The Blue Atlas Project Brings Aid to Devastated Abaco Island

And one woman’s rite of passage to becoming a sailor.

Photo by Andrew Gober

She’s on the the early morning shift crossing the middle of the Mediterranean Sea on a 38 foot Salona Sailboat.

It’s just me and the stars. No birds. No bugs. It’s surreal. Drew sleeps below deck after the first night watch.

Kali and her friend Drew were invited to transport the sailboat in July of 2020 from Croatia to the United States.

Their only previous experience on the sea together was moving a small boat up the eastern seaboard. They learned the hard way that sailing the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the summer is not a good idea.

For Kali, this journey across the ocean is a rite of passage to becoming a sailor.

She acquired her own sailboat in early 2020. She is using this transport from Croatia as an opportunity to cross the open sea and learn how to sail big water.

A few years ago her life was calm but, “Calmness isn’t inspiring.”

Humanitarian activism, adventure, movement, and more than anything else -freedom - suits Kali. In 2015 she went to Nepal a few months after large earthquakes rocked the country.

Kali and Drew made it to the Canary Islands, depleted and exhausted.

The constant lack of sleep convinced Kali they needed another set of hands on deck for the next leg to the Bahamas.

Kali referred to the hurricane as you would a long-distance friend.

Called her by name as she paralleled their 17 day journey. They docked in Bermuda 24 hours before Hurricane Paulette slammed into the island — just enough time to batten down the hatches.

Eventually, they reach the United States amidst a record number of hurricanes ripping across the Atlantic that season.

They safely drop off the boat to its owner. Kali goes home to recalibrate.

After a brief respite, she works like mad getting her boat seaworthy and organizing the aid project for Abaco Island.

A grateful, worn-out smile lights up her face. Her friend Michael Robb, the third on-site team member of The Blue Atlas Project, arrives to help her sail from Florida to the Bahamas.

The boat has different ideas and strands them in Key Biscayne.

They both have to learn how to fix the cutlass bearing underwater to prevent the vessel from getting hauled out to land for repairs.

On Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, Kali wastes no time meeting with volunteers.

They plan setting up a training center on a piece of land donated to The Blue Atlas Project by local, off-the-grid Abaco Neem Farm. Very little food is grown on the Island due to poor, limestone-heavy soil. The farmers who do grow have been amending the soil for years, and are still struggling.

They are helping transform disaster into a sustainable future opportunity.

It takes a lot of dedication, grants, volunteers, outreach and education to make it happen.

People who have returned to Great Abaco after evacuations are still in deep struggle.

It wasn’t just the 185 mph winds that nearly leveled this community. A 23 foot surge overtook the Island flooding homes, destroying businesses, and wiping out grocery stores.

There is still such a great need.

90% of homes on the Island were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable. Cars driven around the Island have no windows or lights and there are dents in everything.

Photo by Kali Kirkendall

The willingness to eat what can grow seasonally in any area is always an evolution.

There are challenges beyond growing food to creating food independence in a place that has relied largely on imported goods to survive. One small vegetable farm on the Island tried to set up a CSA, but the locals responded with, “I don’t really want that in my box, can I get more of this?”

It’s a long road on a small Island where people are very traumatized.

No matter where you go, you cannot get away from seeing and reliving the destruction every minute of every day.

Kali and Drew walk the streets near Marsh Harbor.

They pass boarded up skeletons of houses, boats thrown askew inland, and countless foundations with no home at all. She says hello to a woman who lives here and they strike up a conversation.

Kali turns her head and looks out across the endless beautiful ocean she calls home.

Sun sparkles on calm waters and her eyes rest on the sunken boat in the harbor.

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