"I'd been watching this storm ever since it came off the coast of Africa," Clarke told Wild.com via satellite phone from Loon, docked only three or four miles off the coast of the Bahamas on Thursday night. "I knew it was going to be a bad one. There's a certain runway in how these storms develop and you can pretty much pick their projected path within a couple of hundred-mile radius.
"So when Dorian started as a tropical depression, I knew it was something to keep an eye on."
What developed as a tropical wave in the central Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 24 quickly intensified as it roared towards the Caribbean and North America.
By Aug. 28, it was the second hurricane to form in the Atlantic basin this season. Within three days, it grew to a Category 4 monster, and by Sept. 1, it was a Category 5, the strongest classification there is.
The day it became a Category 5 storm, it made landfall in Elbow Cay, Bahamas, and several hours later, it made another landfall at Grand Bahama.
The high pressure ridge that helped steer Dorian to the Bahamas collapsed and all of the sudden, the storm became stalled over the islands, with its sustained minutes-long wind gusts of up to 185 mph leaving unconscionable devastation in its wake.
Finally, on the morning of Sept. 3, Dorian began a slow march out of the Bahamas, leaving behind a trail of destruction few have ever seen.
Loon was near Exuma as the storm approached, so Clarke steered the boat to Nassau to find safe harbor until the storm had passed. But instead of waiting out the hurricane and then heading to Florida, he and the crew decided to pick up a half dozen former Special Forces soldiers, as well as doctors, first responders and more than 10 tons of supplies and sail 10 hours north to the island of Abaco.
Loon was the first boat into Marsh Harbour on the island after the Hurricane, arriving even before much larger rescue and supply ships from the United States. t's there where their worst nightmares were realized.
"It's just flattened," Clarke said. "I don't think anyone knows what to do. It's going to be a long road [back]. I think everyone just wants out. Nobody we've spoken to has said, 'Oh we can rebuild it.' I think everyone just wants to leave. It's that level of destruction that ... you just can't see how [it will ever come back].
"The place looks like Hiroshima, honestly."
The Leipolds, who also have a family retreat on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas, were paying close attention to Dorian as it developed in the Caribbean and set its sights on the island nation just off the east coast of Florida.
But their property wasn't their main concern.
They have owned Loon for three years. The crew members on board have lived on the vessel and worked for the family since the boat was purchased. They are like family.
So as the storm got closer, Loon found its safe harbor at the Atlantis Paradise Resort in Nassau. Fortunately for the boat and the crew, that area of the Bahamas saw just moderate winds and heavy rains -- nothing like the devastation due north of them.
When Loon arrived at Marsh Harbour a few days later, the photos sent back to Leipold were simply "breathtaking."
"Everything got wiped out," Leipold said. "We're so glad they are there. A lot of people are receiving water and supplies and food and chain saws, and they're providing any kind of medical help that they can."
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, dozens of other yachts in the harbor were approached about lending a hand and delivering supplies.
Without clearing it with his boss, Clarke and his crew decided they wanted to put off their vacations for at least a few more days, and do what they could to help.
"I got a call from my captain, and he said, 'We have an opportunity to really provide some significant relief for Abaco,'" Leipold said. "They were in a unique position because they were directly south. So as soon as the hurricane was through, they could go directly to the island very fast, where as other boats docked in Fort Lauderdale or Miami had to wait for the hurricane to get through.
"As soon as the hurricane was going through Abaco, our captain, who is just a super person, said they would go and be an emergency boat."
In a matter of hours, the vessel was transformed.
"It's just so wonderful ... Mr. L, he didn't hesitate when I asked him [if we could use The Loon as a rescue boat]. I didn't even have to explain to him that it was going to cost this much money," Clarke said. "We're burning fuel by the hour out here ... and he didn't even think about it. It's such a great thing."
Even in its new role as a supply boat, the vessel itself remains -- on the outside at least -- a "pleasure craft," Clarke said. That meant it needed its own security.
So Clarke tabbed six former soldiers with Special Forces backgrounds who are also trained as DART rapid responders. They are unarmed but are able to capably handle themselves in hand-to-hand combat situations in case the boat was boarded by those wishing to do them harm or steal goods and supplies.
"They've been looking after the boat, but even when they go ashore during the day, there is always two left onboard," Clarke said.
The furniture was moved from the main deck to the lowest level of the boat and stacked towards the front, opening up what Clarke estimated to be a 50-foot by 25-foot room available to hold as many supplies as the crew could get its hands on.
Included were several large empty barrels for fresh drinking water that were filled on the trip north. The vessel is equipped with a desalination machine that can churn out 6,000 gallons of fresh water every day. Tens of thousands on Abaco were left with no fresh drinking water at all.
While the boat was stocked with more than 10 tons of goods and supplies, it had the capacity to carry even more than it did. But Clarke, in consultation with Yacht Aid Global, decided to run a little light in order to get to Abaco faster and safer.
Had they decided to carry more weight, the boat would have needed to wait an additional 24 hours for the weather to clear and even more supplies to arrive.
"They wanted medics and fresh clean water on the ground straight away," Clarke said. "The local community in Nassau came together so fast. We were out 48 hours after the storm first hit, so the fact that we were able to find that many supplies was pretty incredible."
Several churches in Nassau collected supplies for the trip, helped box them for families of four, eight and 10.
With a full boat, an eager crew, security in place as well as first responders and doctors on board, they steamed 10 hours through the Atlantic straight north into a once glistening tropical paradise that had been reduced to rubble.
"We had no idea what we were walking into," Clarke said. "Those 10 hours ... the first few went by pretty quickly, but when we started arriving in The Abacos, and just seeing the destruction ... we didn't know if we were going to be swarmed. We were very worried about being overwhelmed."
For Clarke, the destruction left behind by Dorian has been especially painful. Born and raised in Australia, Clarke began working on boats soon after graduating from high school in 2000 and has travelled the world numerous times.
He started from the bottom, working as a "greenhorn" deckhand and worked his way to the top, becoming a captain for the first time eight years ago.
For the past 10 years, the 35-year-old Clarke has been Bahamas-based, and the island nation has become like a second home for both he and his girlfriend, Maxine, whom he met seven years ago when the boat he was working on docked in St. Martin next to a vessel she was working on.
So in love with the Bahamas are they that they were in the process of buying a home in the Bahamas in the coming months.
Hurricane Dorian has changed those plans in the short term, but their goal remains to one day purchase a place there that they can call their own.
"Everyone loves the Bahamas, man. It really is one of the most beautiful places in the world," Clarke said. "Even though this place is not my home, it feels like my home. It's just a place I love to be."
Clarke said he has no idea what is next for The Loon in terms of its role as a rescue boat. The captain and the crew is simply taking things day by day, the same he said, as many of the residents that are now displaced by Dorian's rampage.
At some point, the vessel will head to Florida for its scheduled maintenance, and in the near future, the Leipold family will return to the boat and its crew with a whole new appreciation for the people who have helped save hundreds of lives in the aftermath of one of the most destructive storms in history.
"They went up in harm's way, not knowing quite frankly, what they were going to see or how rough the waters were going to be to get there," Leipold said. "There were a lot of unknowns and they're still in the middle of it. I give a ton of credit to the type of crew that we have and the captain that we have. This was all their idea, it wasn't mine."
Loon has worked in conjunction with Yacht Aid Global in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian. One hundred percent of donations will provide immediate disaster relief and support to the communities of Grand Bahama, Abaco and surrounding Cays. To learn more and to donate, click here.
The American Red Cross as well as The Salvation Army are also doing great work on the ground in the Bahamas and can use your support.
For more videos from Loon on it's rescue mission in the Bahamas, check out the vessel's Instagram
All photos used in this story are courtesy of Captain Paul Clarke