Life after IRMA // Paul Exner Describes a Devastated Tortola // & You Can Help

20 Sep

Paul Isbjorn.JPG

Note: Paul Exner is Isbjorn’s racing skipper and a very close friend of Andy & Mia. He and his young family – including wife Liz (whose Irish), their 3 1/2-year-old son Eoin & 9-month-old daughter Eva – stayed on in Tortola after the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma. As I write this, Hurricane Maria is making landfall in Puerto Rico, where Paul grew up, and she is undoubtedly being felt in the nearby BVI. Paul has checked-in twice on Facebook since IRMA, and these are his thoughts. We’ve setup a fund where you can donate directly to Paul & his family in their efforts to rebuild their lives and their business aboard Solstice, Paul’s Cape George Cutter he built himself from a bare hull. Click here to donate now.

My 3rd post since IRMA … present family of highest priority

by Paul Exner // 17 September, 2017 // Trunk Bay, Tortola

Click here to donate to Paul & family.

We struggle to leave our home of 8 years in Josiah’s Bay. Liz and I lived there since we met, our babies Eoin and Ava came home there after birth. We weathered IRMA there, and survived. We accept the wasteland-vista we see from our balcony: leafless and twisted trees, and scattered debris that once beheld the homes of others … Josiah’s Bay is the way it is, and was hit hard by IRMA. Most dwellings there and elsewhere on Tortola are gone. Within the BVI territory I estimate 50% of land-based, and 90% of sea-based accommodation is not habitable by ANY standard … wall-less, roofless, capsized, or sunk respectively … vehicles are windowless, over-turned, or tumbled-down a mountain side.

The people of Tortola make life-decisions … RE-SETTLERS: those staying to rebuild their lives; EVACUATORS: gone elsewhere to live and work (some say they’re temporarily gone); DISPLACED: moved house but rebuilding their home; and, those with NOWHERE ELSE TO GO.

Becky and Sharn Downing visited us five times before convincing us to leave our Josiah’s home and move to their house in Trunk Bay on the mid-north shore of Tortola. It has taken us four days to pack-up and move with one car (Suzuki XL7) making seven runs so far. Becky and Sharn moved west to Sharn’s father’s house for close proximity to rebuild Voyage (their family-run yacht charter business). This house is ours for a month. Four-Wheel-Drive is required to get here over heavily eroded rocky terrain … there is one section of the road only wide enough for the car’s tires with a 100’ fall seaward on one side. Of course we’ve had a Tropical Wave come over us during “the move,” pouring heavy rain, further causing mudslides along the drive to this house … twice I’ve had to cut fallen trees and brush from the road to pass.

Imagine a place that has NO prospect in sight for infrastructure! I do not exaggerate when I say: THERE IS NOT ANY ELECTRICAL power pole OR cable LEFT STANDING in the BVI! Although some drinking water and food is now being distributed to the those without; all other water is caught from rain! MOST guttering was blown-off the houses so rain catchment is left to buckets or plastic sheeting spread out to funnel a wider catch. It’s rumored that several of the government buildings had their paper files totally blown out in the 200 knot winds of IRMA, and if that’s true I cannot imagine this government’s future since it had NOT reached the digital age. What became of the Naturalization and Immigration files, I do not know.

Solstice is constantly in the back of my mind. I have only seen her once since IRMA and she was standing … and completely surrounded by destroyed boats. I stored her with her mast off, and my inspection of the mast proved it sound too. I can only hope that the diligence and expertise of those working at Nanny Cay will take the utmost care when dismantling the chaos that’s in her way. I have detailed photographs of Solstice I took when I boarded Solstice a few days after IRMA, so I know exactly her condition before the “clean-up” takes place.

WE HAVE ONLY DONE WHAT’s IMMEDIATELY NECESSARY TO KEEP OUR FAMILY SAFY … all other activities I could’ve spent time on were secondary. This is only my third contact with the outside world since IRMA, please know that much has been on my mind … I have not checked my email; I have not paid any bills; I have not responded to Messenger; I have not read nor responded to comments on Facebook; I have not posted to Instagram; I have not completed the renewal of my USCG license, etc … I have not found the time (until now, as my family sleeps) to compose my thoughts … there has been no other opportunity to connect to the internet, and even if there had been opportunity to connect, family matters were more important.

I ache for the many people who have reached out to us for more communication. I thank everyone for concerning us in your thoughts and prayers. It means a lot to us, and we are saddened that we have not had time or means to read your notes, nor respond. I have been informed by Steve Cohen that there are people who are willing to help us in anyway possible … this is amazing and keeps me without words. I do not know what to say. We love you all!

As we get our displaced life back together in our temporary house, we will turn our attention to an expanded list of activities and tasks. But what’s been amazing to me is how well we have functioned as a family. Eoin, Ava, and Liz are great! Our life has been completely void of the old modus-operandi, and filled with newness, challenges, and adventure. The most heartbreaking part has been Eoin wanting to go “back home.” Liz and I didn’t even think about preparing Eoin for the move, we’re just in it … we can’t go back.

What is hard to put into words is the feeling of home; it’s more than a roof over head. Home is that which we put our hard-fought faith into … faith that’s formed by the life we’ve lived, and for the self-sufficiency required for self-respecting future endeavor. Home can feel safe. Home can feel familiar. But, having a plan for future, and having the support and skills to live toward a future goal is put forth from a home. We are re-building the physical surrounding of home, but HOME … is where the family is. We will sail again soon aboard the SV Solstice!

Donate to help Paul rebuild Solstice & his life in Tortola.

This article was syndicated from 59º North Sailing // 59º North Blog


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