Private boats sail off to help hurricane relief efforts in Virgin Islands

The Rendezvous Cay is pictured here in the Bahamas, preparing for a disaster relief trip to Haiti after Hurricane Mathew in 2016. It is now docked in Southwest D.C. and scheduled to depart for Jost Van Dyke on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017. (Courtesy International Rescue Group)

WASHINGTON — One boat at a time, volunteered private sailing vessels are helping create a supply chain between the U.S. mainland and the Caribbean, to the tiny, hurricane-ravaged Jost Van Dyke of the British Virgin Islands.

“We’ve organized several private vessels to augment the commercial shipping,” said Chris Cloud, who, together with his wife Debbie, lived on the island for more than two years and managed a small resort there. They moved back to Northern Virginia last spring.

The boat leaving from Southwest D.C. on Saturday is a 50-foot catamaran sailboat with the nonprofit International Rescue Group that helps coastal communities after hurricanes and tropical storms.

This Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 photo provided by the Royal Navy shows the devastation left by Hurricane Irma in Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands. Irma, once the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, wreaked havoc in parts of the Caribbean, leaving many people dead and turning island homes into devastated landscapes. (Joel Rouse/Royal Navy via AP)

“The idea is disaster relief from the sea,” said Capt. Matthew Hock of IRG. “Boats that are privately owned and people (who) want to get involved can join the IRG Reserve.”

The boat that Hock captains, the Rendezvous Cay that’s picking up supplies in Southwest D.C. to take to Jost Van Dyke, was itself donated to IRG.

Hurricane relief efforts have been involving many players from myriad directions; this week, volunteers are needed to help load supplies Saturday morning into the Rendezvous.

“If we fill this boat up, and we have excess supplies — which I really believe we will — there’s another boat right behind it that’s going to go down,” Cloud said. Another boat is scheduled to depart from Annapolis, Maryland, in a few weeks.

“Our friends and family on that island are really in need of basic items,” Cloud added.

Jost Van Dyke residents are struggling with a lack of drinking water, electricity and adequate housing. Many of the concrete structures that survived hurricanes Irma and Maria — which were Category 5 storms at some point — are without roofs.

This photo provided by the Royal Navy and taken on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 shows the devastation left by Hurricane Irma in Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands. (Joel Rouse/Royal Navy via AP)

“Tents don’t work. They have storms that come through,” Debbie Cloud said. “So we’re trying to get them building supplies, tools and ways to build their lives back up again.”

A frequent problem after disasters is that although donors are giving with good intentions, many of the items aren’t useful.

“They end up with 75,000 teddy bears when they need bug repellent,” Chris Cloud said.

To address that challenge, the nonprofit Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society has established an island wish list in an Amazon gift registry. The wish list includes items such as power tools, garden supplies, home supplies, toiletries, solar generators, heavy-duty extension cords, and solar-powered lighting such as lanterns, flood lights and spotlights.

Items purchased through Amazon will be shipped to donated space at a Georgia Freight Forwarding location, where the most efficient method of shipment to the island directly is determined. Sometimes, that will be in a container ship that’s donated space or forwarded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to go on another of the volunteered private boats going to the island.

To drop off and/or help load donations onto the Rendezvous Cay that’s leaving Southwest D.C. on Saturday, Oct. 28, people can go to the James Creek Marina at 200 V St. SW at 10:30 a.m.

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