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Your Islands Update

The restoration of power on the islands of St. Thomas and St. John is a slow process because in many cases the primary lines are down and need to be reconstructed. According to the Water and Power Authority, the reconstruction has to happen before the power can be sent to the lines, even if undamaged, that connect to homes and businesses.

The Water Division continues to work with electrical crews to power the remaining pump stations. The restoration of the pump stations will facilitate the resumption of water service to areas including Contant Knolls and Savan. The Lindbergh Bay pump station was returned to service in the last few days.

We have some great news that The Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix reopened to commercial flights on October 5th.

USVI Governor Kenneth Mapp believes that cruise ships will return to the islands in the coming days. He’s been told by business leaders that Main Street in St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie and the Havensight Mall area are ready for customers.

The pier where the cruise ships dock was largely undamaged, according to the head of the West Indian Company Limited, which manages it.

You can also turn on the blue light because Kmart is open at all three locations in St. Thomas and St. Croix.

Some of the public schools will begin reopening on St. Thomas and more schools will open as repairs are complete and recovery efforts continue, according to Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum. The Army Corps of Engineers is installing generators in the remaining structurally sound schools.

Some Saint Thomas schools are back open and providing meals to students

We have some good news on the hotel front as well. Cruz Bay Hotel did not sustain any damage, which seems like an actual miracle. They are currently hosting FEMA and Red Cross workers who have booked the hotel through the end of October. The hotel says they are fully operational, running on generator power and city water, but only accepting new reservations beginning November 1st.

Other hotels weren’t so lucky and won’t be reopening any time soon.

Caneel Bay will not reopen for the 2017-2018 season and has laid off all of its staff through June 30, 2018. Bolongo Bay Beach Resort is currently looking to reopen in the second or third week of December as the resort is housing people in need and a multitude of workers trying to help the island. Bluebeard’s Castle Resort sustained major damage. Marriott Frenchman’s Reef  and the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas have advised the resorts are closed until further notice. Both resorts are waiving hotel cancellation and change fees for specific arrival dates. Customers should call 1-800-228-9290 (US) for more information about their reservations. Those in countries outside of the United States seeking information about their reservations should call the Marriott toll-free number in their country.

Sailing on Winifred between St. Thomas and St. John, USVI.

We also received confirmation of some very sad news this week. The sailboat we’ve loved since our first trip to St. Thomas, the Morningstar (previously named Winifred), is a total loss. We received an email from Captain Mike updating us on their status.  He and his family are safe and sound but our instinct was right, the boat on the cover of the New York Times with its hull split open in Cruz Bay was the 60-year old sailing vessel. He acknowledged that she is a loss. Captain Mike wants to rebuild the business and get out on the water again. He has a lot of hurdles topped with red tape to overcome but is determined to sail again. He said she was the last to break from her moorings as the Cat. 5 rolled over them. Morningstar Charters is accepting donations as they work to rebuild their business and get back on the water.

We plan to keep these updates going because we don’t want anyone to forget that recovery takes a long time and the help of others. We’ll let you know more when we hear it and are still planning on visiting the islands in late November and will give you a first-hand progress report.

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Cruise Line Community Comes Together to Care for the Caribbean

The storms have passed but there is still a lot of work to do in the Caribbean. The good news is that the cruise lines, the same companies that have introduced many of us to the USVI, are taking a share of the lead in the relief efforts.

Carnival Cruise Lines has set up a long-term relief effort for the Eastern Caribbean, using 11 of its ships to bring supplies to the ports impacted by hurricanes Irma and Maria. They’re also paying contractors to make deliveries. The “Fun Ship” is providing the necessities like food, water, clothing, diapers and generators. The USVI aren’t the only ones getting the love, the Carnival Fascination has also delivered food, water and other needed relief supplies to the islands of Barbuda, St. Maarten, Antigua and St. Kitts. Carnival’s financial contribution is also substantial with a $10 million donation through the Micky and Madeline Arison Family Foundation.

The Norwegian Sky, owned by Norwegian Cruise Lines, helped coordinate the evacuation of nearly 1,000 stranded visitors, displaced residents and their pets on St. Thomas. NCL also delivered 35 pallets of supplies such as food, ice, bedding and clothing. 15 pallets of other essential items like toiletries and clean clothing came from crewmembers’ personal donations.

The president and CEO of NCL Andy Stuart said, “The question wasn’t if we could go, but how fast we could get there… In my 30 years of working for Norwegian Cruise Line, it was my proudest moment.”

NCL is also partnering with All Hands Volunteers to rebuild schools in communities devastated by the hurricanes. The company chose All Hands not only because they were one of the first NGOs to respond, but also because they have committed to staying on the islands for the long haul of rebuilding. The cruise line plans on committing $2.5 million in relief funds over the next 2 years to the islands of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Tortola, Cuba and the Florida Keys.

Royal Caribbean stepped up big time. While the mainland government was still finding the Caribbean on a map, they were already evacuating 1,700 people from St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

September 9, the cruise line announced that they would be deploying four ships for relief efforts. The Adventure of the Seas and Majesty of the Seas evacuated 1,700 people, pets and employees from the Eastern Caribbean.

The most telling aspect of the effort is the cruise lines didn’t just use ships that had sailings canceled by the storms for the effort. The ships involved wouldn’t have been sitting empty. Royal Caribbean canceled two planned sailings, one for Empress of the Seas and one for Majesty of the Seas, in order for them to participate in the relief efforts.

At some point in my life, I created an unfavorable opinion of cruise lines, viewing them as corporate, soulless businesses that just load people up and out. After seeing these efforts, that opinion may be due for an update.

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Harvest Time

The weather on the east coast has finally turned to fall. We were enjoying an Indian summer that in my opinion was a filled with more summer weather than most of the actual summer. When you own a vineyard you look forward to the fall because it’s the beginning of the picking season. Amanda and I made the three-and-a-half hour journey from Pittsburgh to Maryland for the harvest of our Regent and Cab Franc grapes. We spent the morning reaching into the grape leaf canopy with sheers to hand trim the best clusters. You give the purple bunches a good visual inspection and with the practiced hands of a picker trim away any ruined grapes or bugs before dropping them in your basket on the ground. You work your way along the vines kicking baskets along with your boots until they’re filled and you move on to an empty basket.

The baskets are then collected by a small tractor with a cart and taken to the de-stemmer team. A group of people do a second visual inspection of the grapes, getting rid of any rotten or bug infest bunches that were missed. The remaining grapes are dumped into a large machine with a cork screw at the top that pushes the bunches into a mechanism that seems like a rotating colander. It strips the grapes from the stems and dumps them out into large vats. We let the grapes sit in the large vats with the lids on and store them as the first stage of fermentation begins. The work is hard and we have a lot more to do before the day’s effort ends up in a bottle. But you don’t grow grapes because it’s easy; you do it for the love of the challenge and the love of wine.

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The Passengers are at the Gates… and Their Friends are, too

You can now share the joys of going through airport security and not even go anywhere. The days of the hurried kiss-and-go in the loading zone that have been with us since September, 2001 are gone — at least at Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).  You now have the option to park your car and walk to the gate with your loved one to see them off or welcome them home. The official statement from the Pittsburgh International Airport reads, “in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration, [the airport] announced today that it will become the first airport in the country to allow the public to access shops and restaurants beyond the security checkpoint without requiring an airline ticket and no reduction in security.”

You will have to do a handful of things before walking the concourse and shopping at the news stands. The first thing you’ll have to do is check in on 3rd Floor Ticketing Level (across from Allegiant). You will need a valid photo ID (e.g. a driver’s license or passport). You will have your name run for a quick background check and if you get a green light you’ll get a stamped myPITpass. You then get to travel through the security checkpoint just like the ticketed passengers. YES, the same rules that apply to carry-on luggage apply to myPITpass holders, so no knives, liquids over three ounces, etc. The hours for issuing passes will be Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The pass is only valid on the day of issuance.

“Since I started here, people have been asking about shopping and dining at the airport. We have worked closely with the TSA on this program,” Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis said in a press release. “This program builds on our successful Holiday Open House program and Airside access for guests of the airport Hyatt hotel.”

Additional information is available at www.flypittsburgh.com/myPITpass.

We also hope know and hope that we’ll get to see the return of scenes like this…

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Irma Update

The world and the US media have finally taken notice of the tragedy playing out in the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands in Irma’s wake. We also have to give credit where credit is due and that is to MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. She spent most of last week in the Virgin Islands drawing attention to the damage.  She was joined by NBC News correspondent Ron Mott, who focused on the relief efforts on Saint Thomas. The Governor of New York and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo, visited the region. He’s sending NY National Guard, equipment and 100 state troopers to help the in the recovery efforts, stating “The devastation was heartbreaking, but we also witnessed the strength of the people of the US Virgin Islands. We will help rebuild.”

A great big bright spot has been the communities coming together to help, communities that each focus on a particular business or association. For instance, the American Sailing Association is raising money for captains and crews affected by the storm.  We’ve highlighted a few legitimate ones (at least as far as we could tell from our research) below.

We know it will be a long road back for the people of the islands. In a few months, once they’ve had some time to recover, remember them as you make plans for your next vacation. They need our support, but they’ll need our tourist dollars more.


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Irma and the Media’s Failing

Like many people, I’ve spent the past week watching the slow-motion horror of Hurricane Irma work its way along the Leeward Islands. The massive Category 5 hurricane, maybe the biggest ever recorded, churned and chewed up the small island nations and territories. The damage reports on the island of Barbuda alone are staggering. The government believes that 95% of the buildings have been destroyed. Saint Martin was directly in the path as well and sustained catastrophic damage. A heavy toll was taken by the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands as the eye passed over them.

I am a big consumer of news. I watch hours of coverage every day and follow several news agencies on social media. By my (unofficial) estimate, there were only minor mentions — if any at all — of the Virgin Islands.  The Today Show on NBC did a report on the islands affected and mentioned all of them except the Virgins. Are the reporters to embarrassed to say the word Virgin? I don’t know.

I’ve been tracking the coverage and the major networks have had reporters in Florida for almost a week. I’ve seen some live shots from Puerto Rico. The weather reporters often described US landfall as only when Florida would be hit, never mentioning that the US was being pummeled as Irma hit the islands. What is wrong with them? I’m frustrated and embarrassed by the coverage.

The US media has failed the people of the Virgin Islands — and the islanders have noticed. You only need to search #USVI on Twitter to see that. I tweeted a national weatherman about this lapse and he said they were waiting until they could get some pictures out of the islands. It was a weak response and I told him to check Twitter.

I’m admittedly a jaded person, years covering news does that to you. But this has shaken me. I’ve watched places that mean something to me get shattered by a storm and heard pleas from the people of the Virgins on social media and watch those pleas fall on the deaf ears of the national media. It honestly makes me sick.

Here are some examples of the conversation on Twitter:

The islands are used to hurricanes, it’s just part of life when you live in tropical waters. They will pick up the pieces and carry on as they have done for generations.

Okay, I’m done venting. To close out, here are a few charities that focus on the islands and will assist in the recovery.

If you’re able and want to volunteer to help, check out this link tweeted by the official USVI government account:

Volunteer to Restore USVI

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SV Delos

We all have that occasional dream of chucking it all, hitting the high seas and sailing around the world.  Well, I do at least.  I’m always interested in hearing about the people who actually do it. You’ll find a lot of  blogs out there following boats making one journey or another, some good, some bad, some absolutely amazing. I found an absolutely amazing one after a recommendation from my sister.

SV(Sailing Vessel) Delos is the blog is run by Capt. Brian Breeyawn and his crew. Initially, he planned to sail from Seattle to New Zealand. The Delos left port in August of 2009 and arrived in New Zealand in October of 2010. Capt. Brian didn’t sail non-stop, they made a few tropical stops along the way. The Delos has been sailing for the last nine years and posting blog and video updates the whole time. The early videos are short and a little unsteady, but now at the 135 episode mark they are smooth and polished.

The videos and the blog posts show you the good and the bad side of cruising. They often talk frankly about the boom and bust cycle of sailing. How you sail until you run out of money, stop, get part time jobs, earn money, save money, then set off again. Many of the  blog posts are beautifully written by different members of the rotating crew, providing various voices and perspectives. Yes, the crew rotates. Capt. Brian has a rotating crew of characters that set sail with them for months at a time. You can even apply to become a member of the crew through their blog and go on an adventure of your own.

Take a look at their website, SV Delos, and see if it infects you with a sea fever of your own.