Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest hurricanes on record, made landfall on the northern-most islands of the Caribbean on September 6th, 2017.
Irma marched mercilessly across Barbuda, St Barths, St Martin, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, Cuba and, five days after first devastating the leeward islands, it hit Florida.
That was a long week.
It’s that time of year where Nick and I, and most other sailors who cruise the Caribbean, keep one eye on the weather forecast at all times. (Never mind that our boat is safe and sound in Charleston- we still take a keen interest in the weather, not least because many of our friends are still sailing around in the hurricane zone.) It was shaping up to be a strong hurricane season. Many friends on Facebook who are cruising in the Caribbean were constantly updating their safety status in relation to the most recent named storm (there have been 11 in the Caribbean so far this year, 6 of which have been hurricanes). It seemed that no sooner had they dodged one storm or hurricane, another was forming out in the Atlantic and making its inexorable way westward.
Irma looked nasty from the beginning. Even several days out she was a Category 3, with predictions that she would only strengthen as she continued her advance towards land. The forecast shifted north and south a little, but by the time she was a few days out, it was looking pretty certain that the northern leewards would get a battering. All my friends and cruisers I follow on social media who were in Irma’s path began to make preparations. Quite a few chose to head south, and more still made the dash to southern Peurto Rico. Friends flew out to their boats in order to secure them, and others jumped on planes and went the other way, towards safety.
Not long before Irma hit Barbuda, she was upgraded to a Category 5. My good friend Brittany from the popular blog Windtraveler wrote on Facebook that she feared she was going to lose their boat. “Surely not!” I thought. I mean, yeah, hurricane- but Nanny Cay in Tortola, where her boat was stored, is one of the best hurricane holes in the entire Caribbean. Nick and I had seriously considered storing out boat there for hurricane season after falling in love with the BVI’s in February, and were only deterred by their relatively high prices and the fact that we were desperate to see the Bahamas. In deciding to continue north, we inadvertently avoided disaster. Brittany and her family, along with countless others, were not so lucky.
The first image I saw of the destruction was this one below. It took several long seconds for my brain to make sense of what my eyes were seeing. Once understanding dawned, I suddenly realised that I- along with many other people- had vastly underestimated what the terrible force of nature is truly capable of.
I hoped the Virgin Islands that we had so loved sailing around were somehow going to escape that level of decimation. Irma hit Tortola overnight Australian time, and I stayed up on Facebook waiting for my friends to confirm that everything was okay. Instead, here were a couple of the early images that were shared on social media.
The media is a fickle thing. I’ve deliberately not written anything on our blog up until now, because there was enough attention being drawn to the devastation of Irma and I didn’t feel that I had anything unique to say (well, still don’t, but here we are). Journalists have now descended onto the islands, the stories of the decimation and the plight of the locals dealing with the aftermath are getting published, and the public are still interested and wanting to help. But it won’t be long before this is just another tragic thing that happened once, and many of us would have moved on. That’s okay. That’s human nature. But before that happens, if you would like to contribute then there are many excellent charities who are helping with both the immediate relief effort, and the long-term rebuild.
- BVI Relief is a website that directs you to some of the various organisations involved in the relief effort, all of which are gratefully accepting donations.
- Our friends Brittany and Scott who have lost their home and business are raising money via a crowdfunding campaign. Not a single dollar is going towards replacing what they personally have lost; instead, they are dedicating all their efforts and donations to rebuilding their beloved BVI’s. They are buying supplies that are desperately needed, and have already purchased $30,000 worth of tarps to provide roofs for homes that are now, well, roofless. They’re doing amazing work.
- Richard Branson needs no introduction. He is personally covering all overhead costs, which means your donation will be spent on the actual relief effort and buying supplies, equipment, building materials, food, water, and everything else that is needed. Donate right here.
- Last, but certainly not least, is a brilliant organisation called Sailors Helping. They are a group of dedicated sailors on the ground in Peurto Rico who are doing a magnificent job of providing immediate support, evacuation and delivery of supplies to the BVI’s and USVI’s. Additionally, they’re organising for cruisers, boaters and sailors to help with the rebuild this cruising season, so if you’re interested then please sign up on their website.
Aid has been slow to come. Hurricane Jose didn’t help the relief efforts one little bit- but help is now arriving. The British military, pictured above, has landed at Nanny Cay and people are finally receiving supplies and getting evacuated. It’s early days, but the BVI’s, the USVI’s, St Martin, St Barts, Barbuda, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, Cuba and the outer islands of the Bahamas will survive. (Florida, you’ll be fine too. Don’t want you to feel left out.) The islands themselves will recover: trees will regrow, coral will regenerate and the sealife and wildlife will replenish. Houses will be rebuilt, and I have no doubt that the resorts, marinas and yacht clubs will spring back up in no time. Those who love these islands as much as we do, I encourage you to give them a bit of time to rebuild and then go there on holiday! Tourism is their main form of industry; never mind that there might be a few less palm trees, or perhaps your favourite bar might still be undergoing a reconstruction. By spending your money locally, you’ll certainly be doing your bit to help these wonderful islands regain their previous glory.