Lost in paradise

Jimmy, a boat captain who works in the British Virgin Islands, has been unreachable since Hurricane Irma struck the area.

LEONARD WOOLSEY/The Daily News

I can’t stop thinking about my friend, Jimmy.

Jimmy is a small-boat captain in the British Virgin Islands. We are about the same age, both easily laugh at ourselves, and view the world as a beautiful place to be.

He’s a big man with an even larger laugh. He rarely wears shoes and can instinctively read the teal blue Caribbean waters like a master chef surveys ingredients on a countertop. Both see a canvas, their world, where magic happens.

Hurricane Irma has changed all that. His home — that is the islands where he grew up and lives — looks like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb. And the worst part is, Jimmy is now off the grid and unable to be reached.

We met years ago as Jimmy guided eight of us through the islands on a small boat. While we slept below deck in a room the size of an SUV, he slept in a space the size of a small bathroom. But Jimmy quickly went from our single crew member to friend within a day. And before returning us safely to harbor, he was forever family.

As beautiful as the islands and waters are in the British Virgin Islands, life is as equally hard. The land is barren, built on volcanic outcrops. Farming is difficult. Roads are narrow and dangerous. A flat piece of ground is as rare. Making a living in paradise is difficult. Tourists attracted to the beauty are the trade.

With limited employment opportunities, Jimmy learned to sail the waters at an early age. A good small-boat captain is one part instinct, one part skill and one part being leader. And Jimmy is all of those and more.

As Hurricane Irma violently crossed over the British Virgin Islands, I found myself saying prayers for not only Jimmy, but the faces I’d seen while walking the small, economically depressed communities dotting the barren island landscapes we would visit.

What Americans consider abject poverty is what most residents on the islands consider normal. The standard of living is difficult to imagine.

When photos after the hurricane began to trickle out, I was stunned. The lush green landscape, foliage and vegetation covering the mountain inclines lay barren and brown. The housing, many times built with more concern for keeping rain off one’s head than with any semblance of structural integrity, were gone.

And the boats on which Jimmy earned his modest living lay crumbled up along the shoreline like a pile of wooden white matchsticks.

I pray for my friend and hope his disappearance is simply related to damaged cell towers.

The beautiful landscape is gone. Tourists are not there or coming soon. The economy is in shambles for who knows how long. Life changing is an understatement in this now third-world economy.

Pray for Jimmy. Pray for the students I saw walking along the narrow street to school. And pray for the fisherman who lived by selling his modest catch to tourists each day. For them, life may never be the same again. Pray.

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

President & Publisher of The Galveston County Daily News.

(1) comment

Jarvis Buckley

Let's all hope Jimmy will be found safe. Hurricanes are Hell!

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