Hurricane Irma: Devastation, Relief, and Recovery

Supporting the islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma

“We can demand nothing from the sea, so we must demand everything from our boat.”


First and foremost, Praise The Lord our boat remained safe during the storm surge of Hurricane Irma!  I spent eight days preparing her, little by little, and finally left her with 12 lines spiderwebbed in her slip at the marina on Saturday.  By that time we knew the storm was predominately aiming to go west, and South Carolina was going to worry more about storm surge, tornadoes, and rain more than anything.  Vivienne and I blew kisses to our boat before we walked down the dock to head toward Columbia, where we stayed with a friend.

Te Whakapono with her 12 lines, center slip, and stripped down appearance. 


Needless to say, even though I still worried about my floating home, our dogs had a blast running in and out of the house to the yard; while Vivienne got to enjoy the Riverbanks Zoo.   Overall, it was a nice little break after a stressful eight days.  In the end, we got to go back to Charleston and get back on our boat; tears of joy filling my eyes.  The only “issue” we had in the storm was a piece of floating dock that got trapped between the hulls, but our amazing marina staff had it removed and my boat back in our regular slip before we even returned.  I honestly cannot sing enough praise to St. John’s Yacht Harbor…and, I suppose the French do know how to make a pretty solid vessel.  I’m so happy tonight and feel a pride for my floating home that I haven’t felt in months.

I wish the same could be said for so many of the liveaboard families we “know”.

The thing about the liveaboard community is, many of us have never met in person because we are all over the place; we have one unique thing that connects us all: we are choosing to live on boat, several with children.  That being said, TJ and I were reading first-hand accounts of the horrors that were–and are–still impacting the Caribbean islands; stories of looting, ambushes, armed gangs, inmates escaping crumbled jails, families hiding in cinderblock closes while a Category 5 hurricane raged around them.  Tortola, BVI was described as looking “like a bomb dropped” on the island.  Boats have been tossed around like a child’s toys.  All of it is terrifying.  However, the total devastation many are experiencing, knowing not only is their island home destroyed, but their actual floating homes are lost–many sitting at the bottom of the sea–breaks my heart.

Images out of Tortola, BVI


At least five times each day I’ve thanked God for TJ’s job loss.  Yes, I realize that sounds absolutely insane, but it shows that God sees all before it happens.  If TJ not lost his job last November, we would’ve been in the Virgin Islands this year when Hurricane Irma struck as a Category 5 hurricane.  As I stated recently in a post, we only ever planned to be in Charleston for three months.  That’s it.  Our plan was to ride out last year’s hurricane season in South Carolina before taking off to sail toward Saint Croix.

While Saint Croix was relatively “unscathed” in comparison to her sister Virgin Islands, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Barbuda, and Anguilla; we still would’ve been in the path of an incredibly powerful storm.  TJ’s job loss put those plans to a grinding halt.  We decided to stay in place until we could figure out God’s direction for us.  We felt He had called us to live on the boat, sail to the islands, and do work there.  Why would He take that away?

Some of you may know, earlier this year I was in the interview process to work for the Red Cross in South Florida; Miami to be exact.  I made it to the second to last round of interviews before the hiring team decided not to advance me to the in-person interview in Miami.  TJ and I had gone so far as to plan out to where we would move the boat, should I get the job.  After much research, we settled on Port of the Island Marina, just south of Naples, FL in the Everglades.  I was disappointed when I didn’t get the job, and now I am grateful; our boat may have been one of five that were sunk, or countless others with holes and severe damage when Hurricane Irma hit the marina.



God’s timing and plan is, as always, perfect.  While I have no idea what is next for us, I do know God connected us to the liveaboard community for a reason.  As much as I curse living on a boat, especially when I’m trying to prepare for a hurricane without TJ, there is part of me that enjoys it.  While I’m grateful I was not in the islands or south Florida when Hurricane Irma barreled over them, my heart wants nothing more than to be in the islands now to help the people and the place I love.

What God will do with these desires of my heart–our hearts, because TJ feels the same way–has yet to be seen. We have no idea what His plan is for us, but we are already in prayer about it.  We know it is unsafe to head toward the islands with supplies right now; the civil unrest and lack of infrastructure on most of the islands just won’t support many outsiders, but we know God gave us a love for the islands for a reason.  We just don’t know what that reason is yet.  There is part of me that just isn’t ready to throw in the towel yet; especially when we might be able to do some serious good down the road.

Something about Hurricane Irma, or the aftermath of her, has reignited this passion and love for our boat and this life for me.  Knowing that we have the ability to “pick up and go”; to be the hands and feet for Christ in a place with desperate need, give me an overwhelming passion to do just that.  Vivienne has seen photos of the devastation and wants to send things to the children who lost everything.  She isn’t ready to move back into a house yet.  We have talked about it at length several times and each time she ends with, “But I want to live on my boat.” or “If we get a house, will we still have my boat?”  Tonight, after I tucked her in and kissed her goodnight, she says, “Mommy, I am smiling right now because I get to sleep on my own boat.”


While there is nothing we can do in the islands right now, there are several places in which to donate in order to get supplies to the islands, help evacuate people out of post-hurricane war-zones, and help rebuild the infrastructure.  I’m including those links below…

My Personal Favorite:

  • VI Strong Amazon Wish List (mail the items they need, and for which they are asking, directly to the staging area.  USE THAT PRIME MEMBERSHIP!)
  • Solar Oven (these are great for boating, but will work really well while people wait for electricity and fuel to be restored on the islands. Send to the same address for VI Strong staging area)

The devastation is real, folks.  I know our own country is flooded, flattened, and on fire; however, getting aid in and getting UNITED STATES CITIZENS (and others) off these islands should be a priority.  Other governments are stepping up, as not all of the impacted islands are US territories, and our first priority is to help our citizens.  It is harder to get food and supplies on the islands; sparking panic and fear in the hearts of many.  Please consider donating to one of the above relief efforts.  I will most likely update this posting if information becomes available for other islands.


Te Whakapono,
The McKelveys

~~ All things are possible for those who believe. -Mark 9:23 ~~




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