It’s been a long few weeks for those who were unfortunate enough to be in the path of Irma and before her Harvey as they blasted first through the Caribbean and then into the US, both Texas and Florida. And, while much of our attention has been focused on the damage brought by these storms to the U.S. many who spend time in the Caribbean watched with horror as Irma devastated these island nations.
Perhaps the most remarkable fact about Irma, the most powerful hurricane to be recorded in the Atlantic since records have been kept, is how much damage she did in some areas and low little effect she had on other islands that were sometimes less than 50 miles away.
Most sailors that charter in the British Virgin Islands do so out of Road Town, Tortola, home of the areas largest charter fleets managed by The Moorings and Sunsail with literally thousands of boats in their fleet. It was hard to go anywhere in the BVIs without seeing sometimes dozens of boats with their distinctive graphics. This was what a single dock of their boats looked like in their home marina last January when I visited. Unfortunately, the British Virgin Islands were particularly hard hit by Irma with nearly every building destroyed or badly damaged. And, as so many from the U.S. have vacationed there or chartered boats from this once mighty charter fleet out of Tortola, they could certainly relate to this “before and after” in a very personal way. These two photos of the Moorings and Sunsail fleets have been widely circulated. I understand that his first photo of the fleet preparing for a hurricane was actually taken several years ago. This is how the same spot looked a day after Irma passed.I ran into someone that works for one of the major insurers at the marina where Pandora’s hauled now and he told me that up until recently that hurricane preparations for the charter fleet included securing the boats to a 450,000 lb chain strung along the harbor floor. Reportedly, there was a recent change to “sand screw” moorings and that one after the other, pulled out of the sand. I guess sometimes relying on great mass to hold things in place is the only way to go. Of course, all of this is second hand but this is what I was told. Never the less, a lot of folks lost boats.
I’ve heard that these two companies, the largest in the islands, have lost virtually their entire fleets of boats and those who have booked charters early in the season are being directed to their operations in Marsh Harbor, Bahamas. A friend of mine told me yesterday that someone he knows had just put a brand new boat into charter this spring in Tortola and that it’s now totaled. It’s certainly going to be some time before they are able to clean up the mess, bring in new boats and put things back to normal.
When I arrived in Tortola last January we cleared in at West End, Soper’s Hole. It’s a small harbor that had a wonderful little waterfront area, including a Pusser’s Rum store and restaurant. This is the spot where I enjoyed spending time at last winter. And Pusser’s restaurant and store was a dominant feature on shore. Here’s a shot, just past Pussers and what it looks like now. There isn’t a leaf on anything up on the hill A view of the charming waterfront and shops, before. This is what the hill looked like before Irma with Pandora in the foreground. Many opt to leave their boats in the BVIs for the summer and although marinas there use huge concrete blocks to secure the boats firmly to the ground, this is the sort of scene that greeted owners after Irma in nearly every marina. Another island that was hit hard by Irma was St Martin, an island that Brenda and I loved visiting last winter. The French side was particularly charming. This was the market that we enjoyed spending time at. This is the view from the top of the hill now. And, the cemetery downtown. This mall in town, before and after. We walked in most of the stores while we visited. And a view from there to the downtown market in the background. We spent time in a little seaside village Grand Cass just up the coast. We loved the beautiful umbrellas lining the beach. And the charming streets lined with little French restaurants. We had a wonderful Valentine’s dinner at this spot. Here’s that same street now. Total devastation. Irma was a massive storm. This satellite shot shows how big Irma was as she carved a path of destruction on her way to the U.S. It’s hard to imagine the massive force a storm like this brings.
And these waves were captured at a point that wasn’t even the height of the storm before the winds kicked in. It’s sobering to see so many loose so much and I am hopeful that these islands can get back on their feet soon and return as the tourist and sailing Meccas that they have been for generations.
Amazingly, while many islands suffered enormous damage others were spared including Antigua, where Brenda and I spent a lot of time last season. We are looking forward to visiting there again in November with the SDSA rally which will make landfall there instead of the hurricane stricken BVIs. If you’ve been tempted to visit Antigua yourself, click here to learn more about the 2017 Salty Dawg Rally to the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, the Salty Dawg Board has set up a fund to benefit the BVIs in particular and with your help they will recover soon. Want to learn more?
It’s going to be a long time until these islands are brought back to the beautiful places that the once were but if history is any guide, it won’t take as long as you’d think. These are resilient people and with help they will recover.