The dream, my husband Robert’s dream, is to travel the high seas with me, his wife, Toni, on our own sailboat. The dream has been there for his lifetime. To fill in any newcomers to our blog, here is a brief update to our story for SV (sailing vessel) “Our Time”.
Robert and I have shared a professional career and marriage for over thirty years. Within our first year of marriage we camped for a week in a cinderblock hut in the national park, Cinnamon Bay, St. John’s US Virgin Islands (USVI). Robert saw the sailing community all around us and commented that he dreamed of one day returning to charter a sailboat.
In celebration of our tenth Anniversary we took our three young boys for a three-day intensive sailing course in Miami and there began our family sailing experience. Robert has been boating all his life but credentials are required which allowed us to charter a catamaran sailboat in the Virgin Islands. Our first sailboat charter was a magical experience, a time that truly impressed all of us. Over the pursuing years we chartered various sailing boats, both monohaul and catamarans. Serious evaluation of the potential of owning a boat that we could live aboard for extended periods of time only began two years ago; and, the possibility took shape into a workable plan and the plan was executed with surprising speed AND here we are on the cusp of living “the dream”; or, are we?
We are so close, only three months away from actually moving aboard SV “Our Time”. And the news channels began to alert us Floridians to Irma. It was unrelenting coverage especially following hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Texas. This singular event, named Irma, threatened to douse our plan at worst and /or seriously change the vision.
Robert and I worked Monday and Wednesday of the week while Irma brewed in the Caribbean. Our boat’s present home base is on the Caribbean island of Antigua right in the forecasted path of a historic category 5 hurricane; this tormented Robert. He is so invested in his dream; emotionally, mentally and financially. That is what I love about this man, he envisions an idea in his head and makes it our shared reality. We own SV “Our Time” yet have placed it with a charter company for a year while we finish our work commitments. By Wednesday evening when we came home from work I knew what HAD to happen. There would be no peace for Robert nor me. He is like living with a sonic boom, his emotions emanate from him without spoken work; his energy told me – he had to go.
Robert is my soldier, my fireman. Where the battle rages, where the fire exists he runs to the problem. I have never known Robert to skirt the problems of life, he simply figures out what to do and then, does it. Within one day, by Thursday, Robert worked out a plan with our oldest son to head to Antigua to move the boat out of the path of the storm or to secure her for the onslaught. The final course of action would be decided once they were on the ground in Antigua. Both my guys had less than a day to pack and get safety equipment together for whatever they would face once aboard “Our Time”. By very early Friday morning they were on their way, and I was left alone at home wondering, waiting, tracking Irma and praying. Believe me, it was a very long six days.
[Now, from the husband’s and boat owner perspective I will share some of my feelings.] For me it was an intense watching of the NOAA’s (National Hurricane Center) forecasts and evaluating the very real possibility of losing the boat. I also had a work responsibility to both my patients and the office. I was torn but knew the boat had to be protected as it is a big investment. So after hours of discussion among the family I needed to get ready for going to Antigua if it came to that. I knew communication systems after a major hurricane may be disrupted, so satellite tracking, email and texting capability was purchased: A Garmin Inreach device. Toni would at least be able to see our location and text no matter what. Food could be an issue in a storm so suitcases were filled with canned and boxed food in case we had to stay for a long haul. Safety equipment such as self inflating life jackets with harnesses to keep you on the boat if you slip, flashlights and knifes and other small items were packed.
Thursday night with the 11:00pm NOAA update it was clear we had to go. Thirty minutes later plane tickets were purchased for a plane leaving in six hours to Antigua for my son Robert and I. We did not get hardly any sleep that night and had to fly down under emotional stress, which is tiring in itself. We got down there to the boat and started preparations as if we would leave to sail away. We went to the grocery store and we were a bit surprised to find it all normal; no empty shelves or lack of basics like we have seen in Florida. There was no panic by the Antiguans; they were relaxed. The stressed people were the guys managing a group of boats at the marina and us.
We looked at the latest forecast and saw a definite prediction of the storm heading more to the north. We decided to sit tight as we still felt we had some time, a window of opportunity to leave, if needed. As we monitored the storm we worked on the plan of how to best secure the boat in the marina area. There are giant concrete submerged blocks in the harbor, three of them, that were available to us. We would use three lines to the front of the boat using all the blocks and multiple lines to concrete poles on shore. We bought 150 feet of sturdy line, and borrowed as much from the charter company at the base. We set it up and were mighty proud of what we configured. We REALLY believed that our efforts would work for the expected wind forecast for that harbor.
Oh no! the path has now been revised and it is now back south aimed to hit the north coast of Antigua. It is now also too late to run south with the boat. Very bad news. Previously, the marina manager okayed our boat securing plan; however, now he says that the boat can not stay on the dock area as he feels a storm surge will break the lines or rip the cleats off the boat. It would be dangerous to the other boats in close proximity if our boat broke free. “Move it!” was his direct uncompromising order. But to where, as the best spots in the mangroves had been taken already?
We jumped into the dingy to quickly scan for a new spot. After analyzing the expected wind direction and what we had available we needed to quickly pick and hold our spot in the dirty, slimly, smelly, mosquito-infested mangroves. We tied some lines outlining our patch of safety. Now we needed to go get the boat, more lines and anchors. We had to undo all that we had just finished setting up. We debated defying the marina manager as we liked what we did. We decided to listen and defer to his advice as he has been here for hurricanes in the past and we must rely on his experience.
We moved the boat to our newly chosen haven and dingyed out, one at a time, three very heavy anchors with long lines and tied them to the stern (back) of the boat. Whew, are we done yet? Not even close. Next, I climbed about ten feet into the mangrove monkey style, one rope at a time and secured each line to thickest portions of mangrove roots that I could find. I had all feet and arms busy holding on trying to minimize how submerged I got in the water. All I could think about was the movie the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and how he literally got out of his boat and physically dragged the boat up the waterway and was then covered in leaches. I did not want the leaches. I did not know or even now I do not know if there were leaches and I did not want to find out. I did have to contend with a large mosquito attack having no free hands to swat them away. Zika virus? I hope not.
Eleven ropes later and many hours of vigorous work completed the pitch dark descended upon us; we were almost done. We were exhausted. Before the path changed and caused us to relocate the boat to the mangroves, we were going to stay on the boat and weather the storm. Now, in light of the new forecasts, the locals said do not as it could could kill you. Now what? Where should we go?
Meanwhile, at home Toni was continuing to track the storm. We called her periodically in the evening and she was extremely concerned because she knew that we did not have return flight tickets. Would we get a plane out tomorrow? The first bands of the hurricane would be here in less then 24 hrs. From the boat our internet connections did not show any flights off the island available. We called back to the states and Toni immediately went about trying to get us on a plane out. Toni got online and could find only one direct flight out of Antigua Tuesday afternoon leaving Antigua at 3pm. We got two tickets! Toni fully foresaw the seriousness of the problem. The storm track, if it did not accelerate would bring the worst of the weather over Antigua by Tuesday afternoon between 5pm and 8pm. If the storm sped up at all our window of opportunity to leave Antigua would be gone. The stress was intense for all of us. Was the flight actually going to be able to take off, would the plane even leave Miami to come to Antigua as scheduled as it was so tight to the arrival of the storm. Many flights were already cancelled by other carriers.
A night ahead of worrying about the boat and us. Will the plane go? Were we going to be here for the storm? Where will the storm ultimately go? Did we do a good enough job? Robert and I felt that we still needed at least 3 more hours of work to secure the boat before leaving for the airport. We planned to get up early to do more rope rigging and such before we were satisfied. We got up early with the sunrise, worked some more and finished. We showered off the yuck and took a cab to the airport with the winds picking up. It was still a few hours before the plane was to land and I worried could the incoming plane land with the increasing winds. We were aware when the plane did leave Miami on its way here so American Airlines thought that the flight was a go. Who would even be on a plane coming here as so many hotels shut down?
We got to the airport and found that the majority of flights were canceled for the day. Not all, as ours was a go and we found out that it was literally the LAST flight out. At the airport checking in, we overheard a couple who said that they were booked on no less than three flights that got cancelled over the last 2 days and now were pleading to get onto our flight. Did not look likely. We proceeded through security and waited at the gate for the plane to land. Let’s put it this way, we believed that if the plane lands it surely has to leave as it can not stay during the hurricane to get blown away. The plane landed despite the very apparent increase in winds; so, I knew we were going. Thankfully, we did make it back home and to back to work as scheduled.
Hurricane Irma ended up directly hitting the island of Barbuda 25 miles north totally destroying it. At it’s peak, Irma hit Barbuda at 185 mph. They have nothing now. For Antigua, even though it was so close. the winds did relatively little damage. But how did the boats in English Harbor do where my boat remained battened down in the mangroves? I did not get word for an agonizingly long week. I returned back to work on Wednesday suppressing my concern and anxiety over whether the boat made it through the storm. I was worried that the plan, my dream was destroyed. I must put it in perspective as so many lost it all. Barbuda, St. Martin and Tortola were devastated. I have been to all of these places many times and when I see the pictures after the storm of the pile up pf boats, it is incredible. I am grateful and feel so bad for the other people.
Word finally came the following Tuesday that SV “Our Time” made it through hurricane Irma with only scratches and gouges and little else. I sincerely thanked God and breathed a big sigh of relief with tears in my eyes and mixed emotions in my heart, for Hurricane Maria was brewing not far behind.
The toll of hurricane Irma was immense on the boating yachting communities of St. Martin and Tortola. Our friends sent us this picture below from Tortola with their boat circled. The charter company that rents out our boat has bases in all these Caribbean locations and the harsh reality is probably millions of dollars of loss. Irma was a tough situation and now with Maria bearing down upon the Caribbean there was no discussion or wavering; my boat had to be moved and was moved south to the island of Martinique, where, I will cut to the chase, it did well. The island of Dominica was sacrificed to Maria. Hurricane Maria ran right up the middle of the island and hit it hard. I heard from people that even well built houses on the island were destroyed or greatly damaged. The vegetation on this very green tropical island was stripped bare.
I have once again lived this hurricane season being reminded that in life there will be bumps in the road and some will be big ones that will require time and patience, but pushing forward and being persistent are key to survival and recovery. There are a lot of capable people in the world but the winners are the ones who are persistent and do not give up. I also believe that my dream will look a little different in the coming year. Although “Our Time” has made it through the storms, hurricanes Irma and Maria have affected the beautiful areas I hope to visit and it will take time for these communities to fully recover. Already pleas are coming forth asking cruisers to please come back, visit and help the businesses that depend upon the cruising community for their well being. All in all, it has been a difficult season for all of us in the hurricane belt. I pray you and yours have remained safe.