It was 2004 and the year I bought what I considered a large enough boat to do charters on and also large enough to comfortably sail down island from my home in the US Virgin Islands. I teamed up with a friend of mine from St. John who also had a charter boat and we decided to head for Grenada.
Grenada gets hit by a hurricane roughly every 80 years and is often considered far enough south to be out of the paths of most storms. However after being down there for about a month we got a weather report that an unusual storm was becoming more organized out in the Atlantic. Hurricanes almost always continue in a northerly direction as they head west across the ocean. It was three days away and the projected path was way north of Grenada , somewhere around St. Lucia. My friend and I moved our boats to a “hurricane hole” as a precautionary measure but mainly just for practice. The winds should have only got to about 50mph as far away as we were from the eye. As the storm grew nearer its projected path was slowly moving south. On the final night before the storm it became evident that this one was for the record books and Grenada would get a direct hit. That’s when most of us decided not to stay on our boats through the storm and instead find shelter on land.
Josh, my sailing friend from St. John, met a local couple that told us we could hang out at their house until the storm was over. My girlfriend Michelle didn’t get my message not to fly back from Chicago so I picked her up from the airport. We moved to shelter and waited. As the storm advanced the winds became stronger and louder than I could have imagined. We knew the wind would blow from the north and then from the south as the hurricane passed over us and the barred window, facing west, allowed us to watch the whole thing. As soon as I thought the winds couldn’t get stronger they got even worst. I looked out the window and the winds were so strong that all I saw was a sort of white soup. We watched a full size tamarind tree doing somersaults through the air as the roof over the apartment above us blew off. The couple that let us stay in their lower level came down to hide. Then the eye passed over. We realized that the hurricane had passed directly over us and the winds would be at least 150mph, we thought no boats would survive.
After the calm of the eye the winds did as expected and switched to the opposite direction. The winds started to settle six hours after they started and it was after dark. We packed up the first aid kit, grabbed all the flashlights, and went down through the tree-blocked road to inspect the boat chaos. As we struggled through the mangroves we saw completely motionless lizards. They were ether dead or completely exhausted but still hanging on, solidly clamped to the foliage. There were about five boats severely damaged yet still floating in the bay and five piles of boats on the land. I gave Michelle my pack and crawled through the mangroves to see were my boat was. I expected it to be opened up like a pińata and all of my and Michelle’s stuff to be scattered over the hills and into the ocean. But there it was, still roped to the mangroves and still floating with no damage! I grabbed the still attached line and pulled myself to the boat. Josh’s boat Beowulf was under a dog pile so he swam over to help and we went to work. The water level was still up from the storm surge and the boats in the pile were pushed against my lines keeping me too close to shore. We cut the shorelines and pulled forward on the anchor moving the boat to safety before the sea receded. After meeting back up with Michelle we all passed out on the boat waiting for the morning light to show the devastation.
It was unbelievable. Literally 90% of the roofs were blown off the houses and there were uprooted, leafless trees all around us. None of the houses here were built to take a hurricane like this. Everyone was walking through the streets holding machetes. At first we thought it was to protect their scattered belongings but soon realized it was to clear the roads so ambulances could get through. We tried to get Josh’s and another friend’s boat out of the piles. We managed to pull some of the boats away but it was hopeless for Beowulf and most others, their keels and rudders fully buried in the mud. We also started to realize that the whole island could become dangerous. The one’s whose boats were lost gathered on my boat and we decided to get out of there. We sailed to Trinidad to call family. Even forty eight hours after Ivan passed sat phones still weren’t working through the giant storm’s cloud cover.
We started doing trips from Trinidad to Grenada bringing supplies to the people who stayed with their boats. On the first trip the customs agents “confiscated” our food for themselves. We ended up doing several trips helping out the best we could. Some of the other boaters started calling us the surviving Ivan boat. We got the suggestion to change the boat name and she is now called Survivan.
We are still doing day sails and snorkel trips out of St John and have been back to Grenada several times since the storm. Hurricane Ivan set several records for intensity at low latitudes. There were 39 deaths and over a billion dollars in damage to Grenada alone. Eight years later much of the damage is still evident. However, I’m glad to say the island and people seem to be doing great.