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Unexpected Omar Harrasses Northern Leeward Islands

As carefree Virgin Islanders enjoyed mid-October weekend races and picnics, relaxing after 2008’s quiet hurricane season neared its conclusion, Tropical Depression 15 crept onto the radar screen near Bonaire and barreled north rapidly, gaining strength across the open sea. 

The night of Wednesday, October 15, Hurricane Omar pounced on the island of St. Croix, a Category Three storm that damaged, sank or submerged at least 47 boats.

Forty miles to the northwest, St. Thomas Yacht Club Manager Bill Canfield had notified members on Monday before the storm hit that TS Omar was strengthening and the club was closing its mooring field—all boats had to leave.  He quickly assembled a work party to bring furniture inside, secure the club property and put up shutters.  “The club came through fine,” reported Canfield.

“We were all very lucky not to be living through a (hurricane) Marilyn nightmare tonight,” reported All at Sea correspondent Lynda Lohr, who lives in Coral Bay on St. John, and spent the next day putting plants and furniture back outside.

Omar reportedly had little effect on the British Virgin Islands. “Hardly a leaf off a tree here, no boats down, maybe a few galvanized roofs, I doubt we saw more than 40 sustained,” said Richard Wooldridge.

However, the October surprise closed roads and caused power outages and flooding further east on Anguilla, St. Maarten and even Antigua.   The St. Maarten Yacht Club was forced to postpone its annual Optimist Open Championships schedule for October 18 until November, and Antigua saw big swells that caused flooding and road damage on the west end.

“Here in Antigua, we had 6.6 inches of rain in one and one-half hours,” reported All at Sea correspondent Gilly Gobinet, “and we were 200 miles away from the hurricane!” Festus Isaacs at Antigua’s Jolly Harbour Marina reported winds up to 50 miles per hour.

“Jolly Harbour survived Hurricane Omar and our new docks are on schedule,” said Isaacs.  “There were no damages to the 220 boats stored at the Jolly Harbour Boatyard facility.”  Isaacs gives credit to the boatyard them, “whose expertise and experience of packing and securing customers’ boats ensures maximum protection against this type of weather.”  Work continues on the extension and replacement of new docks in the marina. “The exciting new facility will be available for the upcoming season as planned,” advised Isaacs.

St. Croix’s boating community drew the brunt of Omar’s stealthy wrath in the region.  Of the 47 affected boats, a total of 33 were in the Christiansted harbor, 11 near the St. Croix Yacht Club, one in the vicinity of Cotton Valley and two near Salt River, according to a Government House report.

Diane Given-Hayes is a St. Croix artist who lives aboard Frolic, a restored former Navy Yawl (see article in archives, March 2008 issue.)  Hayes was one of the lucky ones whose boat made it through unscathed on its harbor mooring, thanks to the small, extra “lunch anchor” Joe McCants added as they went ashore before the storm hit.

Frolic came through without a scratch, but we were only hanging on by 1/2 inch line with a 20 lb anchor—the anchor we usually only use at Buck Island, but Joe tossed it out  almost as an afterthought, with lots of line, just before he left the boat,” Givens emailed friends after the storm. 

Kim and Rob Jones at Jones Maritime reportedly got all the boats off their dock in downtown Christiansted before the storm hit, and their dock survived.  Others on the waterfront who did not outrace the fast-moving storm in time did not fare well. 

“The Silver Bay dock, to the east of Jones, did not get all the sports fisher boats off and two or three went through the middle of the dock, and then sank, after cutting the dock in half,” reported Julie San Martin, Director of the St. Croix Regatta.  “Down at the National Park end, Daydreamer (the Buck Island trimaran) is trashed, along with three or four other boats.”

Fortunately, most other damage on the island was limited to downed power lines and uprooted foliage, primarily on the east end.   “It was a category three, but went by about 30 miles south east doing 20 mph—that saved us!” said San Martin.  The island’s airport was reopened the day after the storm and communications were quickly restored.

About a dozen boats belonging to St. Croix Yacht Club members were flipped or sunk, including two large cats and some small boats owned by the club itself.

“The Rhodes 19s did not do well—there was not enough time to haul them and it looked like several were sunk at their moorings. Ashore, things went much better—looked like all the club one designs came through well, as did the lockers and most of the boats on the racks,” said San Martin, after a first viewing of the club property.

Despite some damage to its landscaping and docks, San Martin reports the good news—all will be back in shape in plenty of time for the St. Croix International Regatta in February.

Chris Goodier is the editorial director of All at Sea.  Her freelance articles and photographs have appeared in numerous other publications including Caribbean Travel & Life and Caribbean Meetings & Events.

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