Finding Refuge: Exploring the Resilience of Hurricane Hole in St. John

Finding Refuge: Exploring the Resilience of Hurricane Hole in St. John

As you gaze upon the marinas scattered across St. John’s landscape, you can clearly see many boats elegantly tethered in mooring fields. These vessels are the livelihood of the skilled boat captains who call this island home, using their unwavering dedication to providing for their families. As we are amid hurricane season, it’s a wonder what these captains would do to protect their vessels if a hurricane were to sweep through the island.

Hurricane Hole: Nature’s Vessel Shielding Sanctuary 

Nestled between cliffs and verdant hills east of Coral Bay lies Hurricane Hole—a natural refuge from the destructive forces of hurricanes. This mangrove-lined bay offers a serene and secluded cove that forms a protected amphitheater, shielding it from the full impact of devastating storms. Accessible by boat and concealed from the open sea, Hurricane Hole is a mooring field haven for vessels up to 60 feet long searching for a secure sanctuary amid the tempestuous ocean.

The unique geography of Hurricane Hole serves as a protective shield against the powerful winds and waves of hurricanes and tropical storms. The natural terrain of this area effectively disperses the energy of oncoming storms, creating a safe anchorage for boats. With the help of strong moorings, vessels remain securely in place, avoiding the risk of being violently tossed around and sustaining damage during a storm. In the wake of a storm, a captain will take his or her vessel to Hurricane Hole and tie it to one of the moorings, hoping the boat will withstand the weather. 

Typically, boat captains on St. John must apply for a yearly permit through the National Park Service to use a storm mooring; however, it should be noted that 2023 applications are already completed. 

Destruction from Hurricane Irma 

Despite Hurricane Hole’s natural structure and history for captains, the treacherous storm wreaked havoc on vessels when Hurricane Irma struck the island in 2017. The sheer force of Hurricane Irma proved to be unstoppable. The category five hurricane’s powerful winds and incessant surges challenged the moorings, resulting in widespread damage to numerous ships. It is said that over 40 boats were removed after the vessels were sunk, beached, or stacked on top of one another, and it took almost a year to remove them all. In addition to damaged vessels, the wildlife in Hurricane Hole, such as the mangroves and coral, suffered catastrophic damage. With that said, marine life and wildlife have started to grow back over the last few years. Though Hurricane Hole is still used as protection against storms, it should be noted that the moorings and natural structure of the cove can only do so much against nature’s wrath. 

Tropical Storm Fiona

Last year, Tropical Storm Fiona (before upgrading to Hurricane Fiona) passed through St. John. The storm did not severely impact the island as Hurricane Irma did, but it was enough to cause occupants of St. John to worry. Boat captains took their boats to Hurricane Hole. There was some destruction to a few vessels, but nothing like Hurricane Irma. The natural haven provided enough safety for vessels, leaving little damage to boats. 

Finding Refuge: Exploring the Resilience of Hurricane Hole in St. John 1

More than a Hurricane Refuge

Apart from its importance during hurricanes, Hurricane Hole is an alluring destination that fascinates tourists with its remarkable natural beauty and rich marine life. The peaceful waters of this place attract kayakers, paddleboarders, snorkelers, and all types of locals and tourists who are enchanted by the mesmerizing underwater world flourishing beneath the shelter of mangrove roots. For nature enthusiasts, observing the area is a cherished experience.

Whether you are a boat captain or just looking for a new experience, you can check out Hurricane Hole and all its beauty.

5 thoughts on “Finding Refuge: Exploring the Resilience of Hurricane Hole in St. John”

  1. Regarding the devastation in Hurricane Hole in 2017, it’s remarkable that nobody mentions the oversized steel ships seeking illegal refuge at the last minute in Hurricane Hole and left unattended during the storm, causing them to drift down onto the much smaller, legitimate boats and being the major cause of the damage. Of course they were swiftly removed after the storm passed so as to avoid any documentation… They know who they are.

  2. I snorkeled and swam in hurricane hole for thirty years as a biologist and when I returned in 2023, I was shocked at the damage and how little was left of the marine communities. It will take decades of no storms and a lot of luck for HH to regain it beauty and diversity. Paradise is reeling.

  3. Interesting article. One word choice suggestion..

    “In the wake of a storm, a captain will take his or her vessel to Hurricane Hole and tie it to one of the moorings, hoping the boat will withstand the weather. “

    Since the “wake” would be after the storm, I think you meant “in anticipation of a storm”.

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