Several rainbows formed in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which delivered devastating blows to the northern Caribbean in September 2017. These brilliant arcs of hope were embodied in a number of relief organizations. Six months after the one-two punch of these storms, aid groups such as Sailorshelping.org continue to help in ways that have morphed with the needs of island communities served via a widespread boater network.
“After Irma spared us, we felt extremely lucky and decided to give back to our fellow cruisers and the islander community at large,” says Victoria Fine, the brainchild behind Sailorshelping.org. Victoria and her husband Jon Vidar live aboard their 1974-built 37ft Islander, Scallywag, and based themselves in Puerto Rico for hurricane season. “We were joined by many other cruisers and locals who felt the same way and in the week after the storm, we banded together to deliver goods and help people in areas that were affected by the storm but were not yet attended to by major government or aid organization relief.”
Fine, Vidar and their team quickly scaled up, culminating in the loading of three cargo planes full of more than 15,000lb of aid to nearby islands such as the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla. Then Maria hit Puerto Rico. Sailorshelping.org’s focus changed substantially since the hurricane wiped out the team’s ability to physically mobilize. Instead, they regrouped and organized online, using the group’s Facebook page to connect needs, supplies and transportation with a view towards long-term rebuilding.
“Our focus has become sharing information that allows people to safely return to the islands. In addition, we’re using our Facebook group to be the meeting ground for people with needs or the ability to deliver them, and I, along with other volunteers, matchmake as we see opportunities. That’s where our Ports and Projects map came from,” says Fine.
The Ports and Projects map on the Sailorshelping.org website encompasses hurricane-affected Caribbean islands. On it, the group shares up-to-date information on the status of islands and their specific ports. Users can use the site on desktop and mobile devices to search port by port for information about accessibility and the availability of amenities such as fuel, open businesses and new favorite cruiser bars and other details needed to have a safe and fun cruising season. Additionally, the group provides volunteer opportunities and contact information on a harbor by harbor basis, so that once cruisers land, there’s an easy way to lend a hand. Volunteer projects are diverse and range from mapping damaged coral reefs to sorting and delivering supplies to rebuilding schools. There’s something to do for every skill set and ability.
“We hope that we make it so easy to help that you can literally jump off your dinghy, give someone a ring and walk over to meet folks with whom you can volunteer. That’s our goal,” says Fine.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.