There are friends, and then there are boat friends. You know the ones — sailors willing to get sweaty or covered in grime to teach you how to do a project. Those buddy boats that stay up on watch with you all night and make sure you’re OK. The ones who infer over the net just how hellish your last passage was and show up with a bottle of rum to celebrate your arrival. And in the days after Irma, my husband and I and a loose group of cruisers based out of Puerto Rico wanted to be those boat friends to our island neighbors to the east.
As the skies cleared and word started spreading of the epic damage that Irma caused, we began hustling. It was five or six of us at first, collecting donations and stuffing our friends’ sailboats and powerboats with aid for communities that were unreachable for bigger planes and ships.
Within a week, our small operation had grown to more than 1,000 Facebook-driven volunteers working on the ground in the Caribbean and from the mainland. We were buying out Home Depot of its building supplies and loading them onto cargo planes.
The outpouring of kindness and the desire to help that I saw from my fellow sailors and by local Puerto Ricans in the days after Irma was astounding. After we finished loading our third cargo plane headed toward Anguilla, I remember thinking that we were getting somewhere, filling a gap in need and supplies until governments and major aid organizations could arrive.
Then Maria hit. With the second wave of destruction, we became seriously concerned about the Caribbean’s long-term future. Short-term aid was streaming into the islands, but what about the months to come? Would the cruisers and tourists return?
Boat friends don’t leave just because the going gets hard. So we organized ourselves into a group called Sailors Helping and launched a mobile-friendly interactive map called Ports and Projects (sailorshelping.org/map). It’s packed with everything you’ll need to find safe harbor and give back to the Caribbean communities affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
We’ve spent the past month checking in across the islands to get the latest harbor information for visitors, and we’re tracking port statuses, availability of basic amenities, businesses and customs services. We’re also providing up-to-date information about volunteer opportunities located within easy distance from your boat.
Our volunteer group will be adding new and updated information all season, with the hope that cruisers and visitors alike feel confident in continuing their voyages and holidays in places that will welcome them like old friends. We’re also planning the Rally to Rebuild for January — a multiday flotilla of Habitat for Humanity-style volunteer events.
If you’d like to share information with us to include on our map or join us in the rebuilding effort, visit sailorshelping.org and check things out. We hope we see you out on our crystal-clear waters soon.