Aeolus is Angry
September 18, 2003
The ancient Greeks had this thing they called "hubris". A mortal was hubristic if he or she forgot his or her humble place in the greater scheme of things and didn't show the proper respect for the powers to be. The gods didn't care for this type of uppity behaviour and invariably responded with a form of retributive justice called "nemesis". Simply put, if you get out of line, you get what's due. You've tempted fate.
We were in Baltimore last week attending the Southbound Cruisers' Reunion. We had come down the previous week from Long Island, New York. It had been a great sail south and we didn't hesitate to let everyone know how cleverly we had avoided the wrath of the sea gods (see how we gloat in our September 4th entry, "Timing Is Everything"). A number of the sessions at the reunion were devoted to weather forecasting. David was scanning one of the NOAA handouts on hurricanes and pointed a map out to Eileen. It depicted the American landfalls of major hurricanes for the past century. "Look," he said, "Virtually all of the big hurricanes on the east coast have landed in Florida, the Carolinas, or around Long Island and Cape Cod. They never come up the Chesapeake. We sure know how to pick the right place to be."
After the reunion we sailed down the Patapsco River to Chesapeake Bay and turned up the Magothy River, a short distance south of the Patapsco. We wound our way up Dividing Creek, a tributary of the Magothy, to a dock owned by our friends Steve and Jane, whose catamaran "Sea Fan" is currently in St. Croix in the USVI. We checked our e-mail on shore shortly after we got settled. There was a message from our friends Michael and Mary Beth on "Madeline". They had left Maine twelve days after our departure from New York and got hammered first by the remnants of hurricane Fabian, then by the aftermath of tropical storm Henri. They were licking their wounds in Port Jefferson, Long Island, when they e-mailed us. Eileen shook her head. "I'm real glad we were prudent and got out of there early. I'd much rather be in the Chesapeake than Long Island at this time of the year."
Hubris. Heaps and heaps of hubris. If the wind god Aeolus was listening, our remarks were making him plenty sore.
By now you probably know what we discovered when we finished reading our e-mail and checked the NOAA online weather site. Hurricane Isabel, a category five hurricane (that's as bad as they come), was heading in our general direction. "Don't worry," David opined confidently. "It'll turn northeast and miss us. They all do." David is a slow learner. Now Aeolus was really ticked off.
On Saturday, the weather forecasters were commenting on the unusual strength and extent of Isabel and predicted a landfall somewhere between north Florida and Cape Cod. By Sunday, however, they had the hurricane's projected track ripping right up the centre of the Chesapeake. On Monday, they moved the track slightly to the west so that the more dangerous sector would pass over us. "What was that you were saying about the hurricane turning northeast and missing us?" Eileen asked. "Maybe we should pick up a few things at the marine store," David answered.
The two boating stores we visited were very busy. Dock lines seemed to be the most popular item. We asked a lot of the locals what to expect. No one really knew. The area was last hit by a major hurricane when Hazel romped through in 1954. Most people we encountered either weren't around then or couldn't remember it very well. We picked up some nylon line, vinyl tubing, and lots of conflicting advice. In the cashier line-up, David suddenly remembered something. "I've been meaning to buy a fourth anchor for a long time." He went and grabbed a big Fortress anchor off the shelf.
Our location on Dividing Creek is about as protected from the wind and waves as you could hope. We're nestled in a bend in the creek with high banks on both sides. The main concern is the possible effect of storm surge. The fixed dock we're tied to is fairly low - Steve and Jane tell us that the occasional bad storm will put it underwater. In the hurricane literature we've read, of the different means of securing a boat, tying up to a dock finishes a poor third after tying to a mooring or hauling out. Most boat casualties during serious storms occur at docks. A major problem with fixed docks is that they stay put while the boats tied to them move with the rising water levels. In some instances, boats are impaled on pilings after the water recedes.
We spent most of Tuesday stripping the boat of anything that might add windage or be damaged by the blow: sails, cockpit cushions, deck containers, life raft, crew overboard equipment, solar panels, radar reflector, wind-powered generator, canvas dodger and bimini, rail-mounted barbecue, even our national flag. "Little Gidding" has never looked so bare. Most of the stuff we stored in Steve and Jane's garage, which is located at the top of the steep hill behind the dock. After the twenty-seventh trip up the serpentine path Eileen remarked, "Living in a suburban bungalow with a white picket fence is starting to looking better and better by the minute."
Yesterday we tied the boat off. Our cruising friends Dave and Laura arrived on their sailboat "Follow the Sun" and parked on the opposite side of the dock from us. They had gratefully accepted Steve and Jane's invitation to occupy the spare space. Our strategy was to enmesh our boats in a web of lines that would keep them off the dock and surrounding pilings. With a predicted storm surge of anywhere from three to six feet, we favoured more distant tie off points. "Little Gidding's" bow faces the shore. We put two anchors connected in tandem off the stern and ran two lines from the bow to trees on shore. We then tied off to a total of six pilings on Steve and Jane's dock and their neighbour's dock.
We had our last dinner on shore last night with Steve and Jane and Dave and Laura. The evening weather report downgraded Isabel to a category two hurricane. It's predicted track put us just beyond the edge of hurricane force winds. We all felt a bit better and agreed to get together again on Friday, after it's all supposed to be over.
As we write this Thursday morning, it's starting to sprinkle and a fresh breeze is stirring the trees overhead. Isabel is predicted to make landfall near Cape Hatteras around midday. Its initial wind strength of one hundred plus knots should diminish significantly as it tracks overland towards us. The weather forecast calls for fifty knots of wind in our area by this afternoon. We plan to stay on board in order to adjust lines to compensate for the changing water level and any possible chafing. We think we've done as much as we can to prepare for the storm and the situation doesn't look nearly as bad as it did a couple of days ago. But we're not making any bets on the outcome. Aeolus might be listening.