Congratulations to the Winners!
Part Three: The Project
When Escapade and her crew arrived in St. Thomas, the glamorous part of the trip was over and the down-and-dirty began. That included doing laundry, cleaning ocean salt off the boat, refilling fuel and water, and reprovisioning for the next phase of the trip, the work at the church. We departed St. Thomas the next day and sailed 20 miles east to Cane Garden Bay on the west end of Tortola, British Virgin Islands. We soon began to learn that problems can be solutions if you approach them the right way. The dinghy that we had hoped to repair in Hampton was too damaged to warrant the cost of repairing, so we had no dinghy to go ashore in. Fortunately for us, the fuel dock in Cane Garden Bay was not being used under the present circumstances in BVI, so we were able to dock there. Normally we would go through Customs and Immigration at Soper’s Hole, Tortola or Great Harbor, Jost Van Dyke. Both were only an hour away from Cane Garden Bay, but both had been literally blown away by Hurricane Irma. The only C & I office left was over 3 hours away in Road Town in an inconvenient temporary location. Pastor Turnbull met us on the dock with another solution. He brought a C & I officer with him and we completed all the necessary paperwork on the dock. It has never been easier!
A tour of the church property revealed significant damage to what had been an architecturally elegant church building. The palm tree lined walkway to the front door was obstructed with broken trees and debris. The church’s roof was mostly intact but had a gaping hole in it. Water had poured into the church sanctuary ruining the electronics, soaking the carpet and upholstery, and brewing the omnipresent stench of mold and mildew. Behind the church, debris had washed down or flown down from the mountain. Beside the main building, the church’s day care center was operating with much of its roof missing. And in front of the church, most symbolically, the church’s sign with an emblem of the world and the cross was hanging upside down. The church property was no worse than most of the rest of Cane Garden Bay. The whole community had been ravaged by Irma.
The building we worked on is not the main church building, the roof of which is much too steep for amateur roofers without proper equipment. We worked on the day care center, a two story building with an apartment on the second floor. When we arrived the church members had begun the work to put a new roof on the building. The top of some of the concrete walls had literally been ripped away by the storm, so they had recast the concrete and put new 3x 8 rafters in place. Some of the original roofing remained, but we had to tear off the bent metal roofing and some of the plywood and 2×4’s under it. The church had purchased a stack of 4×8 plywood sheets, so we used those to complete the roof over the rafters.
Jeff and John had done this sort of work before and came fully prepared with power tools and carpentry skills. They were the brains and brawn of the operation. Larry assisted in moving the plywood to the roof and preparing the roof for the new sheets. Diana and Elaine cleaned out the rubble from inside the building’s second floor and removed debris from the church grounds. Pastor Turnbull was on the roof working with us from time to time.
After the plywood sheeting was in place, we used seven rolls of Wind and Water Seal roofing to cover it. This is not a product that we were familiar with. It is essentially a 3-foot wide roll of rubber with a heat reflective cover on the top side and peel-and-stick on the bottom side, like a giant heavy roll of contact paper. The challenge was rolling it on smoothly without bubbles, or even worse, getting the roll stuck to itself. We were getting better with the application technique we had developed when the pastor arrived and showed us the easy way to do it. So one half of the roof looks more professional than the other, but all of it will work.
Wind and Water Seal will keep rain out, but it is vulnerable to UV degradation, so a metal roof will have to be put over that. The Galvalume metal had not arrived yet so we couldn’t go any further and it requires special screws which have proven difficult to acquire. So there is another phase of the roofing project that will need to be done before long.
Availability of tools and materials was sort of hit-or-miss. In the best of times selection is rather limited in BVI, but after Irma supply was very low and demand was very high. Diana and I brought a few hundred dollars’ worth of roofing supplies with us on Escapade. Jeff and John left a few hundred dollars’ worth of tools that they had brought with them. It was not surprising that the tools the church had available were not very adequate. Diana and I sailed back to St. Thomas to buy some clean-up tools that are needed. We went to Home Depot expecting a good array of building supplies and found that Home Depot had lost most of its roof when Irma hit St. Thomas. It was operating in about a fourth of its usual space with a limited inventory. We bought push brooms and rat traps there. We didn’t see any rats at the church, but people told us that they are having to fight rats in their homes. We went to Ace Hardware and bought flat blade shovels and mops. On a second trip back to St. Thomas we found ceiling fans that had not been available before.
In spite of the hardships that the islanders have endured, we found the people of Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church to be very resilient and optimistic. The worship songs were filled with thanksgiving for God’s provision and exuberantly sung. The preaching was upbeat. Many people who had lost homes or businesses told us that they were just thankful that they and their family were alive. Others were grateful that they still had a job. People we met on the street were cheerful in spite of the difficult living conditions. At Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church faith endures. Hope springs eternal. Love of the Lord is alive.
Part Two: The Passage
Escapade was on the hard at New England Boatworks near Newport, Rhode Island. We recruited two crew to sail with us the 400 miles from Rhode Island to Hampton, Virginia, near the mouth of the Chesapeake. We like a crew of four for sailing overnight passages so that with 3-hour watches everyone can get adequate sleep. As the crew helped us complete preparations to sail, we kept a nervous watch on the weather. Windy, an aptly named weather app, showed a big storm brewing south of us and heading our way. We left Newport in less than ideal weather and headed south. Before long, three of the four of us had thrown up, a first time to be sea sick for two of us. Still, we saw nasty weather rolling up the coast and pressed on.
At one point we considered ducking into Delaware Bay and going through the C & D Canal to the north end of the Chesapeake and then down, but that would add a half day’s sail to our passage by the time we reached the south end of the Chesapeake and the wind would be right on our nose coming down the Chesapeake. A half day might expose us to the fury of the coming storm, and the Chesapeake can be wicked in less wind than we would be seeing, so we kept our puke buckets close at hand and continued down the Atlantic.
By the second day we had gotten our sea legs and just needed to put miles behind us. We breathed a collective sigh of relief when we rounded Cape Charles and sailed over the tunnel that runs under the mouth of the Chesapeake. We reached the Bluewater Marina at midnight, nine hours ahead of the storm. We learned later that the storm hit Rhode Island with such fury that schools were closed for two days.
In Hampton we stayed busy repairing and preparing Escapade for the next leg of the voyage, 1500 miles to the Caribbean. The new motor on the electric genoa furler had failed after the first day and was essential for an ocean passage. We had a new motor expedited to us and the crew installed it. We had discovered tears in the mainsail caused by screws that protruded into the mast. When the sail was furled into the mast or unfurled, the screws snagged and tore the sail. So while Doyle Sailmakers was repairing the sail, we bought two dozen 12 mm machine screws to replace the 25 mm screws that had been used to attach the upper and lower spreader brackets to the mast. I spent a day hanging from the mast in a bosun’s chair removing the old screws and carefully installing the shorter screws, knowing that if I dropped a screw it would bounce overboard. A $500 sail repair and $16 worth of screws corrected the problem. Another problem was more odious, or perhaps I should say more odiferous. The pump on the Vacuflush toilet in the aft head had failed and was oozing effluent into the bilge under the aft cabin. Nobody wanted to spend 10 days at sea with that problem. We were fortunate to find a man who could install a new pump and valves. A resourceful crew who lived near Hampton repaired the Aqua Drive on the drive shaft and fabricated a spacer that we needed on the boom vang. With a few other minor repairs, and a new round of laundry and provisioning, we were ready to sail.
Our planned departure on November 2 occurred on November 5. We expected a 9-day or 10-day passage to BVI and had two friends from home flying to USVI on November 15 to rendezvous with us. They were bringing more tools and supplies to work with us in putting a new roof on the church. We had planned to have a few days cushion in the schedule, but with the late departure the cushion was gone. We would just have to arrive in St. Thomas in 10 days without going to BVI first.
Sailboats work best with wind. Unfortunately the Windy app showed a giant hole in the wind stretching from the coast of Florida several hundred miles to the east. The rhumb line that we had hoped to sail to BVI would take us through several days without wind. Escapade has an inboard diesel engine and a large fuel tank, but would it be enough to get us through the windless patch? We calculated Escapade’s cruising range to be about 1000 miles on 220 gallons of fuel, but BVI was 1500 miles away. And that doesn’t count fuel usage by the generator to run the refrigeration. So we chose to sail east toward Bermuda after crossing the Gulf Stream near Cape Hatteras. The sailing was slow, and we motorsailed frequently to keep speed from falling below 5 knots. Later on, our standards eroded and we were content to sail if we could keep boat speed above 4 knots.
We were not far from Bermuda when the normal easterly wind resumed. This was perfect for sailing south on a beam reach, which is our fastest point of sail. We saw the 5 and 6 knot speeds that we had become accustomed to turn into 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s. Finally we were sailing! 125-mile days became 200-mile days and the hope of reaching St. Thomas by November 15 became more realistic.
As our weather forecast predicted, the east wind began clocking to the south before we reached the Caribbean. That forced us to choose between speed over ground and following the rhumb line to St. Thomas. This is the sailor’s constant quandary–speed or direction? Is it better to sail slower and go in a more direct line to the destination or is it better to sail faster over a longer distance? We opted for speed as long as we were headed south.
The wind continued to veer to the south, which forced us to gradually bear off toward Puerto Rico. If we just had a crystal ball to know what the wind was going to do another hundred miles south. Will it continue to force us farther to the west? Or will the normal easterly wind resume if we are patient? Serious discussions of navigation strategy became more frequent as the wind continued to clock to the south. Should we let it take us west so that we could finally tack on a header and sail east to USVI?
Our decision was made by the autopilot. About 200 nm northwest of St. Thomas it had a psychotic event and started sailing us in sharp circles as shown by the track in this chart. I was asleep but sensed something weird going on. I jumped up to help the crew on watch get the helm under control. The autopilot refused to behave so we had to turn it off and hand steer the boat. That’s the normal way we sail on a lake in the daytime, so what’s the big deal? On the ocean there are no easy points of reference to steer by as there are on a lake. All 360 degrees look exactly the same. And night time makes it all the more tedious to steer by watching the compass. So we started the engine, furled the genoa, and left the main up for stability. Since we were motoring, we changed course and headed directly toward St. Thomas.
We hand steered all night. And then we hand steered all day. And then we hand steered all night again. Finally as day broke on November 15 we could see the top of St. Thomas rising over the horizon. Seeing the destination come into sight is a happy moment, and watching an island change shape as it rises out of the sea is endlessly fascinating. And we were going to make it on schedule! Everyone says that a schedule is a dangerous thing to have aboard a sailboat, and I understand why that is true, but a schedule can also be a great source of satisfaction when you have made prudent decisions along the way and you arrive on schedule. We docked at Yacht Haven Grande Marina in St. Thomas by noon and the guys arrived at 3:30 pm. Just as we had planned!
Part One: The Problem
Do you remember where you were on the evening of September 6? We were having dinner with friends from our Bible study group and glued to any news about Hurricane Irma which had already devastated Barbuda and St. Martin and was bludgeoning the British Virgin Islands. BVI has been our sentimental second home since the late 1990’s and is home to our Beneteau 50, Mary Jewell. The news was skimpy but all bad. When we could scrounge a photo or two, the images were shocking. The most iconic photo to emerge from all the photos of wreckage and devastation was from Tortola’s Paraquita Bay, the “hurricane hole” used by all the BVI charter companies and some individual boat owners. It was packed with more than 300 monohulls and catamarans ranging from 38 to 58 feet and representing many millions of dollars of OPM–“other people’s money.” Charter companies don’t own their boats, they belong to clients around the world and are managed by the charter companies. When Irma hit Paraquita she tore all the boats off their heavily chained orderly moorings and raked them into one corner of the bay. Most lost their masts, many were upside down; all were distressed.
It would be shortsighted and selfish to worry about damage to all those water toys when people’s homes, jobs, and lives were being threatened. Many homes in tropical areas are built of poured concrete, not 2×4 pine veneered with vinyl siding or brick like in Bowling Green. But roofs and windows are vulnerable and when trees, roofing metal, and even automobiles become projectiles driven by 200 mph winds, nothing is safe. People huddled all day in the safest corners of their homes or schools or businesses and waited for the merciless wind to abate. When it finally did, BVI was ruined. Concrete walled residences were ripped open. Landmarks like the Bitter End Yacht Club had been scraped from the hillside. Irma left BVI residents in the dark and cut off from each other and from the outside world. The electric grid was demolished. Roads were impassible, either washed away or clogged with debris. Telephones were inoperable with land lines and cell phone towers blown away. The islands that had been green the day before Irma, were now brown with every leaf stripped from the trees and bushes that remained. An eerie silence prevailed–no birds or frogs or insects dared to make a sound.
Irma’s destruction was more than physical. When BVI residents ventured outside their hiding places, they found that the social order was gone. The government was broken and incapable of maintaining order. Irma had bashed the prison open and the inmates were freed. Even more threatening, people who were not convicts became criminals as looting swept the islands. BVI began to resemble a scene from Mad Max. A friend of ours named it Irmageddon.
Order was restored several days later when the British navy arrived and began patrolling the islands (BVI has 4 major populated islands and a few outposts on smaller islands). The navy also delivered food, water, and medical aid. But they were not the first to supply help to BVI. The Puerto Rican Navy arrived within a day or two of the hurricane. The Puerto Rican Navy is simply a group of Puerto Ricans who loaded their power boats with all sorts of relief supplies and rushed to help fellow islanders in need. One man on Jost Van Dyke told us how sad they felt that when Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria two weeks after Irma, BVI could do nothing to help them.
Three months after Irma visited BVI, life has returned in a crippled kind of way. The capital city of Road Town has electricity and running water, but the rest of BVI would still be in the pre-electric Stone Age without generators. Land line telephone service may never return. Debris is piled into mountains of wood, metal, and glass waiting for incineration or recycling. The masts of many boats point in any direction but upward. Ferry boats still are beached on various shores. One 85-foot ferry boat lies upside down on what was once Sydney’s Peace and Love restaurant on Jost Van Dyke. Many businesses are open and trying to function, but don’t count on using a credit card–that requires operating infrastructure. The most invisible part of BVI’s loss is the loss of jobs. Without a charter fleet, there is no tourism; without tourism, restaurants, grocery stores and dive shops have fewer customers to serve. Progress is evident, but the Paradise that was lost in 12 hours won’t be found again in 12 weeks or even 12 months. Restoration of Paradise is a long way off.
So where do we fit into this scene? We needed to go to BVI to see about Mary Jewell—she had been severely damaged by Irma and communications from BVI were minimal at best. We needed to be there to deal with the insurance company. But this seemed more personal than settling an insurance claim on our boat. After enjoying BVI for 20+ years and knowing many people there by their first names, we felt that we should do something to help. We began by giving some money to rebuild a school. That’s useful but impersonal. So we decided to go there and find a place to help restore this broken BVI to the way we had come to know it. And our sailboat Escapade could provide a mobile base to work from. There wouldn’t be any hotels to stay in, and if there were, local people would need them. Escapade can sleep 6-8 people comfortably. There wouldn’t be any electricity to charge phones or power tools, but Escapade has a generator. There might not be enough clean water to drink, but Escapade has a water maker. There would be a shortage of building supplies and tools, but Escapade could transport many items from the USA.
We knew we couldn’t just show up at the dock and say “We are here to help,” so we thought about a way to connect with an organization that would continue when we left. Churches are often at the center of community life so we decided to choose a church to work with. We went to the internet to find a church that seemed to fit our resources and would be accessible from the sea. We found Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church and we liked what we read about it and its pastor on the church website.
New hurdle: How to connect with them? The telephone listed on the website was a land line and was out of service. No mobile phone was listed. I found a restaurant in Cane Garden Bay that had a working email address and asked them to deliver my message to the church’s pastor. When we finally got in touch he was happy to welcome a small relief crew from a faraway state with no ocean front, no salt water, no hurricanes–Kentucky. (to be continued)
REMINDER: This year the party will be held on December 9th from 6-10pm at Christ Episcopal Church on State Street in Bowling Green. The fee will be $10 member. This year the club will provide Beer and Wine and we would like the members to bring a potluck dish (heavy hordeuvre’s) If each couple /or member could prepare enough to serve 10 people, we should have sufficient food for all. Please RSVP on our Facebook page or contact Leah McMurtrey to let us know what you are bringing. Lets try for variety, so we don’t all bring the same items.
The Christmas Party – This year the party will be held on December 9th from 6-10pm at Christ Episcopal Church on State Street in Bowling Green. The fee will be $10 member. This year the club will provide Beer and Wine and we would like the members to bring a potluck dish (heavy hordeuvre’s) If each couple /or member could prepare enough to serve 10 people, we should have sufficient food for all. Please RSVP on our Facebook page or contact Leah McMurtrey to let us know what you are bringing. Lets try for variety, so we don’t all bring the same items.
The meeting was held after the Fall Workparty. on Saturday November 11th. We started with a salute to past Commodores – Lee Huddleston, Rob Hatcher, Gary Reimer, and Deborah Champion.
Gary Reimer – Purser Report: Purser reported that the Dues for 2018 ( $300 per member / $50 for extra boat, would be due and payable starting January 1st. A late fee will accrue after February 1st. This is a change from our usual dues procedure and will help us have funds prior to the start of the season. We will contact members via email instead of sending out mailers which have become expensive in recent years. The club is in decent financial shape with about $9000 in funds after paying our Corps dues and Gary will start putting some money back into a capital expense account to cover the eventual replacement of the Pavilion and improvements thereof.
The Christmas Party – This year the party will be held on December 9th from 6-10pm at Christ Episcopal Church on State Street in Bowling Green. The Fee will be $10 member. This year the club will provide Beer and Wine and we would like the members to bring a potluck dish (heavy hordeuvre’s) If each couple/ or member could prepare enough to serve 10 people, we should have sufficient food for all. Please RSVP on our Facebook page or contact Leah McMurtrey to let us know what you are bringing. Lets try for variety! so we don’t all bring the same items.
2018 Slate of Officers – We presented and voted on the following candidates for 2018
Commodore – Bill Miller
Vice Commodore – Troy Monroe
Scribe – Gary Guss
Purser – Gary Reimer
Hardmaster – Tom Cripps
Social – Leah McMurtrey ( and helpers)
Race Chairman — Rob Hatcher
Other Business –
We briefly discussed hiring someone to mow the yard next year. As always, each member is responsible for mowing under their boat and are encouraged to help out their neighbor as well. Bob Zoellner lives nearby and has the equipment to do this as well.
We would like to welcome Jack Blanton to the Club, Jack has purchased Troy’s boat Watercolors – Please introduce yourselves to Jack and make him welcome.
The winner of the Chili cookoff this year was Troy Monroe, who took the valuable trophy home after extremely arbitrary judging by the Scribe. Thanks to all who brought chili and fixings and also thanks for helping out at the work party.