Monday, April 16, 2018

How We Got our Groove Back: Piecing together Life Post-Irma

Haven looks at what used to be our home.
Our first charter for our daysail company, Aristocat Charters, was April 10th. It might not seem like a massive announcement in the grand scheme of things, but getting our flailing business back up and running (we lost both our day charter boats to the storm and have been income-less since) was the last piece of the "Irma puzzle" we had to put together to resume life as normal. It's a laughable concept - "as normal" - because life here after hurricane Irma is anything but "normal"... so much has changed. People have left (both by choice and not), "disaster relief" groups have taken their place, buildings are destroyed, construction is booming, tourists are few and far between, new industries and companies have emerged, tides have changed in a million ways, and many lives and livelihoods face uncertainty...The fact that our first charter was six months overdue is just one *tiny* anomaly among many. It's pretty much the same plot line for every single one of us that lives here: adjustment and recalibration is part of the new normal.

Life post-Irma has been an equally strange and amazing time, living in what some might describe as a "disaster area" that, in many ways, has not quite found it's footing is...interesting. From a global perspective, this situation is not unique. Every day there are a whole host of geographical areas effected by natural disasters, wars, and extreme poverty. These are polarizing predicaments, to be sure. But coming from the relatively bubble-wrapped perspective of a privileged "first worlder", this is very unique. Despite the "different-ness" (life will for a long time be discussed in a pre vs. post Irma vernacular), however, the beauty shines through. My heart continues to swell with gratitude every single day that we can live here, our girls continue to thrive in their wild and carefree childhood, and the tourists who have chosen not to cancel their travel plans all echo the same sentiment: "This place is amazing!" Because it is. Sure, you will see a whole host of cars driving around with only plastic for windows with mangled bodies and, yep, you will probably turn to gawk at some buildings who's second floor is no more, and - true - there are some areas where the destruction and damage will be shocking and possibly depressing, but if you can get past that - you will see that so much beauty remains unchanged. And to be able to see beyond the destruction is, I am learning, a gift.

Those of us that live here, we have to see beyond it. We have no other choice. And so we do.

When I lived in Tanzania my best girlfriend from college came to visit. I picked her up from the 8:30pm KLM flight that arrived from Amsterdam in my old beater of a Land Cruiser and we made the long, dark drive back to my house. We chatted and caught up as we passed a flicker of a roadside oil lantern here and there, and I was giddy with excitement to have a visiting fried. The drive to my house was an hour and to get there we passed through a little roadside shanty town to get up the hill to where I lived. I walked or drove through this little neighborhood every day. Ramshackle dirt-floor homes made of propped up corrugated roof bits and sticks, cardboard mats, and whatever was available. Stray dogs, mamas collecting firewood, and barefoot little kids kept a regular buzz of activity along the roadside...it was all very normal to me. "Oh my gosh Brittany!" my friend gasped when the askari (armed guard) closed the car gate behind us. "How could you not warn me about that?" I was confused..."About what?" I asked, perplexed. "That poverty down there" she said with wide, sad eyes. And suddenly it dawned on me: this was NOT normal to her. It was shocking to her. She had never seen anything like it before. To me, however, those were the kids I hugged and high-fived on the way down the hill. Those were the mamas that sold me my daily maize and welcomed me home with a smile. To me, it was normal. My brain had adjusted.

And it's kind of like that here.

This lesson that I learned so long ago and am re-learning again is the amazing ability of the human brain to adapt. I have always wondered how people in war torn areas were able to live day to day, marveled at the horrors of history such as concentration camps and how people persevered, and my heart breaks daily at the thought of losing a child and how parents (like my own mother) go on after such utter devastation ... while our situation absolutely pales in comparison to those above, what I have learned is that people are often stronger than we think. And when you don't have a choice, your brain does this amazing thing: it adapts. "If you don't bend you break" is a mantra that has resonated with me for a long time - and as a very "type A" person it's not always an easy one for me to embody - but life post-Irma has taught me that more than anything. You need to be flexible. You need to be patient. You need to bend. Choices are a gift, for sure. But when they go away, you learn to work with - and appreciate - what you have. And you go on.

Do not get me wrong, our family is by no means "choice-less" in the literal sense, we are still very much in the top percent of the world's population, but leaving this place would mean abandoning a dream, a life we love, and it would set us back financially in a very significant way. We, in our thought process, had no choice but to stay and try to salvage what we could of our life and business. Irma took us out at our knees; we were at the top of our game, making more money that we had even predicted and growing our business in leaps and bounds. Last season was a record breaker for Aristocat Charters and this season was on track to break that by a LOT...we were doing so well and excited about future plans and goals, dreaming big travel dreams and plotting some exciting getaways. Irma changed all that over the course of a few hours but focusing on the past and how good we had it is easiest way to sink into an anxiety ridden depression. The only way to look now is forward. And one fact remains: we still have it very good. We still have a wonderful life. We are healthy and have our kids. We live in a beautiful and inspiring (albeit imperfect) place.

Perspective is everything.

"What's it like there now?" people ask me. I tell them that it's different, yes, but there are what I describe as "pockets of normalcy" where things feel okay and even like they were before. The main grocery store is unchanged and fully stocked, the roads are clear and free again, Isla's darling school is a haven of happiness and joy (and looks just as it did pre-Irma), our beloved Nanny Cay Marina - while very different - still feels very much the same and the community here is stronger than ever. These are just a few examples... Every day things get a little bit better.  These are still some of the most beautiful islands on the planet and one of the best places for a water-based vacation. Despite what is a very uncertain future in regards to tourism - not to mention the very real (almost palpable) terror that is inside all of us about future hurricane seasons - I am grateful. Our family - no doubt about it - are some of the lucky ones.

So yes, this past month was a big one for us. Our new boat is here meaning we finally have a place to call our own again (stay tuned for a tour and pics!), our beautiful new (to us) daysail boat for Aristocat Charters is up and running (and arguably better than our other boats!), and life is beginning to feel more "normal". Things are coming together and it feels so, so good. As the islands build themselves back up and nature restores itself, so does the human spirit. We are all of us changed from the hurricanes, but I also believe most of us have a new layer of empathy, understanding and an inner strength that has grown. We have nowhere to look but forward.

Our new home and boat, s/v Sonder

These islands still need help! The best way to show support is to come and visit us! People who have been here since the storm are RAVING about their amazing times on charters...this place is still amazing, awe-inspiring and beautiful - ESPECIALLY from the water. Check out my post for Marinemax about what to expect on your trip. See you soon!

Also, if pictures are your thing and you want to see more - please follow us over on Facebook or Instagram where I post pictures of our life and adventures every day. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Our New Boat, Sonder, is Homeward Bound: How Hurricane Irma Took but also Gave

I got little choked up as I re-read Scott's last "I love you message" as he sailed out of cell reach this morning.  The culmination of six months of shock, anguish, gratitude, uncertainty, stress, exciting new beginnings and heart breaking disappointments suddenly bubbled up as it dawned on me that - finally - things are starting to come together. Part of the emotion, of course, is also a healthy dose of anxiety around the fact that Scott will be largely out of communication for the next ten days as he sails our new home offshore with his trusty crew of two. I will be getting daily "we are okay" or "send help" messages that will come through our basic but effective satellite communication system on board, but not much more than that. Long time readers know I am, and have always been, a professional worrier when it comes to boating. The trepidation is compounded after having been affected so completely by Hurricane Irma; we are now closely associated with loss and intimately aware of how quickly things can change. I'm trying to push those thoughts out of my head and keep a positive outlook, but I'd like the next ten days to hurry up and be here.

***

Anxiety aside, my heightened emotional state was also out of sheer joy that finally we will have our very own home again and, after spending almost half of the last six months apart, ours will be a (more consistently) two-parent family. While I am very accustomed to solo parenting our three girls, it's not always easy and sometimes can get downright ugly (ask me about how many balls I drop on a daily basis). Daddy being a regular presence and influence around here will be SO welcome. The fact that Scott is also sailing our dream boat (and home) back to us is also quite incredible and surreal. Scott and I have been dreaming of owning a Hallberg-Rassy 46 since we owned our very first Hallberg-Rassy, Rasmus. The other week, in fact, a blog follower wrote me with the screenshot of a three year old Facebook post in which I had posted a picture of a Hallberg-Rassy 46 and wrote, "One day we *will* have this boat". I have no recollection of putting it out there like that, but I did, and if that isn't a point for how the Universe works and manifestation, I don't know what is. 


The truth is, for as much as Hurricane Irma took from us and all the stress she bestowed on our family, she gave us so much as well. Not only do we now own the boat of our dreams - an ironic turn of events that is not lost on us - but we have made some truly incredible new friendships that began and grew because of the storm. We are under contract on a new boat better suited for our daysail company, and every single day I am so grateful that we are able to live on the island we love, slowly putting the pieces of our life and business back together with some amazing people in our corner. People hear our story and often express sorrow for us. I am the first one to say, "NO! Please do not!" While obviously we'd have preferred Irma to have not upturned our life and those of so many others, we are some of the really, really lucky ones. We had insurance for both our home boat and business boats, we were paid our claims in full, we had a nice chunk of money saved in the bank, did not have to endure the horror of a Cat 5 hurricane with our kids, and we had the open arms and incredible generosity of friends and family to fall back on when we were lost...we were and are FINE. There are others who were - and continue to be - way worse off. Our hearts go out to those people who continue to suffer and who's lives have been changed irrevocably. We are not those people. We took a hit, for sure, and our path and inner-selves are forever altered by the events of the 2017 hurricane season, but we are back and - ultimately - stronger for it. Irma, it seems, might just have changed us and our lives for the better...

***
Our new boat, after much research and deliberation, has been named Sonder; the suggestion of my good friend Christel from Stell and Snuggs (the merry family of roving sailboat musicians). We loved it immediately. Our criteria was 1) one word 2) easy to read and pronounce 3) unique and 4) a great meaning behind it. Sonder is a sort-of made up word from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (fascinating and worth a gander) and means:
Sonder: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
In short, the word means everyone has a story. As both a writer who loves stories and someone who, particularly after Irma, is hyper aware of the fact that we all walk around with a well of stories and scars within us that are not apparent to the naked eye - it just made sense. So s/v Sonder she is.

This story is ours, and today marks the start of a brand new chapter. s/v Sonder is finally homeward bound, and we are so excited for what lies ahead.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Back on Island Time: A Recap and Update on our Return to Post-Irma Tortola

The only time I actually got teary about our return to Tortola was during take off on the puddle jumper in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It had been an emotional few months. We were back in the US on holiday, when - days before we were scheduled to fly back - a massive hurricane named Irma demolished our island, home and livelihood. As a result, we were 'displaced' for over four months. We made the most of it, as any of you who follow our Facebook Page know; we met up with friends, we made new ones, we fundraised almost $170K for our island, and spent the holidays with family. We went to movies, dinners and we even went skiing....yes, our time in the US was nothing short of wonderful, but it was still not "home". So on that flight - that tiny little nine seater that I love and loathe so much - I felt four months worth of heartache, anticipation and excitement bubble up in me and, well, I got a little choked up.

But that's where the emotions subsided really, at least the ones that brought tears to my eyes...which actually surprised me. I had mentally prepared myself for this return, both out of self preservation and on Scott's urging (he'd been back and forth several times since the hurricanes). I also prepped the girls. There was no question that the place we left for our annual summer holiday in July was not the place we'd be returning to in January. "Tortola is not going to look like it did when we left it" I kept telling them. "We know mommy!" they would sigh (we had this conversation a lot) "It's all broken up, we *know*..." they'd say like it was no big thing, like I was asking what color the sky was. As for myself, I prepped like I do for any big moment in life: moving abroad, long sailing passages, cruising with a baby, twins, flying with kids and just about every other occasion that warranted planning: expect the worst, hope for the best. If there is anything I can pat myself on the back for it is an ability to know what I am getting into due to very calculated and ninja-like method of preparation. I was primed for some sadness and shock, and I was definitely ready for tears.

So as the azure blue of the Caribbean sea made way to our beautiful island of Tortola, I was struck by one observation: from a distance, she looks the same. (And I, for the life of me, could not get that damn Bette Midler song "From a Distance" out of my head...) But when I came to that realization, that beautiful and simple realization, the only emotion that was left was pure, unadulterated happiness. I knew then that we were going to be okay, and whatever tears I thought I might shed upon arrival were replaced with a shit-eating grin.

***

Our plane touched down on Tortola soil and I was hit by the familiar sweet, sticky heat that I missed so much. The girls were giddy and punch drunk from almost twelve hours of travel, and as we clamored out of the tiny plane they giggled and jumped and we took in our surroundings. "Look mommy, a broken palm tree!" "Look at that broken car mommy!" "There's no windows over there mommy, hurricane Irma did that!" they observed... Sure, things were a bit worse for wear, there was no doubt about that. But it wasn't that bad. It was nothing that we hadn't seen in pictures and nothing that some time and hard work couldn't fix. The blue sky, the sun shining, and that lovely winter trade wind breeze was still there. It was all I needed to know we were back where we belonged, and it felt so. very. good.

Driving back to our home marina of Nanny Cay, we saw closer up what the aerial view from the plane did not expose; broken buildings, abandoned cars, entire homes demolished with only a single toilet left standing to let you know that, yes, just four months ago someone actually lived here. Sure, it was sad. And to know that so many people are still unemployed and struggling on a daily basis, that is very hard. But nothing about the state of the island was utterly shocking to me. Nothing really took my breath away. Call it a point for social media; but I knew more or less what to expect. Sure, seeing it in person is a little bit different, but after scrolling through hundreds of photos and having spoken to many on-island friends, I felt well prepared. As our taxi man, Larry, navigated potholes new and old, the girls pointed out all the broken things around us (like it was a game) I challenged them not to find the broken things, but the beauty around us instead... And, as kids do, they changed their tune completely; "Look at those beautiful pink flowers!" "And those baby cows! Look, beautiful cows mommy!" and "Look at the water mommy, the water is beautiful..." and it is, the water and the views are still breath-taking...

***

We arrived to our temporary residence, the catamaran that my mom had bought right before the storm to use as her base for visits. Miraculously, it survived - almost unscathed - only a couple slips down from where our boat sank. The girls ran into like it was no big thing. They claimed rooms, started un packing their things and playing. Like we'd lived here forever. I immediately went into organizing mode and started assessing storage and where things would go, keeping in mind that this is a temporary dwelling and we'd be moving again in a couple of months, and that's when I saw her out of our front window: Legato. Our old boat who had been found on the bottom of our marina a month after Irma and who'd been raised and laid haphazardly on her side along the break wall in the place that is now referred to as "the graveyard". She is a sorry sight and almost unrecognizable; her name nearly completely rubbed off, her once-sparkling navy hull now a dullish gray-blue due to the murk from a month on the seabed, and her rigging in tangles on her deck and all around her. While it is sad to get an eye full of her nearly every day, she is a reminder that we have not given up and we are moving on. Life after Irma gave us a lot of perspective, namely: a boat is replaceable. People are not. We are blessed and lucky and can and will rebuild. We unpacked a few things and hit up the beach bar where we were greeted with happiness and hugs, the girls went running off on an adventure on their own, they didn't miss a beat... We even left a pair of flip flops buried in the sand like old times. It was almost as if we hadn't left.

***

"How *are* you?" people will ask us in earnest with a gentle shoulder touch and heavy look in their eyes. I feel almost guilty shrugging and saying, "We are fine, we are really just *so* happy to be back." I also feel guilty for people thinking that we have any reason not to be fine. Sure, we lost a hell of a lot in Irma and she really knocked us off our feet - but she did that to every. single. other. person who lived here as well - and we are far luckier than most. We didn't have to live through the horror of the storm, were 'displaced' in a familiar place with familiar people, we had solid insurance (that has paid out!), a roof, power, and take-out and Uber and organic food... we could flush our toilets, come and go as we pleased and we could cook on a stove. We were fine. Coming back we have returned to a very comfortable boat with air conditioning, a cooking stove and electricity. We live in Nanny Cay, arguably the most recovered and comfortable place to live at the moment, with a vibrant community, a fully stocked grocery store, coffee shop and beach bar with nightly barbecue specials (THERE IS TACO TUESDAY NOW, PEOPLE!)....we cannot complain. "Honestly, we are just so happy to be back" is what I say to everyone, and I mean it with all of my heart. Maybe that makes me odd, but the destruction doesn't really bother me that much. And the girls? They don't give a hoot about it. Kids are truly amazing in that way, their resilience is inspiring.

***

We have been back just over two weeks and the thing is this: while everything looks VERY different, (the destruction from this storm is everywhere, overwhelming and almost too much to comprehend)  the BVI still FEELS the same. In fact, in some ways, I even like it better than before. It's a little grittier, a little more raw, a little less crowded and it feels more rustic. As someone who used to live in a little cowboy town in East Africa, I like rustic. We didn't move here for the architecture, the restaurants, or the cuisine...we weren't here for the glitzy night-life, spas, fantastic road quality or the bustling city center. We were here because we love living on the water and beacause we love this community. Because we love the melting pot of cultures Tortola provides and the fact that our girls greet at least ten different nationalities and dialects on a daily basis...we were here because most of our waking hours are spent outside in the sun, running around barefoot in the sand or climbing trees or swimming in pools.... we were here because the pace of life is a little slower and planning an outing with friends takes minutes, not weeks....we were here because this little group of islands - the BVI - are so. damn. beautiful and unlike any other place on earth.... we were here because we can hop in our boat and have lunch on a new island in less than an hour....we were here because people are more laid back, rules are not so rigid, and we can be a bit more "heathen" and a little less "uptight"....we were here because the characters we meet on a daily basis range from the crazy to the quirky to the profound and we learn from all of them... we were here because I truly believe this is one of the greatest places to raise little children in the world...the list goes on. My point is this: all of that is *still* here.

So - don't get me wrong - Tortola is still struggling and the road to recovery is a long one, I do not want to sugarcoat that. I have an overwhelming amount of respect for those people who were here for the storm, and those people who have remained to rebuild in the aftermath. I honestly cannot imagine what they all endured....Help is still needed here and it will be an uphill battle for quite a while, years in fact. But for us, at least, it's okay. In fact, it's better than okay.

It is so, so good to be home.


To see more pictures of our daily goings-ons, please follow us on Facebook (@sailwindtraveler) or Instagram (@windtraveler), where I am posting daily.  More blog posts and updates to come! Thank you for your notes of concern and patience. My email has been more or less neglected since having the twins (cringe) but I appreciate all your kind notes. Thank you for being an amazing community for us.



Thursday, October 19, 2017

Eulogy for our Boat

Note that the hole in the bow is the bow thruster and not the hold that sank our boat.
Twenty-four hours before Irma struck Tortola and changed the course of our lives and the lives of countless others, I knew we were in for it. "We are going to lose Legato," I told Scott in a contradictory state of shocked disbelief and utter certainty as Irma gained strength on her unforgiving trajectory toward our island of Tortola. I've written about how surreal it is to watch a slowly advancing "mega" hurricane descend upon your home, I've also written about the aftermath of a life forever changed from that hurricane. What I haven't written about is our boat, and what happened to her.

***

Those of us who live on boats know that they are more than "just boats". They become an extension of us, a part of our family and they become our home. Our boats weather storms and rough seas, they deliver us to safe harbor and new horizons. They are dreams and adventures and hopes and wonder all molded into a shiny, fiberglass hull. Most live-aboards meticulously care for their boats, as not doing so can become a matter of life and death... We are intimate with their bellies, their quirks, and how they need to be handled "just so" in certain situations. We fall in love with them and refer to them as a "she". Most of us treat them as such, with tender love and respect...We become very attached to our boats because of the tremendous amount of blood, sweat and tears we put into them. To boaters, our vessels are not inanimate objects, they have souls...

Ours was no different.

Due to the fact that our beautiful Tayana, Legato, was a new-to-us boat, she was unable to take us on all the adventures we wished for her, the trips we had planned for this coming season and beyond... She was taken from us too soon. But our short time with her didn't dampen our love of her; just as it doesn't take long for a mother to fall in love with a newborn baby, falling in love with a boat happens quickly. She was to be our "forever" boat (if there is such a thing) and she was about as close to perfect for us as we could have imagined. She was strong and safe, she sailed wonderfully and she was beautiful. She was soooo beautiful. What do they call it? "House proud?" Yeah, I was "boat proud". We loved her so much. We were very happy living in her cozy belly.

Of all the things I imagined - even worst-case scenario style - I never imagined her sinking.

After Irma struck and we were able to confirm our loved ones and friends were safe, we were able to focus on what exactly happened to Legato. As word and images began to trickle out of our home marina of Nanny Cay, it became apparent that our boat was not in the tangled mess of masts and hulls pushed ashore. "We can't see your boat anywhere" our friend wrote us. "We are so sorry. We have been looking." And, despite a few folks (Scott included) holding out the *sliver* of hope that she'd be found somewhere else entirely, we all knew deep down that she'd sunk.

As pictures like these emerged from Nanny Cay, it became clear our boat was not afloat. Note the 60 foot catamaran flipped over on land like a toy.
Weeks went by and we heard nothing of our boat. And then, one dreary afternoon as I was crafting with the girls, I got the message from my friend, Charlotte:

"Oh Brittany
They found her
I'm so sorry
She's been under this whole time."

She paused and then finished with:

"I took a picture but let me know when you're ready"

I told her I was ready. But I wasn't ready.

How can one be ready to see their beloved home in such a state? I immediately burst into tears as I saw the sorry picture of our home and a well of emotion that had been in hiding for the previous few weeks opened up with a vengeance.
The first picture I saw of our boat after Irma, she is being lifted off the bottom here. Hardly recognizable.
Imagining our boat; all our carefully selected things, our children's' treasures and toys, and all that we had worked so hard for sitting for a month on the silty bottom of the marina floor was too much. My mind imagined our saloon filled with water, dark and murky. The pillows, the clothes, maybe a few things were floating around weightlessly? The eerie stillness and silence of a watery grave...I imagined all our kids beloved books, slowly disintegrating where they were stacked so carefully on the shelf...their stuffed animals, sodden with dirty marina water, laying haphazardly where their final float deposited them...all the woodwork, paper work, tools, electronics...it took us an entire month to shift all our belongings from our old boat to Legato...my mind raced through the inventory aboard, the memories that were, and those that were never to be...

What happened? I wondered as I looked at the wreck of carnage that was once our home. What did her in? Was it our own rig? The rig of another boat? A piling from the broken docks? Maybe it was the corner of one of those cement blocks that were found all over the marina? Those used to be in the water...What *was* it?

The answer to these questions will likely never be known, but it is clear that something punctured her starboard side, just at the waterline. That hole - such a seemingly small yet incredibly significant thing - was what took down our boat and all our belongings inside of her. Have you ever seen water rushing into a boat from a hole below the waterline? The force is incredible and terrifying from even the smallest puncture and it's amazing how quickly water will accumulate. I imagine that fateful moment of impact and how quickly water flooded in, filling our boat at an alarming rate. Our bilge pump wouldn't even have put a dent in it...but our newly installed high water alarm might have sounded for a few moments before it, too, was under. Our boat went down fast, that much is certain. I imagine the water rising, covering all our rugs that I so carefully selected, the floor boards floating up, releasing all the contents kept underneath them. I imagine the water quickly submerging the girl's toy box, their dollies and blocks joining in the frenzied floating fray, and water rising up past the settees and to our bookshelf... All the electronics, the crafting cubby and the pictures on our walls ...I imagine the chaos and swirling water and debris down below as even greater mayhem reigned outside. And I imagine her going down, settling on the murky bottom to die with a soft thud.

A few inches higher and she might have still stayed floating...
While at first I was confused why no one could find a sign of our boat for a solid month after the storm, it became clear later when the diver who found her told Scott that there is only one foot visibility at the moment, and that they are locating boats on the bottom by touch. He met Scott, had a beer with him at the beach bar and offered his condolences. "When I found your boat, I put my hands on her and thought, 'Damn, this was a nice boat'" he told him. And she was. She was a really, really nice boat - and a very comfortable and lovely home. And even though a boat is replaceable, we grieve the loss.

***

As much as Irma took from us, we are among the lucky. We are alive and healthy and young. We were insured and as such, our "stuff" can and will be replaced, and - yes (spoiler alert!) - we will eventually get another boat. It's amazing how something like this puts a whole new perspective on life and what is important. At my lowest moments post-Irma I would immediately think, "But what if I lost a child today? I would then wish for where I am right now..." Suddenly, losing our house, livelihood and things - while shitty - didn't seem like a big deal. Things can be replaced, lives can be rebuilt and communities can heal... I am grateful that we are/were so lucky. We have an amazing support network around us, a fantastic community to return to and we have resources at our disposal. While we mourn the loss of the beautiful home we lost and all she took down with her, we will cherish the memories as we look forward to what lies ahead... This is a single chapter in the story of our life...the adventures will continue.

RIP s/v Legato
Tayana 48
Lost to Hurricane Irma

September 6, 2017
Scott has been going aboard almost daily to try to salvage things. Not easy as the boat is at a 45 degree angle.
So sad to see such a mess and imagine all the garbage this one single boat has produced.

A very sorry state for what was once such a regal and beautiful boat.
The tangled mess of lines and rigging is hard to even comprehend. It gives you a tiny idea of Irma's power
Legato in what has become the boat graveyard at Nanny Cay.
Scott has, amazingly managed to salvage some of the kids things...legos, dinosaurs, some dress up clothes, a tea set...as horrible as plastic is for the ocean, we are grateful to be able to keep some of these things. He even rescued some stuffed animals that after a good soak in disinfectant and a few wash cycles are good as new! Our chain, anchor, and dishes have also been salvaged. Every little bit counts. Note: He propped up this bear and dolly so I could show the girls that the toys were safe together...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Annapolis Boat Show: A Salve to My Soul

I am currently coming down from the high that was the Annapolis Boat Show. To think I almost didn't go...it blows my mind because, for me, it was more than a boat show; it was a cathartic salve to my soul. It was long embraces from friends, tears shed with longtime blog followers, and deep belly laughs over too much tequila with my sailing brothers and sisters. It was meeting online pals in real life for the first time, being stopped when walking from A to B  by blog followers just wanting to say hi and express support and it was raising money and awareness for our beloved British Virgin Islands...The Annapolis Boat Show was so very much to me but more than anything it was a reminder of one of the main reason's we love being sailors and living aboard: the community.

***

Going to the boat show was not even on my radar. A few weeks ago, however, I got a message with the generous offer to stay at the home of some friends of friends, free of charge. They had extended the invitation to a few other folks in the form of a group message, mostly bloggers and vloggers (all of whom are dear friends, Tasha from Turf to Surf and Cat and Will from Monday Never to name a few) and finished the note with "It will be great to get you all together." I agreed. It was uncertain how Scott and I could make this happen (child care for three littles is not easy, thank you to Scott's mom for saving the day!), but, due to a nagging gut feeling of "needing" to go, we did make it happen and the weekend was marked on our calendar.

As often happens with plans in the sailing world, things changed and less than a week before we were to fly to Baltimore, our friends at Nanny Cay found our boat at the bottom of the marina. A tailspin of sadness and heartbreak washed over us as we saw the pictures of Legato being hauled from the sea, and despite knowing her fate, the pictures were salt on our very raw wounds. "I need to go to Tortola" Scott solemnly told me two days before the show. "I have to go down and see it all and try to figure out how to get our life back on track." And with that, it was decided that he would go to Tortola, and I would go to Annapolis by myself.

We had been housing Puerto Rican evacuee-turned-friend Diana Margarita since Hurricane Maria, she and I met online immediately after Irma and had been coordinating relief efforts together. In an incredible and very serendipitous turn of events, she not only became our roommate here in Chicago after being evacuated pre-Maria, but also became the Executive Director of the relief group Sailors Helping. As such, she had a very relevant place at the show. We traveled together, two hurricane displaced and emotionally drained island girls, and we emerged from the show buoyed by the love and support of our community.

***

There was much work to do at the show and it started almost immediately upon landing. I had over 400 t-shirts to sell and when I saw the multitude of boxes my heart sank, "How on earth will I sell all these?" I thought to myself. It seemed impossible. Luckily I had some friends and volunteers help me out, not the least of which is one of my most favorite longtime sailing/blogger friends Tasha, from Turf to Surf and Chase the Story. Together we were a dynamic duo, and with the help of my neighbor Claudia and her family, as well as the awesome duo behind Sailing Lunasea and Diana of Sailors Helping, we sold out of everything in under four days. I could not believe it. Humongous thanks to our good friends Mia and Andy from 59 North Sailing for letting us squat in their booth when the BVI Tourism Board was unable to accommodate us (apparently it did not have a 'sell' license). Our booth was "the" booth and was always hopping', the love for the BVI is legit!

I was also invited to speak on a Cruising World Magazine panel geared toward boats heading south and what was to be expected. My Puerto Rican friend Diana was on the panel with me, as well as fellow boat mama, circumnavigator and longtime online friend, Behan Gifford of Sailing Totem. Meeting her was amazing. We squealed, embraced, and both shed a few tears out of sheer joy of finally meeting in person, as well as some tears in solidarity. As a fellow boat mom and live-aboard, she completely empathized with our situation. The panel was a great success and the message was clear: the islands will prevail! "Our beaches are still golden, our water still blue, and our drinks are still cold!" The subject matter requires a separate blog post, which will come, but all in all, it was a great discussion and another chance to share the stage with and meet some amazing people.

After being on our feet and talking all day (I have a whole new respect for anyone that does trade shows like this for a living!) we'd retire as a group to the "Casa de Bach" where we ate, drank, and talked about everything under the sun while being surrounded by like-minded sea-gypsy souls. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to be sitting on a porch enveloped by people who "get" you; people with whom you already share so much in common that friendship happens instantly. We all stayed up way too late, drank way too much, but the laughter - oh the laughter! - it was so, so good for my soul. I am smiling ear to ear thinking about it.

***

By the weekend's end, I'd lost my voice, was completely exhausted and felt like my legs had run a marathon, but what was depleted from me physically during my four frenetic days in Annapolis, was replaced ten-fold emotionally. I was as high as a kite leaving that place... Hopped up on joy. Walking on sunshine. On cloud nine.... Bonds were deepened, new friendships forged, and I was again reminded that if we have good people around us to make us laugh, hold us tight and empathize with our hurt, we have everything we need to move forward.

Community by definition is: a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals, and Annapolis showed me that we not only have this, but we have it in spades.

*

Thank you again Jeff and Cam for forcing me out of my comfort zone and bubble of post-Irma-ness (for lack of a better word) - and opening your home so generously to me and all the others. We love you both so much! Your kindness and generosity will never be forgotten!

If you like the shirts and hats you see in these photos, PLEASE BUY SOME
All proceeds go to the VISAR BVI Relief Fund. Thank you so much.

We are also still accepting donations for our BVI relief efforts HERE
Help us reach our goal of $200K!
Diana and I working the Virgin Unite Fundraiser party on our first night.
These two. Seeing them was SO emotional. They are our neighbors at Nanny Cay. Here they are, working to rebuild our amazing Nanny Cay community from afar...they are back on the ground now and we cannot wait to see them soon!
The sailing badass Andy Schell of the 59 North Podcast. Not only a super nice guy, but a super accomplished sailor. His wife  Mia is equally bad ass.
C is for Community! Mia Karlsson of 59 North Sailing (love her!), and Nanny Cay neighbors Claudia, Ted and Anne.
My partner in crime in all things. Tasha from Turf to Surf. An amazing human and friend.
REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD! Terysa and Nick of Sailing Yacht Ruby Rose.
Party people. We work hard, we play hard. Tasha of Turf to Surf, Will from Monday Never, and Me.
LOVE THESE TWO. Seriously meeting them was a highlight. Jennifer and Mark of Sailing Lunasea.
How long have I known Carolyn Sherlock from The Boat Galley? A long time. She replaced my sunken copy of her amazng cookbook for free. Because she's amazing like that. Love her.
I love these two. Cat from Monday Never, Terysa from Ruby Rose, and me.
Old friends Paul and Sheryl Shard of the television show Distant Shores
After hours shenanigans. The shenanigan game was strong with this posse. Megan from Missing Vissers was another highlight new friend.
So. Much. Laughing.

Bad-ass boat girls who pretty much make my world a better place. I love them all.

My partner in crime, Tasha, at the end of the show. Photo courtesy of the Annapolis Boat Show.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Life After Irma

Life goes on. This is the most comforting, and yet hardest aspect to grasp post Irma. I walked through Target the other day, meandering the aisles and taking stock of the obscene amount of stuff filling every shelf (some of which I admittedly put in my cart). I could not stop thinking of my friends  and fellow islanders on St. Maarten, BVI, USVI, Domenica and Puerto Rico who wait for hours and hours to get basic staples, who walk for miles to charge their devices and attempt to connect with loved ones...who's lives have taken on a completely different purpose and weight, and for whom basic survival is a daily game. What would they think of this Target trip, I wondered? These are people for whom a roof, a shower and a flushing toilet are luxuries. Target? What a joke. But life goes on...

There are two camps of people who have emerged from this storm; those who lived through the horror of it (and by almost all accounts, it was absolutely terrifying) and those of us who are residents and watched from afar as the horror unfolded. The experiences for each - both pre and post storm - are different, but the end result is the same: Every single one of our lives have been changed forever. Many of us lost our homes and most all of our worldly belongings. Many of us lost jobs and businesses. Not a single one of us came out unscathed. An entire geographic area's inhabitants (not to mention our islands) are permanently scarred from #irmaria and while each of our scars are unique, they are there. The side-effects of the trauma of an entire life completely turned upside down are vast. And we will all feel the after-shocks of Hurricane Irma for a very, very long time.

As most of you know, we are in the Chicagoland area where we plan to stay for the time being. And - despite the unfortunate circumstances - it's wonderful here. We are surrounded by amazing family (Mom, you are the best! Thank you for everything!) and have many friends - new and old - nearby. Isla is enrolled in kindergarten and I walk her to school hand in hand every day as leaves crunch under our feet while we chit-chat. She has fit in seamlessly and absolutely loves it and all her new friends, who come running up to her to envelop her in hugs as we arrive at the school doors. Haven and Mira attend a little pre-school two mornings a week where they play and paint and they too love it. Not a single morning has been met with tears or protests of not going. They are adaptable and social children and we are very proud and grateful for that. They are all in dance class twice a week and swim class on Mondays...and, honestly, are as happy as ever. They miss our boat, they ask after their island friends daily and are excited to go back and rebuild ("We are gonna bring food and water to Nanny Cay momma!" they say. The lack of food and water immediately after the storm is something they really clung to). As much as we want to go back and try to rebuild our life and business on Tortola, the time is not now. We need to assure it's safe and that schools are running, and we need to prepare our girls for what will be a very different - albeit interesting - life when we return (we are up for the adventure and challenge). In the meantime, life needs to continue while we make a plan moving forward. To anyone that sees us out and about on the streets here, we are just another suburban family living our life. But there is so much more below the surface. It's strange to think about and I am now hyper aware that everyone has a story. How many people do I mindlessly walk past in the grocery store are deep in pain; maybe they are going through a divorce, lost a loved one, suffer depression, or battle addiction...we just never know. This experience has really driven this fact home for me: that life goes on as normal for the people around us even though our lives will never be the same.

As someone who studied theater most of her life and leans toward positive-thinking I can very easily put on a happy face out and about, but the pain of uncertainty, the sting of losing our beloved home and the general feeling of being untethered is always there. I have strange dreams every night. One in which our boat was lifted from the depths of the harbor, in perfect condition and ready to sail again. Another I was making my way across post-apocolyptic Tortola on foot trying desperately to get back to Nanny Cay. The storm and it's effects on us are etched deep within our psyches, obviously. Keeping busy helps, and the kids are great at keeping us busy. Helping where we can is also a boon to the pain. Our fundraising efforts have blown us away and we have all of you to thank for that. At the time of this post we have raised over $160K for relief and rebuilding efforts in the British Virgin Islands. To think that our first "goal" was $10K might illustrate our shock at this large number. Our friends, family and online community is huge and generous and we thank every single one of you. We have spent about $80K so far on tarps, generators and chainsaws and are going to be working closely with other organizations who are on the ground in the BVI to make sure our money goes where it's most needed. This is easier said than done (File this under: lessons learned in disaster relief), which is why it is taking some time, but every penny will get into hands of people and organizations on the ground working to rebuild our beautiful island. If you have not donated and feel the urge to do so, you can here: >>>BVI IMMEDIATE RELIEF FUND<<<.

IN OTHER NEWS: we have been invited to the Annapolis Boat Show next weekend by a couple of very generous souls (Thank you SO MUCH Jeff and Cam Bach!) We are SO excited about this and while it didn't seem like we could make it at first, I felt this deep "need" - almost a calling of sorts - to go, and my gut was telling me it was important... So we have made it happen. We will be joining many blog and vlog friends there; some of whom we already know and love, some of whom we have never yet met in person. I might be speaking on a Cruising World Panel about ways sailors can help and what to expect sailing south. Check in with our Facebook Page for updates on where we will be and when. It will be a very busy weekend for sure but we'd love to meet as many of you as we can... Scott and I, along with others, will be at the BVI Tourism booth selling our #BVISTRONG shirts and all proceeds will be going to the >>>VISAR BVI RELIEF FUND<<<. If you won't be at the show and want to sport some #BVISTRONG gear yourself, you can get tee shirts (men, women, toddler and kids styles available), baby onesies, hoodies and trucker hats >>>HERE<<<. Huge shout out to the awesome folks behind >>> Tight Little Tribe<<< and >>>Remember the Adventure<<< for working with me on this and making it happen so fast. We have raised thousands for VISAR with this initiative while also sporting our pride! Please give them some love. I also want to give a strong shout out to the group >>>Sailors Helping<<<. Aside from housing their newly appointed executive director (and PR evacuee turned pseudo family member and friend) Diana Margarita, we are ambassadors for their great effort as well and if you are a sailor who wants to help - please check them out. This is also great place to donate to if you have no specific affiliation with a particular island and just want to help. They have big plans for long term efforts, and we are excited to be working with them.

I cannot say it enough: the community and solidarity that has emerged from these storms is AMAZING. The other day I wrote that "as my heart breaks, it fills" because the kindness of both strangers and friends and the many people who are stepping up to the plate are astounding. The coming together of people from all different walks of life is humbling and shows me that there is hope in this crazy world. We are shining with silver linings these days, and seeing the positive that has come out of this disaster is a lesson in humanity that I am honored to experience. We cannot thank you all enough...Those of you who have reached out to us - your kindness will not be forgotten.

So life is going on. We are grateful, we are lucky and we are okay. The challenge of moving forward from this storm is a big one, but we are up for it. We are not waving the white flag and - while there are definitely days we feel very defeated and completely lost, and there are moments when I completely break down - we have every intention to emerge from this stronger than before.

"And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, 
how you managed to survive. 
You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. 
But one thing is certain. 
When you come out of the storm you won't be the same person who walked in. 
That's what this storm's all about."
-Haruki Murakami


And now some pics of us back on the water this weekend with our dear friends from >>>Monday Never<<<...our growing friendship with them is one of the many silver linings of #irmaria (they will also be at the boat show with us!) Getting out on the water with them was cathartic.








Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hurricane Irma: Reflections on a Life Forever Altered by her Wrath

We were supposed to fly back to Tortola yesterday. Our bags sit in my closet half-way packed with belongings and goodies we were bringing back to our beloved boat. This past weekend was supposed to be full of tearful goodbyes with friends and family. We should be on our boat right now, maybe getting ready for Isla's first day of kindergarten. She was so excited about her new shoes and uniform. Or maybe we'd be at the beach bar at this moment, hanging out with our friends and telling stories from our respective summers, enveloping in hugs, clinking drinks and lamenting how we'd forgotten it could be so damn hot. The post-summer reunions are always so nice...

This next season held so much promise; best business year yet, travel plans, family visits, rendezvous with new friends...there was so much we were looking forward to.

Irma took all that away from us.

It is hard to put into words how I am feeling. I don't even really think I know how I am feeling because the magnitude of the situation is, quite frankly, hard to grasp. It's surreal and, like so many of our friends, I feel numb. We are not unique in our position right now, not by a long shot. I'm often at a loss for words when people ask me about it. There's a constant little ache in my heart that I carry with me all day long and each time my brain reminds me that this is really happening, I get that a tiny sensation of free-falling in my belly. Life as we knew it is over, and we need to begin again. And while there is a glimmer of excitement in a clean slate and having the ability to "chose your own adventure" (this is how I am framing it for the girls), there is also a tremendous amount of pain and grief because - as most of you know - we really, really loved our life. Our boat, our community, our island...We didn't want it to change. There is no where else we'd rather be. But we don't always get what we want, and sometimes something unexpected happens that shakes your world to the core.

On September 6th, Hurricane Irma ripped across our little island showing no mercy. We were hit square on and - at one point as we abroad watched in horror - all of Tortola was visible in her eye. We held our breath. But we knew...we had seen the footage coming out of St. Maarten just hours earlier The devastation...we knew it was going to be beyond what any of us could possibly fathom...And she was. Her wrath was catastrophic. Biblical. Unimaginable. The scope of her destruction was beyond anyone's wildest dreams. I keep throwing around the unofficial statistic 90%. "90% of the houses are destroyed." "90% of the boats are destroyed." "90% of our island is destroyed." Ninety percent. Again, it's not an official number - but I can tell you it's close. It doesn't take a genius to scan the images and videos come to that ball park number. There is hardly a single palm frond left. She raked our island clean of all foliage. It looks like a nuclear bomb was dropped and friends on the ground are describing the scene as "post-apocalyptic".

She took our boat, she lies now at the muddy bottom of our marina. She took our business, stripping our boats from their hurricane hole and hurling them into a twisted pile of hundreds of others. She took the homes and businesses of many others and nearly all of our friends. She took beaches and trees and animals and landmarks. And she took lives. We are grateful and lucky to have been spared. Lucky to be alive...we know this, and we are grateful. But that doesn't mean we still cannot feel the pain of losing so much. It doesn't mean we don't grieve for the life that we knew and our uncertain future. We will be okay, we know that. And, yes, we still have each other. But we grieve. A death has still occurred. And, to be quite honest, I think I haven't even truly begin to process it. This is not the loss of a loved one - far greater to be sure - but it is a loss, and one that so many cannot even begin to fathom. But we are lucky, we had insurance and, hopefully, we will one day be able to recover our great losses.

In the wake of Irma, however, some magic has occurred. As it happens so often in times of crisis the layers of the onion peel away and people begin to see what is really important. Before Irma hit (and we became aware of her velocity and what it might mean for us) my friend went aboard s/v Legato to gather things off our boat, "What do you want?" She asked. I couldn't think of a single thing that I *needed* to get off because of real value. After Irma hit the only thing  I was concerned about was the safety of our friends. And now, instead of slipping into a depressed funk about what our future holds (I completely reserve the right to do this at a later date, fyi), I - along with most of my friends - am channelling my pain into efforts to help the BVI recover as quickly as it can.

People are pulling up their sleeves and coming together. On the ground, on the front lines and abroad, people are working tirelessly to help in any way they can. From fundraising to donating, from evacuating to offering services, from going to the front lines to getting word out to the media, everyone is doing their part and efforts large and small are being made by everyday people. More and more stories are coming out of people talking about how - despite the horror of their experience - it's been one of the most humbling and positive experiences they've ever been a part of. How grateful they are for their lives. How grateful they are for their friends. How, really, it's the simplest things that matter the most. How everyone came together to help one another. It's a lesson in humanity. Almost every message from those who have survived the greatest storm of the century is: Gratitude. For life, for neighbors, for each other. "It was the most horrific experience of our lives...but we are stronger for it".

The yin and yang of life. Just as our beautiful British Virgin Islands showed nature at her most perfect, Irma reminded us that she can be very, very ugly as well. She giveth and she taketh away.

Scott and I have started a relief fund to help rebuild our beloved British Virgin Islands. He is in Puerto Rico right now working with the amazing group >>>Sailors Helping<<< (set up by the amazing powerhouse of a duo behind Sail Me Om) - along with so many others - (Massive shout out to Puerto Rico and it's people for stepping up to the plate SO BIG for ALL the Virgin Islands and our friends from Three Sheets Sailing for their amazing work!) in an effort to find ways to get our islands back up and running as quickly as possible. And there are so many more I have not mentioned...The road is long, but we are not alone.

If you'd like to help the beautiful Islands that we called home, if you ever vacationed in the BVI and fell in love with it like we did - donate. No amount is too small. Please feel free to share if you are unable to contribute!


PLEASE HELP US HELP THE BVI COME BACK STRONGER THAN EVER:





#BVISTRONG #WEWILLREBUILD


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