When I get to heaven, I’m gonna shake God’s hand,
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand.
Then I’m gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band,
Check into a swell hotel; ain’t the afterlife grand?

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale,
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long.
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl,
‘Cause this old man is goin’ to town.

—John Prine, When I Get to Heaven, off his final album “Tree of Forgiveness”
(also added to hjsailing playlist)

Rest in peace John Prine. Right before bed the other night, I got a text from my kids that John Prine had died. Although I knew he was in an ICU and incubated, the news it hit me harder than I thought it would. It felt, and still feels, like a good friend died. Similar to Colleen having a year sober and us thinking she was going to “power through” the troubles, I had heard John Prine was doing better so was surprised by his demise. Given that he survived not one but two bouts with cancer and arguably did some of his best songwriting, recording and touring after those bouts, it seemed like he had 9-lives; maybe he did and the coronavirus just happened to be the 10th.

For anyone who is feeling sorry for me about being stranded by myself, far from home in a foreign country, during a pandemic… don’t. I signed-up for adventure on this voyage and I’m getting loads of it, albeit not the adventure I expected. If you need an explanation for why you shouldn’t feel sorry for me, the picture below will suffice. It could be the most beautiful place on earth. Although we are technically sequestered to our boats (with the exception of essential re-provisioning), I get out for a 50-minute swim every day with mask and snorkel—a combination of exercise and snorkeling. In addition, the bay has formed a supportive community and we swim up to each other’s boats and chat from a safe distance, sometimes I play and sing some ukulele songs nice and loud for all to hear, and when we have clear sunsets we blow our conch shells just as the sun disappears over the far islands (“…blow our conch shells” you ask?, you’ll have to wait for a future post on that one).

Little Harbour, Peter Island, BVI (Hazel James in the middle of the photo)
Close-up of Hazel James in Little Harbour (note stern lines tethering her to the shore along with anchor rode [chain] off the bow; also note sun shades over the cockpit and bow hatch; it’s striking how closely the aquamarine of Hazel James’ hull matches the water)

Back to the subject of this post: On Wednesday, September 6th, 2017 Hurricane Irma struck the Virgin Islands as a category 5 storm. When Irma hit the Virgin Islands, it had intensified to such a level as to be detected on seismometers calibrated for earthquakes. At the time, it was the most powerful hurricane on record in the open Atlantic region (surpassed by Dorian two years later). Two weeks after Irma, Hurricane Maria passed very close to the Virgin Islands, also as a category 5 storm. Category 5 means sustained winds over 140 knots (160 miles per hour). It’s hard to imagine what that would be like on open water. When sailing, anything north of 30 knots is really blowing. Furthermore, the force exerted by wind is proportional to the square of the wind speed. A wind speed of 60 MPH exerts a pressure of 15 pounds per square foot, whereas a wind speed of 125 MPH exerts a pressure of 78 pounds per square foot.

The word “IrMaria” is used often in the Virgin Islands to describe that dark time. In early March of this year, I spent a couple wonderful nights anchored in Coral Bay on the eastern side of the island of St. John USVI. Although IrMaria happened 2 1/2 years ago, the effects of the storms were still striking.

These first two pictures should help orient you to the anchorage of Coral Harbor and the town of Coral Bay. From a distance, things look peaceful and serene.

Coral Harbor, USVI (Hazel James is lying to anchor in the far-background of this shot)
Another of Coral Harbor and Coral Bay

Not until you look closely do you see the lingering damage.

Mangroves at the water’s edge that are still struggling to come back (note the sunken boat to the right, you’ll see that up-close in the next picture)
Sunken boats right outside the above mangroves (all capsized in the same direction)

In the next two pictures, although the hulls (i.e., the “bodies”) of these two vessels look in pretty good shape, their masts didn’t make it through the storms. I think both of these are live-aboards and the captain and crew (if there is a crew) have jobs ashore and are saving up money for a new rig.

A two-masted ketch, the mizzenmast (smaller and to the left) is OK but the main mast snapped)
Another mast snapped (imagine the wind that does that)

While those captains are trying to refit their vessels (and their dreams), these next two have been abandoned. While the wind did a lot of this damage, the storm surges that accompanied Irma and Maria probably did the most to move these hulls to their resting places.

This boats hailing port indicated she was from Norway (if you look closely, you’ll see that much of her rigging and stainless has been stripped off)
Mariana from the bow…
…and from the stern

These next two fit in the category of “scary”. Both had people living on them, people who had really fallen on hard times. I’m sure you can imagine the economic impact that a storms like these would have on an island-economy like the Virgins.

Although I wanted to get a picture of the guy living on the first boat, I was a bit self-conscious about doing so—like a “graven image” of an Amish person. Although I, myself haven’t had a beard trim since the Bahamas a couple months ago, this guy’s beard made mine look like a scraggly 15 year old’s adolescent-beard.

To me, they also look like they could be in a modern-day Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

The pandemic’s timing is especially bad for the Virgin Islands given this is one of their peak seasons (the other being the end-of-year holidays). Things really slow down here in the summer—to the point that many restaurants and business close down July through September. If the pandemic had hit in the summer, it would have been a much easier economic proposition for the islands. With that being said, it’s interesting that when I talk to islanders and those with work-papers for the Virgins about the pandemic, they often refer back to IrMaria and muse, “If we made it through that, we can make it through this.”

Thanks for reading and thanks as always for the comments. It’s especially fun to get comments asking questions as it gives me ideas for future posts.

Hazel James out.

22 thoughts on “IrMaria

  1. Dan: we visited our place on St John 3 months after IrMaria and the sailboats were stacked up like toys on the shores and mangroves in Coral Bay and Hurricane Hole. These are the few boats that remain but there were dozens like that at the time. Some of the locals believe the winds were over 200 MPH during Irma. It’s amazing that anything was left standing. Steve

    1. Steve: Thanks for the comment. Yeah 2 1/2 years after…it must have been insane in the weeks after. I can’t imagine. All these hulls had government stickers on them. I think giving notice that if the owners didn’t clear them out in a month or so, they’d be hauled away.

  2. John Prine’s passing upset me too, Dan. Thank you for adding him to your playlist. Glad you’ve got good company there and can’t wait to hear about the conch blowing! Does this thing have any ability to post recordings? Would love to hear one of your songs while you’re serenading your harbor neighbors! I can hear it in my mind.

    1. I’ll see what I can do about audio. I don’t think video is in the cards…I was letting my hair go (scalp and facial) BEFORE social distancing figuring I’d get to a barber at some point…

  3. God speed Dan. Thinking about you and your family and your thoughts during your travels. Thanks for the inspiration. Recharge, refresh, live life.

  4. Intense Beauty mixed with utter Chaos in your pictures, It’s amazing that those two could even co-exist. Yet, isn’t that life? Safe travels to your next stop. It really is the journey, not necessarily the destiny for now, right?

    1. Kathy: How interesting, I hadn’t thought of the chaos/beauty juxtaposition until you brought it up. Now that you have, it’s so clear and yes…so much of life.

  5. says:

    Wherever you go, there you are. What’s nice, is that you are recognizing the beauty in the destruction and destruction in the beauty, the sorrow in love and love in sorrow… the Yin and Yang. Crap, I never would have spouted that pompous shit when I was younger! Cool pictures dude, love the boats! There you go.

  6. I’m concerned about Chip. His comments seem deep. What ever happened to the Chip I knew: “Dan have fun. Me like pictures.”

    1. Perhaps Russian internet trolls have hijacked Chip’s online accounts and (as typical for the old Chip that we know) he’s refusing to pay the ransom.

      1. says:

        Hey, I paid my two bucks! (Dva dollara eto dva dollara!)

  7. I don’t feel sorry for you, I Envy you! Just make sure you make it back before hurricane season!

    Thanks for another great history lesson and more fabulous pics!

    1. Dawn: LOL, the other thought for hurricane season is to go south to Trinidad. It seemed like a crazy idea a month ago, now doesn’t seem that far-fetched. So many things are happening in the world that would have been unimaginable a month or two ago but are now part of daily life.

  8. Hey Dan amazing pictures. I wish I could hear you playing the ukulele and singing, I would join right in. Stay safe.

  9. Awesome post! MARK J. LABATE Attorney-at-Law 2744 E. Commercial Boulevard Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33308 (954) 545-3605 * *

  10. Hey, Dan– just want you to know that I’m a faithful reader, and I’ve been thinking a lot about you and your family this Easter weekend. I well remember so many Easters when y’all came to New Jersey, and we dyed eggs and hunted for them at Locust Lane or Riverside Drive. Good memories from long ago. Right now, I’ve got a picture in my hand of all of us dying eggs in Grandma’s kitchen, and it is dated April 1970– which makes it from half a century ago…

    You and your father first introduced me to John Prine long ago–thanks for that. I’ve been listening to him all weekend. I trust you’ve been singing some of his songs. Yesterday, in fairness to our neighbors, I sang some while cutting our grass.

    Stay well,


  11. Hi Dan-

    I feel like I must confess….I’ve been reading your blogs and I’m loving following along on your ADVENTURES! It’s Laurie Watters Nassif, brother of Rob and wife of Jon 🙂 We met MANY years ago in Chautauqua. I’m a big fan of the McMahon Family! I know Timmy the best, but have fond memories of Colleen and your family.

    I just wanted you to know that I’m so enjoying living vicariously through your journey and reading your blogs! You’re such a great writer and hoping there may be a book in your future 🙂

    I too would love some videos….so much to listen to.

    I’m writing to you from snowy Denver… Thanks Dan – keep on keeping on!

    1. Laurie: So so great to hear from you! I still have a signed copy of YOUR book “A Year In Chautauqua” at home. I’ve actually thought of you a bit and tried to channel you as I work on my photography skills. Now you make me nervous to post any photos 😉 Thanks so much about the book comments…funny timing as I’m just working on a post that gets to that thought.

      Take care and have a great weekend. I would say TGIF but given that I’ve been sitting on a boat in the Virgin Islands Monday through Thursday, TGIF feels a little hollow.

      Thanks for following!

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