Hope to Hope Town: Part Three

Photo by Constance Chatfield-Taylor
Hope Town
Hope Town

We’d arrived late afternoon the day before and were still settling in. The tent was up, air mattresses were full, things were under cover.  The house in which we were staying was damaged during hurricane Dorian and had shifted off the foundation.  We needed to make assessments, so were camping out until we did so.  There was no electricity on the island, no running water – we had a generator to power our phones and tools, and a cistern for water.

Home away from home (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Home away from home

It was early morning on New Year’s Eve, and I needed coffee.  We had not found the French press that supposedly was in the house somewhere, nor had we set up our one burner induction cooker that would heat our drinking water.  The generator was still in the box.  There was currently only one place to get coffee and that was the Abaco Inn on the southern end of the island.  We’d heard that the restaurant was functioning on a generator. 

We jumped into the golf cart and headed out of the ‘settlement’ to the southern end of the island.  We had not seen much of the town since we had arrived late and had to get everything in order before dark.  This morning was really our first glance at the hurricane damage, and The Hopetown Harbor Lodge was the most immediate, striking sight.  The lodge, directly across from the ferry dock, was up a series of steps which opened to the small registration area and the dining room. The bench at the bottom of the steps had been dug out, but the rest of the bank was buried in sand - the dining room was exposed, the top floor had lost its roof.  Bits of curtains blew through the openings in what remained of the building.  It was eerily quiet.

Cars on roadside (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Cars on roadside

A large sailboat stuck out from the hill in the palm trees next to the Lodge, the mast listing over the road.  We drove out Queens Highway, which runs north/south through the island.  The ‘highway’ is wide enough for cars to pass one another, but there were few on the island.  Golf carts are the normal mode of transportation.

We continued to see the effects of the hurricane as we traveled the short distance to the southern end of the island.  Houses were in pieces, in the water, or missing altogether.  Cars littered the side of the road, wires were down everywhere.  

Captain Jacks (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Captain Jacks

At the Inn, Tom, the owner, was welcoming and said there was ‘coffee for all at the bar’, so we sat and enjoyed the open air deck off the bar area.  From that vantage point, the small restaurant and bar looked amazingly OK.  ‘We’ve had a great team of people to get it to this point,’ Tom said.  

At about 8 am, we heard a VHF radio crackle to life in the next room, and a few people moved to the area to listen.  

‘Good morning, Hopetown!’ The announcer came on air.  We joined the people grouped around the radio, drinking coffee.

‘First thing as always is the weather, which today will be partly cloudy or partly sunny, depending on how you fill your glass.’  The melodious voice floated over the warm sea breeze coming in the door.  Who was this guy, I wondered?  What a voice.

‘The weather of course is our first concern…the synopsis is a cold front coming in tomorrow extending from near 31 north 70 west to the Florida Straights….will stall and weaken along 25 north Thursday and dissipate Friday…’  He went on to describe more details, ‘Brought to you by barometerbob.org.  Check it out!’  The transmission clicked off.

Hope Town shop (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Hope Town shop

And clicked back on… ‘Business services are available on the island, in case you’re not aware – we’ve got golf carts, we’ve got fuel, we’ve got work boots, we’ve got groceries, we’ve got ‘liquer’, we’ve got haircuts…’ Ha! Someone in the room laughs … ‘and there might be a few other things that I’ve probably forgotten, so there are awesome services available if you’re just hitting the island and you need to get stuff, yeah we’re not totally shut down, like we were early September.’

‘The clinic is closing today at noon, unless of course there are emergencies.  TJ Maxx and Home Depot are also not opening today, will be 8-11 on Wednesday, I think.’

Wait – what?  I paused the recorder and turned to the person beside me, a second homeowner who had come to the inn to hear the morning broadcast.  

‘is that for Marsh Harbor?  That’s not for here - how can it be?’ 

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

She laughed.  ‘On your way back to town if you go straight at the curve, toward the temporary fuel depot, you’ll see two containers and a small tent on your right.  One shipping container is orange and has donated tools and some building supplies.  The other container is white and has donated clothes.  Home Depot and TJ Max!’ 

These people are amazing, I thought.  All of this and a sense of humor.  

I turned the recorder back on.

‘Band will be playing for the block party downtown starting at 9, so come on down for the big shindig, captain jacks will be setting up a mini bar, and not 100% confirmed, but it is fairly safe to say there will be some fireworks set up off sunshine dock,’ he paused. ‘right at midnight’.

‘If you’ve got anything to add to the social calendar, put your radio into high power and come back now….’

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

We got back to the house and to the business of unpacking, hooking up the generator, clearing out space for the equipment.  We were staying in one of the oldest houses in the settlement of Hopetown, built by the family descended from a loyalist who left South Carolina in 1785 following the Revolutionary War – when those remaining loyal to the Crown were no longer welcome in the US.  It is built in shiplap boards of thoughtful design - the rooms and access and solid nature - with views of the ocean on one side and the lighthouse and harbor on the other.  There are two ‘roads’ through town – Queens Highway and Back street, running along the top ridge. ‘Southern Fancy’, our home for the next couple of months, is on tiny Back Street.  

(Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor)

From the house, I can see what’s left of Harbor’s Edge, one of the two restaurant/bars on the waterfront.  The roof is totally gone, a second floor door hangs by its hinges, all the windows are blown out.  Further down I can vaguely see what remains of Jack’s bar, or at least the dock, which is in pieces.  All this and a party tonight, I thought.

We put together dinner from the provisions we had brought and what we’d picked up at the grocery store in Marsh Harbor.  Our neighbors across the road (two strides to their front door) had asked us to come by before the party, so we did so.  We met a group of artists who had just finished painting a mural on the library on the waterfront (still needed windows and doors), who were heading out on the ferry in the morning. 

Hope Town fireworks (Photo by: Constance Chatfield-Taylor) Hope Town fireworks

The band at the waterfront, made up of residents of the island, was GREAT, lights and sound powered by a generator.  Nearing midnight, there were over a hundred people.  We walked back to the house just before midnight and could see the dance floor and purple lights pulsing below us to the right. We could hear Donella, the lead singer, belting out ‘I will survive’ as the packed dance floor rocked.  The lighthouse across the harbor was lit up with Christmas lights, the beacon becoming a star at the top.  At midnight fireworks exploded with beautiful greens and blues and purples and stars and pops and sizzles, lighting up the boats and harbor below as people cheered from the dance floor.

One would never realize, looking at the celebration from our vantage point, that 4 months ago, a hurricane had struck with such ferocity and created so much misery.  For that night, there was a bit of normalcy, of celebration, of welcoming the New Year, hopefully one not as tumultuous as the one they had just experienced.

‘This island needed that party last night,’ I heard the next day from a resident.  ‘It was perfect.’