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!




Joan said...

So very sorry kiddo...I have been following your adventures for a long time. I know how hard it must be to even imagine rebuilding a business in what now looks like a war zone. I think you and your husband are made of stronger stuff... if not there than someplace else. You both are still very young. You still have your whole life ahead of you .. along with a supportive family.. take care kiddo's.

Anonymous said...

I cannot begin to Fathom the loss you've suffered nor can I imagine the devastation wrought on the British Virgin Islands my wife and I are devastated at the loss of such a beautiful place on Earth, we grieve for the people who have been killed and for the families that are in suffering at this time. It is the true nature and scope of this tragedy continue to unfold it is heartening to see that people are banding together and vowing to rebuild and come back stronger than ever. You've lost material things but those can be replaced you have your lives and the strength to continue to move forward in your lives. Stay strong and please continue to update how things are progressing.
May God bless all of you

Michael Robertson said...

I'm so sorry to read this Brittany. We're still thinking of you all. Best wishes. Michael

Catherine Hackett said...

I've been following you for years, ever since I met a fellow sailor at a massage therapy CE course who suggested I take a look at your blog. Your courage and strength have always been an inspiration to me and I'm sure to all your other readers.

It would be totally understandable given the depth and breadth of this devastation for you to curl up into a ball and howl with grief, yet that is the opposite of what you are doing. I'm sure that, in time, you will have a monumental cry, but now you are following the course of your sailing brethren and pulling the BVIs out of the ashes. Mother Nature will rapidly do her part at repopulating the island. She is amazing in her vitality. You and your friends will rebuild the rest, I have no doubt, and the islands will likely be even dearer to you because you will have been part of their rebirth.

I wish I could contribute more but I have given what I can for now and will continue to send little bits your way as I am able. Much love to you, your family, your business partners, and all your friends.

Jeanine said...

Crying for you. Sharing your story. I've followed you for so long, I've had babies at the same time as you - we've never met, but we've messaged each other a couple times and each live lives in which sailing and the midwest, Chicago and west Michigan to be specific, are intertwined. Your stories go right to the heart. Your ability to share your innermost struggles has helped me as a mama and as a woman. Thank you. Irma hit my beloved Keys and I've been to the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas specifically. It's all just daunting, overwhelming. And yet, the beauty of humanity, which we all so desperately need to see, has been uncovered in spades. Sending love and some moola from West MI, it really is helpful donating specifically. It makes me feel less helpless if that makes sense. Thank you.

MaryJo Boyle said...

I was so excited for you when you got your new boat, and it is beyond my ability to imagine how devastating is the loss of your home and your business. Yes, it's great that you have insurance, and while we all know that you and Scott will recover from this, PLEASE, punch anyone in the face if they say to you that "everything happens for a reason"!!

KS said...

I know I commented on FB just now but on a more serious note I wanted to say on here how very sorry we are about the loss of your home. Legato was lovely, and I remember feeling such a wonderful sense of "home" the one time we were privileged to be aboard & visit. You made her your own & she was such a reflection of your life & the things you love. People first, yes, absolutely. (And I'm so glad you guys and your friends down there are safe!)But loss is still loss & I can only imagine that this will hurt like hell, and probably for a long time. Z & I were talking last night & I was recalling how much you inspired me after our recent purchase of Galatea, to make her feel like "home" as you had done with Legato. I've been aboard a lot of vessels, but I've never seen one so well-loved and care for as yours. That speaks to how much she was a part of your heart. To some people boats are just boats, but Legato, it seems, was family.

It was so bittersweet to read this post, but you're so right - the best of humanity can come out in times of crisis. Suffering is universal & the more we realize it's commonality (and that none of us are meant to walk its paths alone) the closer we get to the heart of why we exist ❤️

Karrie Sutton Selakovic said...


Rynn said...

We have followed you for years, and our boat is adorned with some of your postcards. When my husband told me you'd lost everything, it was a punch to the gut. You will make it back, but be kind to yourselves and let yourselves cry and scream and rant. Then go forward.

Andy Burton said...

Britt, I've been thinking about you and the girls a lot since this happened and trying to figure out where you will go from here. I will say that from my experience, every time I've found myself in a bad situation, the result was that my situation became better than it was before. Like getting fired from a job only to have a much better one present itself.

For you, right now, you are seeing that your friends and acquaintances are, for the most part, even better people than you imagined. And as a result you're bonding with them even more. What a boon you've been granted, to see them at their best!

For the girls, this is a life lesson on overcoming the difficulties that life will inevitably place in their path. It will make already strong independent girls stronger. Looking down the line (not too far, I'm afraid), I think about how terrific the guys that eventually win their hearts will have to be! In the meantime I am looking forward to being able to squeeze them again sometime this winter.

Of course you're going to shed tears in the immediate future. But I am confident that you will also be shedding tears of joy as you see what your community is able to do in a short time. This isn't the first hurricane that's devastated Tortola, but they will rebuild stronger so the next doesn't do quite the harm. And this time next year your island will be green again and you'll have to look to find evidence of this carnage.

In the meantime, sometime this winter I expect a call from Allen saying Scott and Britt have found a new boat...

Love to you all


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