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