BVI’s and Hurricane Bertha
Flying Cloud Trip Report, July 7-13, 1996
with a guest appearance by Hurricane Bertha
This trip report really begins over Africa, where rising winds caused a low pressure area to form. A few days later, and several hundred miles to the west, this disturbance formed a tropical storm, and later Hurricane Bertha, further east than any other storm this century.
Meanwhile, even as I follow the storm, I made final preparations for my 10 th week (nine trips in nine years) on WindJammer. It was inevitable. We would meet. Saturday afternoon, we receive a call at home from Manny, in the WJ Miami Office. He told us that the ship would sail as soon as possible, but in the meantime, go to the Castle Maria on Tortola. WJ had a room waiting for us. We expected something like this, and it wasn‘t a surprise. The cost of the hotel would be paid by us, since we did not have the trip insurance. For our next trip, we will consider this insurance more carefully , especially in the summer.
Sunday morning we set out at 4:30 a.m. for our 8:30 flight from Baltimore. The trip was interesting, but that is not important here. We were, however, so impatient, that we ran a red light that wouldn‘t change. We had to go ‘Jammin!
Arriving at BWI, I noticed as we passed by the American counter, there was a huge line waiting to check in. This was exactly the problem we had two years ago with them, when we stood in line for an hour. US Air was different, and it took less than 10 minutes to check in. US Air took the trouble to staff to meet the load. AA didn=t.
Anyway, our flight from BWI was direct to St. Thomas. On landing, I was surprised. I had expected a much larger airport, given the reputation. Coming in, we noticed many houses with blue tarps on their roofs, a holdover from last years storms. Later, we heard the Governor promise to obtain enough blue tarps to cover their roofs still in need of repair. Something isn‘t quite right there.
The terminal was similar in size to many others in the Caribbean, just a little newer, and by a US not island designer. The runway was short, and did not look like it would take anything larger than a 727. We quickly claimed our bags looked around for the WJ representative, and not seeing the expected greeter, headed for the exit.
For not the first time that day, I am glad I had worn an official looking WJ shirt. We had expected a WJ rep to be at the airport, as we had always had before. In reading the brochure, there was a suggestion that we could o to the Windward Passage Hotel to buy ferry tickets. But with the storm, and not knowing where the hotel was, we decided to just get to Tortola. We joined up with another couple heading for Tortola, although not jammers. In fact, there were no other WindJammers on our flight. As we left the terminal, the dispatcher, seeing my shirt, asked if we were on WJ. When I said yes, he opened a sealed envelope, and handed me two taxi passes to the Windward Passage Hotel. A sea pup sailor would not have gotten this reception! We were dropped at the hotel, across the street from the ferry terminal, and told to see Pam in the hotel. Pam was sitting in the patio restaurant, waiting for Jammers. As we talked to her, we bought the ferry tickets, and waited the 1.5 hours until time for the ferry. Because of the storm, due by daybreak, Pam was heading back to Tortola with us. She said she would drop us off at Castle Maria, where our room was waiting. As ferry time approached, we walked across the street to the dock.
This is one area where WindJammer Barefoot Cruises must improve its first contact with passengers. We had read the material sent to us. But apparently it was best to go to the hotel, or that taxi passes were available at the airport. Indeed, had it not been for my shirt, we would have paid for the ferry trip, the ride to the dock, into Roadtown, and been totally lost, given later events. Even given the confusion of the storm, the current system is not good. Passengers MUST be given better and clearer instructions on arriving in St. Thomas. The current brochure is NOT adequate.
Once on the ferry, another passenger came up to me and asked if I worked for WJ. I was the first sign he had seen for WJ and he was ecstatic. Bill and Rosemary, Army Captains, were happy to see me. I took them forward to meet Pam, who told them what she had told us. I went back and talked to them, reassuring them, and telling them a little of what to expect.
We arrived in West End, Tortola, and cleared customs there. Pam had obtained a taxi, and we began the ride into town. We could see people getting ready for the storm as we drove along. Pam dropped us off at Castle Maria, and left. We were then given a shock. The owner of the hotel told us that no rooms were available. We asked him to check under WJ, and our names, but there was nothing. Yes, he had talked to WJ, but there were no rooms. Well, there was just a cancellation. At this point, Rosemary said she had talked to Miami, and been told that Lydia, the purser, and Tusoula, the Activities mate, were a Prospect Reef. Rosemary called there, and talked to Lydia. They were in a room there. At this point, we decided to get out of Castle Maria, and go down to Prospect Reef. If they had no rooms, we figured that we could always sleep on the floor of that room.
We called a taxi, and as we waited, another lost passenger came walking down the street, saw my shirt and came up to us ecstatic. She told us she had a room, and would we pass the information on. When we arrived at Prospect Reef, Lydia and Tusoula came running out to tell us that we would not be staying there, but at Icis Vacation Villas on Brewers Bay. We told Lydia about the other passenger, and got back in the taxi for the always exciting trip over Mt. Sage.
We arrived at the Icis Vacation Villas on Brewers Bay, run by Icis Malone. She and her son were wonderful. She brought in food, and cooked meals for us all through the storm. The room was a very nice 2 room efficiency. We felt as if we were the first ones to stay there. Set back in the trees, and surrounded closely on three sides by steep hills, it was a real surprise. The place seemed to be an ideal hurricane hole. The rooms even had cable TV and we were able to track the storm on the Weather Channel, a surprise!
There were 13 Windjammers there, and we could have filled more rooms. We stayed up late talking down in the little bar there. There were a few heavy showers, but nothing to signal the coming storm. We turned in, not really knowing what to expect.
MONDAY: Bertha began in earnest early the next morning. Tortola turns off electricity to the island when the wind reaches 55mph. We were watching CNN at 6:53 when ours went off, along with the water. The real storm had begun. The rains and wind continued to build. About 10am, Icis showed up at the door. She had made breakfast for all of us holed up in the storm, and brought it to our room. It was blowing 50-60 out there, and she brings us breakfast! After that, it blew even faster. I had brought a disaster radio with me, and we listened to the updates. The winds were reported up to 85, with gusts on the mountain to over 100mph. Brewer=s Bay faces northward, so the winds blew right at us. We saw branches breaking, and well as trees blowing down. At one point I saw the top 10 feet of a palm tree snap off. It was scary.
Then, about 11am, in the space of 10 minutes, the winds died, and the rain stopped. WE WERE IN THE EYE! It was quiet. The sky was cloudy, a slight disappointment. We all came out of the rooms, walked around and took group photos. No one went far, since I sternly warned everyone that we might only have an hour before it began again from the opposite direction. Icis decided to make lunch for us during the lull. After 90 minutes, we saw the winds building on the peaks around us, so it was time to duck back into our rooms for the rest of the storm.
The storm continued, although the blocking action of the hills lessened the impact. After 5pm, it had quieted down enough in our valley that we began venturing out again. We called home to reassure our kids, then walked with the rest of the ‘Jammers down to the beach. The wind was about 25 mph, offshore. Outside the bay, the wind was blowing, whipping the sea into a milky turquoise. Three of us decided to take a dip in the bay, during the hurricane. It was unique!
On the way back to Icis, the ‘Jammers all stopped and helped clear the road, dragging trees and branches aside. Back at the patio, one even decided to sweep the patio for Icis! Since the power as off, Icis needed to use up the hamburger she had, so she made cheeseburgers for all… In a true paradise! We went back to the room, where I read a couple of pages by flashlight before crashing.
TUESDAY: Again, Icis had said she wouldn=t be there in the morning, but she was, and made us a breakfast. She deserves our Highest Commendation!
We heard from WJ about 10am. Flying Cloud would be boarding at 3pm. We arranged for a safari bus to pick up us up at noon to take us to Roadtown. After another scary trip over Mt. Sage, we arrived at Pussers. We stopped for a drink, then walked around the harbour looking at the damage, including shredded sails, swamped dinghies, and a 250-foot freighter aground near the Moorings.
We went aboard FC at 3pm, and were led into the saloon. There Lydia, over swizzles, introduced us to the ship. She told us that we wouldn=t need doubloons this week, since the bar would be free all week! But even better, We would also get a free passage on a trip either this year or next! I am glad we stayed!
After signing in, we went down to our Cabin, #25 amidship. The cabin was typical WJ, bunks, and a combination head and shower. As is the Flying Cloud tradition, there was no hot water in the shower. But is was about ocean temperature, so I didn=t find it to be a problem. There seemed to be a little more headroom than on other top bunks. There was lots of storage room for the little we had brought. Later, we went on deck and checked to see what had happened. We saw that the starboard horseshoe had been torn loose. Also, a couple of posts had been broken that held the rack around the foremast. The wind had been strong, indeed the back of the foremast was slightly flattened by the cable that was wrapped around it. A bollard near the anchor had been bent. All in all, the damage was minor. Captain Max was about, doing final preparations for sailing. We sailed about 5pm, to Amazing Grace. We moved the ship over to Salt Island. After Crab Races, (broke even), we danced and partied late into the night. It was an unusual time, since many of us had been together during the storm, it was not really a get acquainted type of party.
WEDNESDAY: We resumed a normal schedule, as if that was possible. We anchored off Virgin Gorda. They still had no power. Having seen the Baths, we decided to go to Savannah Bay. We basically had the 1 mile beach to ourselves. There are coral reefs just off the beach, with markers that tell a little about the reef. We had about 40-foot visibility. However, the wind blowing sand down the beach made it a little uncomfortable to lie in the sun. After a couple of hours, I went to the Baths, and went through the rocks to Devils Bay. Devils Bay also has a path from the top of the hill (by the gazebo) and is, IMHO, a much nicer beach, and more WJ style. Diving was much poorer there, with only 20 foot visibility. I went up to Mad Dogs, but they didn=t have power and couldn=t make their famous Pina Coladas. I headed back to the ship about 5pm. Since there was no power, few places were open ashore, and the band didn=t show for the Jump Up. A number of people decided to party aboard, including dancing, sometimes several feet above the deck. We spend a nice evening aboard ship, watching the stars, and talking with friends.
THURSDAY: We set sail early in the morning for Jost Van Dyke, sailing around the north coast of Tortola. It was neat seeing our hurricane hole at Brewers Bay from sea. We all wished Icis Malone well after the kindness she had shown us. We also passed by Cane Garden Bay, as we watched the world go by.
There was the safety consultant aboard this week, testing the training of the crew as to emergency procedures. One of the tasks is to jump from the top deck of the ship in a life jacket. This must be done 3 times. Tusoula and Devon took a long time, as it can be a scary experience. Devon finally did it, but Tusoula couldn=t make the 3rd jump. I think we all talked to her at one point or another during the day. Finally, she did pass the test on Friday. BTW, she has yet to try a swizzle after four months at sea!
We stopped at White Bay. The wind was blowing sand again, making laying on the beach a short term affair. The water was also cloudy, making for poor snorkeling. But it was still nice to be in a warm place by the sea! Lunch was brought ashore, hamburgers on the beach, and a self-serve beach bar!
We had heard some disturbing rumors from JVD. The radio said Great Harbour was trashed, along with Rudy=s (lobster dinner) and Foxy=s. This would be a major disaster and news around the world! We decided to go to White Bay anyway. A recon group went over the hill to see what was happening in Great Harbour. Turns out that Rudy & Foxy had a little damage. But Foxy=s would be open. Rudy=s was closed because, among other things, he couldn=t catch lobster because of the storm. So the Captain decided to sail in the evening and anchor at West End. We had a pig roast that night, and a PPPP party. It was a Very good time. A tropical wave moved through with close lightning strikes, adding a lot of spice to the evening.
FRIDAY: We set sail at 5am for Coopers Island. Going upwind took 5 hours to cover the 12 miles. We arrived and were first greeted by Sammy, a 5-foot snaggle tooth barracuda. He shows up every week. Captain Max explained the Cooper Island Beach Club, and why he likes to come there. It seems the owner tries to claim the public beach, so we land there. We also bring our own food and bar, cutting him out. I first went diving on the rocks on the north side of the beach, where there are nice rocks and lots of fish. Some of the passengers went Scuba Diving on the Rhone, while others went parasailing. It was cloudy during the day, but the wind was much better. After lunch I went out to the rock stack at the south end of the beach. It is a long swim there, maybe 300 yards out, but once there, it was worth it, with 65 foot visibility, the best of the trip. I didn=t stay too long, as I was alone out there, and was violating several safety rules. But I wasn=t anywhere near eels, so I wasn=t that concerned. I swam back to the beach to enjoy the rest of the day.
That evening, as we sailed back to Roadtown, we watched the sea go by on our last sail for this trip. That night was the Captains Dinner. Rocky was afraid of the storm, but Max still made the evening fun. We capped the evening with a very strong peach Flambeau. We all spent the evening on deck chatting. I found it to be a very special evening for me.
SATURDAY: This was the reluctant get away day. We were scheduled for the 8:45 ferry, but in typical Caribbean fashion, it was canceled. Thus, a bus was provided to take us to West End, where our stay in the BVI‘s had begun. It was a very sad departure fro the ship. I wish I could have stayed!
The ferry back to STT was pleasant and smooth. There was some damage on St. Thomas, including a number of ships aground, and several planes at the airport damaged or in the drainage ditch. We left, and after a brief stop on St. Croix, continued on to Baltimore. Bertha beat me home by six hours, passing directly over our house in Lewes early Saturday morning. By that time, however, she really wasn=t as we knew her only a few days before.
This was by far the most eventful and interesting Windjammer/ Barefoot cruise we have taken. This 10th week will be one I always remember, and for more reasons than just Hurricane Bertha. We will be back soon, that I‘ll guarantee!
Dean in Southern Delaware