EYE OF THE STORM: Cleaning Up the Mess in the Caribbean

18 Sep

Maria satellite image

Here we go again! Hurricane Maria, now a Category 5 storm, has reportedly devastated the island of Dominica and is expected to clobber Puerto Rico on Wednesday, give the Dominican Republic a glancing blow early Thursday morning, and then run right over the Turks and Caicos on Friday.

Maria track

Meanwhile, the islands of Barbuda, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and St. Thomas are still reeling from the direct hits they so recently suffered from Hurricane Irma.

Irma track

Irma infrared

An infrared image of the eye of Irma directly over Barbuda, where she first made landfall. The beginning of a long train of destruction. The residents of Barbuda have all been evacuated to nearby Antigua, as pretty much every building on the island was demolished

The Caribbean sailing and marine community, not to mention the community at large, is taking it in the teeth. The loss of life, thankfully, has been relatively small (so far), but the damage done has been phenomenal. The term “biblical” is not at all inappropriate. To get a good idea of what it’s like on the ground in these places, you should check out the Facebook feed of Paul Exner, a sailor based on Tortola: “We function between insomnia, sleep deprivation, and adrenaline.”

Or just study some pix, which I’m sure you’ve been doing already.


This is Chanticleer, a Valiant 40 belonging to my buddy Jeff Bolster, which he had stored at Village Cay Marina in Road Town, Tortola. Judging from this photo she did fairly well: dismasted, ruined lifelines and pulpits, but at least she’s afloat. The problem now is how to get to her and fix her. You may recall that Chanticleer also weathered a direct hit on Bermuda from Hurricane Gonzalo just three years ago. So this is my new personal hurricane-avoidance strategy: find out where Jeff is putting his boat, then go somewhere else

Road Town

Meanwhile, the rest of Road Town is looking like this. An extremely post-nuclear scene

Bitter End

The remains of the Bitter End Yacht Club over on Virgin Gorda


Marigot, on St. Martin, during the storm

Orient Bay

Orient Bay, on the east coast of St. Martin, not far from Oyster Pond, my favorite winter base on the island


French troops on St. Martin. Civil order has broken down on some islands and military units have had to come in to keep the peace

This is hurricane damage far beyond anything the islands have suffered before. Several relief efforts are springing up, including some involving yachts and the yachting community. One of these is being thrown together by my old partner-in-crime, Hank Schmitt, of Offshore Passage Opportunities. You’ll recall he started giving back to the islands a few years back when he first raised a bit of money to help Albert, his favorite “boat boy” on Dominica, build a new boat. Then he raised more money to install a mooring field off Portsmouth in Dominica, so as to encourage more yachts to put in there. Since then he’s also started working to create similar programs on other islands.

Now he feels compelled to do what he can for the marine community on St. Martin, which, like so many of us, he has used as a base over several winters.

Check out the OPO website and you’ll see you can make donations to one or both of these efforts. You can also sign up to crew on yachts taking supplies down to St. Martin.

If you want to take a look at some other relief efforts, a good place to start is by checking out my SAILfeed compadre Behan Gifford, who’s down in Grenada on her boat and has published this survey of relief projects she has learned about.

If you want to help Paul Exner specifically, you should check out Andy Schell, another SAILfeed compadre, who has organized a very focused relief fund to benefit Paul and his family.

Meanwhile, I’m chewing my fingernails over the fate of Dominica. When I visited the island with Hank in February of last year I was very taken with the place. It is much less developed than most other Caribbean islands and when I was there was still struggling to cope with the damage done in 2015, when Hurricane Erica caused flash flooding that wiped out several key bridges. Taking a huge hit from Maria now could be a real knock-out punch.

And, of course, I haven’t even mentioned Hurricane Harvey and all the damage he did in Houston. Or the unusually severe wildfire season out west that has seen more than 8 million acres of land go up in flames. Or the unusually catastrophic monsoon flooding in South Asia, which has killed over 1,000 people and displaced millions more.

Golf fire

Golfing in Washington State this summer

Personally, I am very much afraid this is slowly going to become the new normal. That we will be plagued by a relentless series of natural disasters that will eventually tear apart the fabric of this thing we call civilization.

If it really is just a Chinese hoax, I have to say so far this year it has been a convincing one.

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain


  1. Joan Conover

    Do you remember Growltiger when you visited with Hank during the party in Dominica? Thats us! Update ffollows on Dominica relief–whos doing what..and OPO/Hank is in the middle..as usual!!All the below are working together–even sending fuel money to IRG to get second load into Dominica. You dont have to make this a comment..but didnt know how to get the below to you..Andy knows GT as well from C1500/Atlantic Cup days in the past.
    Just to keep you informed, do you have someone you would like to have receive the information as it flows in? We have contacts regards active aid missions from Trinidad, Grenada/St. Lucia, Antiqua as well as some arrival info for Dominca courtesty of IRG. And contact with some victims thru the below contacts, Marcario Advantage,on the peoples individual status. Please be sure that the following are considered for you fund raising. None of the below funds salaries, they need funds for fuel, supplies, the lifegiving immediate help that will allow recovery to start.

    Joan Conover
    SSCA CS Coordinator

    Dominica support..current boat lift information.

    Our 350-ton ocean going tug “Flying Buzzard” arrived in Roseau, Dominica this morning crammed full of supplies. We have all the available local intelligence about Dominica including aid required, security and access and our Captain Mike there now is getting the latest. We are also working with Sea Shepherds’ ship that also just arrived there with aid, they are going to ship some of our supplies too. Our boat will be making at least 2 more round trips to Grenada and St. Lucia.
    Captain Ray Thackeray
    Executive Director
    International Rescue Group
    Mobile +1 (954) 348-4409

    Sea Shepherd is using its ship assets to also carry cargo into Dominica/Rosea and is coordinating loads with IRG.They will carry IRG’s relief supplies.

    One sailboat from Trinidad is in process of taking supplies into Portsmouth. IRG is helping them make arrangements with PAYS (Portsmouth Authority Yacht Security) team to meet boat(s) and guide to customs dock with a waiting team to unload and distro items. From Jesse James/Trinidad SSCA Host

    MacarioAdvantage (Magoe Johnson POC) will leave Grenada around first or second week of December. They have coordinated to meet with a MacarioAdvantage funded container ship from Miami with supplies for Dominica, likely for Portsmouth distro. Not sure where the container ship will offload, likely Roseau.

    OPO/Hank Schmidt is doing same relief transport for St. Martin and Dominica from the northern approaches.He will also go to Portsmouth and is working closely with PAYS. His website has donation requests, and he is providing willing crew to those vessels wanting to transport items.

    Antiqua, SeaMercy(Richard Hackett) has been asked by Antiqua to support relief efforts for Dominica from Antiqua. They have in place a disaster coordinator for Antiqua. http://www.seamercy.org/

    Sint Maartin. Tadzo has final come up on line after the disaster. His organization office servers were damaged, he is, however reachable by email at nfsxmmanager if a local (and marine savy) contact is needed.
    http://www.naturefoundationsxm.org This is a licensed nonprofit and very reliable on the ground contact for Sint Maartin.

    ALL these groups are doing immediate heavy lifting, and they are sharing assets. Macario Advantage hopes to donate towards IRG fuel costs. Sharing is the only way this is going to work! I Hope they are all on your donation lists!!

    Joan Conover
    SSCA CS Coordinator

  2. Randall Johnson

    When I lived in the key’s we ran/ran away; once through the canal to save the boat and ourselves

    No gettin’ around it This isn’t great

  3. Rick Reynolds

    Tragic! We love the Virgin Islands and have sailed there many times. The devastation is stunning. The photos of the Bitter End, Tortola, Jost and the other scenes are terrible. Remind me of what we went through here in Pensacola with Ivan. They WILL recover and we will be there to help.

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