A hurricane season unlike any we’ve seen before; the S/V Delos crew describe their rise to internet stardom and what it took to get there
It was like some cruel jest of nature: two killer hurricanes sweeping over the eastern Caribbean within two weeks of each other, the second battering the islands the first one missed. Hurricanes Irma and Maria made September 2017 a month that will live long in the collective memories of the Leeward Islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and Florida.
The Caribbean has experienced scores of hurricanes, but no one could remember any as destructive as Irma. Gaining strength from warmer-than-usual Atlantic waters, Irma skirted Antigua but rolled over Barbuda, St. Martin, St. Barths, Anguilla and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane packing winds of up to 185mph. It made the Category 1 to 3 hurricanes that track through parts of the Caribbean every year look like summer gales by comparison.
Leaving the islands devastated, Irma gave a glancing blow to Puerto Rico, flooded parts of Cuba and hammered the Turks and Caicos islands and the southern Bahamas before rolling over the Florida Keys and marching up Florida’s west coast, where its strong winds buffeted both coasts of the peninsula, flooding towns and driving boats ashore as far up as Georgia.
Then, days later, it was Maria’s turn. The powerful Category 5 storm tracked just north of St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe, passed right over the tiny island of Dominica, beat up St. Croix, added to the miseries of the
BVI and USVI with another hefty dose of wind and rain, then knocked out Puerto Rico’s power grid and much of its other infrastructure and left tens of thousands homeless.
Although these hurricanes thankfully caused fewer deaths than many that went before them, the scale of the damage to property and infrastructure was massive. The economic costs of Irma alone have been estimated at nearly $300 billion. As for the stricken Caribbean islands, the costs are incalculable. Irma and Maria stripped leaves from trees and roofs from houses, downed powerlines, destroyed hotels and threw docks and boats ashore like toys. Island economies that depend mostly on tourism were destroyed overnight.
As Irma passed by, photographs began to appear showing the awful aftermath of the storm: the bulk of the BVI charter fleets piled up one atop the other in what had until Irma been a reasonably secure hurricane hole; marinas destroyed, dry-stored boats knocked over like rows of dominoes. The renowned beach bars of the BVI were blown or washed away by Irma; resorts like the Bitter End were reduced to kindling.
And yet all the people we contacted were vowing to rebuild and get back to business.
As the engine rooms of the Caribbean boat charter industry, the BVI, St. Martin and USVI suffered a damaging but far from terminal blow. Not one charter fleet escaped damage, and some were nearly wiped out, but still most planned to resume operations as soon as possible—by mid-December or early January in most cases.
On the Keys and U.S. mainland, the damage to boats and marine infrastructure was substantial, but nowhere near the scale experienced by the Caribbean islands. The Keys always bounce back from a hurricane, and though this one may take some time to get over, it should be business as usual within a few months.
That said, as we went to press, Maria was still hovering in the Atlantic after menacing the Outer Banks. At the same time, Hurricane Jose had recently given the Northeast a small taste of what Florida and the Caribbean had endured, sinking a few boats south of Cape Cod, while Tropical Storm Lee was slowly growing in the Atlantic— and hurricane season was barely halfway over.