Posted on November 1, 2017
My son Hudson and I returned last week from spending a long weekend in the islands. I thought it might be worthwhile to share our observations from a boat owner and charter guest perspective, especially since CYOA has just sent out the first charter guests of this post-storms season. With new friends and extended CYOA team members Tom Andreano and Doug Koger, we delivered our fantastic new Saba 50 “Glad In It 2” to St. Thomas from Guadeloupe, where she rode out Maria after dodging both Irma and Jose. We pulled into the Virgins at Ginger Passage, then sailed down the coast of Tortola from Hodges Creek to Sopers Hole, staying close to shore to get a view of the damage but also the recovery and rebuilding that is already happening. From Sopers we traversed the coast of St John from Frances Bay to Cruz Bay, and then made the customary hop across Pillbury Sound to Current Cut and back to the base via the south east coast of St. Thomas. It’s a sail we’ve all done many times, but this was clearly a different kind of cruise.
I have to say that while we recognize that the islands and their people are hurting, our main impression is the extent of the destruction is nowhere near as bad as we’d feared from weeks of looking at hundreds of Facebook posts, press reports, photos and videos. What’s more the islands are coming back, particularly evident with the re-greening of the hills vividly underway. As we pulled into Francis Drake Channel it still looked and felt like the beautiful Virgin Islands we all fell in love with. The waters were back to the lovely shades of blue and turquoise, the beaches looked inviting, and the wind was blowing the typical 15 knots from the east. It’s still a delightful place to sail — and for a while it will be rather uncrowded. The old timers tell us that sailing the islands for the next year or two will be like the old days, with fewer boats, uncrowded anchorages and shacks on the beach selling drinks out of coolers. The Merrick family is kind of looking forward to that.
The buildings at Sopers Hole and elsewhere on Tortola are badly damaged, and it will be quite a while before they are returned to their pre-storm status. Having said that, workers were busy putting new roofs on Pussers and the adjacent stores, and Pussers itself was apparently open and serving food and drink. The beaches and bays of St. John from Leinster Bay, through Frances, Maho, Hawksnest and Caneel Bays all looked good, even if the buildings on shore do not. The National Parks Service moorings in these locations look intact. Tom and Doug said they had moored on one of them overnight while delivering Mystic the week prior.
As we pulled up to the CYOA docks something unexpected happened: we realized that dock space was at a premium! In addition to Mystic, the new Lagoon 450, all three undamaged cats from Nanny Cay were taking up most of the available dock space. We had to med-moor at the end of one of the T-heads. Brad, Nancy and Yolanda were tending to the newly arrived boats, and the activity on the docks demonstrated that CYOA is clearly back in business.
Owners and charter guests will find sailing through the islands is still magical. But you will have to do something my wife advises for every sailing trip: pack your flexibility. On the practical side, you will need to fully provision before leaving the CYOA base. There are only a few restaurants up and running beyond Charlotte Amalie. Grocery stores are well stocked on St. Thomas, but you shouldn’t count on being able to re-provision while out cruising. Likewise you will need to watch your diesel and water levels. The moorings in the various mooring fields should be fine, and reportedly have been inspected, but you should absolutely verify the integrity of your mooring by diving on it. Be sure to check what businesses have re-opened, since many more are re-opening every week. The CYOA team has a list of websites that track this.
On the whole, we were very heartened, and can’t wait to get on our new boat with the rest of the family to go sailing again. Hope to see you all out on the water sometime!
— Phillip Merrick, CYOA Owner “Glad In It 2”