Durban - Six months ago, Raymond Ninow set off on the transatlantic sail to the Caribbean.
Now the Durban born 25-year-old has been forced to abandon the yacht he poured his life’s savings into and seek shelter with his German fiancee, Steffi Remm, as Hurricane Irma barrelled through Tortola – in the British Virgin Islands this week.
Hurricane Irma, one of the most forceful Atlantic storms in a century, churned across the ocean on Tuesday on a collision course with Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, bearing down on the northern Caribbean with a devastating mix of fierce winds, surf and rain.
The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 295km/h, was expected to make landfall in Florida landfall tomorrow (on Saturday), the US National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.
However the Daily Mail reported on Thursday that it had already left an extraordinary level of destruction on the British Virgin Islands.
In one video – thought to be of the the east side of the island of Tortola – flattened buildings and piles of debris can be seen in every direction.
Nothing appears to have been spared – with homes, trees and cars all damaged by the storm.
Ninow had always dreamt of sailing to the Caribbean islands and surfing all over the world, his mother, Amanda, told The Mercury on Thursday. He bought his father’s 9m-long yacht – named Schatzi – about two years ago.
A final year University of South Africa student, studying towards his Communication Science degree via correspondence, he spent several months working in Ireland and New Zealand to save enough money to fix up the yacht.
Accompanied by crewmates Pieter de Wit and Davin Clarke, he finally set sail in March. They left Durban and stopped in East London and Mossel Bay before settling in Cape Town for a few weeks.
They departed Cape Town on April 10. It took them 20 days to reach St Helena, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
In an e-mail to his mother, Ninow had called the trip to St Helena “intense and relentless”.
“If we had known how ferocious it was going to be we would not have left Cape Town,” he wrote.
After a short break, the men continued on their journey. When they reached Fortaleza, in north eastern Brazil, Clarke had to say his goodbyes. A medical student, he was starting an internship at a hospital in Mexico.
Ninow and de Wit went on to visit Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Martinique. Remm joined them in the Caribbean and that was where Ninow asked her to marry him.
Ninow’s mother, Amanda, on Thursday said she had not heard from her son in days but she was confident he was safe.
“When the hurricane arrived, they stripped the yacht and went ashore. They met someone there who let them stay in his house,” she said. “I haven’t heard from him since but I brought him a tracker system when he left Durban and it’s giving me a signal to tell me he’s alive.”
Amanda was, however, concerned about the yacht.
“I’ve got no idea what’s happened to it but we’ve seen all these pictures about the devastation there,” she said, “If it’s destroyed, he’ll be left penniless”.