The Virgin Islands weather Hurricane Dorian

Aug 31, 2019 by Carol Bareuther

By Carol Bareuther

Four days prior to Dorian blowing over the U.S. Virgin Islands, the soon-to-be Category 1 hurricane was barely a blip on the weather radar.

Two days out, on Monday, Aug. 26, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) closed seaports in St. Croix, but not the St. Thomas-St. John district 40 miles to the north. At the time, National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports put Dorian’s strength as a tropical storm and track some 100-plus miles southwest of St. Croix.

Yet, Dorian proved a good example of why to never discount the fickle nature nor intensity of a storm.

Overnight, the NHC forecast as of 5 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, showed the storm had shifted north-northwest and now aimed straight for the territory, where it was forecast to pass as a Category 1 hurricane. At 7:30 a.m., the U.S. Coast Guard closed all U.S. Virgin Islands seaports. The Cyril E King Airport on St. Thomas closed, too.

Even so, Wednesday morning dawned to a relative calm with partly cloudy skies. Grocery stories did a brisk business and short gas lines formed in advance of USVI Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.’s noon curfew. The scene quickly changed in the early afternoon when Dorian blew sustained winds of 82 mph and gusts to 111 mph over St. Thomas.

In its wake, the hurricane left power outages across the island and debris scattered across roadways, but no serious damage and no reported fatalities. The U.S. Coast Guard reopened the ports late Thursday afternoon. The territory’s marine sector, for the most part, fared well.

“The Marina at Yacht Haven Grande is fully open for business with no damage,” said Phil Blake, general manager of the 46-slip IGY-operated megayacht marina on the east side of the Charlotte Amalie harbor. “Berthing, fueling, and all dock services were up and running the day after the storm.” 

Likewise, “American Yacht Harbor is open and conducting business without damage or interruption,” said Beth DiDomenico, general manager of the 123-slip IGY-operated marina on St. Thomas’ far eastern side in Red Hook. “Our fuel dock is open, and marina office was open the day after the storm.”

Vessels were evacuated 48 hours prior to the storm at Crown Bay Marina, west of Charlotte Amalie. However, operations resumed quickly.

“We are open and fully operational,” said Liza Lord, director of operations of the 99-slip marina, of which 16 slips can accommodate megayachts. “We received some down trees and some debris, but this has all been taken care of. Our fuel dock is running its regular hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Of the 120 vessel members of the Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA), the majority are term charter vessels that have relocated either to Grenada, Puerto Rico or the U.S. for hurricane season, according to executive director Oriel Blake. “It’s the smaller day charter vessels that remain in the territory, of which we have about 30 members at this time. To my knowledge, no damages, except for a few near scrapes, have been reported.”

VIPCA will host the USVI Charter Show at the Marina at Yacht Haven Grande from Nov. 11-14. More than 60 yachts and 100-plus brokers are expected.

On the East End of St. Thomas, several St. Thomas Yacht Club (STYC) members did lose boats in the Cowpet Bay mooring field, according to Commodore Margo Lynch. The hurricane’s quick turn to the north left many boat owners unable to get their vessels to safety.

A Catalina sailboat on the beach at the St. Thomas Yacht Club in St. Thomas, USVI after breaking from a mooring during Hurricane Dorian’s Category 1 winds.

“I should have taken her into the mangroves as always,” STYC member Chuck Pessler said of his Catalina 42, Simone’s Voyage, which broke her mooring line, hit the remnants of the club’s old dock and landed on the beach with three to four holes in her starboard side.

The good news story proved the fortitude of the club’s new dock, which is soon to be complete and replace the dock lost in 2017’s Hurricane Irma.

Finally, the U.S. Coast Guard reported two separate and successful rescue incidents while Hurricane Dorian crossed St. Thomas and its surrounding waters. The first was a 74-foot yacht, Summer Star, which had run aground near Perseverance Bay and was taking on water. The second was the 49-foot motor yacht, Midnight Rambler, which requested assistance after becoming disabled within 100 yards from the rocks and at anchor in South Water Point. Both vessels were manned at the time.

Carol Bareuther is a freelance writer in St. Thomas. Comments are welcome below.