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

SAIL - - Con­tents - By Peter Nielsen

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.

Irma’s mas­sive size is ev­i­dent as the hur­ri­cane ap­proaches the Florida Keys Imag­ine the size of the wave that did this A jum­ble of char­ter boats on Tor­tola il­lus­trates Irma’s power

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