Monday, September 14, 2009

Today in History

Hurricane Marilyn, September 14, 1995

Today, in history...

In 1995, Hurricane Marilyn hit the Virgin Islands. It was the most powerful storm to hit since Hugo of 1989. She arrived on the heels of hurricane Luis, who ten days before, had already done a goodly bit of damage.

I used to be a private chef for vacationers in this fabulous villa on St John. It was built on 5 descending levels with incredible views, a gorgeous gourmet kitchen, a grand piano and the ubiquitous pool. The owner of the house lived in the small cottage in back. We had an agreement for many years, that I would come stay with them in the big villa, in the event of a hurricane. By the time this came to pass, he was minus a wife and plus a girlfriend. Vacationers, weren't due to arrive for another week. Hurricane Luis was headed our way.

So soon as my boat was put away on six anchors with everything else stowed below, I headed to his villa. We were spoiled at the time, as his generator worked and we watched movies during hurricane Luis. At some point we turned the generator off to conserve fuel and to sleep.

I could not sleep, so I lit some candles and played their wonderful piano. I slept very little, worrying about my uninsured boat and what life would be like if I lost it. After the hurricane, we hopped in his car and ran down to the harbor to see that my boat was still floating and it was. But I was exhausted as I slept very little during the hurricane, so I stayed a few more days at his villa and slept really well.

Finally I moved back on my boat because by then boyfriend, who only lived here half the year, was flying in to Tortola to check on his boat at Nanny Cay boatyard.

So one day, I put my boat back together, and sailed out of the harbor for Nanny Cay. I forgot to tell anyone where I was going. I mean I often did this, just made up my mind to sail and in under ten minutes, was under way. Often floating neighbors would wave goodbye, but today, everyone was ashore or down below, so no one saw me slip away.

I was used to working on big fancy yachts where we kept everything shipshape at all times, so I mimicked this on my small boat of 30 feet. It was great fun, because I could sail away in just a few minutes.

I arrived at Nanny Cay and anchored out, the next day I heard hurricane Marilyn was a threat and stored my boat way up in the harbor behind a new building on the Tortola side, after getting permission from the owner.

Hurricane Marilyn came and went and I continued to stay at Nanny Cay. Little did I know, that on St John, there were people trying to remember whether my boat was in the harbor or not, before hurricane Marilyn. Some thought it was, others said it wasn't. A search of hurricane holes around St John did not produce me nor boat. My St John cell phone was out of range at Nanny Cay, as at that time there was no St John tower on the western end to relay the calls.
No one could find me, my phone wasn't answering and I was new to Nanny Cay and therefore not well known at all, besides, my boat was tucked away where the name couldn't really be seen at all.

I heard rumors that St John was suffering from a great deal of devastation, had no phones nor electricity, and many boats were sunk or otherwise destroyed. Meanwhile Nanny Cay bounced back rather quickly, cleaning up the mess, opening up the bar by candlelight and cooking everything thawing out in the freezers, which was given away freely. Phones worked and power was restored in a day or so.

About two weeks later, I decided to take the ferry over to St John to see how things were, before setting sail. I didn't want to risk hitting uncharted wrecks in route.

On the ferry, they played the VHF radio, as VI Radio of St Thomas, read off the traffic list of boats with messages, then a list of boats missing in action since hurricane Marilyn. Imagine my shock, when my boat name was mentioned with one soul believed on board.
At that time, I did a great deal of business with VI Radio as they handled all my ship to shore and shore to ship calls. All the operators knew me as rarely a week went by that I didn't have several incoming and outgoing calls through the radio. My USVI cell phone was relatively new and the range severely limited.

Nanny Cay is in a valley of sorts, and the radio reports originating out of Crown Mountain, St Thomas didn't reach that far, so no one in Nanny Cay had heard of this missing list. Even so, had they heard, my boat was tucked way up inside the harbor. You couldn't see it at all, unless you had specifically gone up there by dinghy and looked for it.

Arriving in St John, I rushed to the Red Cross to tell them me and my boat were indeed alive. It was a wonderful day. Everyone I ran into, gave me a big hug, and some even a big kiss. For nearly two weeks, they believed I was missing and presumed dead. I never knew I had so many friends on St John.

I finally made it to Grumpys bar where another dear friend, the owner, lived and operated. It was closed up tight, with no food, and no electricity. I banged on the door and a voice roared back from the other side "We are closed!" Apparently about 4 or 5 newly homeless people were now living in the bar with the owner. They kept the doors locked, to keep a crowd out, since they had virtually no provisions left.

I mumbled something about wanting to let Bill (now deceased) know I was alive and suddenly the door flew open and Bill came and grabbed me, as the door behind me slammed shut again. We all hugged and chatted and drank warm drinks in celebration of my "rebirth".

Another bang on the door, and this time I was sent to see who was there. It was a volunteer from the Red Cross, sending a message to let Bill know I had been found alive. Too funny! Bill had listed himself as next of kin so he would be notified of any developments of my whereabouts.
Eventually I drove out to the gorgeous villa I had stayed in during hurricane Luis. My friend answered the door and turned white, then suddenly grabbed me with a big rib crushing hug.

It was great to be alive.

Still is too!

Hurricane Luis, September 1995

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