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Yachters Are Sailing to the Rescue of Hurricane-Ravaged Islands

As an unprecedented string of storms hit the Caribbean, a volunteer organization began dispatching privately owned superyachts to bring desperately needed supplies and volunteers to hard-to-reach coastal towns.

Written by Erica Cirino Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Volunteers unload supplies in Anguilla after sailing to the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean island aboard the yacht M/V Katharine.Josveek Huligar

In the aftermath of the destructive 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, dozens of private yachts belonging to the Superyacht Aid Coalition have been sailing from the east coast of the United States and from as far away as Asia to deliver hundreds of tons of supplies to storm-ravaged Caribbean islands.

“Our greatest success is being able to harness the crowd for humanitarian good,” said Ghislaine Bovy, an ocean circumnavigator and social media marketing coordinator for YachtAid Global, which organizes Superyacht Aid Coalition missions.

According to YachtAid Global founder Mark Drewelow, more than 400 crew members have ferried aid and volunteers to over 100,000 people in some 20 countries since 2007 on more than 40 yachts and superyachts – luxury ships that are a minimum of 79ft (24m) in length and which are professionally crewed.

All yacht owners participating in YachtAid Global and the Superyacht Aid Coalition are volunteers. Boat owners willing to donate their vessels, time, supplies and money can register on the organization’s website to help during disasters. The yachters sail to disaster zones in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the South Pacific from ports around the world.

One major benefit of using yachts to transport aid and volunteer relief workers is that the boats can reach the isolated coastal and island regions that are often hit by destructive storms.

Challenges remain, though. Bureaucratic hurdles include customs rules and the Jones Act, a federal law that allows only American-built and -crewed ships to transport goods between U.S. ports.

During the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season, independent yacht owners coordinated relief delivery efforts with aid groups such as HelpAnguilla, a grassroots effort established after Hurricane Irma devastated the island nation in September. YachtAid Global sent the yacht M/Y Katharine to Anguilla from France in November with 5,200 jars of donated baby food and children’s toys. The owners of the yacht also donated plywood to rebuild desks in Anguilla’s schools that had been damaged or destroyed by the Atlantic storms.

Unloading relief supplies in Anguilla from the yacht M/V Katharine. (Josveek Huligar)

Local volunteers such as Bonnie Bloom, an Anguilla real estate developer, found that delivering aid straight to people in need instead of establishing pick-up locations is most efficient in that region.

“It’s orderly, and with our ambassadors, we make sure we get to the right people,” said Bloom. “We also hear people are hesitant to go to a pick-up location as there is a very high sense of pride and dignity here and not everybody wants to be seen as ‘needy.’”

Team Rubicon, a group of military veterans who volunteer their time and expertise to help disaster victims, is another YachtAid Global partner that’s been involved in hurricane relief efforts. As Hurricane Irma became a Category 3 storm on August 31, Drewelow sent out a call for help to YachtAid Global’s partners and began coordinating boat transportation to Puerto Rico for several hundred of its volunteers, including 130 members of Team Rubicon.

On the island, which was devastated a few weeks later during Hurricane Maria, the volunteers provided medical care to more than 1,200 people, secured water for hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, cleared debris and rebuilt critical infrastructure across the island, said Bobbi Snethen, a Team Rubicon representative.

The work continues. On November 4, Captain Adam Hauck sailed the yacht Enzo from Newport, Rhode Island, arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico, eight days later. From there, the 62ft (19m) ship took volunteers, batteries, medicine, clothing and other relief supplies to the more remote coastal cities on the island. In these locations, according to Erik Long, a volunteer on the Enzo, the crew found people who had not received any aid since the last storm had struck – 50 days earlier.

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