Following on from the lead article in our October issue, following Hurricane Irma, James Rieley has sent us this piece now he’s back in the BVI’s.
Hi Simon, I am back at Nanny Cay again, and quite happy to be here. I had been thinking about my return ever since I was evacuated. How would the island look? How much clean-up has been accomplished? How would the locals be doing after not being able to even get away for a short time? I began to get an idea as my flight from San Juan descended toward the airport on Beef Island (Tortola). The hills of all the islands in the BVI and USVI are lush and green again, although you can see that there isn’t quite the depth of green that there was before Irma came and savaged everything. This is a direct impact of the reality that nature is nature. The islands experience sun almost every day, all day. It is the end of the tropical storm season, and we have had quite a bit of rain. And it is warm. Every day. All day. Three things that virtually guarantee that plants will grow and do so with a passion.
But as the plane flew lower and lower, first passing over West End, then Nanny Cay, then Road Town, Paraquita Bay, and finally Trellis Bay, before touching down at Beef Island, it was clear that something very bad had happened here. In each of these harbour areas, it was possible to see boats that were still submerged or upside down , or partially on land. For a boater, these are not good visuals. The amount of boats in each area was pretty mixed. West End, largely due to the condition of the road (horrendous) that extends from Road Town and past Nanny Cay, is still pretty much deserted. Nanny Cay is doing the best of all these locations, most logically because the owners of Nanny Cay are very switched on and recognise the correlation between reinvesting in fixing the infrastructure and seeing a return on the investment. Nanny Cay also has a new marina area that was little used before Irma and now is the area with the best and most functional docks. The old marina at Nanny Cay is what took the beating during the hurricane and the new docks there will not be in until May. But Nanny Cay is full of life, which makes any inconvenience tolerable. Road Town is rebuilding, but the town itself still has very visible evidence of the hurricane, and could be many months to see everything cleaned up. Having said that, restaurants and pubs are reopening just about everyday, so for those who remember sitting at Pusses and consuming a nice cool libation, you can still do that.
Paraquita Bay was the tiny pond that had a very narrow entrance. This is where most of the charter companies would historically take their fleets and raft them all off in tidy rows. Very sheltered, Paraquita Bay had the reputation for being probably the safest place to be during a big tropical storm. Of course, that was before a category 5 hurricane named Irma ran smack over the island. It didn’t help to then have another category 5 hurricane run right past the island a couple of weeks later. Paraquita Bay still looks, from the air, much like a disaster zone, with submerged boats, boats on land, and boats piled up on top of each other. Trellis Bay looked very quiet and far emptier than I had ever seen it before.
On land, the picture was far worse. From east end, where Beef Island is, to Nanny Cay (almost at west end), the road options are meagre, and many of the roads are in very rough shape. (the term ‘very’ here means pot holes that look like you and a car could easily be swallowed up). In some areas along the road, the buildings look exactly as they did the day after the hurricane, but to be fair, some of those buildings looked that way well before the hurricane was here. The ‘flukiness’ of the hurricane damage is incredible. A house seriously damaged next to a house that looked fine, then two more that looked uninhabitable. It is the visual definition of devastation. The actual Road through Road Town is brand new, and whilst it can lull you into a false sense that things really are looking up, many of the building along the nice, tidy, shiny new tarmac road are broken wrecks that look like they will need to be knocked down instead of repaired. From Road Town to Nanny Cay, the road is as it always has been, which is pretty much rubbish; massive potholes, with areas where big pieces of the tarmac are laying on the side of a hill. And then you get to Nanny Cay, and life is different. In Nanny Cay, there is electricity all the time, whereas much of the island still does not have it full time. We have running water, whereas parts of the island are existing on bottled water. And we do have broadband. The WIFI signal isn’t saturating the entire Nanny Cay compound but it is in enough places so those who wish to be ‘’connected,’’ can be. By early summer, Nanny Cay will most probably be fully operational and 90% of the visible evidence of Irma’s presence will be gone. But as with the rest of the island, the visible evidence of Irma may be swept away in some areas, the memories will be in your head forever.
Virgin Gorda is a good example of the dicotomy of trying to erase evidence of the two hurricanes. The island itself has been cleaned up quite a bit. Clearly there are still buildings that are obviously victims of the hurricanes, but largely the island has been made to look quite good. Having said that, it is a smaller island and because of that, there were less building, roads, and infrastructure systems to be damaged. But in the North Sound, sailors favourite destinations such as Bitter End show no signs of work being done to restore it to an operational level. Leverick Bay is sort of running, and there are boats that are coming in, but no where near like the number that you used to see in the North Sound.
Foxy’s is open on Jost Van Dyke, as are many other well known pubs on some of the smaller islands. One of them posted a picture only several weeks after Irma that showed a semi-broken table, in the sand, with a bottle of rum on it, and the caption, “”open for business.” Nice.
Overall, if there were a Report Card for how things are after Irma, It might look something like this:
Amount of damage – monumental
Amount of effort being expended to fix everything – monumental
Chances of everything being fine very soon – not so great
Is it safe – yes
Is it worth coming back for a sailing holiday – for sure
What the BVI needs more than capital investments and repair teams is customers. The reason that many of us have sailed in the British Virgin Islands was that it is simply one of the best places to sail. We all didn’t come here because they had the best road system, or the best WIFI systems…we all came here because we wanted to sail. That hasn’t changed…the BVI is still one of the best places to sail, and if we want to help the islands be restored to how we remember, the best thing we can do is come down and sail