Everyone in the BVI is breathing a sigh of relief now that Hurricane Dean has passed a safe distance. Just the other day Charlie recalled surviving 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, a devastating Caribbean modern-era storm, on board his small yacht. As it skirted the Virgin Islands, Hugo slowed down and caused the devastation to last even longer. The government at the time recommended to mariners that Soper’s Hole at West End was a safe refuge. At the end of the storm a pile of boats and ferries were piled up on the beach at the head of the bay. Some are still there today.
Charlie was in Road Town when hurricane warnings were issued. His 37-foot Tayana was down with engine problems. Just hours before the storm hit, he managed to leave Road Harbor with his girl friend Myra and make his way to his hurricane hole anchorage, Leinster Bay in St John. He got right up into the head of the bay, dropped four anchors on two rodes and secured the ends to the base of the mast, stripped off all sails and canvas and secured the boom. In case evacuation was necessary, they tied the inflatable dinghy with 15 hp outboard alongside. By the time all the work was done the winds were already to tropical storm force, over 40 knots.
Throughout the afternoon and night the wind howled and the horizontally driving rain stung so badly it was impossible to see without goggles. When the boat slewed to starboard, the wind got under the dinghy and flipped it into the cockpit, damaging the woodwork and spilling gas everywhere. With great effort Charlie threw it back into the water and secured the bow and stern line tighter. Seconds later it happened again. The third time Charlie decided to tie it astern but next time he looked it was gone. Just the painter and back-up line were flying horizontally in the wind. Charlie could just make out the dinghy and 15 hp outboard cart-wheeling away in the distance.
Poor Myra—not long into the boating life-style, she was terrified and spent hours in the head praying. She swore to give up all her bad habits if her life was spared (she quit smoking that day and hasn’t had a puff since). The anchors dragged a bit but the boat survived. The varnished mast was stripped bare by blasting rain. A cleat pulled out of the deck but jammed up inside the bulwark. The dinghy was retrieved in tatters and the outboard was a twisted mangle of wreckage.
There were wrecked and beached boats everywhere. Some large yachts were swept out to sea never to be seen again. Hurricanes should never be taken lightly and hurricane season seems to be lasting longer. October does not mean “All Over.”