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Confronting compassion – post-hurricane Caribbean islands with Nic Douglass (Pt. I)

by John Curnow 26 Dec 2017 22:32 UTC
Virgin Gorda, BVI © Nic Douglass /

Admittedly, the headline is borderline oxymoron territory. In the very least they look they should be a self-help book title, or a video series by the late Wayne Dyer. Perhaps it should really have been written as ‘Confronting. Compassion’, but none the less, the real and residual element here is the fact that these two adjectives were overarchingly the most striking take aways from a conversation with Nic Douglass, aka Adventures of a Sailor Girl, after her trip that Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance sent her on immediately after the disastrous hurricane season.

So we will need to look at the people who need to be thanked for making it all possible, what Nic saw in the Caribbean that left her with an immutable feeling of physical and emotional distress, as well as the memories that were spawned. However, before all of that, Nic recently collected another award for her efforts, so let’s find out what she has to say about that.

“I have to say it’s a pretty amazing experience. I didn’t expect to win the Australian Sailing award once, let alone twice. I was definitely shaking when my name was called out at the awards night, that’s for sure”, said Douglass. “It is fantastic to be recognised by those within our sport for the work I am doing”.

Now you might think that it could well be described as a hell of a trip, but this would certainly be the ten-day haul of ten-day hauls. To get hit by one named storm is devastating. So to have a procession like Irma, Jose and then Maria, whilst not historically off the scale of possibility, it is very much on the scale of adverse suffering. Lots of people made Douglass’ trip possible, not the least of which was Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance. What was fortuitous out of such a horrific occasion is that Nic was in the USA when it happened, and was able to be part of the first team to go in, assess and generally help out.

What are some of the ‘thank yous’ that must come out as result of the wonderful people you’ve met? “I have to say that going to the Caribbean recently was a very different adventure for ‘Adventures of a Sailor Girl’. I think everyone is used to me being in the thick of it in terms of sailing, but not necessarily in the thick of it in terms of disaster zones. Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance had a mission to get in there and help people, but to get me in there as well, so those in the affected areas could talk with me, and I could capture what occurred, which also allowed me to show the great work that is being done there to get the area back on their feet.”

“I ended up staying on a boat with one of the surveying teams, because that was the only way we could actually get in there! We were going into a disaster zone to help people, but we were also going to be spreading and sharing both words of support coming in, and tales of inspiration coming out. It’s not something that’s done all that often at all, so I actually feel incredibly privileged, even if I was a little bit traumatized by it all for a while. I have seen some things that people would’ve just not believed to be real.”

So yes, there were people who lived and breathed it, from flight attendants helping Nic get there, to the surveyors themselves, but the people on the ground like a lot of those associated with events like the Bart Simpson regatta have just asked Nic to spread the word to come back.

In one of her atypical flurry of words, Douglass’ vigour to recount her tales and thank those who helped was ultra-evident. “To start with, I was on the first commercial flight that got into the British Virgin Islands, and my flight attendant’s name was Julio. I had a little bit of a chat with him on the way in, and he explained how Seaborne Airlines did a lot to help the British Virgin Islands in taking supplies in after Hurricane Irma. Then with Maria, it was sort of reversed, because poor San Juan was in trouble, so it was amazing to have his experiences, and to learn how thankful he was for the help that Saint Juan had got, and how grateful they were that they’d helped the BVIs to start with. So that was pretty incredible.”

“Vincent was the first person that picked me up from the dock when I arrived into Virgin Gorda. He was the boat captain of the boat that we were staying on, and he had to have to leave his home, which was Saint Maarten, with his partner Nelly. They had some amazing stories as well, as I think Saint Maarten was probably one of the most troubled areas.”

“Then there was the survey team that I was staying with, Juan and Chris, who were absolute legends, and took me into their little fold so quickly. In Virgin Gorda I met Bryan in the boatyard, he recognised me and then took me around. Then there was Akeem in Tortola, where I met a bunch of people from drone pilots who were willing to share footage eventually, to people that were there managing boats and working in boat offices, and in Saint Thomas, touching base with Chuck, who runs the Saint Thomas International Regatta.”

“I think there’s so many people that I met, I couldn’t name them all, but one thing remains to be true amongst all of them, and that’s how positive they were in such a scene of devastation. This is what really highlighted that they are going to come back, and they are going to be back on their feet, and they are going to be ready to go for the coming season. I got the most amazing sense hope from the positivity shown by everybody there.”

So it is quite possibly very apt that someone who seeks out adventure got to be with the people as they recovered, and in a way, for anyone who has enjoyed the Caribbean when it is on song, to then see the juxtaposition that Nic witnessed. We used the word haul earlier, for unlike the typical Caribbean adventure where you might fly in, have eight days, nine days in the sun and kill yourself with laughter, here it was not only hard to get to, but there was hard work to be done and hardship everywhere you looked! So what then did this latest adventure look like?

Flying in from Miami to San Juan on the first real flight was one thing, but arrival to an international airport with no power quickly reset the scene. “There were no boards, no nothing, just people talking with megaphones and no gates working, so you had to go down the fire escape stairs, to get onto a bus, which then took you to the aircraft. It was far worse than travelling with a budget airline.”

“Going into Beef Island, Julio said sit on the port side of the plane, you’ll get the best views of the BVIs as we fly in, and I was mortified when I saw an island that I’d seen, taking exactly the same flight to only two years earlier, and has just seen what looked like a garbage tip on the side of a hill. Like there’s stuff absolutely everywhere!”

“I then had to wait for four hours at Beef Island, so one day into a ten-day trip, and it was already huge just getting there. I actually hung out in the airport with the British Commandos who were on their way out after spending four weeks cleaning up the roads, getting telegraph poles back up and doing all that stuff, which was just incredible. I remember one of them saying to me, ‘Nic, you’ve got no idea what it was like. I was in Vietnam and it was like Vietnam, it was just a war zone.”

“I hadn’t seen anything yet, so just me hearing that from the Captain of the British commandos, who was obviously a little bit older, had my anticipation passing to notions of OMG.”

For now, we'll have to leave the Caribbean for just a little while, but there is more about how Pantaenius Sail and Motor Yacht Insurance sent Nic Douglass there to see and report back first hand what the situation was like for all those who lived through it.

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