hurricane irma

Living on a Rock: 5 years Ahead of the Plan

Testing out St. John in the Summer

Having fun at Cane Garden Bay 6 days before Irma wrecked it.

Having fun at Cane Garden Bay 6 days before Irma wrecked it.

Our last vacation on St. John was 10 days ending Labor Day 2017. The plan was fairly simple: spend 10 days with Carrie’s brother and his wife, do some diving, spend a few full days on Maho, and relax by Great Expectations’ big pool. The secondary goal was to see how St. John was in summer. We have talked for at least 5 years about moving down full-time by 2023.

The water was warm, really warm - even diving down 50 feet. We stayed neck deep at Maho throwing a frisbee for hours. We’d get a fresh beer out of the cooler every hour or so. We took a “local’s trip” with Jimmy & Bridgett to the BVI. Then the weather reports got more accurate. The water was too warm. Depressions were forming. Our friends were starting to make plans. Power tools and plywood came out of storage units. News reports were sounding more ominous by the day.

We left Monday September 4, 2017. The villa got buttoned up on Tuesday by an unknown-at-the-time Erickson and his crew. The weather came 2 days later. You heard - it wasn’t pretty.

carrie-sadie-steve-butcher.jpeg

Island Relativity

Fast forward almost 2 years. We helped get Great Expectations sorted after the storm. Then we bought it. We took 2 dozen trips back and forth. We’ve now been on island with Sadie for just over 4 months. Some days it feels like 3 years. Some days it feels like 3 days. We try to go to the beach every week, but sometimes we just have too much going on. We have a small group of fellow island business owners we consider dear friends. We still marvel at the sunsets. I don’t think that will ever go away.

I have been underwater diving 5 days (10 tanks) since March and wish I could spend more time down with the spotted drum and yellow headed jawfish. I did just buy a local’s 40-tank package from Low Key Watersports - I call it instant dive insurance.

Carrie & I are renting an apartment at Bogie’s Villa on Gifft Hill, just 1.5 miles from the villa. The 6 unit complex was completely rebuilt by owners KC & Basil Bsisu and is made up of 2 long-term apartments, 4 short-term rentals and a pool area.

Constant Improvements

prosolar-solar-install.jpg

We try to spend as much time at the villa as possible upgrading, cataloging, and planning. This summer is entirely booked except for 2 x 1 night openings. We’ve just checked in our 46th group of guests since January. We’ve had construction management crews stay for 2 to 8 weeks, many 3-generation families, 6 weddings, and a whole lot of repeat guests.

We’ve blocked off 5 weeks over this September to do some more work:

  • New villa-wide Window Treatments (sound minor? It’s 16 sliding glass doors worth of curtains and rods!)

  • Final 2 new sliding glass doors in Jumbie and Denis

  • Last 3 new in-wall safes

  • Pool/Patio furniture

  • Painting

  • Landscaping

  • Hardwood refinishing

  • Low-voltage lighting additions

  • Pool pump house doors

  • New Tennis net and Basketball hoop & backboard

We’re also making plans now for some pretty major work for the fall of 2020. We’re looking at tiling, bathroom upgrades, and some activity items.

Our 4th Life

Carrie kept her job and went remote. She plans to be back in Vermont 3-4x a year. I’m doing web development work here, back in Vermont, and all over the country as usual. I think i’m on my 19th plane ticket since Irma. While we miss friends in Vermont, we remember, this was the original plan - the storms just accelerated the timeline a few dozen months. When we meet up with Chuck & Kristin again, it will be with warm smiles and big hugs. We didn’t expect anything like this, but are embracing it full on.

Steve-and-Carrie-Butcher-in-the-pool.jpg

Our Goal: Give each group of villa guests a beautiful, welcoming place to relax on St. John while they celebrate their marriage, anniversary, birthday, family reunion, corporate successes, or just simply their ability to come to a small rock in the Caribbean where warm smiles and “good mornings” are commonplace and the hardships and negativity melt away.

What’s Next? Stay tuned!

Steve Butcher
July 31, 2019


What a difference a bit of time makes!

Author and long-term St John home owner, Homer Hickam, has a great way of helping us remember just how quickly our now brown landscape can rebound -- in a year's time brown hillsides turn into to lush, lush green. His example, while not St John, is similar to our environmental conditions. We will let his words and pictures speak for themselves:

I sort of went through this in 1998 when the island of Isla de Guanaja [in the Caribbean] was hit by Mitch, similar in size as Irma. Here are before and after photos, a year between. My friends standing in same spot with exactly one year between photos. Islands do recover (left photo right after Hurricane Mitch and the photo on the left just one year later: 

Guanaja hurricane mitch

Guanaja hurricane mitch

Guanaja hurricane mitch 1 yr later

Guanaja hurricane mitch 1 yr later

As we brace for Hurricane Maria and make every effort to stay safe, know that the future can and will be bright and the island green again as shown in the above photos!

St John -- Post Irma status report (Sept 18)

Thanks for all your messages and good wishes!  There have been numerous press reports of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma to St. John, unfortunately flamed by an effort to draw attention to the Virgin Islands so that the Federal government did not forget us in the midst of the wider spread damage in Texas and Florida (the Governor of the Virgin Islands told everyone last week that President Trump called him and said he would visit, but that has yet to happen). To the best of our knowledge, the damage is no worse than the last major storm to strike the Virgin Islands, Hurricane Hugo, in 1989. As has just occurred, the islands back then looked bare and awful, the result of the high winds denuding all the green, leaving just brown trees and bare earth. Wooden houses were badly damaged with FEMA blue tarps served for months as roofs. Being the tropics, the landscaping grew back within weeks. New building codes prohibited building any new structures out of wood. We bought our property in 1990, one year after Hurricane Hugo. Will St. John recover as quickly this time? We do not know for sure, but we fully expect it to! Our Webmaster and friend extraordinaire, Steve Butcher, arrived on St. John on Saturday (he had to fly from Vermont to San Juan via JFK, then take a supply boat from Puerto Rico to Cruz Bay). He has confirmed what we have seen from FEMA aerial photos and the initial report a week ago from Kristen Cox, our property manager, that Great Expectations survived Hurricane Irma incredibly well. Our thanks to our architect, John Sloan and our contractor, Bill Osborn and his construction crew, who designed and built the Villa to withstand hurricane-force winds with 8 inch thick reinforced concrete walls, no overhanging roofs and hurricane clamps to hold the roofs on, and hurricane shutters over all the glass sliders! We expect to be open for business within 2 weeks after power is restored to the island, however, we still do not know when that will be and there is yet another hurricane, Maria, bearing down on the Virgin Islands!

To help rebuild St John, please make a contribution to St John Rescue and keep St John on your ‘bucket’ list for the beauty of our island is amazing!

Many thanks!

Kristin and Chuck

Our hurricane shutters secured pre-Irma:

hurricane shutters

hurricane shutters

Our Webmaster and friend extraordinaire, Steve Butcher, enroute the airport last Friday:

butcher on way to Burlington airport

butcher on way to Burlington airport

Saturday night, after inspecting the Villa, Steve got to watch the sun set:

butcher pool post irma

butcher pool post irma

Great Expectations and St John is braced for Hurricane Irma

Great Expectations should be okay; the Villa is constructed of 8-inch thick reinforced concrete and all our outdoor furniture, hammocks, pool floats, hot tub covers and 21 hurricane shutters have been secured, thanks to our great staff, for Irma's arrival tonight! [button title="Live Webcams" icon="" icon_position="" link="/webcam" target="" color="" font_color="" large="0" class="" download="" onclick=""]

building 3 closed

building 3 closed

closed room closed

closed room closed

pools closing up

pools closing up

pool closing up

pool closing up

Here are a few ways to help those on St John who will need assistance after the hurricane passes:

donate

donate

St John Rescue:An all-volunteer non-profit organization on the small island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands dedicated to providing emergency rescue and medical support services to the St. John's EMS, Police, Fire, National Park and Health Clinic personnel.

donate st john foundation

donate st john foundation

St John Community Foundation: Created in 1989 after the devastation of Hurricane Hugo, the St. John Community Foundation has successfully been carrying out the mission of providing services and supporting programs that positively engage people, build resources and strengthen the St. John community since 1989. They continuously look for ways to fill service gaps and cultivate community assets including people, organizations, programs, and resources to effectively respond to changing needs of the community now and for future generations.

donate animal care center

donate animal care center

St John Animal Care Center: The Animal Care Center (ACC) of St. John is located in Cruz Bay, near the library. The ACC addresses the problems of cruelty to, neglect and abuse of the island animals. The shelter provides kennels for homeless dogs and inside cages for a limited number of homeless cats. The ACC has volunteers across St John who establish and maintain feral cat feeding stations. At these locations, feral cats are trapped and taken to the local vet who tests for disease and if clear spays or neuters the cat.

Another perfect 'St John Day'

Our webcam overlooking St John's Rendezvous Bay shows another perfectly beautiful day. However, behind the camera our property manager and her staff are scurrying around the property bringing indoors all the hammocks (and we have plenty), outdoor furniture (again, ditto the previous comment!), sunshades and everything else that could end up on our neighbor's property if this upcoming storm (Hurricane Irma) does as she is forecasted to do and 'visits' St John sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.  Luckily, we have hurricane shutters on all openings (the bad news for our property manager is that we have a lot of shutters to close. So, it will be a busy day for them. You, though, can relax and enjoy the webcam.  We will keep posting pictures during the storm, as long as we have WiFi and electricity.  For any of you weather Gods out there, please put this storm way north of us! Here are some good websites we have found and use to keep tabs on the approaching storms.

 

The latest Caribbean storm information

Here are some great websites to keep up-to-date information about what is happening in the Caribbean, especially during hurricane season: The most accurate information comes from the National Hurricane Center. During active storms their site is updated every three hours:

national hurricane center

national hurricane center

Storm Carib is a great resource for those of us who have interests in the Caribbean. The authors live in the Caribbean, on St Thomas. Their site uses the raw data from the National Hurricane Center and then interprets it -- in layman's language -- with lots of specific information about the Caribbean:

storm carib

storm carib

Storm tracks of various models:

models showing storm track

models showing storm track

models determining storm track

models determining storm track

This chart shows the distance from the forecasted eye of the storm to a particular island (we, of course, chose St John):

storm distance from St John

storm distance from St John

Great Expectations webcam

Great Expectations webcam

Of course, I have saved The Best for last! Take a look at our HD Webcam positioned on the patio of our Great Room at Great Expectations (looking out over Rendezvous Bay, Ditleff Point, and the National Park: