Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The New St. Thomas

For over a month now we have been living in a hurricane devastated island, which, how I predicted is going to get better sooner than we expected. It could be named island pride, FEMA money, or all this things combine expressed on bumper stickers: “Stand strong VI”. That is what island people do, we rebuild and repair and keep our Little Rock going, even if we are told we can’t, or it’s too hard. When we got here in December; most of the debris had been cleared off the roads. During Christmas week a rescue power company from the States worked non stop to electrify more homes, accomplishing 75%  by the end of the year; now that percentage is higher. Some federal funds were used to pay a crew to cut grass and clean trash on the main roads; pick up bulky trash put out by home owners. The DPNR (Department of Planning and Natural Resources) and the Coast Guard have a contractor picking up sunken boats, about 450-500.

The restaurants are open, the charter boats that survived the storm are taking tourist out. The grocery stores are well stocked, all the services are good. The telephone companies are back to ripping off people. Slowly the new St Thomas is taking shape. Although, this islands depend on tourism, since the big hotels wont be open for at least 2 years, this season is very slow; creating concerns about safety among many residents. FEMA is employing hundreds of people, as well as the other groups doing savage. What is going to happen when all that is gone. I say, things will be more stabilized, maybe more people will leave the island, new businesses will be created. Like our icon said: “Don’t worry about a thing”. Our friends from Santo Domingo selling coconut water on the road, are having a tough time. They used to get a shipment from Puerto Rico twice a week. They opened 1000 coconuts a day, 6 days a week. Now they are getting the merchandise from Miami and it’s just enough to keep them busy for 2 days. But they are not giving up. Ericka and Luis said to us: “He had to adjust our lifestyles to the new reality, until things get better”. Everybody is rebuilding, cleaning, shopping, and keeping hundreds of people employed. There are food trucks selling delicious food, machine shops, car mechanics, wood shops. It is going to be fine. The cruise ships are bringing thousands of tourist, who at least buy a souvenir in downtown.

When we first got here we were chucked. From the island we left last May to the one we found was a big change. The people looked very stressed out. Our friends were a shell of themselves, tired of dealing with generators, fuel cans, oil and the lost of boats, roofs and business lost. But as soon as they were plugged in again we started seeing improvements in their moods.

Salty Shores was standing as strong as the pride of this people. She had no water inside, no mold or smells. Within a week we got her ready to live on board, but it took us over a month to finish all the repairs. It wasn’t much, luckily. The top from another boat flew across and hit the bow, bending the pulpit, the anchor rollers, damaging about a foot of the toe rail and stripping off 2 bronze rub rail. The head sail halyard was shaved severely, just by friction. We were lucky getting the rollers fixed within a week by Lance’s machine shop. But we could not find the replacing bolts in the island which we order from out of Atlanta. The wood shop in the boat yard put us in a waiting list, there were other boats ahead of us with even bigger problems. 

In the meantime we put a coat of rubber paint on the dinghy, installed a holding tank; a very nasty 3 day job; change toilet pomp. Our GMC Jimmy had a timing belt problem that took several trips to Bryan and Siblins garage to figure it out. We had to get sails and awnings repaired by the Quantum sail loft in town. Jim got new spreaders boots, changed the fuel vent from the port side to the stern, the gear shift cables and starter got fixed. He greased the autopilot, re-wire it and then deal with a computer problem that got fixed by switching the polarity, thanks to Perry, in Tropicom, advice. It is just the beginning of the year and I have taken Jim 15 times to the top of the mast. Inspecting rigging, changing halyards, taking old topping lift, putting new one up; tiding lazy jacks, installing wind instrument. Gosh! The bottom of the boat, we got a diver to clean it, apparently the micron 66 that was just put on last February, got deactivated by all the fresh water runoffs and the bottom was covered in barnacles. Gerald waxed the haul, after Jim went around washed it, applied and buffed a fiberglass cleaner. Talking about hard work. I could not help him because right around those 2 days the wind died down and the no seems were unbearable.

When the bolts came in, they had sent the wrong size, so even having the wood work done we had to wait another week for the new bolts. Waiting for parts was part of the problem this time. Although the mail service is working, packages seem to take a little longer than they uses to. And we had to order, bolts, bronze toe rail, halyards, dinghy rubber paint, spreader boots, and companionway slides. Weeks waiting for parts, weeks waiting for work and finally we are ready to let loose of the dock lines and sail on the deep blue and flush the water maker and clean the bottom of the haul. It just never ends!

One last comment on the weather: December was a very buggy and hot month I ever had in the lagoon. But now is windy, cloudy and we get rain squalls sometimes 3 times a day. Bright side, no bugs, the other; lets go sailing.