Gringo Escapade by Larry Caillouet

Part One: Back to BVI

After spending several weeks at home enjoying the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and another Crimson Tide national football championship, we returned to the scene of the crime. Not our crime–Irma’s. We had left Escapade at Penn’s Landing Marina in Tortola. There were a couple of good reasons to choose Penn’s Landing. First, it was the only marina left operating in the British Virgin Islands. Soper’s Hole Marina was destroyed by Irma. Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbor the same. Sea Cow Marina the same. Nanny Cay Marina almost the same. Half of its docks were literally gone. Storage on the hard was littered with boats on their sides or upside down. The remaining docks were filled with refugees and survivors. HR Penn Marina, which had proved to be too rough to trust due to big wake from ferry boats, had found its calling as a halfway house for damaged boats waiting to be rehabilitated. Village Cay Marina still had two catamarans lying across its docks and other boats peeking out of the water. Wickham’s Cay was for Moorings and Sunsail boats only. All of which pointed to Penn’s Landing Marina as “an excellent choice” as Sean Penn said in “I Am Sam.”

Actually, Penn’s Landing turned out to be a truly excellent choice. It is a small boutique marina hidden in a very ordinary working class community in Fat Hogs Bay on the east end of Tortola. Its excellent management anticipated the impending destruction of Irma and withdrew a substantial amount of cash from the bank before Irma hit. After Irma, cash was king because all the banks were closed and with no telephone lines operating, credit cards were useless. It was a Mad Max economy where might made right and the US dollar was mighty. Penn’s Landing began rebuilding immediately after Irma and was substantially back to full operation when we arrived. Eight of its 12 slips were open for business and we claimed the prime spot on the T-dock. In addition to having an excellent restaurant, the Red Rock Café, Penn’s Landing offered laundry service, boat repairs, and attentive service to its boats. Richard Gere’s pretty woman would have been happy there.

February was a strange month for Caribbean weather. Normally February is the peak season for tourism with the blustery January winds mellowing into the kind of weather that doesn’t require a weather report–highs in the mid 80’s and winds 15-20 knots from the east or southeast. Not this year. High winds ravaged the Caribbean 600 Race which draws seasoned blood-and-guts racers. A third of its 100 entries retired from the race due to equipment failure, injuries, or to-hell-with-it. In BVI the winds were in the upper 20’s with gusts into the 30’s and daily highs were in the low to mid 70’s. What a great time to be in a marina facing into the east wind! We never needed to use our air conditioning, which is usually a necessity in a tropical marina.

For both sentimental and practical reasons we spent our final night in BVI at Soper’s Hole. Soper’s Hole is where we fell in love with BVI many years ago. The brightly colored shops were the stuff of picture postcards. But not this time. Soper’s Hole is one of the worst damaged places in BVI, much worse than Cane Garden Bay where we worked with a church putting a new roof on. If this were a western movie, Soper’s Hole would be called a ghost town. Irma destroyed much of the docks and boardwalks and all of the businesses except one, Pusser’s Landing Bar and Restaurant. Half of Pusser’s is closed and the other half has only half a roof, but in the British tradition of the stiff upper lip it carries on serving food and its trademark drink, the Painkiller. What an appropriate name! It is painful to witness the near-total destruction not just of buildings but of island life as well. Wind blows through the empty window holes of the 2Harbour Market grocery store. Voyager Yacht Charters is boarded up. No signage is left to identify the shells of the Sunny Caribbee spice store or Latitude 18 clothing. Only fresh gravel marks the former location of Blue Water Divers. A collapsed concrete dock is eerily visible from its resting place beneath the water. A Customs and Immigration office is operating again under a pop up tent on the slab where a real building used to stand and a young man in an inflatable dinghy collects mooring fees from the handful of boats in the harbor, but it will take massive investments to make Soper’s whole again.



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