in the eye of dorian
Abaco cays, Bahamas
We heard that a hurricane sounded like a train. Not Dorian. With sustained winds of 185 mph and gust to 220 mph, it felt like we were in a war zone. That is the only thing I can compare it to.
Bottom Line: First Wave Made It
Other Bottom Line: We Made It
Summer in Abacos/Hurricane Chronology.
How Did We End Up in The Bahamas During Hurricane Season?
We set sail from The Keys to Bimini in April. We had a beautiful crossing, and were very excited about heading off to a new adventure. We arrived in the Bahamas in plenty of time to explore while sailing into the Abacos to work at Seabase for the summer.
Seabase is a High Adventure Boy Scout program based in Marsh Harbour. Our job was to be a part of a fleet of sailboats from May-August taking weekly sailing trips to explore the Abacos. Our trips varied based on weather and troop interests. In general, we visited Hopetown, Man O'War, Great Guana, Treasure Cay. We introduced the scouts the joy of sailing a catamaran, snorkeling, and exploring.
We have had so many fantastic summers, and this was one. We were not sure what to expect, but with Scott's scouting history, our love of sailing First Wave, the joy of being in such a beautiful area, and the desire to share with others, it was one of the best.
Meeting and spending time with these scouts (a new crew weekly for a total of 11), was more fun and intimate than I could have imagined. We created friendships and longterm relationships. The last crew departed on August 20th.
Dorian hit the Abacos on August 30th and we were there.
(Press button below to read about our experience)
Tuesday 8/27 Molly and David join us in Marsh Harbour for a much needed week of relaxation. Our plan was to spend the night there and set sail the next day. We were as excited to share the Abacos as they were to visit. We had been monitoring Tropical Storm Dorian and at the time there was little indication of her becoming a hurricane, and the projections of her path changed almost hourly. We did not have an opportunity to cross back to Florida without risk of being hit sailing the gulf stream, or in a spot with no protection.
Wednesday 8/28 Dorian changed her path and strength again. She had been expected to pass west of Puerto Rico, but instead headed south of St. Thomas and continued to strengthen. She was classified as a Category 1 hurricane.
We knew we had to relocate out of Marsh Harbour. Scott decided to be on the safe side and find the best possible marina ahead of the potential storm. As always, sailing is going with the flow, so instead of a lighthouse visit in Hope Town, we were able to secure a slip in Treasure Cay, about 18 miles away. There was a fair amount of confusion, but we were able to reach Jamal, the dock master, who found us a good spot next to shore.
Friday 8/30 After moving into our unit, we spent a relaxed day watching the clouds start to develop. The day is a blur to all of us-it became windy, and a bit erie, but nothing severe yet. We went back to Cafe Florence and saw owner, Captain Forty, again and Molly compared notes with his daughter, a Georgia State grad who had returned to Treasure to help the family with the bakery. They were not terribly concerned with Dorian yet, and were open again briefly the next morning. We watched some T.V.and lost electricity late Friday.
Saturday 8/31 Best shrimp and grits ever at Cafe Florence. They were boarded up as are most of the businesses in area. The community still felt fairly optimistic, but realistic about the hurricane. Most were heading back to their homes or took shelter in community center and clinic nearby. Louise and other hotel staff checked on us regularly and brought us fresh towels to sop up water under windows. the resort is about 10 years old and had survived 2 other hurricanes. Louise, her husband and grandchildren took shelter under our unit to help the guests. At that point, the biggest concern was flooding since the structure had never been damaged. Our, friend, Captain Judy evacuated early Saturday with a private pilot. She gave us his info in case Molly and David wanted to get out (a two seater). They decided to stay out of concern for us. Turns out the pilot could not return for them to Abacos anyway with the shifting winds and increasingly severe weather So the four of us were there, stranded for the duration. Ellen and Jean Claude (our Buddy Boat for the entire summer at Seabase) coincidentally also ended up in Treasure after some boat issues they needed to take care of. They had also secured Kisskeedee in the marina and moved into the resort a couple doors from us. They came over to our spot that evening for Pina Colada as the weather was getting worse. It was very nice to have friends there. Someone found out that we had a hurricane hunter in the hotel also. Ellen, Molly, and David knocked on his door to see if had any updates to share. He did say it was going to be bigger than anticipated-and last a lot longer. We found out later that he moved to Marsh Harbour in the middle of the night since he felt he would be safer there. We are now very glad that he didn't suggest that to us, but at the time we were confused why he opted to "sneak out". Marsh Harbour, where we we based the entire summer, was devistated. Hurricane's wrath began just a few hours later.
Sunday 9/1 Dorian officially arrives at 1:00am. Molly heard the winds howling. The rest of us has a restless night, but were able to stay in our beds. The kids were on our main level (second story of structure) and we were in the upstairs loft. We were curious about the weather all morning and were able to take some photos which looked like the hurricane pictures you see on TV. We felt relatively safe, but the winds steadily picked up. Within a few hours even stepping outside was dangerous. The entire sky was a dull grey with no specific clouds. We have no concept of strength as we had lost all forms of communication. Ellen was able to hear a few panic calls on her vhf radio. At this point there was nothing anyone could do.
Around 11:00am we felt pressure in our ears (like being in an airplane). David and Scott saw the window start to warp and we dashed into the bathroom/closet for the best coverage available. Both were very very small-approximently 5x5, the closet was barely big enough for one chair. Molly, David and I hid in the bathroom where we had put some pillows and a chair. It was so small, that to get the chair in, we had to block the door for it to fit-one of us on the chair, one on the toilet, one scrunched it the corner. We had to take turns to extend our legs. Scott was in the closet next to us-both were under the stairs.
It was the start of hours of fear when we heard the first windows breaking. Soon then, we heard things continually crashing around us. Because we were sheltered in closet, we had no sense of the incredible destruction happening around us. We were finally able to take a little peak by opening the door a crack. The furniture was overturned, tv, mirrors, pictures were strewn all over, full sized refrigerator had slid out from the wall, glass, insulation, and debris was everywhere, and it was wet-very wet. We found out later that a small section of the ceiling was gone, letting more wind and rain in upstairs.
First pause happened about 4:00pm when the eye started to come over. We were able to assess our situation and carefully go outside. People were rushing towards the community center which was (and continued to be) in tact. Many buildings were gone. Other townhouses attached to ours had roofs gone and some had lost walls. It was shocking. The couple next door came over to recover for a bit. There was still the risk of storm surge so we were advised to stay in our unit. Louise and Big Poppa (Edwin), who were still below us, checked on everyone in the upper units. It passed over in about 45 minutes Unlike what was expected, it continued to be cloudy and breezy during the eye. No clear blue skies that you hear about. The kids stayed in the bathroom until the next morning, at some point we went back up and tried to sleep in our wet bed. We stripped the bed to get rid of the glass and debris, but it was cold and damp. We had salvaged one dry blanket.
After the Eye, Dorian seemed to last forever.
Monday 9/2 We got up after a restless "sleep". It wasn't until we got back to the United States that we found that the Eye Wall had stalled over Grand Bahama for days, which gave us hurricane force winds for a full 48 hours. Besides the initial fear, this was the worst part. It calmed a bit when we first woke up, but then got strong again for the rest of the day. We were in and out of the bathroom, but were able to move around the room a bit, and spent time imagining images from the insulation stuck and scattered over the walls.
By evening Jean Claude and Ellen came over. They shared smoked salmon (!) and other treats and I think we provided the wine and crackers.
That night we still had nowhere to go. It felt safe enough for all 4 of us to sleep in the kingsize bed upstairs. It was cold and we pulled out the emergency blanket from the ditch bag. It was still miserable and we did' know when we would be able to get out.
Tuesday 9/3 Big Poppa came up very early in the morning and yelled for us to come downstairs and join his family. There had not been a storm surge on that side of Treasure Cay, and apart from constant mopping and leaks from ceiling, they were ok. They and their 3 grandchildren were in a total of two small rooms. They consolidated into one. They found some more mattresses and blankets to give us and we officially moved in with them and started sharing mop duty. They put trash cans and containers throughout both areas to catch the water. We were finally able to flush the toilet by pouring water directly into the bowl. (The bathrooms in our area upstairs had become pretty unbearable)
Scott and David were finally make their way over to First Wave, after having to turn around a couple times because of the gusts.
Big Poppa found a grill, and he and Louise made some amazing marinated chicken, just one of many meals they (and others) shared-ribs, grits, eggs, and more. The community had combined resources and found provisions in the only grocery store. The generosity of the Bahamians was unparalleled.
We found out that they had no idea where their children were. They were very worried, and the grandkids were scared for their parents, amazingly they all stayed focused and helpful in caring for us, the other visitors, and keeping the structures as clean as possible. Rumors were filtering in that the area where there home was (about 10 miles away) experienced the worst destruction in the area. It was impossible to drive anywhere because of the road destruction and debris blocking any movement.
It was heartbreaking to imagine what they were going through.
We visited with our fellow refugees, and finally saw the sun as it peaked through at sunset.
Wednesday 9/4 We continued to help the best we could. Scott donated our vhf radio to the incident command at community center, and we helped tote water that had collected in overturned boats for them to flush toilets. Molly and David excelled under the dire situation. It was mentioned, more than a few times, that they would both excel in emergency relief. They were calm, focused, and had an amazing ability to help without disrupting the others efforts. It is often hard to assist without getting in the way.
US Coastguard, assisted by the Canadians, British, were finally able to evacuate the injured after the tennis courts were cleared. We were hopeful that we might be able to get out later that day. There were all kinds of rumors about getting the foreigners back to USA and the Bahamians to Nassau.
Best news ever was witnessing Louise and Big Pappa reunite with their family.
We were all in tears. The road was finally cleared enough for Big Poppa to drive out to their home. The family stranded there was just as panicked. There had been no way to communicate. Noone was injured and there home miraculously had minimal damage. As soon as the they reconnected, they gathered their few belongings and headed home. Before they left we were able to exchange information, so we could contact their loved ones in the States once we got out. (We have since communicated with Louise via email and they are doing relatively well considering the condition of the island.)
It became a relationship we will treasure forever.
Our little foreign community of twelve that had taken shelter in the townhouses also became very close and we continue to stay in touch. We had "happy hour" outside and an unbelievable gourmet dinner of grilled turkey and vegetables courtesy of Chef Tony, a professional chef, who just happened to be one of our dear neighbors. Again we combined provisions for a beautiful outdoor dinner.
Another surprise treat was that a couple of reporters from the BBC, allowed us each to call family on their satellite phone. It was the first time we able to communicate at all. We still can't conceive of what our loved ones went through. The only thing they knew was what they saw on TV-the absolute devastation of the Abacos. I hope that Anna and others write their stories at some time.
Thursday 9/5 Finally got word that we were actually going to be evacuated.
All foreigners throughout the island had been notified to gather at the community center for evacuation to the airport. There was again some confusion, but a flatbed work truck showed up as planed and loaded us up. We were told to bring one bag only, and about 30 of us squeezed in for the 15 mile trip to the "airport". The runway had been successfully cleared and there was a tiny bit of shade from a standing wall.
We were very optimistic at first as we saw small private planes land and evacuate a few people at a time-including a few of our friends. We patiently waited, as a family of 4 we wanted to stay together. We considered splitting up, but found that the pilots we dropping people in various places since they were heading to wherever they came from. The idea was to get foreigners out to the United States and that was it.
Suddenly all activity stopped, and no planes were landing.
The worst part was seeing occasional planes come in and immediately take off with no passengers.
It was extremely hot as the day wore on, but volunteers gave out snacks and water. More and more people were gathering and the crowd was getting large, everyone was very calm and cooperative.
Finally a "Bahamas Air" landed (approximately an 80 seater) which was excellent news for the Bahamians who were supposed to be taken to Nassau. The bad news came within a few minutes of the landing. They unbelievably, shockingly, and disgustingly brought out armed guards, set up a kiosk and would not let a single person board, no matter how desperate until they paid $75 dollars.
I could write a whole new blog about that situation. There were some US and European reporters mingling with the crowd and I made sure they had the information and were able to interview the people affected.
Support the Bahamians
NOT Bahamas Airlines.
I also mistakenly got upset with the USA since no commercial or larger planes had arrived. We still had no communication, and did not know until we got back to the United States, that we realized the efforts that were being made to rescue the stranded. Apparently it was the Bahamian Government had closed the airspace for "security and safety" reasons.
As much as the locals were trying to organize and get planes in, nothing was happening. We found that other than Bahamas Air, every single private pilot had come in at the at their own risk.
We will never be able to thank them enough.
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Molly and David got us out of there.
Honestly, Scott and I were being more passive than David and Molly. We were going with what we were told by the "officials", which was that we would definitely be getting out by that evening. Molly and David, however, were pursuing every possible lead, no matter how remote. At about 4:30 Molly spotted a small private jet that had flown in earlier that day to check on the condition of their private property. She did not hesitate, headed over, and within about 10 minutes we were on the plane. Didn't know where we were going, but we were aboard and moving.
It turns out they were three of the nicest gentlemen. One was the owner, the other two were his friends. All three were pilots, and the jet was beautiful. Molly, Scott and I got seats, David and another couple happily sat on the floor with the cargo. We flew straight to Daytona in style. Without a doubt we had the most luxurious, comfortable ride.
We were finally back in the US. We contacted family and let them know where we landed. We got Molly on a Delta flight leaving immediately for Atlanta. Scott and I rented a car, found a hotel, and headed south the next morning to pick up our jeep in the Keys. We picked it up in Marathon, turned around in the parking lot and started driving north to Atlanta