Hurricane Dorian has dominated the news headlines for a month now. The storm, which began as a tropical wave at the end of August, increased in strength to become a Category 5 hurricane before striking parts of The Bahamas — and lingering for days — on September 1 with maximum winds of 185 miles per hour. The level of destruction in the storm’s wake has been unprecedented in the area, making its mark as the worst natural disaster to hit The Bahamas.
But before it made landfall, the yachting community was mobilizing behind the scenes to ensure they’d be ready to provide aid to the affected areas. Many yachts and crew were instrumental in mitigating the storm’s effects in the aftermath. “We spent the past three months in Hope Town on board Short Story,” says Capt. Jeff LaCombe. “When the hurricane devastated the outer islands of the Abacos and Marsh Harbour, we knew we had to take immediate action.”
So they did, starting out locally with the help of Atlantic Yacht & Ship and teaming up with other local organizations, and even opening a donation center on September 2. “Within two days, we had personally collected numerous semi-trailers and containers of goods to get to the islands immediately,” says LaCombe. “We brought generators, food, tools, plumbing, tarps, batteries, building supplies, etc. We traveled with a handful of boats — Insane-o, Short Story, Exit Strategy, Lauren J, our tender…Sea Fever II — we all had our agendas to fulfill and we all managed to deliver to the people.”
LaCombe, who has been aboard M/Y Short Story with the owners for a little over a year now, had been throwing around the idea of getting involved in rescue efforts with the vessel. “This made it the perfect opportunity to get started since we had many friends affected,” he says.
Along with his deck crew, Nina Linger and Robert Mcfarland, his wife Michelle, seven-year-old son Aden, and security team provided by Phantom Services, he was quick to jump in to help, ultimately arriving at Spanish Wells Yacht Haven Marina on September 8. “We got on the dock and got some rest and some food to fuel ourselves for the next day,” LaCombe says. “The island of Spanish Wells had literally no damages to the islands and the people were excited to see us helping out.”
He notes that the fishing vessels in Spanish Wells had already been running supplies to the Abacos. “When we started seeing the southern end of the island of Abacos, we saw total devastation,” he says. “The islands were unrecognizable and completely brown. Tons of sand had washed onto the eastern shores. We passed two USCG vessels of which one had made radio contact with us to understand our intentions.”
They went in at the Cut of South Man-O-War and anchored in front of Hope Town, where they saw Flamingo Explorer, who had been there for days already delivering aid. Capt. LaCombe delivered their supplies to the Lodge Dock in Hope Town, assisted by Hope Town Volunteer Fire Rescue. “Many of them we knew from spending all these years staying on the island,” LaCombe says. “They were excited to see familiar faces bringing much-needed aid.” Once the boat had offloaded their donations, they headed to Spanish Cay, about 45 miles north of Elbow Cay, where they spent two nights before heading back to Palm Beach.
“We were able to load up a few boxes of aid from the vessel and make a tender run to Green Turtle Cay as well,” he says. “We were shocked to see the differences between all of the islands in damages. Elbow Cay, Marsh Harbour, Treasure Cay, and Man-O-War seemed to be the worst affected. Green Turtle had extensive damages but was not as devastated by the wind. They seemed to have a lot of flooding and appeared to have had possible tornadoes in certain areas.”
With more than 1,500 people still missing and The Weather Channel reporting 1.5 billion pounds of debris in Marsh Harbour, it’s a sobering picture. “It’s going to be a very long road ahead for the Abacos,” says LaCombe, “but they are positive about moving forward and already, just a week or two after the storm, some resorts are on generators and serving food and drinks to the people on the island trying to help clean up and start restoration.”
For more related content:
Operation Topaz Brings Relief after Dorian
Hurricane Dorian Devastates the Bahamas: How You Can Help
Photos: Michelle Lacombe