Despite two devastating Category 5 hurricanes in just two weeks, the Caribbean regatta season will go ahead for 2018

Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma pounded many of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean and Florida, leaving around 70 dead, a second Category 5 hurricane, Maria, is currently hitting areas of the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Dominica was devastated by 150mph winds from Hurricane Maria last night, with early reports suggesting seven people died on the island. St Croix, on the US Virgin Islands, was spared the eye of the hurricane, but pummelled by Maria’s eyewall.

A hurricane warning is still in effect for the British Virgin Islands, where many areas are littered with debris and loose building materials from Hurricane Irma. Flooding is also a concern with vast swathes of vegetation blown away, and almost all leaves removed from trees and plants across many of the islands. Between 10 and 20 inches of rain were forecast for the BVIs as Maria passed to the south-west, with a storm surge of 7-11ft. The islands of Guadaloupe and Martinique were also hit last night, with at least one fatality.

Damage to Virgin Gorda South Harbour after Hurricane Irma. Photo: Diane Sawyer

The situation is greatly complicated by the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irma just two weeks previously. Communications in many areas had not been fully restored, and on some islands almost all dwellings had been demolished or suffered severe damage leaving little in the way of viable shelter.

Judy Petz, director of the BVI Spring Regatta, contacted Yachting World before Maria reached the islands. “This is an unimaginable time,” she commented. “We had made so much progress with relief efforts and we will now need to double or go five times higher with help.”

The recovery process had been in full swing in the BVIs before Maria’s approach. On the island of Tortola, Nanny Cay had become a central focus of operations, with power and some running water restored. The military were using Nanny Cay as a headquarters to co-ordinate relief efforts, and many doctors and medical workers accommodated there. Boats which were salvageable had been moved to the outer marina, with surveyors and repairers working on damaged yachts.

Nanny Cay in the BVIs had made rapid progress ahead of Hurricane Maria, becoming a hub for the marine rescue efforts on Tortola

Jonas Ball from insurers Pantaenius reported that they had set up a mobile claims office on a catamaran in the BVIs to begin processing the huge numbers of damaged yachts, but their team of surveyors had had to leave for safety earlier this week as Maria approached.

“What we are currently doing is identifying our clients’ vessels and trying to coordinate first salvage operations. Our work in the Caribbean is now interrupted by Hurricane Maria and we are not sure yet when we will be able to continue.

“Hurricane Maria will most certainly add damage to the already catastrophic situation on some of the islands although it is not expected to follow the exact passage of Irma. This means the surveys and salvage operations in Florida can continue for the moment.”

However, in the wake of Hurricane Irma many organisers pledged that the renowned spring Caribbean regatta circuit will be up and running as usual for 2018. The St Maarten Heinken Regatta was one of the first to announce its intention to run next March, despite the French-Dutch island of St Maarten suffering some of the heaviest damage in the region.

Hurricane Irma as seen from satellite

Race director Paul Miller said that the decision to go ahead with the regatta was made very quickly. “We have a single pillar economy, we get almost 100% of our income from tourism. It’s deeply symbolic that the regatta should go ahead, and it’s a rallying point.”

Miller reported that although high numbers of yachts had been destroyed in St Maarten, much of the marine infrastructure was still intact, including sail lofts, riggers, and the Budget Marine store. The St Maarten Yacht Club’s main building remained intact, although docks, decks and other structures were demolished or damaged.

“By the middle of November, in terms of a boat owner coming to the island, you won’t notice any difference. I’ve seen our sailing communities recover fro this before, and they start to recover very quickly.

“The message is come. This is an opportunity to see the real Caribbean. There will be a Caribbean season and it will be a great season.”

Antigua Sailing Week also announced their intention to run as normal next year, along with other Antiguan events including the 10th anniversary RORC Caribbean 600 race, Antigua Classic Regatta, and the Antigua to Bermuda offshore.

Alison Sly Adams of the Caribbean Sailing Association told Yachting World after Hurrican Irma: “I am relieved to say that Antigua escaped damage and no negative impact on our yachting industry at all.” However, she emphasised that neighbouring island of Barbuda (part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda), which suffered devastating damage and was entirely evacuated, will require support from Antigua – and for that, the Antiguan tourism and the sailing industry will need international support.

Kathy Lammers, chairman of Antigua Sailing Week organising committee, added that the liveaboard community in Antigua was also unscathed.

The BVI Spring Regatta was one of many to announce that the 2018 event would take place as normal

The BVI Spring Regatta will be going ahead. Regatta director Judy Petz commented by email: “It will be different regatta for sure, but it will also be a time when sailors unite and the spirit of the regatta families is what the people of the country will need. The waters and winds will still be magnificent.”

In common with other islands, accommodation on the BVIs may be more limited than usual, “so the more boats that come self-contained the better,” Petz added. “The new docks will be in place at Nanny Cay Marina, so our regatta home will be there.”

St Maarten Heineken Regatta organisers were looking into the possibility of using a cruise liner to accommodate crews.

The Les Voiles de St Barths regatta will also continue as usual. Organisers of the St. Thomas International Regatta (STIR) put out a statement on Wednesday, 20 September, as Hurricane Maria swept the neighbouring USVI island of St Croix, saying: “We are currently in an assessment stage and plan to issue a formal announcement about our 2018 regatta schedule in the next two weeks.”

The make-up of some fleets may be slightly different next year, particularly in the bareboat classes. The charter industry is still assessing the situation after several fleets were badly damaged by Irma. Paraquita Bay in the BVIs, frequently used as a hurricane shelter by charter companies during lesser storms, saw hundreds of boats decimated by the unprecedented Category 5 hurricane.

Paraquita Bay, a well known protected hurricane hole in the BVIs, saw many yachts destroyed or badly damaged by the exceptional Cat 5 storm Irma

At this week’s Southampton Boat Show, Sunsail reported that its bases in the Bahamas, St Lucia, Grenada and Belize were fully operational, although Sunsail’s marinas and fleet in the British Virgin Islands and St. Maarten had been “severely affected”.

In a statement on their website Dream Yacht Charter founder, Loic Bonnet, said that they were “in contact when communications allow with BVI and St. Maarten and all other bases are operational.” Dream Yacht Charter report that they expect to be operational in St. Maarten within the coming weeks.

The overwhelming message from all event organisers we spoke to was that by next spring it will be business as usual, and anyone thinking of experiencing a Caribbean race week should plan to do so, enjoy some great sailing, and support the islands’ recovery.


How to help

Tomorrow, Thursday, 21 September Antigua Sailing Week shipping and logistics partner Peters & May will be hosting a Caribbean Cocktail and Fundraiser at the Southampton Boat Show with funds raised for relief efforts on the islands of Barbuda, St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barths, Anguilla, BVI and USVI.

The UK marine industry has formed a new charity, Sail Aid UK, to support hurricane victims

A fundraising dinner will be held on Saturday 11, November on the ‘Flight Deck’ at Land Rover BAR, the home of the British America’s Cup challengers in Portsmouth. High profile sailing names that have already pledged their support for the cause include Sir Ben Ainslie, Ian Walker, Shirley Robertson, Sam Davies, Andy Beadsworth and Helena Lucas amongst others.

Dinghies in Antigua racing as part of Bart’s Bash, the worldwide sailing charity race, raising funds for sailing communities affected by the 2017 hurricanes

Bart’s Bash, the global dinghy and yacht race which raises money for the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, this year raised funds to help rebuild community sailing projects on Caribbean islands affected by Hurricane Irma.

The Caribbean Sailing Association has a list of charities and resources in aid of those islands most affected by Hurricane Irma:

Look out for a full report on the making of Hurricane Irma, and what it means for the Caribbean, in next month’s Yachting World, out on 12 October.