- August 13th, 2009
- in Yachting
From the Diary of a Tugboat Nanny
Five days after Hurricane Omar, somewhere between Tortola and St Croix, the Husky Salvage and Rescue crew and I were aboard Lakota, a 96-foot tugboat, and I felt like I weighed 3000 pounds. I had never been seasick before, and I certainly didn’t expect it to feel like I was visiting another planet with a stronger gravitational pull than Earth. The heaviness wore me out so much that I napped on the wraparound sofa in Lakota’s living room, catching snippets of Little Britain between wakefulness and sleep.
We travelled at nine knots, and the boat rocked incessantly. Bamboushay Pottery dishes shifted in the cupboard where I’d stored them—padded by 18-month old Victoria Rowlette’s stuffed animals and squishy puzzle pieces. Four and a half hours later, when we arrived in Gallows Bay, I was pleased I hadn’t puked. I began unpacking the stemware and setting up for dinner. Once Lakota docked, I settled into my new lodgings in the wheelhouse with a 360-degree view of Christiansted, including the impressive, mustard-walled Fort Christiansvaern and a lopsided, hurricane-wracked, 100-foot steel ketch.
I strapped Victoria into a baby backpack, and after fording some post-hurricane flooding on Port Street, we arrived at a nearby shopping centre. Victoria’s top-of-the-head ponytail caused many giggles and comments. I searched for a notary, and a woman at the hardware store pointed across the street. The ladies at the notary office sent my fax to the States at no charge—thanks, no doubt, to the aforementioned ponytailed toddler. Everyone we met seemed cheerful, aware the hurricane damage could’ve been much worse.
We moved from Gallows Bay to Christiansted Harbour. The tiny island of Protestant Cay’s beach served as my view out the stern. Looking over the port, I saw the harbour scattered with boats at unnatural angles that made me think of broken limbs. I walked Victoria to the boardwalk where we were welcomed by the local business owners—especially when they learned we were part of the Husky Salvage and Rescue family. We lunched at the Fort Christian Brew Pub and watched Victoria’s parents, Kevin Rowlette and Becky Paull-Rowlette, along with the crew, Wayne Stafford and Nico Grove, and Husky’s USVI partner, Sea Tow, begin salvaging a vessel that was tipped alongside the boardwalk in front of the restaurant. Patrons were asked to move from outdoor tables as a precaution, but the crew removed the craft without incident in a job that ended up taking many more hours, liftbags and rescue boats than originally predicted. After lunch, Victoria and I watched the final release from the top deck of Lakota, whose power was ultimately needed for the job.
Wayne and Nico found a baby sea turtle atop a floating mattress among a wreck’s debris. They named him Dude, washed the oil off him and released him out to sea.
The team extricated a sailboat from where it was lodged under the boardwalk and had cracked and splintered dozens of boards in front of Stixx on the Waterfront. From above the water, this removal appeared to be more complicated than the one in front of the brewery, but it took less time and fewer boats to haul it up. The crowd that gathered to watch cheered after the team freed the boat. Just beyond the crowd, Victoria napped in the shade after spending most of the morning crawling all over the fountain and benches in nearby Hotel Caravelle. Her agility assured me that she’ll be a valuable member of the Husky crew in the future.
Christiansted Harbour appears less like an ER waiting room—strewn with slumping, injured patients—and more like a schoolyard playground—sprinkled with bouncing, colourful youngsters. The boardwalk itself, though still bedecked with bits of glass, foam rubber and cement, is clear of overhanging masts and lines. All in all, Husky and Sea Tow pulled up 28 boats from Christiansted and surrounding areas. The 100-foot ketch in Gallows Bay, for which the team scheduled a whole day, took less than an hour to lift, while a 30-foot sailing vessel in Green Cay, where I was told we wouldn’t even have time to hop out for a swim, took two days with the Husky team detaching the buried keel from the hull in order to liberate the sailboat.
On the ride back to Tortola, Victoria napped. Once I deemed seasickness unlikely, I took a bath in Lakota’s Jacuzzi-style tub where I experienced the bizarre sensation of a double float—my body floating in the bathtub while the boat was floating on the sea. And instead of the heaviness that anchored me to the couch on the ride over, I felt twice as buoyant.