Hurricane Irene - Hope Town Bahamas
August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene was a lot of fun for me.  I traveled to a new island destination and was right smack dab in the middle of a real howler.  Most folks probably would think I'm crazy for trying to get in a hurricane but look it's my job - and a fun one at that.  If you live in an area where they are then you should be prepared for them right?  The folks in Hope Town are more prepared than us back here in the US.  The structures are stronger, they have generators, solid telecommunications network, and they all stay in touch during a hurricane with marine vhf radios.  Yeah, they have their act together in the Bahamas as opposed to us over here where we scramble to get food, water, batteries, fuel, etc. right before a hurricane hits.

Why Hope Town?  Well, I was shooting for the easternmost part of the Bahamas because the track of Irene was (in my experienced view) going to bend more to the right than forecast and I wanted the eye in the middle of the day.  The lowest pressure of 954mb and the eye occurred at 12:44pm in Hope Town so I pretty much nailed it right on the money.  However, there is a lot of luck involved - the storm could speed up, slow down, whobble left or right - things you have no control over.  But if you don't go then you won't get lucky - see how that works now?  And don't always believe the forecast track either - it will shift around a little.

I drove from Pensacola to West Palm Beach to catch a flight out the next day.  Continental wanted to route me from Pensacola to Tampa to Houston to West Palm for $1,200.  Well that makes a lot of sense!  Ug, Pensacola you need better connections!  So heck, driving isn't so bad now after all.  The next day I took a flight over to Marsh Harbor - it was the last flight there according to a special Continental rep walking around.  Geez, they cancel these flights so early now.  I remember I flew to Bermuda the day before Hurricane Fabian (120 mph) hit with no problem in 2003.  What gives?  Must be all the hurricane panic setting in early nowadays.  So if you don't go early you don't make it - but the flip side to that is if you go there you are stuck and the hurricane might miss too.  Welcome to filming hurricanes is all I can say!  How much money you want to blow!

So as I sat there in West Palm Beach waiting for my flight out, I was asking other folks on the flight about the logistics in the Bahamas - was there cell phone coverage and where could I get a sim card.  Do they even have data, internet?  Internet access is key in this business.  I was my usual pumped up hurricane self and could barely sit still.  I took this iphone shot of me waiting to board the plane - I'm pretty psyched to say the least!

Our flight was one of those little two prop communters I call "crop dusters".  There wasn't any regular size carry on room so some folks had to bring their bags back to the wing of the plane where it was loaded in the belly with checked in luggage.  I took this shot of the plane just before boarding.  The guy bringing his carry on back out is Andrew and little did I know I'd be seeing a lot of him on this trip.

The flight over was uneventful - no turbulence since Irene was still two days out.  I remember taking a few pics as we came closer to Marsh Harbor on Great Abaco.  Lots of small shallow islands out there - a fly fisherman's dream.  We landed and boy, was the airport ever small - just the way I like em!  Easier to hit the ground running.  On the flight over I sat next to a British lawyer named Rhonda.  She was sharp as a tack and new as much as I did about hurricanes and what Irene was up to.  Rhonda was from Hope Town.  Hum, don't remember seeing hope town on a map last time I checked.  Turns out that Hope Town is about a 30 min. ferry ride east of Marsh Harbor.  Well now, anything to get me a few more miles further east is a good thing.  But what if Irene whobbled more west? - I'd need that extra terrain that Abaco offered to adjust my position.  I discussed this with Rhonda and she advised maybe stay in Marsh Harbor for the night and see what Irene is up to the next morning.  Smart thing to do I though.  One seat up from Rhonda was Andrew, owner of the Coffee House in Hope Town.  He has been listening and said hey, you're welcomed to stay with me during the Hurricane.  I knew from looking on google maps there was an island east of Abaco but hell it looked like a sand bar.  Irene hits there and you are going swimming for sure I thought.  Well, I thought about this for a minute - it's risky to commit so early but then again, it might be too late tomorrow if the ferry shut down.  OK, I'm all in - it's Hope Town or bust!!!

Andrew and I headed over to the the ferry after I picked up a Sim card at the local telecommunications building.  The ride over to Hope Town took about 25 minutes and was a nice time to take in the sights and relax.  Nothing like being on the water to ease your worries I always say.  When we made the turn into Hope Town it was amazing - first off I saw the historic lighthouse.  It sits on high ground and is one of only three in the world that still uses a kerosene-powered light.  There's something special about having your own lighthouse - I'm already liking this location to film Hurricane Irene.  Heck, I'm liking this place to vacation and even live.  I couldn't wait to start exploring but the first order of business was securing the remaining shutters at the Coffee House - a gorgeous house that really makes the best coffee I've ever tasted.  A 2 minute walk from the Coffee House is the awesome beach.  I went there as the sun was on the horizon and could tell the water was a bit agitated from the approaching storm.  The ocean has a way of tell you a storm is coming long before it arrives if you look close enough. 


The next day Andrew and I went over to fill up yellow jugs with diesel at the marina next to the lighthouse.  What amazed me about this place is everything is so close.  You don't need a car here - you can just walk to everything.  Well, we did need to motor to the fuel pump at the marina but boats are everywhere - just jump in one and go!  LOL  After topping off the generator - which are abundant in Hope Town unlike the USA - I had some time to explore Hope Town and surrounding area.  The brightly colored houses are beautiful here and sum up the overall attitude mood here - happiness and true R &R.

The rest of the day Andrew and I went to the Southern end of the Island to check out the surf.  It was definitely bigger than yesterday and offshore looking east the beautiful emerald green outside breakers were probably 8-9 feet.  We stopped by the Abaco Inn which had a great view of the ocean.  This is where I wanted to stay but it was closed for the hurricane - it didn't have the protective dune line like most of Hope Town so it was closed as a precaution.

With Irene only 24 hours out everybody was making the last minute preparations.  I  didn't sense that nervousness or panic from anyone.  It was the" Island drill" and they had it wired.  Folks finished getting fuel and putting up the last shutters over the easy to reach first floor windows.  I spent the rest of the day shooting b-roll around Hope Town expecting the worse and Andrew went surfing with friend Joe Thompson.  How many folks work 2 minutes from surfing?

Later that night Andrew cooked up the rest of the food and we settled in checking Irene's forecast track on line.  It was heading oh so close to Hope Town.  The forecast was for a 135mph Category 4 Hurricane.  Yeah, a real whopper of a storm in my line of work.  I've filmed more hurricanes than anyone in the last 8 years and only 1 of them was stronger - Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda, Florida.  That one tore the town apart and rattled my nerves too.  Trust me - 150 mph wind is no place for anyone.  Ok, I might try that one again but this time not locked outside on foot in the street !!
The next day . . .  well, I won't spoil it for you . . . why don't you just watch the video "Hurricane Irene - Journey to Hope Town" and see what happens? You can click off the "HD" and it will load faster if you have a slower connection.  Enjoy the movie !


Jim Edds Hurricane Irene video attire





                     This boat did not make it in the sheltered cove


Full on Hurricane Irene in Hope Town Bahamas

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