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After Hurricane Earl

Storm Sank Boats but Spared Lives

When Hurricane Earl came roaring into the territory in the final days of August, and residents rushed to complete preparations, competing philosophies were put to the test.

In anchorages from Trellis Bay to Soper’s Hole, liveaboard sailors wrestled with the biggest decision of all—whether to stay with the boat or not. At the charter bases, workers spent the last few hours adding spring lines and fenders to protect the boats in their care, but in some cases there were too many boats and too few workers, since many staff had been furloughed for the summer. The route to the hurricane hole at Paraquita Bay was traversed many times as last-minute arrivals squeezed in next to their siblings.

On the evening of August 29, a Sunday, the wind began to strengthen, and by the early morning hours of Monday, August 30, Earl was in full effect. The north shore and West End took the initial brunt. Boats at Soper's Hole were bucking and jumping in slips and on mooring balls as the wind howled from the northwest kicking up a vicious chop. Surprisingly, some boat owners had left their vessels attached to mooring balls without additional anchors or other protection. It was those boats that didn't survive through the storm. One charter yacht, a 70-foot monohull, broke loose and pounded the docks at the boatyard to pieces whilst crushing a smaller trawler. Another private vessel snapped her docklines and ended up aground on the beach. Kevin Rowlette of Husky Salvage & Towing, who was involved in much of the subsequent cleanup, told YG, “As anyone can see, Soper's Hole was probably the worst hit.”

In other anchorages and marinas, the effects varied as the topography differed and the wind direction changed. Vessels in slips in Nanny Cay fared well, whilst those boats at anchor along the north side of the Channel were pushed aground as moorings and anchors dragged. Village Cay fared the best of all, with the only obvious victim being a large green-and-yellow ferry that dragged onto the sandy bottom near the mangroves at Wickam's Cay. That boat had been anchored by marine professionals, so the result was little surprise. Private boat owners seemed to do best.

The large charter base opposite Village Cay was a mess as boats broke free, jibs and mainsails unfurled, cleats cracked under strain and boats pounded their transoms against concrete. It is said that almost 100 boats received some sort of damage there, albeit minor. One couple who stayed aboard their private yacht at anchor by Wickam's Cay registered a maximum of 67 knots on their recording anemometer. Other areas claimed higher wind speeds—up to 100 knots or more.

Farther east on Tortola, Fat Hog's Bay was a similar scene with sails unfurling as the wind turned southerly with Earl's passing. Several boats ended up on the reef or aground in sandy patches. The main devastation seems to have takenplace in the Baugher's Bay area where several tugs, barges and other commercial vessels were pounded into rusty submission. The new governor, Boyd McCleary, was quoted as saying that the Ports Authority needed to get involved in clearing up the wrecks that littered Road Harbour's shores.


Kevin Rowlette said his new name for Baugher's Bay was “Pearl Harbor.” Most of the boats in Baugher's Bay were semi-abandoned, according to Mr. Rowlette. The owners don't live in the BVI, he said, but in St. Croix and elsewhere. “They can't leave them in US waters, so they bring them up here,” he said.

Rowlette said his company handled several calls to remove sunk and damaged yachts. “We did a big barge in West End and a couple of sailboats in Soper's Hole,” he told YG. “We had one in Fat Hog's Bay, two in Jost Van Dyke, one at Virgin Gorda and a few more yet to do down at Soper's Hole.” Speaking of his overall conclusions from the storm's ravages, Rowlette said, “In my opinion, every vessel that got in trouble was preventable. The ironic thing is that of all the vessels we've dealt with, only two have been insured. You'd think the uninsured vessels would go the extra distance (to secure themselves).”

Sailors who stayed aboard described a wild ride as they tried to ensure their boat's safety. One sailor, who wished to remain anonymous, said his mooring broke free but he was able to force his way to the foredeck and drop an anchor, saving the boat. “I'd just got back to the boat in the rain,” he said, “I was soaked, and I'd taken all my clothes off when I heard the mooring give way. I was up there naked in the rain fighting with my anchor, but I got it done.”

Sunny skies belie the previous days' storm activity.

Overall, though, the BVI came out relatively unscathed. A few boats might have been lost or severely damaged, but no lives were taken and few serious injuries reported. One reason for this was the lack of rainfall—Earl was an oddly dry hurricane—so there were few mudslides and torrential washes down ghuts. This is no time for complacency, however, as of this writing, we are just entering into the peak storm season—in what was promised to be an extremely active year.

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