M/Y Loon’s Relief Efforts in Marsh Harbour

25 September 2019 By Aileen Mack

When Capt. Paul Clarke and the crew of M/Y Loon arrived in Marsh Harbour in the Abacos, it was the afternoon of Wednesday, September 4, roughly a day after Hurricane Dorian moved away from the area and parallel to the east coast of Florida. With the exception of two Coast Guard helicopters buzzing around, they were the first people into the harbor. What they saw was nothing like what they knew from their seven weeks in the islands earlier this summer.

“Just everything was flattened…. The palm trees had no heads on them, no leaves. And then all the buildings, there might be a wall left standing but the other three were gone and no roofs on anything,” Clarke says. “As far as you could see, it was just gone… and just the color as well. There’s no green left.”

On August 30, YachtAid Global posted a call on Instagram for captains and yachts in the area to be prepared to provide communications, clean water, shelter, and coordinated effort. Clarke commented saying they were in Nassau and ready to go.

Inspired by the efforts of M/Y Dragonfly and their relief efforts in Vanuatu in 2015, Clarke remarked on how cool he thought it was that they were able to go and use a superyacht in such a manner.

“I always wanted to help, but just never been in the right place at the right time. And so I guess it was a bit of a calling when I saw that post from YachtAid Global saying, ‘Hey, we need a boat,’” he says. “And without hesitation, we jumped on, and the owner and the crew, everyone was really excited to get out there and go.”

Over the course of nine days, the crew of Loon brought 10 tons of supplies to the area and first aid with the help of first responders from Global Support and Development (GSD), a non-profit disaster relief NGO. When they first arrived, right after checking out conditions of the port at Marsh Harbour, they took the first responders straight to the hospital. With 2,000 people waiting to be seen, GSD got to work and did a triage, putting people in line of priority.

An hour later, a team went to the airport, bringing crash pumps to pump all the water out and clear the runway, which allowed short-landing aircrafts to land that same afternoon. In their 43-foot tender, Clarke, one of his deckhands, a doctor, and a paramedic began doing assessments of the outer islands, including Elbow Cay, Hope Town, and Man-O-War Cay. They accomplished it all in the first four hours of Loon arriving before the night set in.

The following day they cleared the harbor — running up and down in the tender and making sure there was no debris floating in the middle of the channel and the turning basin was clear for the supply vessels whenever they started arriving. A chainsaw crew also went out and cleared roads, making pathways for vehicles and clearing a total of 30 miles. For the remainder of the time the crew spent in the Abacos, teams assisted with the harbor, hospital, and airport, along with doing tender runs and making sure they were doing as much as they could.  

“We spent seven weeks in the Abacos this summer, so I already knew all the dock guys and knew all the provisioners and all that,” he says. “And so we just wanted to get up there and help them do whatever was needed.”

The crew of Loon certainly did that. Clarke recalls getting to bed between 1 and 2 a.m., only to have his alarm go back off at 4:30 a.m. “So that’s the speed of what we were moving. You never really noticed,” he says. “It was just get the water to the beach; give those guys food. The medication needs to go there quick. We need 10 guys at the airport.”

However, since returning to Florida, Clarke says they’ve gotten some time to reflect and receive emails, calls, and texts from those directly affected by their efforts. He also received a thank you and selfie of from one person whose grandfather had a stroke in Cherokee Point and hadn’t received help for four days until someone messaged Loon. Clarke and the GSD team managed to get a Coast Guard helicopter there within 20 minutes to take him to Nassau, where they were told if he hadn’t arrived within the hour he wouldn’t have made it.

“As it gets more and more real, I think we did something pretty cool and pretty special,” Clarke says. “We would have done it regardless. It was just what we wanted to do to help.”

After an early November charter to The Bahamas, he hopes to run up to the Abacos for two or three weeks to see where they can help again. Anticipating that they will be in a rebuilding and restructuring process, they will help build houses or do whatever’s needed to help.

The message Clarke wants to get out there is that there’s absolutely no reason any yacht shouldn’t do this, he says — his costs were some fuel, and helping caused no damage to Loon or the tender. “If we had rolled up there with ten superyachts our size, it would have been so easy,” he says. “We would’ve touched so many people so much faster.”

Photos: Courtesy of Paul Clarke