Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Joaquin Aftermath

Gathering at the newly re-constructed dock for our day ashore
One of our best days from last season in the Bahamas was the one we spent exploring Long Island by rental car.  Hoping to recreate that day for Jerry and Sally, Bruce and I made arrangements for a car here in Salt Pond.  We picked up the car mid morning and took off headed south toward Dean’s Blue Hole. 
Beautiful church with new windows after the storm

Using natural resources for building materials

We had heard from other Cruisers that the locals were strongly discouraging anyone to attempt snorkeling in the hole.  I can’t imagine why since we had such an idyllic day there and when I asked the woman in the marine hardware store, she recounted the several deaths that happened there… but none of them would be applicable to us…  What did keep us from trying to swim there this time was the cooler temperatures. 

Free divers practicing
We bounced along the sand road to the site and walked out to see this beautiful natural wonder.  Dean’sBlue Hole is another of those places that had it been in the US, it would have been fenced off and rigorously regulated with a high price of admission tacked on for good measure.  Here, it is completely accessible to anyone. 

Like before, there were several divers out on the floating platform presumably training for the upcoming free-diving competition.  We watched them for a time, but quickly lost interest.  Training for free-diving must include a lot of calming meditation…

Restaurant looks like a church!
We had a delicious lunch at Rowdy Boys in Clarencetown and scoped out the anchorage as it is on our list of planned stops once we leave Thompsons Bay.

Driving along the Queens Highway brought a new understanding of the devastation that this small island community suffered.

When I heard about it last October I was saddened by the news.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to live on a small flat strip of land out in the ocean with a hurricane bearing down upon my home.  But it was in the abstract... It wasn't "real" to me.  Driving down the road here it began to become more tangible.

I remember last year driving this road, much of which was lined by a "wall" of lush green brush.  Driving between the tiny town settlements you couldn't see anything beyond the roadside.  Today was much different.  The thick brush was thin and scraggly where it had been inundated with salt water, with long stretches that were completely brown as if some sort of disease had hit the island, killing all the plant life.

There were stretches where uprooted trees and mangled underbrush lie in a line left by the high water.  Trash was caught in the foliage at a level mark where the tidal surge had deposited it.

We began to notice cleaner stretches with trash sacks left along the roadside.  Soon we saw men walking south picking trash out of the grass and brush, stuffing it into rapidly filling bags.  So many of the islands we've seen were littered with trash so it was refreshing to see that cleaning up litter was a priority when there were still so many homes and businesses in need of cleanup and repair.

Work crews languidly nailing shingles onto rooftops or hauling wood scraps to burn piles were slowly rebuilding lives all along our route south.  Speeding through these small settlements, we saw flashes of "moments-in-time" with residents sitting in sparsely furnished tiny homes with the roof covered in the blue tarps supplied by the relief efforts.  It would be so easy for hope to perish against such a staggering setback... they didn't have MUCH to begin with, but now some of them have almost nothing.  Why aren't these people railing against the cruelty of nature?  Why aren't they giving up all hope?  Why do we hear so many tell their story beginning and ending with how grateful they are to be alive?  It's enough to melt the coldest of hearts and I wish we had brought more supplies from the States to donate.

All the way south to Clarencetown the devastation was still in evidence with many small homes demolished and beyond repair.  Most of the businesses and churches had been cleaned up and rebuilt during the almost four months since the storm.  Everywhere there is hope and resilience springing up from rubble heaps.  It is a stunning lesson in humility coming from the "land-of-excess"as we do.

What can we do?

I overheard a radio conversation between a resident and a cruiser in which they were talking about the surprising number of sailboats in the Bay.  The Islanders had feared that the hurricane and news of the damage to island infrastructure would have discouraged many Cruisers from coming here this season.  They were thrilled to see the sailboat-count increasing with new boats arriving daily.  THEY WANT US HERE!!!

The overwhelming feeling is that we are WELCOME.  They actively encourage Cruisers to come and they try to make their island enticing with Happy Hours and community events and open access to dock our dinghy so that we can come ashore and spend money.

But even more than our money, which is STILL desperately needed... they welcome our help.  Donations of relief goods ranging from clothes and shoes, to household goods and everything else you can think of to provide comfort to the many homes that were leveled are still needed.

We brought a few things that we no longer needed and they were welcomed with many thanks.  Even more gratifying to us was the opportunity to participate in a "workday".  There is a woman here... a Cruiser, who has spent many years here on Alibi II.  Bess works tirelessly to organize Cruiser work crews to offer a helping hand to Islanders in need.

Our workday was spent cleaning up the grounds at a local youth outreach facility.  Bahamas Youth Network (BYN) A group of about 14 Cruisers piled into a van and a car to be transported north a few miles to the BYC Clubhouse.

There we met Merry and Lane, our fearless leaders for the day. They welcomed us with many hugs and thanks and we hadn't even lifted a finger yet!

We looked around and saw that a lot of work had already been done to bring the place back to what it was before the storm.

Our hosts ushered us inside where we pulled up a chair for a brief orientation and discussion of what needed to be done today.

We met the preacher and his wife and he talked some of the past events they have held here and told us of all the positive things they do for the youth of Long Island.  They were very sweet and so very grateful for what we were doing.  It's awesome to be able to do something so simple that brings so much to the Islanders whose homes we visit.

The missing dugout.  One wall and the roof  were blown across the park.
Well... time to quit stalling and get to work!!!  We were shown around the grounds outside and directed towards the several projects we could tackle today.  The baseball field was high priority.  One of the dugouts had been destroyed and blown across the property... one piece was lost and never found.  That one wall would have to be replaced.  Building supplies at the ready, they appealed to our group to see if there was anyone with construction in their past life... We had one construction guy, who became second in command for creating a strategy.

It's amazing what many hands can do to make short work of carrying a very heavy wall from across the yard back to where it goes.

While the men got organized and figured out their next step... the ladies, including myself, got busy doing many other jobs.

The main clubhouse had been re-roofed recently and the roofers had tossed thousands of nails to the ground around the building.  A handful of us got busy combing the area and picking up pounds and pounds of rusty nails.

Bess picking up nails
I worked in close proximity with Susan and Bess (our cruiser organizer).  It was grand "girl-time"as we bent double and scanned the gras and sand for nails.

Raising one wall on the dugout
With a strongly protesting back, I took a break and went around taking pictures of the other crews and was amazed to see the progress the guys were making on the dugout.

Lifting the back wall of the dugout

Bruce held the wall in place while it was nailed into position from the outside
Cleaning the baseball equipment
There was an equipment storage room that had been flooded with the storm-surge leaving it full of a thick grey mud.  Almost everything in the building needed to be removed, washed in bleach-water and dried out before it could be re-packed and returned to storage.

Smile Susan!!!
We lifted it from the muck and drug it to the roadside.
There was another crew working on bringing a portion of the fence from where it had been blown or floated away back to it's proper position in front of the clubhouse.

While some prepared the holes for the fence posts, others in the group checked the status of the fence.  It looks like it will be easy to repair with only one board missing and a few nails to replace...

This is a very HEAVY piece of fence.  We all kind of stood around trying to figure out the best way to get it from point A to point B...

Someone got a rope and another guy went off talking about bringing the truck over to drag it into place...

Suddenly, people just grabbed the edges and started moving it the thirty feet by brute strength and determination!

And then it was UP!!!

I can't believe it!  We filled in the holes around the posts and it was ready for cement, but we wouldn't do that today.

One of the frustrations for me was the limited supply of water for cleaning.  This fence could use a good high pressure spray.  What it will get is a rag and a bucket of bleach-water... but not today.

The lunch bell rang and we all shuffled inside, sweaty and dirty but in really good spirits.  The things we were doing were so far outside our daily activities and if OSHA were to cruise by we would be in REAL trouble.

The Pastor's wife had prepared a huge cooler and a spread with everything needed to create our own sandwiches.  There were even chips... and not just chips... DORITOS!!!  Do you know how much that little bag costs in the Bahamas???  We NEVER buy Doritos, even though we love them.  So we had to control our shaking hands as we reached into the bag and put these precious bits onto our plate... And cookies.  There were cookies.  What a treat!

We all sat around and munched and got acquainted with people who had been working in other sections of the yard... nice folks.  Once we had eaten, one by one we left the cool air conditioned comfort of the clubhouse and went back to work.

During the time that the dugout was being structurally rebuilt or fortified, Bruce took up the lawn mower.

Now keep in mind that we sold our house and bought a Townhouse because Bruce didn't want to mow his OWN yard... This is huge people!  Maybe that view had something to do with it...

As the afternoon wore on, we heard the call for all hands to come and help raise the roof on the dugout.

I will be totally honest with you... I had no intention of doing anything of the sort.  The braces and the plan looked a little shaky to me and I have no health insurance.

No way was I going to willingly put myself into a position where I could be hurt.  Selfish, I know.  But it looked like there were plenty of helping hands and SOMEone needed to take the pictures...right?

The plan was to lift it onto the struts and then rest...

Then continue on pushing it to the top...

They didn't rest much as the center sagged as if it was going to break in two...

They ran into a snag.  There were nails that were keeping the roof from sliding up...

They removed the nails with a sawsall and continued pushing...

They took a short break before the final push.

The roof came off the rails a little bit and had to be repositioned... not fun.

A few more pieces cut out of the way and they had it in place.

The wall had to be pushed outward so that the roof could be nailed on...
And nobody got hurt!!!  Miracles DO happen!  While the guys went back to work putting the finishing touches on the dugout, I took my turn at mowing.  Throughout the day it had been a tag-team effort.  One person would relieve the one mowing and continue where they left off...then after a while, someone else would tap them and take their place.  I actually refilled the gas tank and started the mower all by myself!!! I'm not sure I've EVER done that, and certainly not in recent memory... It was fun, sticker-burrs and all!

When Susan took her turn and I was relieved of the mower, I found Bruce helping with the last bit of removing the stump of a huge tree that had been uprooted by the storm.  They had a chainsaw going and a whole lot of pushing and pulling.

See those long shadows?  That means our workday is coming to a close.  Everyone pitched in and put away all of the tools and equipment and generally tidied up the place in preparation for our departure.

After a hard day's work...
We didn't get the dugout completely finished but the fence was up and most of the yard was cleaned up and ready for an upcoming baseball game.  The Pastor and his wife were so free with their expressions of gratitude that if felt almost silly... I think we got as much or more out of it than they did!  They gave us all BYN t-shirts and we were happy to have them as mementos of our very fun day.

We got to know other Cruisers so much better than just sharing a beer would ever do and we felt like we had done something to help these wonderful people who share their island home with so many random people each year.

It's been over four months since the hurricane spent 36 hours sitting on top of this small island.  The people were in fear for their lives.  Waves washed through their homes, taking so much of their possessions away with them.  The people have bounced back with such a healthy attitude... not once have we heard a hint of complaint.  There are messages painted on walls along the highway that say things like "blood and tears" and simply "thank you"... everyone pulls together and they slowly help one another rebuild.  Being a part of it has been such a humbling experience... but a very good one.  


  1. Memories built for ever. While in the service we did a lot civil action help all over the world..It does me and makes me feel wonderful when I return some where and see work we did still standing...Well done guys.

    1. It's such a fast track to building friendships as well. When you work alongside another you just get to know them so much easier sharing a common goal. The island was really hit very hard and the people need all the help they can get. It was good to be able to give something in return for all we get from visiting these islands.

  2. It feels so good to help others out ... guess that's why mowing the grass wasn't so bad for Bruce! It's never as big of a chore when it's a good deed ... well done!

    1. I was amazed at all the work we got done in just one day. I just couldn't believe it when I saw him mowing, but he said that he was feeling like he wasn't doing enough with the building with so many experienced builders at work... mowing he could do!

  3. AWESOME pics! We are putting together an article for the LI Regatta book that will come out for the regatta in June. Give locals a chance to see what the boaters have blessed LI with this season! So is it OK if I use a few of yours in the article?

    1. Absolutely! You are welcome to use these pics and if you need more I can send them when we have wi-fi.