The essentials: We're safe, Scallywag is still afloat, and we're waiting for an evacuation flight this Friday to spend a little time with power, water and better connectivity in LA before we regroup and decide what's next for us.
In the last month, Jon and I have lived through both Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico. In the process we've witnessed some amazing things and accidentally organized a grassroots effort to bring help to the islands through SailorsHelping.org.
Jon and I have shared day-by day-updates from right before Irma until now on our personal Facebook pages, so I took the time to combine our stories to give you a sense of what it's been like in Puerto Rico this month. I've reposted our stories in chronological order from shortly after Hurricane Irma. We may overlap a bit in our stories, but hey, when don't married couples talk over each other! We'll continue to share our stories as things develop.
The day after Irma with water but no power, we started to act. We threw up a website and facebook group and started collecting donations to send to stricken areas across the Caribbean. IN the 90-degree heat, Jon and I slept little but worked for hours at the Doubletree, organizing relief efforts and meeting people across the island who also wanted to help. And this is where we pick up our story.
In that last 24 hours, we've personally coordinated more than 15,000 lbs of goods onto planes to Anguilla and Tortola for immediate relief. And when I say personally I mean: we personally purchased them, weighed palettes of stuff ourselves, I personally drove a cargo truck back and forth across SJU's tarmac and we were inside these cargo planes loading them. Our friend personally flew one of the chartered flights, with Jon on to take photos of the damage and see what else we could do on the other end.
We did this, with our own hands, with the help of awesome new friends. I've never done anything like this before. It was amazing to know that we were personally responsible for getting incredibly necessary goods to the places that need them.
Also, we FINALLY got power back in our area of the city, after 8 days of working without power off our hotspot and battery packs. I was ready for my first hot shower in a long time and a little celebration.
But as I left the airport and walked into my friend's house for a much-needed drink, I learned that what's left might be wiped out in just 4 days with another cat 3/4 hurricane, Maria, headed our way.
That all that good work may go to nothing.
That Puerto Rico, still without power in many places and low on storm-prep and recovery items like generators, tarps, building materials, and emergency rations because we sent it all to the neighboring islands who need them, will be royally fucked if this thing actually hits.
That our boat has a 50/50 chance of making it through the next storm depending on where we choose to put it in the next 12 hours.
That the house we fell in love with, that we just put an offer on yesterday, may or may not be in the path of a direct hit.
That my business, from which I've already been struggling to keep up with (thank god for good talented friends who have taken over in the short term) might be out of commission for another two weeks or may even have to fold if I am unable to get internet and connectivity after this storm.
I have no words for this moment. There are no right answers for how to handle the next few days. Please keep us, our boat, and all the people in the islands facing this in your thoughts.
Our two primary options on where to keep Scallywag during the upcoming Cat 3-4 Hurricane Maria. The mangroves near Salinas or the newly constructed "hurricane hole" of a marina, Puerto Del Rey, in Fajardo. Neither are good options. Based on all of our friend's recent experiences, we are honestly preparing for the worst. Going to unload all our important things today and make a decision likely tonight or first thing in the AM on where to bring her.
We just stripped Scally of everything valuable. I left my favorite bathing suit, her pretty pillows, our whiskey glasses and good whiskey and my most used cookbooks, just so she could be sure we'll always come back for her. She can't sink if she knows how much we love her. ❤️ Cat 4 predicted, 120kt winds.
We just toasted her from the best seat on the boat, and poured a little out for her too. She loves a good whiskey on a balmy night.
Headed into the mangroves with her soon, so that we can find a cozy spot for her in first light. #mariayouasshole
We spent the last two days prepping Scally for what is most likely her first and only Cat 5 hurricane in her 43 years. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
If you've never owned a boat, the only way I can describe it is a combo of a pet, older and wiser mentor, and a home.
Scally is our most valuable possession. Not in terms of cash value, but in terms of impact to our lives. She has largely impacted or shaped four of our nine years together. We got engaged on that boat. We sailed 3,000+ miles on that boat. She is more than a boat, she is family.
We did the best we can... we ran eight lines and threw out two large anchors with more than 350' of chain total. We're hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst.
Hurricane Maria hits tomorrow as a direct hit to Puerto Rico as a Cat 4/5. We had a near miss with Irma and still lost power for eight days in my neighborhood. We're going to ride out the storm in a 300 year old concrete building in Old San Juan and should be totally fine, but I'll likely be offline for a little bit. Will check in when I can. Keep us and Scally in your thoughts.
I think I can safely say the last two days have been the most brutal two days of my life. With Maria shifting, we're looking at potentially losing Scallywag and our remaining possessions in our apartment in San Juan that we moved into this month, which is in the flood zone.
We spent three days sleeping only a few hours, wading around in mangroves, tying more than a dozen lines and stripping her boom, sheets, solar panels and hardware in unrelenting heat. Scally is incredibly snug in her spot and we feel like we did the absolute best we could do for her. But it was hard, physically and emotionally. The last step was to tighten her lines at 3 o clock, once boats stopped entering the mangroves. If you do it too soon, people will cut your lines to find their own safe harbor.
A local cruiser whom we trusted volunteered to do the final line tightening since there was no way for us to wait until the last minute for the lines and get to our safe house for the storm in time. We know him loosely, but drove his wife to her safe house. He passed the last storm with us too. We've texted him three times to confirm they were tightened. All the messages have been read but we've received no answer. We're not sure if that's because he can't break the bad news to us or because he's already lost connectivity. My heart is in my throat.
As for us, we've lost power and have limited cell coverage but also have sat text messaging so I'll try to keep y'all up to date while I can. We're well stocked, (have all our emergency supplies from two boats) in a 200-year-old building with really thick walls. Both euro and gfs models show that right now San Juan may miss a direct hit, which is good. Landfall on the east coast of PR is imminent.
If you're following along, Scally is in Los Hobos mangrove next to Salinas and we're on Calle Sol in San Juan. Half of our friends have their boats in the same mangrove, the other half chose Puerto Del Rey in Fajardo. We all live on our boats.
We're with one other couple, whose boat is in Fajardo. Depending on the model, a direct hit on one of our boats means the other is spared. We're all hoping for the best but adamantly rooting against each other. None of us like sports but realized, over a round of dark and stormies last night, that this might be what being a diehard sports fan must feel like.
Keep us in your thoughts, folks. The next 24 hours are going to be really, really rough.
Facebook: Victoria Fine Checked In as SAFE.
The damage in San Juan is mind blowing. We checked our apartment today - Unbelievably, the flood zone stopped literally at our front door. One house away, the water is waist deep and people were kayaking and dinghying by with outboards. Checking on Scally today, will share updates when I can.
Made it through to the other side of Maria. People are out surveying the neighborhood. Things are pretty solid in Old San Juan structurally as everything is solid concrete. I have had word of pretty major flooding in other areas and that the power is out on the entire island - likely for months.
But so far Tory and I are fine and we have gotten word that our actual apartment a block from the beach did not flood. No word from anyone near the boat, but will try to find a way to get there tomorrow. Not sure it will be possible yet.
This photo is essentially how we spent most of the hurricane -- we all have different providers, so we were constantly waiting to see who would get the next intermittent signal for updates...
There is a saying in Spanish that goes "cuando te toca, ni aunque te quites; cuando no te toca, ni aunque te pongas."
It roughly means, if it's your time to go nothing will stop it from happening, if it's not, you couldn't make it happen if you tried. At least that's how my friend Paulo explained it to me as we were driving to check on our boats today.
The morning started when I woke up at 6 a.m. unable to sleep. I knew that my mission for the day was going to be to find a car to get to the boat. I walked outside and two neighbors were talking. I asked if either knew who owned the jeep parked in front. As luck would have it, the one woman actually was the owner. But in typical Hollywood fashion, she had a broken arm and we would need to bring her to the hospital for treatment before borrowing the car.
We drive from one clinic to the next, finally finding one near our actual apartment that we didn't stay in - as it's one block from the ocean. We decide to make a quick stop to make sure it's ok and find a guy with a fully engaged outboard engine dingying around at the corner of our street. We go the long way around and luckily find that the flooding literally stopped at our front door.
First stop, a success.
Next, we drop our neighbor at the emergency clinic with Tory, while Paulo and I head out to Salinas on the south side of the island.
The trip from north to south is nothing short of post-apocalyptic. We could see the line of destruction of where the hurricane track actually crossed the island. Not a leaf remained on any tree for a good 20 miles.
The road was beginning to be cleared by volunteer teams hacking at the fallen trees with anything from a hand saw to a chainsaw. The flooding had largely gone done on the south bound side of the road, but the north bound still kept smaller cars from passing at certain points. Jungle rules applied and cars were crossing sides of the highways as needed to get to where they needed to go. I was very happy to be in a large Jeep today.
We arrived in the small village near the mangroves around noon. People walking around shared stories of their roofs being blown off and the flooding extending to their doors. We went to one small private dinghy dock and called for any vessels in the Jobos Bay Mangroves to give us a lift to our boats. Sure enough, someone showed up just a few minutes later.
As we pulled up to Scally, I could see from a distance that she was still floating - despite the boat in front of her being thrown well up into the mangroves. Something referred to as being "high and dry" - not a good thing.
I climbed aboard and it immediately looked like she had been through a battle. While she emerged victorious, she had definitely received some wounds. The mangroves also stain the boats and water red, so her decks and hull were not just showing the scars, but actually appeared to be bleeding.
As I inspected the damages, it became clear that the surge and wind had picked her up about three feet and thrown her into the mangroves. You can see a spot in one of the photos off her aft quarter where the mangroves are all worn down and broken - that's where she rode out part of the storm.
As the wind shifted, she got sent back out away from the branches, but one or many took hold of her and didn't want to let go. Ultimately, it took her back railing and stanchion, the helm's compass, bent the bracket for the top solar mount, broke off part of the teak cockpit trim, and ripped up a piece of the genoa track on the toe rail. It must have been quite the fight, but scally emerged.
As the saying goes, it was not her time to go.
Numerous other stories came out of the other boaters in the groves - many of which stayed on their boats - many of which also actually broke clear free and were blown all around the mangroves or well up into them (high and dry). In total, there were about 20 boats in the mangroves riding out Maria and I'd say that 5-6 of them either broke loose completely, ended up resting on top of the mangroves, or both. In Salinas harbor proper, it was WAY worse. I'd say 60-70% of the boats there ended up on land.
For us now, we are lucky to have a generator from our boat and will be charging our various devices once a day. Our main issue now is fuel and connectivity. In about a week, it will be good and water, but at least the pizza place down the street started doing take out today, so it was an overall good first day post-hurricane.
The days are a thousand hours long right now but the flashes of goodness are just as prolific.
Yesterday, I helped a neighbor who broke her arm after the storm find an open hospital to be treated. We spent the morning at the emergency room.
There were no orthopedists on duty, but a friend of our neighbor happened to be in the emergency room, as she had heard about the broken arm and knew of an excellent orthopedist to treat her.
There was no way to reach him, but as we were sitting, waiting for the X-ray results, the friend saw the orthopedist's wife walk by. She yelled out. The wife stopped and we explained the situation. Even though the doctor didn't work in the building, he happened to be in the other room to pick up supplies. He treated our neighbor immediately and we were in our way.
Outside, we picked our way over 200-year-old trees and downed telephone poles. The scene around us was post-apocalyptic.
The friend from the emergency room was acting strangely as if she was in shock. I asked her if she had a safe place to stay. She said she was still figuring things out and I invited her back to stay in a safe place while she figured things out. She got in acab with us home.
This was a mistake. Our neighbor quietly whispered that this wasn't a shell-shocked friend but a crazy lady that regularly squatted in people's houses and wouldn't leave for months at a time. And I had just let her into our borrowed home.
Maybe it was the storm that took it out of me, but I just didn't have it in me to kick her out again. So I made our friends, both SVU prosecutors, do it for me. For some inexplicable reason, she wouldn't leave without a new t-shirt to take org her. So I gave her literally my last clean shirt off my back. Later, over wine, we all agreed this was the appropriate punishment for making my friends kick a crazy lady out of the house.
By 7 a.m. the house is awake and moving. Without electricity, and the constant presence of man made light, our hurricane clocks have reset us to rising and sleeping by the sun.
The first win of the morning is when Andrew realized that we can redirect our roof's gutter to a (clean) trash can to collect rain water. Without running water, this is now our back up that we use for flushing toilets and other household needs.
Something I never thought I'd know: it takes about two pitchers of water to get a regular (non-low flush toilet to flush).
We follow this win with a quick walk around the neighborhood and find several local restaurants serving coffee or breakfast sandwiches as takeaway at the door. The spirit of resilience here, once again, shining through.
When we officially set out today, I have two missions: gas and coke (the soda variety of course).
We knew that we will have to get back to Salinas to actually move Scallywag out of the mangroves, however the trip down and back takes half a tank of gas in the jeep and we are now down to only a quarter tank. The only way we can make the trip is if we find more gas.
We get word through a relatively active WhatsApp group that a Total gas station on the other side of town is still pumping, so we set off in that direction. Unfortunately, when we get there it had already run out of fuel. We try several others also with no luck.
As we are about to give up, we spot one from the highway! Of course the line of cars is a mile long, so we opt to grab our jerry can and wait in the foot traffic line. This turns out to be a bad mistake as we eventually realize that cars take up much more space than humans and the vehicle line is actually moving much quicker. Live and learn.
As we stand in line, Paulo manages to sneak in and grab me a coke! Mission one accomplished. However, I get greedy with the gas station being so well stocked and sneak back in myself to emerge purchasing a full case! No more worrying about that issue.
As we continue to wait in the line, hour after hour, the mood feels like it needed a bit of uplifting. So Paulo and I once again find ourselves sneaking past the line and into the convenience store to purchase about 50 beers that we then take outside and distribute to the line. Much happier people! At least for the short term.
By hour four, people are starting to get hostile. Of course, this is also right as the three of us get to the door with our jerry cans (we have now borrowed one from someone later in line so we can quickly fill the tank of our car parked around the corner with one, while filling another - we manage to get three cans worth with this little trick). But right as we were get to the door, a yelling match breaks out that almost threatens the entire operation. The owner comes out for a second and says that the station is closing as a result and this situation and it takes the rest of us to diffuse the situation to keep things going.
After four hours, we leave with a full tank of gas, an extra jerry can full, and a lot of friends from our free beer move.
The bonus of the day is coming back to Old San Juan and finding El Hamburger has already opened their doors. This is one of the best hamburger joints ever. Despite having a chunk of their roof ripped off, they are still serving happy customers.
And later in the evening our neighbor invites us to an amazing candle lit dinner in her courtyard. Puerto Rico may be knocked down, but the county is far from knocked out.
In the mountains, it looks like the earth has been scorched, but it's just earth overturned by the force of the wind.
I am becoming accustomed to living life based around daily missions. This some how makes me feel like I am accomplishing something, even if it is the most mundane task.
Day three's mission: Get back to the boat and take her out of the mangroves.
Paulo, Tory and I set out early. Driving the same roads we did two days earlier, it is clear that progress is being made. The roads are cleared of all but the biggest trees and there are many more cars making the trip.
We arrive to the small village near Salinas and say hello to our new friend Pablo - the young fisherman who owns the house where we left our dinghy. We quickly realize that we left the key to this dinghy back in San Juan and need to hitch a ride to the boats. Of course with the gas shortage, nothing is easy and we had to pour fuel from the locked up fuel tank in Paulo's boat into the tank for Pablo's motor... right as it started to pour down rain.
We get to the boat and slowly start pulling in all the lines and chain. Doing a rough count, I'd say we have more than 800' of line, 350' of chain and two anchors out, so this in itself is no small task.
A few hours later, we head back to Salinas with Scally. This time, we are able to more closely survey the grounded boats that line the shore. I count more than 50. It sinks in just how lucky we are.
We drop anchor as there are no docks to return to and, as we begin setting up the solar panels and prepping the boat to be able to leave her for a little while, we hear the familiar boat name "Desue" on the VHF. This boat is a trawler with two older couples on board that was next to us in the mangroves. Their daughter, Lucy, had reached out to me on Facebook looking for information on them and I was the first person to be able to tell her that they were alright. I jump on the VHF and convey this to Desue and they are eternally grateful for helping bridge the communication gap as the majority of the island is still without any signal. A small side win for today's mission.
As we finally wrap up prepping the two boats, we realize it's now 6:20pm and curfew is still in effect starting at 6:00. We say screw it and decide to risk it with the hour plus trip back to San Juan. The roads are dark and dangerous - our lights barely work. We make the majority of the trip drafting behind other cars to use the light of their more powerful headlights. Good news is that we pass at least four gas trucks going back and forth bringing fuel across the island.
By 8 p.m., we're home and exhausted. We go to bed early. Another mission complete. On to tomorrow's.
We'll continue updating with future blog posts as time and connectivity allow. In the meantime, please send good thoughts to the islands. They need each and every one.