Twenty-four hours before Irma struck Tortola, I knew our boat was doomed. “We’re going to lose Legato,” I told my husband, Scott. We watched in horror as Irma gained strength on her unforgiving trajectory toward our island of Tortola and the beautiful Tayana 48, Legato, that we called home. We were on our annual “low season” trip back to Chicago to visit friends and family with our three young daughters when the Atlantic basin gave birth to Irma. As the hurricane gained velocity and strength, we became glued to the weather models, hoping, praying for a change in forecast. Days were spent tracking her every move with a growing pit in our stomachs. Helplessly watching a record-breaking hurricane barrel toward your home at 15 miles per hour is agony—an agony, however, that paled in comparison to what we felt in her aftermath. Those of us who live on boats know that they are more than “just boats.” They become an extension of us, a part of our family, and our home. Our boats weather storms and rough seas, they deliver us to safe harbor and new horizons. They are dreams, adventures, hopes and wonder all molded into a shiny, fiberglass hull (or two). Most liveaboards meticulously care for their boats. We are intimate with their quirks, and how they need to be handled “just so” in certain situations. We refer to them as “she,” and treat them with affection and respect. Our boats have souls. Legato was no different.
Although we have been living aboard since 2010 and running our Tortola-based day-charter company since 2015, our beautiful Legato was ours for only six months before Irma. As such, she was never able to take us on all the adventures we had planned for this coming season and beyond. Regardless of our short time with her, we had settled into her deeply. Falling in love with a boat happens quickly. Legato was to be our “forever” boat and was as close to perfect for our family as we could have imagined. She was strong and safe, she sailed wonderfully, and she was beautiful. We were very happy to be living in her cozy belly. Of all the things I imagined for us, I never imagined losing her. Until Irma.
After the first frenetic and heart-wrenching week of confirming the safety of friends and grasping the sheer devastation left in Irma’s wake, we were able to focus on what exactly happened to our home. As word and images began to trickle back to us, it became clear Legato was not in the tangled mess of masts and hulls pushed ashore at Nanny Cay marina.
“We can’t see her anywhere. We are so sorry. We’ve been looking” our friends wrote. Inside, we knew that she’d gone down, along with so many others. Weeks went by and we heard nothing. And then, one dreary afternoon: “Oh Brittany, they found her, I’m so sorry. She’s been under this whole time.” I held my breath. “I took a picture but let me know when you’re ready,” I said I was. But I wasn’t.
How can one be ready to see their beloved home in such a state? The sorry picture of our home—a mere shell of her former self—was devastating. Imagining our boat and all our carefully selected belongings sitting for a month on the silty bottom of the marina was too much. I pictured our saloon filled with water, now dark and murky. I imagined the eerie stillness of a watery grave with our pillows, cushions and clothes sodden where they lay. Perhaps a few items were floating about weightlessly, giving the illusion of life...
I imagined our daughters’ books, their pages slowly disintegrating where they were stacked so carefully on the shelf. Their stuffed animals, water-logged and heavy, laying haphazardly where their final float deposited them. My girls’ collected treasures, colored pictures and crafts, the trinkets from our travels, all drowned.
I tried to inventory our lives. The papers, tools, electronics, kitchen gadgets, and so much more...but the memories of our kids having breakfast and dance parties, playing and reading bedtime stories crowded it all out. So many memories that were and those that were never to be.
What happened, I wondered as I looked at the wreck that was once our beloved home. What did her in? Was it our own rig? The rig of another boat? A piling from the broken docks? All we know is something punctured her starboard side, just at the waterline. That hole— such a small but incredibly significant thing—was what took down our boat and the life inside of her. Have you ever seen water rushing into a boat from a hole below the waterline? The speed of inflow is terrifying from even the smallest puncture. I imagine that fateful moment of impact and how quickly water flooded in, filling our boat at an alarming rate. Our bilge pump wouldn’t even have put a dent in it. Our newly installed high-water alarm might have sounded for a few moments before it too was silenced.
I imagine the water rising, covering our rugs that I’d so carefully selected, the floorboards floating up, releasing the contents kept underneath them. I imagine the water quickly submerging the girls’ toy box, their dollies and blocks joining in the frenzied floating fray, and water rising up past the settees and to our bookshelf to the electronics, the crafting cubby and the pictures on our walls. I imagine the chaos and swirling water and debris down below as even greater mayhem reigned outside.
And I imagine Legato going down, settling on the murky bottom to die with a soft, inaudible thud. She sat there in silence for a month. The diver who found her told Scott there was only one foot of visibility in the marina and they’d resorted to locating boats on the bottom by touch. “When I found her, I put my hands on her and thought, ‘Damn, this was a nice boat’,” he said.
She was a nice boat. And so was the life we shared with her. Yes, Irma took so much from us. But, we are so very fortunate. We are alive, healthy and young. We were insured and we will find another boat. Disaster puts a whole new perspective on life and the community that emerges in the aftermath is humbling and a true gift to cherish. At my lowest points I had to remind myself of this many, many times, and more often than once the kindness and generosity of others buoyed my spirit.
In the grand scheme of things, losing our home, livelihood and belongings, while horrible, was bearable. Possessions are replaceable, lives are rebuilt, and communities heal. While we mourn the loss of our dear Legato and that which never came to be for us, we are grateful. The adventures will continue. The sea calls.
Brittany Meyers and her family live aboard in Tortola, BVI, where they run a charter business