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:
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.
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.
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 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 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
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
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
If you want to help but aren’t able to donate, please share this post!
I don’t even know what to say. The devastation and havoc Irma has left in her wake and the impact on your lives and so many others is almost inconceivable. My thoughts are with you and your family during this incredibly difficult time.
We watched from afar as Irma savaged the islands we hope someday to explore, then in fear as the storm made a direct pass over the gulf coast of Florida, where our boat is stored… We were very fortunate, it seems – no reports of damage in that yard, but our hearts ache for those, like you, who lost so much. Bright blessings and hope as you begin the recovery.
I am so sorry for your incredible loss. We have been visiting the islands for over 20 years and I can’t explain the sadness that I feel for everyone and everything. I know it will be back again someday, but the feeling of helplessness, not being able to do anything but donate from a far still doesn’t seem enough. Sending good vibes and prayers
Jody and Peter,
It is hard to find the words to respond to this post. We are so sorry for your losses. We have followed your story for years and rarely comment. But, this time felt the need to say something. But, I’m not sure what.
We hope as you put the pieces back together you can continue to find joy in your life. We are so glad everyone is safe and has a roof overhead. The decimation of the islands has been horrible to watch (we are in Grenada). People we have met in our travels had similar experiences as yours. We wish the sadness would stop.
Hugs to Brig and licks to Betsy,
Mark and Cindy
sv Cream Puff
Wow. I cannot imagine how you must feel. Best wishes to all.
Found your blog from The Cynical Sailor and your story is truly heartbreaking! However hard it seems to believe now, you and your family, and the islands WILL rebuild from this tragedy! Thank God you all are safe!
Our prayers are with you.
So sad. We lost our boat to Irma but we will never give up.
So glad your family is safe, I will donate when I get back home after being out of town this weekend. So sorry about your boat and I pray insurance does come through for you. Your son is adorable. So glad you are all together as a family.
I’m glad you and your family is safe and sound!