While the winds were still blowing over the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian, we gratefully accepted the donations offered on GoFundMe and hitched our boat, loaded with the supplies were told were needed most.
We filled every inch of the boat including the diapers on the captain’s seat. There was no room to waste.
On Sept 6, we headed to Jupiter Inlet, FL where we launched and fueled the boat, hoping for smooth seas to make the crossing.
At the docks we connected with other boat captains making the Bahamas relief trip and generous locals who continued to load our boat with supplies until it was barely above water level. As the sun rose over a beautiful day in FL, we left Jupiter Inlet.
We were cautious of the rumors of pirates and ne’er-do-wells taking advantage of the Bahamian’s plight and intercepting boats like ours. We concealed what we could that looked of value, flew the Bahamian courtesy flag, and kept a good lookout.
We travelled east to the north end of Little Abaco Island. We’d heard the bridge was washed out so aid from major efforts wasn’t able to reach Little Abaco. With little local knowledge, it was a challenge to navigate the rocky barrier reefs surrounding Little Abaco and our trip went slower than we would have hoped.
Our first destination was Wood Cay on Little Abaco. Ted M., a well-known and respected member of the Wood Cay community was scheduled to meet us and help distribute supplies. When we arrived, Ted had left in a desperate attempt to find his daughter who was missing since the hurricane and rumored to be at Green Turtle Cay. In his stead, however, we met welcoming arms who gratefully accepted ½ of our boatload. We were the first boat to arrive to help the residents of Wood Cay. They had some water, but very little food. We were able to bring them food, baby supplies, water, generators and chain saws with gas to help them start clearing access through the streets and collapsed buildings.
Current Problem: En route to Wood Cay, we used our gas reserve trying to aid a couple on a sailboat which had been blown aground. With our fuel cushion gone, finding gas was becoming a priority. Locals had heard the only gas available was at Spanish Cay. Spanish Cay was on our way to Green Turtle, our final destination, so we headed that way and hoped.
Spanish Cay faired better than others. The owners were kind and gracious, but unfortunately, they had no gas. They had spoken with Green Turtle Cay and confirmed that they had gas (at least they had some that morning!) So now, with maybe enough gas to get home, we were heading another hour the opposite direction.
Along our way, we met other relief boats like ours. We experienced incredible openness and gratitude toward the relief workers and their fellow neighbors. The word that best demonstrates what we saw is COMMUNITY and it was a beautiful site to see it in action.
At first sight of Green Turtle Cay, our hearts sank. The picturesque island was devastated. The marina was empty and all the boats washed ashore. More than ½ the houses were completely collapsed and few of those that stood had full roofs remaining.
Green Turtle Cay, although physically ravaged, was receiving supply flights and indeed had (limited amounts of) gas.
Most importantly, In the midst of fear and destruction, we witnessed an incredible outpouring of community support. Anyone who had a running golf cart, truck or bicycle was removing debris and ferrying supplies from the docks to those that needed them most.
Two of the local churches survived the storm mostly intact. Using handheld VHF radios, locals were organizing clean-up and repair efforts so the churches could be used as supply distribution points. My partner on the trip, Pete, worked through the night with one headlamp only for lighting alongside a few brave locals to make solid repairs to the roof of the church to protect what little resources were left.
The islanders rely on rainwater cisterns for most of their water supply, sure they were filled with rain, but most were contaminated by the salt water flooding. Fortunately, a relief organization set up a desalination plant on the dock at Green Turtle so locals had drinking water.
Great News: The crew chief of the last helicopter supply flight of the night smuggled a few buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken on board and was instantly voted the most popular guy on Green Turtle Cay.
We never found Ted M at Green Turtle Cay but learned that he had been reunited with his daughter. Since Green Turtle Cay was able to receive regular supply flights, they loaded us up with what they knew Wood Cay needed most (including water) and we returned to our friends there with another boat load. We were met with a hero’s welcome as we were now the SECOND supply boat to arrive at the settlement.
Armed with local’s knowledge and stern warnings, we now knew how to navigate the barrier reef surrounding Wood Cay and made significantly better time on our return trip.
Land Ho! Jupiter Inlet never looked quite so inviting.
With just one flat tire to slow us down, we arrived back at home base, tired, but grateful for the experience.
We had dodged another hurricane bullet in Tampa and seeing the suffering of our Bahamian Friends was too much to ignore. There's a local legend about Indian burial mounds in Tampa that were blessed and forever protect our city from hurricanes. We don't know if that’s true, but with the outpouring of support we received on GoFundMe to help make this trip happen, it was clear that we needed to help share the blessing whether real or simply legend.
Thank you for being a part of our journey. Thank you for your contributions and support of our mission. You did something amazing and the people we met wanted to be sure we expressed their gratitude ten-fold. And so we thank you.