Hull couple take aid to hurricane hit islands

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A Hull couple are using their own boat to help Caribbean islands devastated by a succession of hurricanes. Catherine Scott reports.

Three years ago, Mark and Tracey Duckett sold their restaurant, house and assets in Hull to follow their dream and spend their retirement sailing around the Caribbean.

“It is something we wanted to do before we got too old,” says Mark.

“We waited until our youngest daughter was 18.” They had bought a catamaran years earlier and spent time making it fit to sail around the world.

They set sail from Hull marina where they used to run a number of ventures including 13, Caffe Mocha and Nosh Cafe, with the idea of returning to the UK once a year to catch up with family and friends

They sailed to Ramsgate and then towards Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands, before moving across the Atlantic to the Caribbean islands which they have now made their home.

But their dream was nearly scuppered when the Caribbean was hit by a succession of devastating hurricanes.

“We have been dodging hurricanes for the last two months,” Mark said.

“We kept having to change our course to avoid the worst of the weather and the surges.

“The last one, Maria, went about 40 to 50 miles north of us which is very close. We could have lost our boat and we wouldn’t have been insured.”

The worst of the category five hurricanes actually hit during one of the Duckett’s annual trips back to the UK.

“We were following its progress on the television,” says Mike.

“We had no idea when we returned to the Caribbean whether we would even have a boat and therefore a home.”

Luckily the boat was saved, but the Ducketts were stunned by the level of the devastation.

“We have been sailing around these islands for the last two years and have got to know lots of people,” explains Mike.

“We know people who have lost nine members of their family.”
The Ducketts were so affected by what they say that not only did they decided to record videos to put on their blog, they decided to take direct action.

“There is a lot of corruption and we soon realised that a lot of the aid coming from abroad just wasn’t getting to the people who so desparately needed it.”

And so they decided to set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to buy basic but potentially life-saving supplies, which they would then transport on their catamaran, then via a little boat to the desimated communities.

“We are personally delivering the ‘aid’ ourselves, sailing from our current base in St Lucia, up to Martinique where we can buy the majority of things needed.

“We spent nearly €700 on various goods including baby formula, baby food, rice, pasta, tinned tomato sauces (ring pulls of course), bottled water, salt & pepper, sugar and even cooking oil – just basic goods we all take for granted,” said Mike.

“When we eventually got everything back it took four trips in the pouring rain to get it all back to the boat in the dinghy. We certainly aren’t the only people doing this, many other cruisers are doing the exact same thing and I’m sure many more will follow. The sooner the better though in my opinion because people need the aid now not in weeks to come.”

Mike said they had been told that the villagers were waiting for them to arrive with the supplies, many in tears.

“The full village was out to greet us on what turned out to be one of the most humbling days of our lives,” Mike wrote on the couple’s blog 
Come Live the Dream.

“Watching people mobbed around a boat, shouting and yelling for a few basic necessities and each and everyone thanking you for what you have done for them was absolutely overwhelming. Just to make that minuscule of difference for such wonderful friendly people – was a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“I wandered around the village taking videos of the sheer carnage, being told tales of death and destruction, the smell of death crept into your nose just walking down the street.

“Ninety per cent of all buildings in Dominica were demolished as she wiped out one of the most beautiful but sadly one of the poorest islands in the Caribbean – they too have also lost everything, like most of the BVI.”

Mike and Tracey’s main concern is that now the hurricanes are no longer news, the people of these tiny Caribbean islands will be forgotten.

“They are doing their best to rebuild what they can, but the sitation for many is still desparate. They’ve got no electricity, no water, no food and no supplies.

“It also amazes me how little people in the UK actually know about these hurricanes and what devastation has been caused, I suppose its a case of out of sight, out of mind.

“It’s hurricane season until the end of November so there is every chance of another one coming through we are all hoping it doesn’t.”

They have so far raised more than £4,000 of a £10,000 target but Mark insists: “The target is not a set target, it is just a start to try get some much needed help up these people as quickly as possible and to the people that need it most.”