After the Storm
By Tom Neale, 9/7/2006
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Devastation where “Chez Nous” had been docked.
We had a feeling about that storm. We listen to our feelings, so we left the dock where we were tied. It was exposed to a long east-southeast fetch—and so was our beam. A few days later, Ernesto roared up the coast. Many of the pretty news people, ignorant as usual, were saying, “no problem.” When we returned to the marina after the storm, the dock was gone, as were many others. We probably would have lost Chez Nous had we stayed there. Instead, we rode out the 60 to 75 + knot gusts in a quiet creek inland. Now we’re all in the recovery mode
Around us on the shore we hear generators running in the big houses on the hills. It’s now 5 days after the storm. Of course, lots of folks don’t have generators, so they have no electricity. They also don’t have any water because this is way out in the “country” where people have wells. No such thing as city water. There are no phones, there is no internet. They also don’t have refrigeration or ice. And to add to the discomfort, there are no working toilets because there’s no water—unless they go down to the creek and bring it up in a bucket to pour into the bowl. But of course, then the pump doesn’t work in the septic system. For awhile, they couldn’t even buy gas for their cars because, without electricity, the gas stations couldn’t pump. But the pretty people on the news are busy talking about other stuff.
These folks on the hills around us are “getting along.” They’re used to taking care of themselves, and it could have been much worse. Groups are going from house to house helping cut up and pull away trees that were blocking roadways or sitting on cars. We’ve been doing the same and even charging batteries for friends with our generator on Chez Nous. A friend came by in his skiff, full of crabs. The storm bought them out and he had customers and he’d stored gas for his outboard. He’d planned.
Life is so much better on Chez Nous . We took on 300 gallons of water before the storm. That’ll last Mel and me a month if we’re careful, even with taking a shower every day. We also have a tank full of diesel, a generator (that is working at the moment—touch wood and pray), and a huge bank of Rolls deep cycle batteries. A few people ashore are running their generators all day and all night, I guess with their windows tightly closed so they can’t hear all that noise. We’d hate to have to run ours all day. We have inverters to give us regular AC power from the batteries when the generator is off, so we only have to run it a few hours a day. With that few hours it charges our batteries and takes care of our refrigeration. And if we were to run out of water, we’d make some—some really good water—with our reverse osmosis water maker. We even have phone and internet service because we do this with cellular on the boat. We’ve found that cellular usually works even when there’s no electricity or phone service. Wires can’t blow down when they’re wireless.
I guess it sounds like I’m gloating. I’m not. I just live on a boat. It’s this way all the time. You do for yourself. If you don’t, you can get into deep trouble unless you just sit at a marina all the time. Out in the pretty areas where you cruise, there are seldom shops and marine yards and “infrastructure” to take care of your problems. You have to be able to maintain all this stuff; you have to invest in spare parts, and you have to spend a lot of hours getting bloody knuckles and skin shredded by hose clamps.
Docks and pilings under water during storm.
But we do get our bad times too, living on the boat. It just usually comes differently than the way those poor folks up there on the shore are getting it now. Like when another boat drags down on you in a storm in the middle of the night. When you go to sleep in a house, you don’t need to worry much about the house down the street sliding into you. (Unless you’re in a place I wouldn’t want to have a house.) And we get ours when we’re sitting far out in the ocean and the weather radio starts bleeping and talking about a violent squall moving in and admonishing all to seek the nearest shelter immediately, to get inside, and to go to an interior small closet. And we’re wishing we were in one of those houses on the shore instead of just sitting out there waiting to get clobbered. It happens a lot, and it’s much scarier than not being able to take a shower (well, unless you’re around me when I’m sweating, which is a lot). And we get plenty of other bad times, like when something breaks and we can’t fix it (you can’t bring spares for everything) and nobody else can fix it and we’re stuck in the boondocks. Then we may be stuck without even the barest essentials—like dry feet.
I don’t necessarily recommend living aboard. It’s not for everybody. And it’s certainly not all about Pina Coladas or sailing into sunsets. There’s some of that, but there’s a lot more, like the hard work of making it all work. It’s a job in and of itself. But, taking the bad with the good, we like living on a boat. We’ve found that if you have to depend less on what they call “the infrastructure,” and giant monopolies such as power companies, there are usually a lot more days “with” than “without.” And when the “without” days come, we can usually get up and running again, because it’s become part of the job of living aboard.
You may not live aboard. You may have a boat too small to do that, or you simply may prefer to not live aboard. But I’m betting you have a boat or are thinking about getting one. That means that you’re probably likely to be able to take care of yourself. It’s a part of the psyche of a capable boater.
Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale