On September 1, 2019, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Abacos, in the northern Bahamas, and stayed there, essentially sitting and spinning, for 3 solid days. On today’s episode [this blog post is a transcript of a special edition of The Boat Galley Podcast] we’re sharing some special memories of some special spots in the Bahamas, as well as sharing information on how you can help this wonderful amazing island nation at least get some semblance of itself back.
For those of you who are able, we’re including links to a couple of fundraisers in the shownotes. These are well-recommended fundraisers. 2 focus on the smaller cays, among them Green Turtle Cay and Elbow Cay, and the other one is a larger, more broad-scope fundraiser for Bahamian hurricane relief in general.
You’ll hear 3 voices on this podcast. Mine, Carolyn’s, and the third is John Herlig, a member of The Boat Galley Team. He’s contributed articles to the site, wrote one section of the course Carolyn released earlier this year called “The Unwritten Rules”, and will be with us at the booth at the Annapolis Boat Show in October.
My memories of Green Turtle Cay are centered, as most of my memories of the Bahamas are, around sparkling water, sandy beaches, and amazing people. This one is more specific. I was in the Abacos for a week with my dad and a high school friend of his - they’d chartered for a week and invited me along because I had some sailing experience. While we were on Green Turtle, I needed to find a way to upload a video, so I packed my computer into my backpack, found a likely spot referenced in a cruising guide, and set off on foot. I walked and walked and walked, and when a friendly soul stopped in his golf cart to offer me a ride, I hopped in gratefully. He asked where I was going, told me I had a LONG way to go, asked why I was headed there, and proceeded to turn around (the exact opposite direction he had been headed) to take me to the golf-cart rental spot he ran in town. I could upload video there, he explained, and it was easier to get back to from the anchorage than the other side of the island.
Plus, he loved to cook. Conch salad was a specialty. When I asked if I could film him, for a future episode of Tasty Thursday? He agreed quickly.
Not only did he pick me up and turn around from whatever errand he’d been running. He set me up with wifi to upload a video (the computer had to stay in his office overnight). He also starred in a real-world edition of Tasty Thursday.
This to me is the Bahamas in a nutshell. Generous, giving, helpful people in a beautiful location. Can we give back something to a place and a people that have given so much to so many of us?
My name is John Herlig. I am the owner of Ave Del Mar, a 1967 Rawson 30 cutter. Or maybe I should say I used to be the owner of a 1967 Rawson 30 cutter. I just returned home to the United States from 4 months of cruising in the Abacos.
The Bahamas are special. Those small and self-sufficient out islands are extra special. I think the people who live there have a really pioneering spirit that we all sort of embody as cruisers, as sailors. My friends Bill and Leslie on Manjack Cay - who am I kidding? They’re everybody’s friends, Bill and Leslie on Manjack Cay. On the compound they’ve built there. Self-sufficient. Garden, hens, composting, cistern water. They would always greet me with a smile, give me a bag of key limes from their tree or eggs from their hens when I would come by to say hello. I’m thinking of other friends Bob and Jane who were working, steadily, well into retirement age, to finish their house on a bluff overlooking the Sea of Abaco. Working hard and working cheerfully, even though Bob lost several fingers to a power saw last year, and Jane almost lost Bob to cancer last year. When I was there helping them clear love vines from the woods around their house, Bob gave me a tour of their hurricane bunker, a beautiful concrete building. He, with a chuckle, admitted it had become a bit of a storage shed because they’d never had any need to use it.
Days before I left my boat behind and flew back home, my friends Keath and Ben came by to pick up me and my girlfriend, Coby. We went spearfishing down off Passage Rock, by Whale Cay, Back off New Plymouth, Ben’s boat, Cracker Tail, was anchored right next to Keath’s catamaran, Global Hopper. They were anchored right off the mail dock there at New Plymouth on Green Turtle. After an afternoon in the water we enjoyed that last day’s catch over the grill in Keath’s cockpit. We had a few too many beers, played ukuleles into the deep of the night.
A lot was happening as Dorian grew closer. My boat was hauled out in the boatyard at Abaco Yacht Services, strapped down with hurricane straps, stripped down and prepared as well as she could be while my girlfriend and I flew back to Washington, D.C. Keath and Ben took their boats back into the mangroves of Black Sound to try to stay protected from the storm. They sent pictures of how well they were tied off into the mangroves.
As things heated up, I got a video call from Keath as they were in their storm bunker. Winds were up, but nothing approaching what later came. We laughed and smiled and he introduced me to the random sailors that were sleeping on the floor in the bunker. They were already fighting winds, they were already wet and uncomfortable, and the storm really hadn’t even happened yet.
After the power died, my only communication was from Ben, my other friend, who had a satellite InReach with him. It allowed him to send text messages. The reports were always short but I was happy to have them. The first one that came after the storm hit read, “We’re good. Boats, not so much. Not where we left them.”
Every report that came made mention of the utter devastation of the islands. One said, “Island gone.” Another said, “At least we have each other.” That was when the reality of what had hit began to really sink in.
The winds are finally dying down now [this was shared on September 4, 4 days after Dorian first made landfall] and I know that help is finally coming. The Coast Guard, the Red Cross, other first responders are evacuating the critically injured, trying to bring initial relief supplies to the area. But I also know from watching other hurricanes that when the first responders are gone, that’s when the real recovery starts. And it’s the smaller fundraisers that help to rebuild the lives that these people had.
All of my friends, so far, in fact it seems everyone on the islands of Green Turtle and Manjack, survived the storm. But I wanted to take this opportunity to ask you to please help them. Not so much to rebuild, But to survive while they rebuild.
Carolyn here, from The Boat Galley. Like Nica and John, I have very special memories of the Abacos and Green Turtle Cay in particular.
I’ve gone through two hurricanes, including Hurricane Irma that hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 in 2017. That was awful. What hit Green Turtle Cay was even worse.
With Irma, I learned what hurricane recovery is all about. The big emergency management groups like the Red Cross come in immediately and do a good job with immediate needs. But over the long haul, it’s the smaller groups that bring the community back to life.
After Irma, readers of The Boat Galley gave me over $7,000 to use as I saw fit in the cruising community in Boot Key Harbor. It made a huge difference. We hosted community dinners, gave grocery money to people who had lost everything and bought supplies to mark the dinghy channel. It kept our community a community.
These smaller groups are going to be just as important in the Bahamas. They tend to focus on just one community and they are going to be instrumental in bringing the islands back, keeping the communities strong and making sure that no one falls through the cracks.
But these groups need your help. Admittedly, with these smaller groups, it’s important to check to be sure they are legitimate and not a scam. And I’ll admit that I don’t personally know the organizers of any of them. But three – one small, one medium and one larger -- have been recommended by friends who are long-time Abacos cruisers and charter captains.
Links for all these are in the show notes, but the first is specifically focused on Green Turtle Cay. The second, Hope 4 Hope Town, is primarily focused on Hope Town, Elbow Cay and the other cays south of the Whale. The final one, HeadKnowles, is more established and has managed over $6 million in donations in the wake of the last two hurricanes to hit the Bahamas. It is serving all areas of the Bahamas hit by Dorian.
We’re asking for donations specifically for the Green Turtle Cay fund, but realize that you may have ties to other islands or want to give to a more established group and wanted to list all three.
I hope you’ll donate what you can. I know first-hand what a difference donations made in the wake of Irma; they are even more needed now. Even $5 helps these communities that have lost absolutely everything.
Please help them.