Back on island time
The islands decimated by two record hurricanes in 2017 are a little worse for wear, but fully back in action for the winter sailing season
A spring in her step
Just six months after the hurricane, one group of sailors was determined to fix their storm-damage boat and sail in the BVI Spring Regatta
The tip of Great Camanoe Island came into sight, and hope surged among the crew on Jim Proctor’s Moorings 51 Blue Tide. We were in the middle of the annual Round Tortola race at the 2018 British Virgin Islands Spring Regatta,the first sailing event since the hurricane. The bareboat class had started at 10 a.m. and we all knew we’d not make the time limit if we didn’t cross the finish line by by 3 p.m. It was 2:15.
This would all be heartbreaking if it weren’t for the fact that six months before Blue Tide had been lying half-sunk at The Moorings’ base at Wickham’s Cay.
“This is the only boat I know of in the race that was actually in Tortola when the hurricane hit. We didn’t think it had a chance,” said Proctor, an lawyer from Birmingham, Alabama, who has been bringing friends and co-workers down to compete in the bareboat class for the past five years.
Luckily, Blue Tide had ridden out the storm at The Moorings base and not at Paraquita Bay, the hurricane hole that didn’t provide protection for the boats that had sought refuge. Proctor said when he heard about Hurricane Irma and saw photos of the devastation, even before hearing about his own boat, he was determined to make the race. It took three months to fix the boat after local salvagers fished it out of the water. With freshly varnished decks, polished interior and brand-new masts and sails, it was hard to tell anything had happened. Of the 43 boats competing, all had been shipped in from elsewhere.
I had only been on the island for two weeks before Irma hit, and I had almost forgotten what that looked like before. I had grown accustomed to the blue tarps covering my neighbors’ roofs, the crumbling cement walls on the corner store, the broken masts on the sailboats piled up like scrapwood in the marinas. The island’s towering green hills were only just beginning to rebloom, but a real feeling of community spirit was encouraging.
“I told the regatta organizer that we were coming down anyway,” Proctor said. “If the regatta didn’t happen or Blue Tide wasn’t ready, we’d just come down and make it a mission trip of sorts. We’d find a way to help out where we can.”
As we sailed back toward the finish the crew asked me about their favorite BVI landmarks, like Norman Island’s Willy T. and the Bitter End Yacht Club as if asking about the welfare of old friends who’d fallen on hard times. I was happy to oblige in disaster tourism as we headed
“Wait, what’s happening with those boats out there?” Brandon suddenly asked, squinting into the mist ahead of us, pointing to a group of bareboats that had managed to stay out ahead of us. “It looks like they’re close-hauled.”
An approaching squall was causing confusion in the fleet and we recognized that it might be our best chance to make up for lost time, but it proved brief and Proctor threw in the towel when the wind died again.
“I propose a race back to the bar,” he radioed to his friend, a fellow Alabaman sailing in the bareboat class on another Moorings 51. “Last one there buys everyone a round of painkillers.
“We race the regattas in Antigua and St. Maarten, but we’ve just formed a special connection to the BVI.” Proctor said. “That’s why we will be back next year too.” --Claire Shefchik