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Author: Jody - Where The Coconuts Grow

Jody lives compactly aboard a 42' sailboat with her husband Peter, baby boy Brig, and their furry four-legged little girl, Betsy. She traded in the corporate conundrum for a life less ordinary and is now island-hopping around the Caribbean. Between a quirky obsession with organizing, capturing pretty pictures, diving with turtles and burying her toes in the sand, she feeds a passion for writing by blogging about their adventures in search of surf, sun, sand and serenity Where The Coconuts Grow.

Surviving Hurricane Irma

Our worst nightmare came true.

Peter, Betsy and our boat were in the BVI, in the path of a historical Category 5 direct hit from Hurricane Irma on September 6th, 2017.

(Islands outlined in purple in the photo above are the USVI. Road Town is the main city on Tortola, part of the British Virgin Islands, Northwest of the eye)

Brig and I had flown off island two days prior “just in case” while Peter stayed behind to secure our boat as well as our employer’s work boats in a mad dash to protect both our home and our livelihood.

It wasn’t until last minute that it was even an option for Brig and I to leave. Technically, Brig could not enter the U.S. without a passport. Since he was born in BVI and does not qualify for a BVI passport, we needed to wait until the US Consulate from Barbados came to visit in BVI to apply for his US passport.  This only happens twice a year and we still had several weeks before the next scheduled visit. Given our circumstances with an impending life threatening storm headed for us, the US Customs and Boarder Protection at the St Thomas airport granted me special permission to let us travel with just a birth certificate for him instead. The day after we arrived in the states we applied for Brig’s passport in person and have since resolved the issue. If it wasn’t for this ridiculousness of not being able to get Brig a passport immediately after he was born, we would have either hauled our boat out of the water like we did last hurricane season and flew up to the states to visit family, or we would have sailed down to Grenada where statistically fewer hurricanes ever hit. This year, we made the best hurricane plan we could with the circumstances we were given.

Irma was only a Cat-3 when I left and we had no idea it would strengthen as much as it did. Not only did it grow to become a major Category 5 hurricane, “Irma sustained 185 mph (295 km/h) winds for 37 hours, becoming the only tropical cyclone worldwide to have had winds that speed for that long, breaking the previous record of 24 hours set by Typhoon Haiyan of 2013″ according to Wikipedia.

I watched the news on TV as the eye passed over the entire country of BVI with wind gusts reached a frightening 220 mph. When wind increases, the force is not just incremental, it’s exponential. I can’t even comprehend that… I’m so thankful I have the support of my family – but especially during those awful hours when my communication with Peter was cut off. I couldn’t even take care of myself, let alone my baby. It was absolutely torture for me to know what had just happened to St Martin hours before and that Peter was now going through the same unspeakable disaster. I was terrified for my husband’s life. Thanks to Scott and Brittany’s satellite phone, he was able to call me as soon as the storm calmed down enough for him to go outside.

During the storm, Peter and a few others hid inside a well-built home up in the Belmont neighborhood on the West End of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. The house they thought would act as a fortress ended up with blown out windows behind hurricane shutters and was stripped of it’s roof. Debris blocking the roads to the lower part of the island caused them to hike by foot over the wreckage in order to go anywhere. They had the satellite phone which they used to relay messages for me to post on our facebook page in the early days following Hurricane Irma, and they were also able to reach other survivors to let them make calls to their family and loved ones. With great effort, Peter and others that wish to remain anonymous helped facilitate several medical emergency rescues as well.

Our boat was tucked away inside one of the well known hurricane holes and it took days for Peter to get back down there to check on her. At first glance he saw she was still floating! Hopes were high that our boat might have been one of the very few boats to survive. A closer look, however, revealed that our home had been destroyed. Peter did everything he could but no amount of preparation could have saved our boat or prevented any of the widespread destruction caused by Irma. Cleats and winches were completely ripped off. The mizzenmast was detached and tangled in the rigging of a nearby boat. The hull deck joints were severely cracked, and the vessel was bringing on water below the waterline from an unknown origin. Stanchions and chainplates ripped out of the decks.  Bow pulpit crushed. Bulkheads smashed. Most of the electrical system nonoperational. Mud, dirt and debris inside the boat. Water damage and mold everywhere. She was simply battered beyond repair.  What really salts our wounds is that while the boat was left clinging to the sides of other boats that had been tied to the mangroves, a family of rats had taken up residence in our absence of just a few short days and had been chewing, pooping and peeing on everything inside our boat. If there was ever a hope of salvaging any of our personal belongings, it was now completely gone.

It feels like it took a lifetime to gather the few items we brought with us when we moved aboard our boat four years ago. We couldn’t fit much in our 42′ sailboat but the things we did have in our tiny floating home meant the world to us. Every tool had multiple purposes. Everything that wasn’t a tool had a specific purpose or sentimental value. Friends and family had sent us all we would ever need for the first two years of Brig’s life. We had everything we would ever need for our whole family and we lost it all.

It took two weeks to finally get Peter and Betsy out of there. Thanks to our friends at Three Sheets Sailing, they were able to get on a relief boat in Tortola that was returning to St Croix where they could then take a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, then Houston, and finally arriving to Seattle, Washington late Sunday night. Although the Royal Navy had imposed martial law with territory-wide curfews, Peter still didn’t feel safe staying on Tortola. Everyone left there is just surviving. With such a significant lack of infrastructure it will be awhile before island life can continue as normal. Although the states doesn’t feel like home for us, we are all glad that our little family is together and safe.

(The above photo shows how Betsy had to ride on the plane from St Croix to Puerto Rico as there was no room for her by Peter’s feet.)

Part of me actually feels guilty that I wasn’t there and will never know what Peter went through. I will never understand the sheer terror he experienced. He literally survived a direct hit from one of the strongest category-5 hurricanes on record on earth. I know the most important thing is that he and Betsy are safe and our little family is whole again, but the grief and emotions surrounding the loss of our home and the shattering of our dreams are overwhelming. I recently read a post by Charlotte Kaufman about what she learned from Losing Rebel Heart and her words explain it best.

Before he left BVI, Peter did the best he could to re-secure our boat back on the dock with all the lines he had left. He sealed up all the cracks he was able to, cleared out the bilge and hooked up a solar panel in hopes that there will be enough power to run the bilge at all. Even if he could’ve salvaged anything off of our boat, there was nowhere safe and dry on island to store any of it. With Hurricane Maria on the way, the best thing Peter could do for our family was to get out of there. Hurricane Maria didn’t end up being a direct hit for BVI but it passed just south of the Virgin Islands and was the second Category-5 hurricane to devastate the Caribbean within a period of two weeks. At this point we have no idea if our boat is still floating or if she incurred any further damage. Hopefully our boat will still be accessible, floating, and not looted by the time any insurance surveyors ever come to inspect her.

We’ve filed a claim with our insurance company but I was told that it will take a very, very long time for it to be processed, if they ever make good on it. The volume of destruction that the BVI sustained is unimaginable. These islands that so many people love and cherish have been completely decimated. Everyone that survived this historical disaster are forever changed.

Basically there is nothing left for us to go back to right now. We are homeless and unemployed along with so many others that lived in the islands. There are very few structures for anyone to shelter in and not even a hotel for us to stay at. It will be a long time before power and water is restored and basic necessities are available to everyone.

BVI is where Brig was born and where our hearts will always belong. Our home, our jobs, and all our belongings are gone and our cherished islands have been practically leveled, but Peter and I would still love to go back. We would love to help the islands rebuild and help uncover the magic buried beneath the rubble that so many of us found there in a time before Irma and Maria. With enough support from those that feel the same way, it will happen. The islands will rebuild and start over.

To see many photos of the devastation, visit our facebook page where I’ve shared tons of photos that others have posted.

How You Can Help:

Individual Families:

Many of you have reached out asking how you can help *us* during this difficult time. You know who you are and we can’t thank you enough. Your kind words and generosity means more to us than you will ever know. If there is anyone else interested in how to help us directly, here are a few ways:

  • Donate via the PayPal donate button at the bottom of our website (Donations made directly from one paypal account to another incur no fees. Donations made via paypal  with a credit card incur a standard fee of 2.9% + $0.30 deducted before reaching us).
  • Donate via the YouCaring fundraiser that Stacy Najar set up to help us to get back on our feet. (Donations made via YouCaring with a credit card incur a standard fee of 2.9% + $0.30 deducted before reaching us. YouCaring has zero additional platform fees unlike sites such as Gofundme). www.youcaring.com/wherethecoconutsgrow
  • Use our Amazon Affiliate link at the bottom of our website! This is no additional cost to you but means a lot to us. If you click our link before making a purchase on Amazon, we get a small commission. Just save our website as a favorite in your web browser and it’s only one extra click to use our link before doing your regular Amazon shopping.

-ALSO-

The Soeters Family – Very good friends of ours Darcy, Luuck, Stormer and Rio of the Sunkissed Soeters lost their boat and all of their belongings when Hurricane Irma made a direct hit on Sint Maarten, and unfortunately they were not insured.  Like us, they are now staying with family back in the states until we can all figure out what to do next and how to get back to doing what makes us happy.

USVI “Adopt a Family”

Communities as a whole:

So many relief funds have been created in support of the islands affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Here are just a few of the links dedicated to supporting the devastated communities as a whole:

BVI:

BVI RELIEF – Links for multiple options for donating money and donating supplies, news, resources and a gallery

Convoy of Hope – First responders to disasters all over the world

BVI Immediate Relief – Set up by our good friends Brittany and Scott for immediate relief on the ground in BVI

BVI Hurricane Irma Relief – Yacht Sea Boss providing relief supplies to BVI

BVI Meals 4 Kids – Al Broderick and The Lunch Box feeding hot meals to children in Tortola

#BVISTRONG Gear Shop Remember the Adventure’s #BVISTRONG gear shop where 100% of the proceeds go to VISAR’S BVI Relief Fund

VISAR BVI Relief Fund Virgin Islands Search and Rescue directing funds to those most in need in BVI

BVI Community Support Appeal – Fund for long term reconstruction of BVI, Virgin Unite’s overhead costs are covered 100% by Richard Branson & the Virgin Group

BVI Medical Supplies – Medical Supplies requested for the hospital in Tortola

Virgin Gorda Relief Fund – Community aid for the residents and infrastructure of Virgin Gorda

Jost Van Dyke Humanitarian Aid – Basic life saving needs and community recovery for Jost Van Dyke

 

Most importantly, the BVI SAFETY CHECK website was created just for people to search for loved ones and mark people as safe.

PLEASE know that BVI is not the only area that needs help. The US media coverage has primarily focused on Florida but Barbuda, St Barts, Anguilla, St. Martin, USVI, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Turks and Caicos, Bahamas and Florida have ALL incurred apocalyptic damage from both Irma and Maria and left an unimaginable amount of people homeless and left with nothing. What makes it even worse is thinking of the combined damage from #Harvey#Irma#Jose#Katia, #Maria#mexicoearthquake#wildfires and so many other worldwide disasters all happening in such a short period of time. The fact that looting and civil unrest quickly spiraled out of control after these events is just heartbreaking when our world is hurting so much. Luckily most of it is now back under control. Everyone needs to come together NOW more than ever. Do what you can, however you can, to help somehow.

 

Caribbean in General:

Sailors Helping – Info on how to support several islands in the Caribbean that have been devastated

International Rescue Group – Disaster relief and humanitarian aid

 

USVI:

USVI Irma & Maria Relief Fund – For USVI residents in need

St John Rescue – For the St. John Community

St John Community Foundation – Resources for the St. John Community

Love for Love City – Kenny Chesney’s fundraising campaign for Disaster Relief in USVI and BVI

Tim Duncan VI Relief – Relief fund matching every dollar for the USVI up to $1 million

Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands – Relief for short term and long term critical needs in USVI

Irma Relief for our Sister Islands – Relief for St. Thomas and St. John coordinated from St. Croix

Art for Love City – Proceeds go to Love for Love City relief fund

United Way USVI – United Way Relief fund for USVI

USVI Amazon Wish List – USVI and surrounding islands delivered by relief crews

ReVIve the VI – St. Thomas community relief

 

St Martin / Sint Maarten:

St Maarten Hurricane Irma Relief – Funds will go to families affected by Irma

Rebuild SXM – Foundation set up to help rebuild St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, and Saba

Dutch Sister Islands Fund – Dutch Sint Maarten relief

French St. Martin – French St. Martin relief

 

Dominica:

Fund Directive – Emergency relief for Dominica

The Dominica Red Cross – Local nonprofit relief

 

Turks and Caicos:

Turks and Caicos Hurricane Relief – Helping families, churches and the community rebuild

Turks & Caicos Relief Fund – Helping all those affected in T&C by Hurricane Irma

Turks & Caicos Just Giving – Relief efforts in T&C

 

Barbuda:

Halo Foundation – Barbuda Relief Efforts

Barbuda Hurricane Irma Relief – Senator Freeland’s relief team

Barbuda Recovery and Conservation Trust Fund – International Community Foundation’s page for Barbuda Relief

 

Bahamas:

Bahamas Humane Society

Bahamas – You Caring

 

 

If you want to help but aren’t able to donate, please share this post! 

Hurricane Irma

So, Hurricane Irma has been barreling across the Atlantic during the last few days and she’s headed right for us. Though the forecast doesn’t show her as a direct hit, all bets are off with a major (Cat3 and above) hurricane. The most reliable model is the Euro and that has it coming straight for us. The less reliable GFS model shows it going further North of us. The two models still don’t agree and we are anywhere from 4-5 days out. The direction and strength can change so fast despite what the forecast models show so we pretty much have to prepare for the worst.

It’s really difficult to wrap my brain around this, especially after the recent flooding we had here on Tortola and all the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas. I mean, I know it’s peak hurricane season here in the Caribbean but you just never think it’s gonna happen to you. I’m really good at being in denial about stuff like this. It’s our fourth hurricane season and really the first time we’ve ever had to “expect” a named storm on our doorstep.

I’m actually pretty emotional about the whole thing. Granted, I have all these postpartum hormones making it worse, but Peter and I made a decision to have me fly off island with Brig. It’s just not worth risking our safety with something this big and this strong coming so close.

It wasn’t until just two days ago that this was even an option. Technically, he cannot enter the U.S. without a passport. Since he was born in BVI and does not qualify for a BVI passport, we technically have to wait until the US Consulate in Barbados comes to visit here in BVI to apply for his US passport.  Well, given our circumstances with an impending life threatening storm headed for us, the US Customs and Boarder Protection agency at the St Thomas airport has granted me special permission to let us travel with just a birth certificate for him instead of a passport.  The moment they told me that, I of course started to cry with relief. I don’t want to have to go anywhere but it really is the best thing.

Peter is going to stay here and continue to secure our boat for as long as it’s safe before taking shelter somewhere nearby. He’ll have Betsy to care for but at least he won’t have the added stress of making sure Brig and I are safe too. I’m going to take a ferry from Tortola to St Thomas and catch a flight out on Monday. I will be going up to stay with my family in Washington State far away from the Caribbean and the East Coast.

Its a decision we wouldn’t have made if we didn’t have Brig. I would’ve just stayed here and helped Peter with the safeguarding of our home. Everyone knows that when you have kids, your life changes. Your priorities change. You make different decisions. You do what’s best for your children no matter what.

A round trip ticket cost me $1400 two days ago with one three hour layover via American Airlines. Now there are no more American flights, and tickets are $1500 only available with Jet Blue with two layovers including one for 10 hours. ($2200 with United). I pretty much got one of the last decent flights available to fly out Monday. Let’s hope they didn’t overbook it.

Our boat is in the best possible location it could be in. Literally, the best spot inside this hurricane hole. The boat really shouldn’t see any waves at all and should feel reduced wind. Peter will do everything he can to make sure our home is safe.

I’m just sick about leaving my husband, my dog and my home in the path of a hurricane. Everything could be totally fine and then again it could be really bad. I pray they will be safe and that I will have a home to come back to. Everything we own is on that boat. It’s insured of course and it’s just stuff, but I can’t imagine losing everything I own in a natural disaster.

It happens all over the world. The west coast gets earthquakes and is due for “the big one”. The midwest gets tornadoes. We get hurricanes. I suppose we should be grateful we have so much warning.

I’m sure the cell towers will be down for quite some time so I may not be able to hear from Peter. I’m going to be worried sick. Power will be off island wide and he’ll be relying on the water and food supply we have stocked up. If the boat fares well, he’ll be able to stay aboard after the storm. If not, one person has offered their home to us so atleast Peter and Betsy will have a place to go either after the storm or before if things get too crazy.  Before I made my flight reservation we really didn’t have anywhere on land to go, so it wasn’t even a question of whether or not I should leave.

If you pray, please pray for us and for everyone in Irma’s path. We need all the positive vibes we can get…

I may not get a chance to post an update to our website as the storm approaches, but I will definitely be updating our Facebook page as I have more info. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account you can still see updates by clicking HERE

To all my friends and family in WA… now’s your chance to meet Brig! Send me a message <3

A New View

It’s Hurricane Season here in the Caribbean and we’ve got a new backyard view! We’ve actually been here since just days after Brig was born but it’s been hard to find time to keep up on the blog during these first newborn weeks ;)

It’s a time of year where anxiety can make you sick to your stomach. When your home is floating in the path of a potential named storm, all kinds of thoughts start racing through your head.

We spent our first two hurricane seasons down in Grenada, which is statistically in a zone that gets less hurricanes, luckily without any action.  Last year we hauled out in BVI and this year we are staying aboard in BVI. So far we have not experienced any named storms (knock on wood!) but we are always making sure we’re prepared.

This year has already been fairly active and there were a few systems that looked like they were coming our way but either dissipated or redirected before reaching the Virgins. Peter and I have spent countless hours discussing what we would do in the event of a named storm.

While we trust our mooring ball (that we’ve spent the last two years on) in heavy weather, we don’t necessarily trust it in a named storm especially because now we have Brig. For the duration of Hurricane Season this year we decided to move our boat into a marina that is tucked way inside a designated hurricane hole here on Tortola just so we don’t have to worry about moving it if something comes up. Also, since we have to wait until the end of September to get Brig a passport, we can’t just haul our boat out of the water and fly back to the states to wait out the rest of the season there like we did last year. Not to mention, it’s incredibly expensive for us to do that. Aside from sitting on a mooring, hauling out, or moving to a dock, the fourth option would be to anchor out and hope for the best. We know a few people that have literally been the last boat floating while being anchored in a major storm.

Unfortunately, there are very few spots in BVI to anchor your boat – let alone considering if they would be safe. There are so many mooring balls installed for the charter boats that it leaves very few places left to drop the hook. Given our options here in BVI, we are pretty happy with our current situation from a safety standpoint. We will make every effort to secure our boat the best we can in a named storm, but when it really comes down to it, we’re insured. In fact, I’ve been finalizing our renewal this week. It’s definitely a relief to know we are completely covered for crazy things like hurricanes.

While I ABSOLUTELY despise being tied to the dock, it does have a few perks. For one, the Virgin Islands are H-O-T this time of year so being plugged into shore power allows us to use the air conditioning 24/7. Well, it actually requires us to run the A/C 24/7 because if we didn’t we would roast. Its even hotter tucked away inside this hurricane hole than it would be back on our mooring in West End. There are also a ton of mosquitoes when you’re close to shore so that’s another reason we have to keep the boat all closed up. Even though I’m not pregnant anymore, I’m still concerned about Zika. I must admit it’s also nice to have air conditioning when I’ve got a fussy baby though. Secondly, it makes it much easier to take Betsy for a walk. She can practically take herself potty – something she can’t do from our mooring.

Then of course there’s the fact that we can park our car right next to the boat, there is laundry, a gym, our favorite restaurant, and a little grocery market all within a very short walk. Sure it’s convenient, but it’s just not the same as floating out on the water away from everyone else. I look at dock life like being in an apartment complex and our mooring as more like a neighborhood with big spacious lots :)

I cannot wait to get back to our beautiful home in West End!! Yes, I’ll probably miss the air conditioning, but I sure do love when the fresh Caribbean breeze blows through our hatches to cool us down.

First Beach Day

While my dad and Stacy were here, we decided to take Brig down to the beach just outside their condo at Long Bay. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with a perfect, picturesque view all around us. A nice big palm tree cast a perfect shadow on the sand with lots of space to keep us out of the hot sun.  His little skin is so fragile so we are careful to keep him shaded if we do have to go into the sun with him.

I set up the little shade tent that dad and Stacy got for us and gave it a whirl. It sets up in an instant, provides plenty of shade and is big enough for me to sit in there with him. The only bummer part about it was that the wind had started to pick up a little and sand was blowing every which way. I was worried about sand getting in Brig’s eyes so we didn’t stay down at the beach very long but it was still fun for his first time!

While we sat up in the shade, we watched Nana and Grandma Stacy float around in the crystal blue water. Peter had to work that day so we decided to wait for daddy before letting Brig go in the ocean for the first time ;) Even though I didn’t go swimming, I still loved every second of being down by the water. Next time, Brig and I will be out there too! Before I know it, he’ll be a little fish just like his daddy so I wasn’t too bummed about missing out on the cool waves.

Sometimes I look at the pictures I take here in BVI and I can’t believe how gorgeous it all is.  We’re so lucky to be able to call this place home…

Brig’s First Sail

For the first seven weeks of Brig’s life we had a constant stream of visiting Grandparents. My mom arrived the day after he was born and stayed for just over a month.  Then my dad and stepmom arrived, then Peter’s dad and his aunt were here. We got a little bit of overlap in each visit and it was so much fun.

It was such a special time for us so we decided to take Brig for his first sail! He had already been in the dinghy a few times but he was ready to actually go sailing. Since we had moved our boat to the dock and secured her for the remainder of hurricane season it was much easier to take Aristocat instead. There were no charters scheduled that day so it worked out perfect. Jen and Mike from Three Sheets came with us and brought their friend Shakti. Mike has been running Aristocat since Brig was born so he and Peter took care of all the sailing. It was nice for me to be back on board but it was even nicer that all I had to do was take care of Brig ;)

This was the first time Dad and Stacy could see what we had been up to for nearly two years aboard Aristocat. The last time they had visited us in the islands was before we started working so this was pretty exciting for them. They had heard so much about what we did everyday and they finally got to experience it first hand!

Mom couldn’t be happier. We were headed to her favorite place in the entire world. AND, she was taking her grandson there! She was glowing the whole way!

We sailed over to White Bay, Jost Van Dyke for the day. Brig is still too young to wear sunscreen so I kept him in the shade with me on the boat while everyone else swam to shore and had fun on the beach.

We even took an afternoon nap on the boat while everyone else was having fun on shore. I think Brig, Betsy and Peter got more sleep than I did but I did manage to doze a tiny bit.

Jen, Shakti, dad, Mike, and mom… Stacy was behind the camera. They were clearly enjoying a few Painkillers at the Soggy Dollar Bar!

I think the most memorable part of the whole day was sharing Brig’s first sail experience with both my mom and my dad. I can’t even remember when I was last around them both at the same time. Babies have a way of bringing everyone together! Brig sure is loved by a lot of people <3