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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! 

Cinnamon Bay Estate Ruins

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After visiting the Annaberg Sugar Plantation with Peter’s Dad, Wiley, we continued our tour around the island of St. John.

In Cruz Bay, we stopped for fresh fruit smoothies.

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These handsome gentlemen were telling jokes all day long, making us all laugh :)

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The view of Cruz Bay, Great St. James Island and the Eastern tip of St. Thomas is breathtaking.

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We stopped at several of the postcard-worthy beaches…

 

…and we even got to see the wild donkeys along the roadside!

The Cinnamon Bay Estate was one of the most prosperous sugar cane operations on the island in the 1700’s. Situation on the North side of the island, ruins from the factory can be found along the Cinnamon Bay Loop Trail, preserved by the National Park Service.

We walked through the majestic forest and saw where the inner bark of the trees had been scraped off. This bark is dried to make raw cinnamon.

At the end of the trail we walked across the street to see what Cinnamon Bay looks like from the campground. We are used to looking in from the mooring field, never from land, so it was fun to see a new perspective.

 

Back at our boat we finished off the day with a gorgeous double rainbow! :)

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Annaberg Sugar Mill

I can hardly believe how the time flies. You might think we are lounging around with our feet propped up, drinking fruity drinks and basking in the sun all day, however that is far from the truth!! I honestly don’t know where the time goes. One minute we are tackling a project on the never-ending list of repairs and maintenance. Other times we are just keeping up with household chores like cooking meals, doing dishes, hiking to the Laundromat, or grooming Betsy.

Since there’s not much time in the day for relaxing on the beach, I usually have to sneak in a little bit of computer-time for blog posts and editing photos. We have just a few days before Peter’s Dad, Wiley, arrives to visit again and I’ve just realized I haven’t even posted all the photos from his last visit!!

Last time Wiley was here, he brought his sister, Emma. One of our adventures was to show them a tour of St. John. Our buddy Yisrael drove us in his taxi-van, taking the small car ferry from St. Thomas to St. John. It was a very strange movement, quite different from the way our boat moves through the waves, and also different from the way a passenger ferry feels. After a tipsy ride, we arrived at the West end of the island near Cruz Bay and set out to see the Annaberg Sugar Plantation.

Constructed between 1797 and 1805, the Annaberg Plantation spanned 1,300 acres and was operated by 662 enslaved workers.

The sugar mill ruins were officially turned over to the Virgin Islands National Park in 1956. We spent quite a bit of time talking to the National Park Service volunteers during our visit and really enjoyed learning about the history of this beautiful island. For anyone else visiting the US Virgin Islands, this stop is a great alternative if watersports aren’t your cup of tea!


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Time To Head South

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Well boys and girls, the time has come for us to begin our journey South again. Where has the time gone?! We are two months into “H” season and before August is upon us we want to get down to the Windward Islands where statistically fewer named storms travel through.

If a ‘big one’ comes, we can race down to Trinidad with a few hundred other cruisers who will be watching the weather with us several times a day. The forecast for this H season is very light so we’re not too worried, though we are always cautious.

A favorable weather window has opened beginning this Friday 6.17.15. We’ll leave cozy Christmas Cove and sail up to Virgin Gorda, then point toward Guadeloupe and beyond!

Last year we made this journey at the end of June. You may recall how our first time through the OH-MY-GOD-A (Anegada) Passage went, but if you’re new to our blog, be sure to take a few minutes and read it here —> http://wp.me/p41bpr-IO

We definitely hope for a less eventful and more restful passage this time around.

If all goes to plan, our buddy-boat Necesse will be traveling with us. Eben will be returning this Thursday from a wild and crazy sailing adventure off the coast of Tanzania so he may want to wait until the next weather window before they follow in our wake. Either way, we look forward to many new adventures down island with them!

Only another week or two and we’ll be back at our FAVORITE place in the Caribbean, The Tobago Cays!

Dad Comes To Visit

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In December, Dad and Stacy finally came down to visit us! Although they had never seen the boat in person, they were so excited to take a vacation and come visit us that they booked a whole three weeks!

Stacy was able to use timeshare credits for a smokin’ deal at The Elysian Hotel which is directly across from where our boat was in Christmas Cove. They spent the first three days of their trip with a view from shore. Palm trees, a sandy beach, good food, and iguanas! What more could you ask for?

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They spent a bit of time exploring on land after making friends with our favorite taxi driver, Yisrael, who moonlights as a jumbie dancer at Iggie’s.

Eventually it came time for them to move aboard and join us in Christmas Cove.

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We spent a day or two enjoying the clear blue water and took them on some snorkeling expeditions. Check out this tiny little fish that lives inside a hole in the coral… can you see him?

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Peter and I shared the beauty and peacefulness of the evenings with Dad and Stacy. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but photos still just don’t do this lifestyle justice. You’ve got to see it in person to really take it all in.

It was just the beginning of their trip but they had already seen so many beautiful moments. I can only hope this helps them understand a bit more about why I’m down here in the Caribbean instead of back in rainy Seattle where they came from.

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We sailed away from Christmas Cove toward the South side of St. John.

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“Sure doesn’t look like the daily commute you’re used to, does it Dad?”

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In the quiet little anchorage we settled in, we spotted deer swimming across the bay! They scattered up over the rocky shore and up into the hillside.

We spent the next couple of days enjoying the solitude of the South side and Dad was quick to pick up the nearest power tool to help Peter with a few urgent boat projects. Together they reengineered the brackets for our two new 155-watt Kyocera solar panels which would replace the two 80-watt panels that were on either side of our lifelines. The 80’s got moved up to the bow and rewired in series to add a little boost to our solar array, though they aren’t as efficient as they used to be.

The reason for the urgency to add more solar panels is because our two 105-watt Aurinco panels had both just failed. They are still both under warranty but the manufacturer is refusing to honor the 2-year 100% warranty and it has turned into a huge mess. We depend on solar power to run our systems on a daily basis and to have our two strongest panels both simultaneously fail after less than a years time, we couldn’t waste any time in replacing them with panels we could trust. It got to a point where we couldn’t run our 12-volt watermaker without having the generator on. Disappointing to say the least. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on all the details of this nasty mess and why we strongly discourage anyone from purchasing semi-flexible Aurinco Solar Panels.

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We took plenty of time to play around in the water and show Dad and Stacy how we like to spend our afternoons :)

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Gunner and Betsy got to go to shore and run around!

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Gunner usually needs a little convincing before he will swim around.

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And of course, Peter and Dad went fishing every chance they could :) I don’t think I’ve met anyone that loves to fish more than these two.

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Stay tuned for more adventures from when Dad and Stacy visited back in December!

We’re currently back in Christmas Cove where I am working at Pizza Pi. We are preparing to head back down island to Grenada in just a few weeks. My oh my how the time flies…