Another Hurricane... This One Irene

By Tom Neale, 9/1/2011


The first hurricane I vividly recall was Hazel in 1954. I was young (younger) then and remember seeing the waves demolish a long pier and pile every stick, board and piling on top of my 12’ rowboat. I had rolled it on logs well up into Main Street of the small town where we lived. As the wind moaned and howled and the rain and muddy spray from the waves stung my face, I just couldn’t believe my bad luck. I loved that boat and as each timber crashed onto her, until she slowly disappeared under the tumultuous mess, I knew she would be nothing more than fire wood. After the storm, friends helped me pull the demolished dock from my boat and, after hours of very hard work, there she was. One oarlock mount had been smashed to the side and she could stand some paint, but other than that she was fine. Of course, others hadn’t been so lucky: like the rich guy who owned the dock and who also owned a very expensive fine yacht. He’d had his captain take it far up a creek in the marsh upriver. It had ended up far from the creek, high and dry in marshland that hadn’t been flooded for decades and wouldn’t be again.

Author standing on protected dock during
tropical storm surge.
I’ve been through so many hurricanes with my boats in the years since then that the names and details blur together in a muddle of awfulness. I suppose some were tropical storms, but it’s hard to tell that with many, despite what the “official” word is. Some events, for some reason more momentous in my mind than others, stand out, but it’s hard to associate them with the names. There have been too many names and too many events.

I do remember being on a mooring in Newport, Rhode Island, right off the Newport Boat Show during Hurricane Floyd. We put out an extra anchor because the winds were going to be really bad and were going to be from the direction that would be blowing us into the show if the mooring dragged or line snapped. We watched the seas of Newport Harbor destroy much of the show. The floating docks were heaving and the power boats that were in from us were crashing together. I recall seeing the bow rail of one hurtling into the air as the line that had been cleated under it flung it up as the cleat pulled out from the boat’s deck. Then came an armada of small tugs, tying lines to the outer pilings that had been driven for the show, straining against the wind and seas trying to keep those pilings from folding inwards in a total disaster.

I remember exploring Homestead, Florida, after Andrew had turned the area into an eerie resemblance to the pictures I’d seen of post nuclear explosions. And I remember seeing some of the islands of the Bahamas which had been almost wiped out but weren’t being covered by our egocentric newscasters. I remember all the dead dogs cats and rats, for example, of Chub Cay. The power lines had been downed and were snaking along the ground, but they’d started the main generator again and the animals had been electrocuted as they innocently wandered about. I also remember the large window that was supposed to have withstood 200 MPH winds (or some such claim). It had, but the house around it was gone. I remember the sailboat mast wrapped like a strand of aluminum spaghetti around a piling. The boat, or what was left of it, was on the bottom under water.

I remember Hurricane Hugo turning the Ben Sawyer Bridge, at Charleston, South Carolina, like a top and dumping one end into the ICW. We had to head down the dangerously debris filled Winyah Bay in the early morning dark to get out and around that area and back into Charleston Harbor, as we headed south.


Tom’s Tips About Getting Hurricane Facts

1. The advertising-driven news media seem, in my opinion, to be less and less reliable in giving us the facts that we need to deal with hurricanes. Many seem, in my view, to be more interested in creating a show to attract viewers to satisfy their advertisers.

2. There are better sources. MyBoatUS.com has a great hurricane section where you get spaghetti models, wind band projections, the official NOAA tract with cone of probabilities and more.

Click Here for More Tips

You notice I recalled the events as well as the names of the storms I mentioned above, but that’s the exception to the rule. Most of them just run together. When you spend most of your life on the waters where hurricanes are known to roam that tends to happen after awhile. There was the time we were headed south and sought shelter in a very safe marina (there are some marinas that are safe in hurricanes) in the Melbourne, Florida, area. The eye passed right over us. We were having school with Melanie and Carolyn and took a recess to experience it. Something you wouldn’t get in most public schools. There were the times we fled to the Kickemuit River in Rhode Island, working an entire day on our boat and those of other liveaboard cruisers, to anchor well and be out of the way of other boats. Then at the end of the day as the storm bore down a half dozen or more boats piled in from Providence and vicinity, their skippers dropping anchor haphazardly, on shoestring rodes with no chafing gear, not even setting the anchors well, to go ashore in dinghies where their rides home were waiting. There was the time we were in a marina and, although the TV weather people were saying that only a small disturbance was coming, we sensed something else and fled the marina to a safer harbor. What came destroyed the docks where we had been tied. There were the storms where we expected little or nothing but were brutally slammed by a last minute turn. And there were the storms when we expected the very worst, fell asleep at night ready to turn out around 2:00 AM (when they seem to come) to wake up the next morning after a restful sleep to a beautiful day, because of a last minute turn for the better

I come away after this last one, Irene, with no new lessons. All the old lessons are still important. You avoid them when you can. When you can’t, you prepare like it’s going to be far worse than they’re predicting. And you don’t ever think you can outmuscle or outsmart it. I’ve had times when riding it out at anchor that I had to crawl along the deck wearing dive suit, mask and snorkel to protect me from the rain and to allow me to breath in it. Of course, when I reached the bow there was little I could do, except to see that my preparations were paying off—at least at the moment—and that the snubbing and chafing gear was doing its job and no lines were parting.

This Irene was a killer. Most are. Some, like the storm that swept the Florida Keys when Henry Flagler was trying to build his railroad, engaged in wholesale slaughter of people who had little warning and not much infrastructure to facilitate an escape before the storm. I see new possibilities forming up right now, beginning to swirl, out across the Atlantic in that spawning ground of monsters, west of Cape Verdes. I’m tired of them. But that does no good and seems absurdly conceited. They’ll keep coming. Before this one I dangled from the top of my 60 + foot mast, held by a rope running from the top down to the anchor windless where Mel anxiously stood by. I wrapped the mainsail roller furling gear with lines, protecting it with chafing gear. I think I’ll leave that up for awhile. That’ll be one less thing to do before the next one.

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