1 April - scenes of destruction and reconstruction in the BVIs

Escapade of Rame
Richard & Julie Farrington
Sat 14 Apr 2018 18:23

18:24.9N  064:36.8W

Around Gorda Sound at the end of March, it was a mixed bag: on the south shore, two 500 tonne support vessels were hard aground on the beach.  A few yachts were at anchor or on mooring buoys off Prickly Pear Island, where the beach bar was being rebuilt despite some obviously shaky foundations.  The beach itself was a bit forlorn, but the mangroves were recovering.  The smart little resort on Saba Island looked as though it had been hit by an air strike, but there was heavy machinery clearing debris and a stream of landing craft delivering raw materials and removing trash.  Further east, the sprawling resort of Bitter End on Biras Hill was utterly decimated with no sign of any attempt to clear up or reconstruct.  There were about forty moorings off the resort, all empty.  The little resort on Eustatia Island seemed to be functioning normally, almost as if Irma had spared it for some reason.


Part of the utterly trashed Bitter End Resort, Virgin Gorda

To the south of our anchorage, the Leverick Bay resort seemed to be up and running and we visited it the following day in search of some internet connectivity.  That was patchy, but the reconstruction efforts were admirable and ongoing and the lunchtime food tasted better than it looked.  The little marina was almost full, most of the mooring buoys were occupied by charter fleets from the Moorings, Sunsail or BVI Charters.  Yet the place was fairly peaceful – the next stage is to persuade visitors to return.  For us, the absence of large numbers of other boats was a bonus wrapped in sadness.


Leverick Bay, up and running

We spent a couple of days at anchor here; the highlight was snorkelling in Eustatia Sound, where we found two ancient cannons on the seabed.  We wondered if they were newly uncovered by the heavy seas from Irma and we were the first people to see them for a couple of centuries, or whether they were well-known fixtures of the Caribbean diving circuit? We swam with a fine spotted eagle ray and a fine array of reef fish in beautifully clear water. 


The magical waters of Eustatia Sound; the breakers to the right mark the protective reef

On Good Friday we moved back into Sir Francis Drake Channel and down to the capital of the BVIs, Road Town, Tortola. We anchored on the south side of the harbour, near Government House and the conspicuous Peebles Hospital.  The waterfront was pretty much deserted and there was damage everywhere.  A couple of charter companies were operating a reduced service here and trying to gather momentum.  There were damaged yachts and commercial craft everywhere, but the higher up the hill you looked, the more ‘normality’ seemed to be returning.  Back at sea level, walking along the main road, every third vehicle seemed to be a truck carrying debris.  Most of the overhead cables were properly secured, but every now and again there was the shocking sight of a piece of corrugated sheeting wrapped around the branch of a tree like a discarded plastic bag on a bush.  The image of a murderous weapon flying through the air was quite uncomfortable.

We walked south along the foreshore for about an hour until we came to Nanny Cay.  On the way, we stopped to watch a smart fleet of yachts racing a mile or so offshore; closer, we saw dozens of sunken craft strewn among the mangroves in Sea Cow Bay, a trashed marina with no signs of life, the odd ‘liveaboard’ boat without a mast swinging idly around a buoy in the middle of a pond, completely surrounded by partially submerged wrecks.  Tens of millions of pounds-worth of utterly useless fibreglass to be disposed of.  Whoever comes up with a scheme for recycling this stuff could be up for a Stock Exchange listing…


Wrecked marina at Sea Cow Bay

At Nanny Cay Marina, there were plenty of signs of regeneration.  Whilst many of the boats ashore were damaged, much of it was superficial.  The older part of the marina in Hannah Bay looked forlorn, but the new development in the outer harbour was fully operational and looking quite smart.  There were many more boats laid up ashore than there were berths available for them afloat, though.  We found the regatta office for the BVI Spring Regatta and I remembered a discussion at Cowes Week a couple of years ago with General James Bashall of the Army Sailing Association about relocating the Services Offshore Regatta to the BVIs to participate in this event.  What a fine idea that would have been – not least an opportunity in 2018 for the UK military to return to these islands and help regenerate the fragile economy here by buying a few beers and a conch roti at the Regatta BBQ.  No money, I fear.  This year, despite the hurricane, entries for the Spring Regatta were up at 83% of the usual level – a fine achievement by the organisers and an indication of the underlying quality of the event.


Before the start: the BVI Spring Regatta – photographed at a greater distance than normal!

Still in search of some decent Wi-Fi, we took a taxi back into town to the Serendipity Bookstore, advertised on the interweb as an internet café.  It sits in a delightfully old-fashioned part of town and reminded me of the best sort of private, pre-Waterstones, pre-Amazon bookshops.  No Internet though.  We gave up and switched target to food instead: the taxi driver told us that the Rite Way supermarket had been the lifeline for the islands.  He was very complimentary about the Royal Marines too!  We returned to Escapade to regroup, before setting off in the dinghy to the northern corner of the harbour and the famous supermarket.  It was as good as advertised – probably as good as we have found in the Caribbean.  On the way, we saw the marina where the Moorings charter business operates: about 50% of the boats there were damaged and awaiting repair or disposal, the remainder being prepared for charter and the whole enterprise clearly offering a ‘normal service’.  Some of the running fleet were brand new, but a good proportion have come from other charter operations in the Americas.

Next door, we saw an extraordinary sight.  A 60 foot catamaran, still with mast attached, had been thrown by Irma up into the air and landed upside down on top of two other craft of similar dimensions.  Of all the shocking things we have seen between here and Dominica, this remarkable demonstration of the power of Nature over Man’s feeble attempts to dominate his environment was amongst the most sobering.  Note to self: don’t let the wind get under your hull(s).


Not an April Fool, but an expensive pile-up.  Note the mast and rigging still attached to the uppermost inverted greenhouse