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The Fates

September 16, 2004

Hurricane Frances passed over top of "Little Gidding" in the Indian Town marina

There's plenty of time for metaphysical musing when there's a hurricane heading towards your boat and there's nothing you can do about it. Around this time last year we were on "Little Gidding" in the Chesapeake when hurricane Isabel blew by. We had lots of things to keep us busy: stripping the canvas off the boat, clearing the decks, stringing lines to shore, deploying extra anchors (see our September 18 & 25, 2003 entries). We didn't have the time or inclination to debate questions of free will and predestination. This year our boat is on the hard in Florida and we're hundreds of miles away. In our absence, "Little Gidding" seems to be attracting hurricanes like a magnet. We've become philosophical about it all since there's very little else we can do.

According to Greek mythology, the three Morai, daughters of Zeus, spin the web of human destiny. Your fate is determined by how they cut your life's thread. There's absolutely nothing you or anyone else, even the gods, can do to alter this inevitability. We pondered this concept when we were visiting friends in the Pacific northwest last month and hurricane Charley was tracking towards southern Florida. While everyone around us was mostly interested in the Olympic games just beginning in Athens, we were glued to the weather channel.

Charley slammed into Charlotte Harbor with 138 mph winds and proceeded to cut a swath of destruction up the interior of the state. The eye of the hurricane passed about 80 miles to the west of Indian Town, where we had left "Little Gidding". We had chosen a boat yard in the interior to be far from possible storm surge. Our friends' cottage didn't have a phone line, so we drove to the nearest town and connected to the Internet at the public library. We sighed with relief when we read an e-mail from Bobbi, the woman at the marina who is keeping an eye on our boat. "We had some rain and wind but nothing like we were originally expecting. There were no surprises on this morning's tour of the yard," she reported.

A near miss. "I guess our number isn't up yet," David said. And then he started looking at the numbers published by the National Hurricane Centre. The data indicated that an average of two major hurricanes every three years make landfall somewhere along the US Gulf or Atlantic Coast. "That's not so bad," David suggested. He read on. Florida is by far the state that historically has had the most direct hits by hurricanes -- 60 of the 165 hurricanes that have made a North American landfall in the past century have targeted the sunshine state (second place Texas has had only 37 hits). In terms of timing, September is the worst month -- 65 (or 39%) of the hurricanes have struck during this month. According to the statistics, we had stored our boat in the most hurricane prone area on the continent, and it wasn't yet the height of the season. We could sense the three sombre sisters huddled above us, shears in hand.

We were back at Eileen's parents' place in Ottawa on the Labour Day weekend when hurricane Frances began homing in on "Little Gidding". With slow determination, Frances ploughed through the Bahamas and lumbered toward the Florida coast. On the television Sunday morning we watched the fat eye of the hurricane stall over Indian Town for several hours, blasting our boatyard with sustained 90 mph winds and torrents of rain. "We're getting nailed this time," David said grimly.

The next morning we reached Bobbie on her cell phone. She had been evacuated to Florida's west coast so she couldn't say for sure what condition the boat was in. David told her we were driving down to Baltimore that day because Eileen was scheduled to perform at the annual Southbound Cruisers' Reunion. "Tomorrow I'll drop Eileen and the sound equipment off at the Anchorage marina, where the event is being held, and continue driving to Florida to deal with the boat, or what's left of it."

Tuesday morning, just as David was getting back in the car at the marina, Bobbie called us on the cell phone. "Your boat is fine," she reported. "In fact, even the tarp is still intact. I haven't been inside yet to check for leaks, but I'd recommend you do NOT come down. If anything needs to be done, I can handle it; and, believe me, you don't want to be here. There's no power, no water, and no fuel. You're better off staying where you are."

Not everyone was as lucky as we were. We got an e-mail from our friends Ron and Karen Sobon. They had left their Morgan 45 sailboat "Sea Dancer" in Fort Pierce, where Frances had made its landfall. Karen wrote, "Fort Pierce Municipal Marina is gone. The floating docks with boats attached became dislodged and they don't know where they are. The moorings at Stuart with all the boats are gone. Most marinas in Stuart are gone. Harbor Town Marina in Ft. Pierce, the marina did pretty good, however, 95% of the boats on land were toppled. The dry storage garage was pretty well damaged. Captain Hirams in Sebastian, their docks are gone and boats are inside the restaurant." Miraculously, "Sea Dancer" was one of the few boat that hadn't been knocked off the stands in the yard where Ron and Karen had left her. They were waiting for enough of the mess to be cleared away so they could get inside and check for damage.

Caribbean Weather Centre forecaster Chris Parker at the Southbound Cruisers' Reunion; hurricane Ivan was acting unpredictably

It was raining in Baltimore on Wednesday, the day after Eileen's concert; we were experiencing the remnants of Frances. But already everyone's attention at the cruisers' reunion had shifted to a new threat: hurricane Ivan was pummelling the island of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles. We searched out our good friends Chris Parker and Mike Zidziunas on the sloop "Bel Ami". They had sailed from the British Virgin Islands for the reunion, narrowly missing an encounter with hurricane Alex along the way. Chris is the forecaster for the Caribbean Weather Centre and when we found him he was trying to field a barrage of questions about Ivan. "I hesitate to say anything," he apologized. "Ivan isn't tracking in a predictable way. What we know for sure is that it's extremely dangerous."

As we write, Ivan is battering Alabama and the Gulf coast, having already inflicted extensive damage to Grenada, Jamaica, Grand Cayman and the western end of Cuba. The news from Grenada is particularly grim. Larry and Bonnie Rouls on the Catana 401 "RadioFlyer" were there to witness the destruction: "Buildings are just gone from where they were, structures collapsed, roofs blown off and the beautiful rain forests desecrated! All the tops of the trees are just ripped off; looking like the whole island was "shaved" by a buzz-saw! The roads are impassable and it will take a very long time to get basic services going, like electric & water, let alone rebuilding the infrastructure!

What was once considered a safe hurricane haven for boats is now a boat graveyard. Thomas Muller, "Miz Mae", reported on his web site, "The new Spice Island Marina is completely destroyed, it seems like ALL boats have fallen over. The place is absolute chaos. The Grenada Yacht Club lost it's building, but the dock seems kind of OK. Some boats are pushed into the banks of the lagoon .... Clarks Court Marina is gone, vessels moored there are lost, grounded or destroyed. Many moored vessels in various bays are grounded or sunk. Thirty-one out of 131 boats in Grenada Marine, St. Davids, are fallen from their stands ..."

Destruction at Grenada Marine. Photo by Bonnie & Larry Rouls on "RadioFlyer"

Just as we were about to indulge in a new round of fatalism, we got an e-mail from our cruising friend Dave Richardson. Dave's sailboat "OverStreet" is one of the fortunate boats still floating in Grenada. He's planning to travel to Trinidad to help with the aid effort. He wrote us, "Looting is rampant in St. Georges and the main port is a mess. The supplies coming from Trini are being brought in by small boats and yachts, so we will become a link in that process ... I am taking my survival kit, HAM radio gear, a cell phone and plan on purchasing other building supplies in Trinidad. With OverStreet afloat we will not be a burden on the government or people of Grenada ... We have so many friends on Grenada who now have nothing it seems uncaring to sit here in luxury ..."

Dave's right. We can blame it all on the Fates, or we can try to do something about it. We encourage people to find out more about how they can assist by visiting the web sites of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency or the Caribbean Hurricane Network www.stormcarib.com. Maybe those Greek myths were wrong.

David & Eileen