the only truly privately owned island in the New York City archipelago of 44 islands, which includes Manhattan and Staten Island.
And as he prepares to enjoy his first summer of ownership, Schibli claims it was worth every cent.
“I read ‘Robinson Crusoe’ when I was a boy, [and] I was obsessed with ‘The Swiss Family Robinson,’ ” explains the 14-year City Island resident, whose house is situated about a quarter of a mile from his own island.
“I’d always dreamed of having my own place for peace and quiet in the middle of the ocean. When Rat Island came on the market, I had to buy it.”
So far, he’s added only an American flag and two “private property” signs to warn off unwanted visitors.
His main priority now: a new name. Schibli is trying to change the name back to Rattle Island, which originates from the 1600s, when Dutch mariners paid locals to use rattles to alert boat traffic to the treacherous rocks.
The term Rat Island also stems from folklore that 19th-century prisoners —
a k a “rats” — would hide on the rock while escaping from a jail on neighboring Hart Island.
As the new title holder, Schibli can apply to the authorities for permission to build a structure there — but for the moment, he wants to keep it as is. “Apart from the name change, I’m not really planning anything different for the island,” says the white-haired native of Switzerland, who specialized in energy conservation when he worked for the Port Authority.