NOVEMBER 2015 CARIBBEAN COMPASS
Cruisers Carry Cargo to Storm-Damaged Dominica
by Jennifer Simpson
All cruisers in the Eastern Caribbean share a fear of named storms, whether directly in their path or not. Even when we are safe, as travelers we most likely know people in harm’s way. My husband, Mike, and I, although safely anchored in Grenada, cringed when Tropical Storm Erika developed at the end of August and moved over the Leeward Islands. Erika wasn’t a hurricane, but the storm stalled on top of Dominica and on August 27th, she dumped 15 inches of rain within a day. The island was devastated by flooding and landslides. Mike and I had spent over three weeks in Dominica during June and it quickly became one of our favorite islands for its stunning beauty, unlike anything we had seen elsewhere in the Eastern Caribbean. In our time there, a guide paddled us up the winding Indian River, its banks dense with trees, snake-like roots reaching for the river and foliage blocking out the sun.
We visited the base of the Titou Gorge, swimming in its cold, clear spring water into a cavern where a small waterfall spilled over us. We marveled at the beauty of a crater lake high in the clouds and hiked to twin waterfalls sculpting a mountaintop. We soaked in hot sulfur springs while the steam rose like a thick fog against the dense rain forest canopy, and listened to the symphony of sounds from the rain forest. Simply spectacular, Dominica earns its nickname, The Nature Island. But it was the people of Dominica who made the trip especially memorable. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed with open smiles, warm handshakes and a “Good day”. We truly felt like welcomed guests and not simply tourists. So when the initial reports of Dominica’s devastation began pouring in, we were heartbroken. We immediately decided we would return to Dominica after hurricane season and bring with us as many supplies as we could. We signed up with International Rescue Group www.internationalrescuegroup.org (IRG) to follow along with their relief efforts.
Then more reports came and we read about entire communities being washed away, people watching their families disappear in mudslides right before their eyes. Damage to roads cut off supply channels across the island. By the morning of Sunday, August 30th, we decided we couldn’t wait until the end of hurricane season. We would announce our plans to travel to Dominica with supplies on Grenada’s Cruisers’ VHF radio net the next morning. While we hoped a few friends would offer help, we never expected the overwhelming outpouring of support we received from the Grenada cruising community. When I announced our plans to collect donations over the course of the next week, I mentioned that we would be monitoring the VHF after the net to hear from anyone who might want to help. Immediately we were inundated with volunteers from each of the many anchorages around Grenada. Sharon and Jim of S/V Somewhere took the lead in St. George’s, setting up a fundraiser the next Friday with a local musician at “Our Place,” a lovely St. George’s venue. James and Pam on S/V Lovzur took the lead in Prickly Bay, collecting, consolidating and repacking piles of donations from cruisers in their crowded bay as well as organizing transportation from other anchorages to the fundraiser in St. George’s. Vanessa and Gary on S/V Neptune II took the lead in Secret Harbor, collecting donations from around the bay, even driving boat-to-boat to ask for help, and working with Secret Harbor Marina to store them. We were anchored in Clarkes Court Bay and cruisers brought donations to us directly or to Whisper Cove Marina, whose management was happy to store them for us. Local taxi and van drivers encouraged donations, offering to deliver anything donated to the participating marinas.
Then people — friends, other cruisers and followers on our Facebook page — started asking if they could donate cash. Initially I had suggested that cash donations go to International Rescue Group, as they had an official fundraising page, but after several requests, we agreed to accept cash donations either directly or through PayPal, assuring everyone that we’d use every dollar for a final shopping run in Grenada. Within two days we had over US$1,000 donated and by the end of the week, more than US$2,000. We were touched beyond words, but entirely overwhelmed with the prospect of shopping with that much money and loading our boat, Three Sheets, with everything while on anchor. So when Port Louis Marina offered free berthing for a couple of nights so we could load up, we were more than thrilled. Then when our friend Becky on S/V Seas the Moment, who had local knowledge of wholesale stores and access to a vehicle, offered to take me shopping, I happily accepted. She agreed to pick up items collected in the other harbors, and then, while Mike stayed behind to organize the collected items, she and I went out and shopped.
I’ve never had so much fun shopping in my entire life. Becky, self-described as “an efficient shopper”, knew exactly which stores to hit. We first arrived at Hubbard’s, a wholesale market just across from Port Louis Marina. When we explained to the manager what we were doing and how much cash we had to spend, she happily gave recommendations for goods and kept a running tally so we could save some cash for our next stop. We spent more than US$900 in about 20 minutes, on everything from food to personal hygiene and infant supplies. Even better, Hubbard’s would deliver the goods to us in the marina. Next we made a quick stop at Huggins and spent about US$200 on supplies for seniors. Our final stop was to CK’s Super Valu supermarket, and when we told the manager we had just around US$1,000 to purchase emergency supplies for Dominica, through teary eyes she told us she had lived in Dominica for years. She pulled her staff together and they all shopped with us, helping us select goods she knew the locals would love, while one of her clerks kept a running tally to keep us within budget. When we were down to our last hundred, she loaded us up with candies and cookies for the children in emergency shelters, telling us, “We have a soft spot for the kiddies.” We were thrilled that CK’s, like Hubbard’s, would deliver and while I was arranging the time with them, Hubbard’s was already delivering goods to Three Sheets. Thankfully our friends in St. George’s were on standby and came to help Mike load up with that shipment and again when CK’s delivered in the afternoon. By the time Three Sheets was loaded with well over a ton of donated goods, the waterline dropped about three inches.
We were ready to go and just needed good weather to sail north. IRG was staged in St. Lucia and recommended we first stop there. After a few weather delays, we arrived in Rodney Bay on September 12th and met with Ray, the founder of IRG, to coordinate delivery in Portsmouth, Dominica where the Rotary Club was assisting Customs. We also took on about 15 cases of water slated for Dominica Fire Services and several more bags of clothes. While there, we received word that the Red Cross was accepting donations in Roseau and Dominica Marine Center was coordinating with Customs there. Both the Rotary Club and the Red Cross were helping those in direct need and it was decided we would deliver goods to both.
We sailed from Rodney Bay bound for Dominica on September 17th and arrived in Portsmouth on the 18th. By 10:00AM Lise and Marilyn of the local Rotary Club met Mike at Customs to review our inventory and help check us in. While waiting at the dock it warmed our hearts to see several other boats, much larger than ours, unloading pallets of donated supplies. It was incredibly hot and humid, yet people were smiling and in good spirits, even the Customs agents in full uniform who had been working non-stop since the flooding began.
We offloaded about a quarter of our supplies for the Rotary Club, who agreed the rest should go to the Red Cross in Roseau. Afterwards we headed for the Purple Turtle, a popular beach restaurant, to drop off a couple of personal “care packages” to locals we knew from our prior visit and for family of dear friends. While Portsmouth itself was largely unaffected by the storm, we learned that the rivers were still at flood stage and any rains made it impossible to travel between towns.
Even as we were visiting, clouds built and dumped heavy rain and at least one of the Dominicans we were speaking with knew she wouldn’t make it home that night. We also learned that the primary water supply was contaminated in many areas, and people had to boil it or purchase expensive bottled water. The woman who was stuck in the rain told us she worried that her two-month-old granddaughter would get sick from contaminated water. Mike went straight back to the boat and brought her two of the 15 cases of water we still had aboard, along with some baby formula and chocolate drink for her other grandchildren. The next morning we sailed for Roseau to deliver the rest of the goods. Rather than have Three Sheets tie up at the busy Customs dock, Hubert Winston of Dominica Marine Center arranged for Customs to meet us at his private dock. When we arrived, Hubert, his friends and employees were there to catch our lines and unload our cargo. Fire Services first arrived to collect their water, perfectly happy that we had given a couple of cases away in Portsmouth. Customs then arrived to check off our inventory and, shortly after, the Red Cross volunteers came to collect the rest of our donations.
As in Portsmouth, the heat was nearly unbearable, but everyone remained in good spirits. Mike and I passed out cold drinks and happily invited people aboard to take some comfort in the shade of our cockpit. It was an exhausting day for us all, but beautiful to see how everyone was working together to help the people of Dominica. After we were done, we took a mooring ball graciously offered by Hubert and stayed in Roseau a couple more days to rest and visit a few friends on shore. We are now slowly making our way back to Grenada for the rest of hurricane season.
Looking back on this experience, what Mike and I will remember most is how the cruising community and local businesses came together to organize relief efforts. We were a mere delivery service in this effort and without the help of all those involved, we could never have pulled it off. We are eternally grateful to the crews of S/V Somewhere, Lovezur, and Neptune II for their direct efforts and for the countless cruisers, friends and even a few complete strangers who donated so much. And of course on Dominica, we cannot express enough gratitude to the Rotary Club, the Red Cross and Dominica Marine Center for not only the assistance they gave us, but for taking on the daily challenges they still face helping the people of their magnificent country. Thank you all for what you have done and continue to do.
We encourage other cruisers to visit Dominica. The island is ready for the tourist season and visitors will be welcomed with open arms. Should you wish to deliver more supplies, donations will be most welcome, especially items for children as the holidays approach. In Roseau, you may contact Hubert of Dominica Marine Center at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will coordinate with the Red Cross. In Portsmouth, you can contact Rotary Club members Lise and Marilyn at Lise@hotelthechamps.com and Marilyn@selectyachts.com.
And of course the members of Portsmouth Area Yacht Services (PAYS) will be happy to accept donations as well. We also recommend that cruisers join International Rescue Group.
It costs nothing to join and commits you to nothing other than receiving information of any coordinated relief efforts taking place.