Volunteer Boatlifts Help Storm-Battered Dominica

Cruisers from the southern Caribbean to the East Coast of the US became riveted to weather reports as early as August 30th, 2017, when Hurricane Irma’s path was still uncertain. By September 5th, the report from Weather Underground was terrifying.

Published 7 years ago, updated 2 months ago

By Joan Conover (SSCA) for Caribbean Compass


Thousands of people across the northern Leeward Islands battened down for the worst that evening as Hurricane Irma approached, surging in strength to become the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic. As of 7:00 PM EDT, Irma’s top sustained winds were an incredible 160 knots.

In the early morning hours of September 6th, Category 5 Hurricane Irma destroyed Barbuda and moved on to nearly demolish St. Barths, St. Maarten-St. Martin, and the British and US Virgin Islands. Irma caused less destruction on St. Croix, the Spanish Virgins, and Puerto Rico, but the damage was still significant. Irma then traveled over the northern Dominican Republic and the Turks & Caicos prior to severely impacting Cuba’s northern coastline and then raking the Florida Keys and the western side of Florida.

A few days after “Armageddon”, Hurricane Maria formed.

We all watched with horror to see another Category 5 storm following in its predecessor’s track, although just a little to the south. Maria made landfall on the island of Dominica on September 18th, and then blasted St. Croix, the Spanish Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The Turks & Caicos suffered its second hard blow in two weeks. Many affected islands lost infrastructure, communications and the ability to provide basic services to their residents. Homes were destroyed; millions of citizens were left with minimal or no supplies of food and water — a disaster beyond anyone’s imagination.

Help from Cruisers

Cruisers immediately began to discuss how they could best help those devastated by the hurricanes.

Since the hurricane strikes, a unique volunteer small boatlift effort has been ongoing in the Eastern Caribbean, providing critical supplies to people in many of the affected islands. (See “Hurricane Irma: Early Relief Begins” in last month’s Compass.)

The boatlifts to hard-hit Dominica provide an illuminating example of these efforts.


Since September, privately owned boats have been loading up with donated necessities ranging from tarps to toiletries in Trinidad, Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique and Antigua, and transporting these supplies to Dominica’s major ports of Roseau and Portsmouth. Volunteer shore teams load the boats and keep a network of concerned cruisers informed, and a diverse network of marine nonprofit organizations are raising funds for fuel, supplies, and assistance. Funds are transferred between groups to get cash where it is critically needed.

Among the many volunteering vessels is the historic seagoing tug Flying Buzzard, currently based in Grenada; the windjammer Diamant, loading in Martinique; and numerous smaller charter and cruising boats carrying as much cargo as they can from other islands. A photo of Prince Rupert’s Bay right now must look like an image from the past, with tall ships, small sailboats and even a classic tug at the Customs dock, and community organizers and officials joining in to help with the offloading. It is a busy time when the relief vessels come in, reflecting a past when the sea was the only transportation route for the Caribbean islands. To a great degree for Dominica, after Hurricane Maria, it still is.

Knowing that relief and recovery will be an ongoing and dynamic process, this article highlights just a few of the known efforts to assist just one island. It is not meant to be comprehensive but recognizes the altruistic attempt by various boating-related organizations — named and unnamed — to work together collaboratively to assist the hurricane-affected islands. Countless people are helping, with more joining the effort daily, and we apologize to the scores not mentioned here, and for any organizational efforts or missions that are not clearly described.

Step One: Donation-Site Lists Assembled

Recognizing the terrible consequences of these hurricanes, members of several boating-related organizations began to find ways to help immediately. SSCA’s Single Side Band Radio Net, which broadcasts from Florida (KPK 8104 USB 8:15 AM ET; Glenn Tuttle), worked tirelessly, specifically to help get information out from cruisers and island residents to loved ones. Cruising guide author Chris Doyle’s Facebook page became an invaluable source of reliable information, especially for Barbuda and Dominica. Chris provided immediate information on who was okay, what any issues were, what was being done to help and how others could help. Facebook itself became an invaluable information source, as the messaging capability inherent in the application could still be used on affected islands when cell service was down. The SMS messaging system, WhatsApp, worked as well. Messages from hurricane victims requesting food, water, medicine, and other supplies were received, and user groups shared information on who was doing what, where. The “Dominica Hurricane Relief – Maria” Facebook group continues to be a vital source of updates on boat-related relief efforts on that island.

It was quickly recognized that cash donations would be the primary approach for multiple emergency-response efforts, and lists began to grow of internet donation sites that had proven records of getting support directly to victims.

Sue Richards of Noonsite (www.noonsite.com), Sally Erdle of Caribbean Compass magazine (www.caribbeancompass.com) and Joan Conover, Cruising Station Coordinator of the Seven Seas Cruising Association (www.ssca.org), collaborated to see what could be done to combine and leverage the efforts of a major online cruisers’ resource, a popular Caribbean sailing magazine, and the world’s largest association of liveaboard sailors. First, their lists of donation sites and key contacts were shared. Then, acting collectively to develop communication linkages among individuals and groups working on hurricane relief, the group concentrated on trying to coordinate some approaches for that relief, focusing totally on the people in need, not on the organizations. As this group circulated links for various valid Caribbean hurricane-relief donation sites, lists developed by many other groups were added in hopes of making all financial donations count.

With the ever-expanding list of fundraising sites in circulation, the thoughts of this team and many others turned to get materials and supplies to the hurricane victims.

Step Two: Material Help Shipped

Within days of each hurricane, small vessels of all sorts, captained and crewed by volunteers, began to transport critical supplies to many of the hardest-hit islands.

The tiny independent island nation of Dominica, which had assisted Barbuda after Irma and pledged funds for the Virgin Islands, was devastated by Maria. Well-loved by cruisers, and mercifully close to a number of unaffected islands, Dominica became a destination for many boatlifts.

Flying Buzzard, Mike Nelder, and Julie Jessop’s 105-foot, 1951-vintage seagoing tug (www.facebook.com/flyingbuzzard), made multiple trips from Grenada, St. Lucia and Antigua to Dominica, loaded to the gunnels with relief supplies.

The 110-foot schooner S/V Diamant (www.islandwindjammers.com/sailing-ship-diamant.aspx) delivered generators, fuel, food and other necessities.

Hank Schmidt’s Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO, www.sailopo.com) provided crew-contact lists and coordinated other relief vessels.

Sea Mercy (SeaMercy.org) vessels were among the first delivering relief supplies to Dominica, coordinating deliveries with the International Rescue Group (IRG, members.internationalrescuegroup.org) and with others on the ground.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (www.seashepherd.org) vessels provided more heavy lifts.

In Trinidad, SSCA Cruising Station Host Jesse James worked with IRG as cruisers in Trinidad, such as Patrick Thompson aboard the 46-foot ketch S/V Foxfire, organized supplies and boat lifts to Dominica.

Contact details for the ever-developing network of volunteer organizations, including groups with proven efforts in similar relief efforts and small-boat lifts, were shared and circulated, and other organizations began to fund some of the fuel, supply, and other boatlift costs. OPO’s Hank Schmidt stepped up with his organization to provide funds to purchase fuel and supplies, and some fuel funds were provided to IRG to support Flying Buzzard’s efforts.

Then sailors Magoe and Clair Johnson of Macario Advantage (www.macarioadvantage.org), already heavily involved in charitable projects in Dominica in recent years, stepped in with more funds and, more importantly, the ability to reach out directly via their network of contacts to people in key areas of the island. Magoe provided communications to people in Dominica with the ability to call via a cell-phone app, to notify others of their needs and tell people where to go to help offload supplies. She was able to find those in extreme need, including some in the Kalinago (Carib) area of eastern Dominica and the 150 people sheltered in the Roosevelt Douglas Public Elementary School in Portsmouth. The Johnsons will sail their boat, Macario, back to Dominica from Grenada around mid-December.

Flying Buzzard has been doing amazing heavy sea lifts into the island, with assistance from Dee Lundy-Charles in St. Lucia; Ann McHorney, who arranged the connection with Flying Buzzard; and Marilyn Eckel, who had assisted in relief efforts for Dominica after Tropical Storm Erika in 2015; as well as many others, including marinas, businesses and individuals in Grenada and Antigua. Other boats have been able to utilize information gained from Flying Buzzard’s and other vessels’ deliveries, providing situational awareness of immediate needs and where and when deliveries would be made. S/V Foxfire reportedly used these contacts for the successful delivery of supplies from Trinidad.

On the ground, Andrew “Cobra” O’Brien (www.cobratours.dm), one of the well-recognized Dominican guides and clearance agents, has become a contact for the volunteer vessels arriving there, with an active satellite phone to ensure communications. IRG’s team is also working with members of the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services (PAYS, http://dominicapays.wixsite.com/pays) and other individuals in Portsmouth, as well as with Dominica government officials in Roseau. Not only does PAYS have official NGO status with the Dominica government, they also represent a fair and sharing organization for the community as a whole. In Portsmouth, an important hub for relief deliveries, the coordination with Customs and locals, including members of PAYS, has made it possible for smaller vessels to land with minimal delay and confusion.

The amazing spirit of collaboration is ongoing.

As Paulette Lee of M/Y Samantha, based in Martinique, wrote recently to Hank Schmidt of OPO:

“I just wanted to update you on what has been happening with your [OPO] generous donations to assist [PAYS members] Martin “Providence” Carriere and Faustin Alexis in Dominica.

There have been countless hours by James and Pam Lovegrove [of S/V Love-Zur], along with Patrick Mazzei [S/V Jango-Mayosa], all of whom had already been involved in other Dominica relief efforts from Le Marin. They used all possible contacts to get good pricing for food items and to seek out boats able to pick up in Martinique to deliver goods to Martin and Alexis in Portsmouth.

The options of buying and shipping products from St. Lucia were also being explored by John while we were in Rodney Bay. John was working with Sean Devaux, Manager of IGA Rodney Bay Marina, who offered his contacts and discounts…. Then, right out of the blue, another possible option presented itself: the Windjammer S/V Diamant!

With the monies in hand, John and James will be shopping in the morning for two generators (one for Martin and one for Alexis). John and James have been given a source where special pricing should be available, as the items will be going to Dominica. There will still be plenty of money for food items, and some of the local businesses will be helping to pass along their company discounts. So, in the morning, the discount will be confirmed, and I will be at the store placing the food order at the local Carrefour Market. The Carrefour Market will deliver to the fuel dock, free of charge, where we can load the items onto the S/V Diamant. There have been many highs and lows, but, in the end, it is being accomplished!”

Step Three: Keep on Course!

Antigua is developing as a hub in the ongoing hurricane relief.

Ondeck Sailing (www.ondecksailing.com), in collaboration with the Antigua & Barbuda Marine Association (abma.ag) and local tour companies, has made disaster-recovery deliveries to Portsmouth. As reported by Antiguanice.com, working with Yacht Aid Global (http://yachtaidglobal.org) the superyacht M/Y Va Bene arrived from Palma with aid for Dominica, loaded further aid in Antigua and left the docks on October 20th.

Antigua is expected also to be a staging post for SeaMercy.org, a group known for assisting Vanuatu in the 2015-6 Pacific hurricane disasters, marshaling small vessels from various international cruising organizations. Director Richard Hackett says, “Although we are pulling together support as quickly as possible, I wish I had more resources available in the Caribbean. We shipped eight portable desalination units to Antigua for distribution with one of our partners. We are organizing our volunteer fleet, however, most are either making repairs (damaged from hurricanes), or planning to leave at the end of the hurricane season. We currently have at least six vessels coming at this point, two of which will be operating as Floating Health Care Clinics (FHCC), and our goal is to have over 50 by the end of October, six as FHCC vessels. We are also trying to finalize the funds for a heavy lift transport to be delivered to Antigua for recovery work. This will give us the ability to deliver more than 80 tons per drop and we will have installed onboard two desalination units (a Spectra Cabo producing 10,000 gallons a day and Spectra LB2800 that produces 10,000 liters a day).”

Sea Mercy envisions working with collaboration and support from cruisers and relief efforts in all areas.

Writing about ongoing hurricane relief efforts can never cover all aspects, and this article is not meant to be comprehensive. Again (and heartwarmingly), there isn’t space to mention everyone who has helped or is helping. Information continues to arrive daily as recovery efforts continue. While there always will be issues when volunteer groups collaborate, the donation of private funds and the efforts of volunteer boatlift organizers and crews are a major plus in the recovery of Dominica and the other hurricane-damaged Caribbean islands.

This story will continue with the addition of yachts bringing relief supplies to Dominica and other affected islands as they now start to arrive from North America, Europe and farther-flung parts of the world for this winter’s sailing season.

This is a beginning, not an ending.

Thanks to Barb Hart for assistance with this report.

Caribbean Hurricane Relief Donations

Even if you can’t be aboard a boat carrying relief supplies to the storm-swept islands, you can help those islands recover. Below is a link to just a few donation options that have been recommended to Caribbean Compass, SSCA and noonsite.com by people or organizations we consider reliable. This is by no means a complete list of responsible groups collecting for relief from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

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  1. February 16, 2019 at 7:56 AM
    Data Entry2 says:

    This is a fantastic roll-call of the various organizations, information, and activities underway in the Caribbean, nice work Joan! Cheers, Captain Ray http://www.internationalrescuegroup.org