Hurricane Matthew- Caught With Our Pants Down Part 2

Log – 10/5 Wednesday

     We’re anchored on the north shore of the river in about ten feet. It feels so nice to be anchored, even though a killer hurricane is headed our way. It’s been two years since we’ve been off that f#@%ing pier. Forgetting about the reality of our situation, swinging around on the hook feels as wonderful and free as always. Not exactly thrilled, however, to be notching up Hurricane Number 6 in the log.

     We got started an hour before the alarm went off at five.  Our first realization of the day: no navigation software loaded on the computer.  We reloaded our operating system since we last had to navigate.

     Kim spent an hour downloading and installing OpenCPN and updated NOAA charts and that got us feeling a little better. Still, we needed to get off the pier by noon and the clock was ticking. The wind was about to turn, threatening to put us in the bad position of being held against the pier.


     Despite all our efforts to get our shit together, the boat got more and more disorganized as things flew out of cabinets and cubby-holes. Organization is still at the end of our long list. Much of our needed gear was buried beneath projects or worse, buried in our storage unit where it has been tucked away for the last two years.

     Looking around, it just became apparent what we forgot to pull out of the stacks. As we flip through the forecasts and do our best to visualize the worst case situation, my mind paints me a picture. Our boat heaves over on its beam in the pounding surf of a dreaded lee shore. Seal the dorades! We need to seal the dorades!

     We have the ability to clamp down our aluminum boat as tight as a submarine – if we had our dorade seals. Damn-damn-damn-damn-damn! I curse to myself. I had them in my hand. They’re in our trailer. It’s probably of no consequence, however, considering that the rear Plexiglas hatch that goes over the big square hole where the air-conditioner and foam box are taped is still sitting in our storage unit. I looked right at it. The image is burned in my mind. Damn. If I could just hit rewind.

– – – * * * – – –

     We pulled our trailer and Jeep off the pier and left them in the shipyard before we cast our lines. They were more secure from the wind and surge there, but it certainly didn’t give us warm fuzzy feelings to think about how easy it would be for someone to break in and rifle through all our gear. Oh well. A minor consideration in the face of the storm.

     As we hustled back out to the boat, we were greeted by a lot of blank looks. What were we doing, people wanted to know. One of our friends called over pointing at a bollard and asked, “which one of you is the best at tying knots?” We stopped to help him out with his dock lines. “Should I stay here or go to a shelter?” He asked us. Shortly after, another friend went into a dissertation about what we – – him and us – – should be doing for self preservation. We gave him our best advice and told him what we were doing, but it was getting late. Decisions needed to be made yesterday. We wished him well and tried to keep moving. The clock was ticking.

Log – 10/7 2AM Engineless? for the storm?

     Just got cleaned up. So freaking tired. Between trying to film all of this and keep this boat floating, things have gone a bit unhinged. We’ve been moving nonstop since before the sun came up this morning. Who are we documenting our life for? I just put all our hard drives in the Pelican Box.

     We pulled anchor – without a windlass – first thing and edged our way in closer to shore with the lead-line. This was stressful because according to our chart we should have been on the bottom. Thankfully, the river level seems to be sufficiently up. We wanted to beat the heavy rains, so we focused on getting our solar panels down next. Halyards up. It was afternoon by the time we assembled our second anchor and rowed it out. Our intention was to back down on it really hard with the engine, but when we got to that step, we noticed that the engine wasn’t spitting any cooling water out of the exhaust.

     It was late in the day before we got started at taking the engine apart. It felt like we probably could have started the work earlier, but first we needed to get everything else straightened and stowed. The chore felt fruitless at first, considering all our spare pump impellers are in storage, but we did manage to pull a lose blade out of the pump exit. The rest of the blades were chewed up pretty bad, but not the worse we’ve seen. We didn’t have a fresh paper gasket on board either, so Kim scrubbed the pump down with lots of rubbing alcohol we found in the medicine kit and she massaged a thick coat of RTV on the outside of the case while I scrubbed the grease and rust out of my barnacle cuts. Crossing our fingers it’s going to work! I hate that pump.

Log(sporadic) – 10/7 WE’RE IN IT. It’s here.

     Raining hard. Got our “bucket work” done. Howling f#@%ing banshees!!! Put out more snubber and secured secondary snubber and chafe gear.

     Kim panicked. Thought the anchor line parted and made me go out in the rain. Anchor was fine, but since I was there, I considered tying a line around the vibrating furler. Seemed OCD, so I came back in.

     Ten minutes later, the bare furler pole was gyrating wildly. Went back out to tie some lines on it. Next time, I’m going to wrap a tight spiral of small line around it from top to bottom to break up the vortexes. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that, but the spiral I’ve wound around the mast for pumping is working wonders. So glad we decided to leave that up.

Log – 10/8 Saturday – The Wee Hours – The Eye Passes

     Just got up. It’s 12:30AM. I begged Kim to take watch at 11PM. I just couldn’t stay awake anymore. I also begged her to pay attention, even though she didn’t really need any more begging. We were both bent on coming through this last stretch unscathed. We’ve seen too much shit go wrong too many times in too many storms to start getting too proud. The wind readings were hitting the seventies as the eye passed closest. Thankfully, the eye has passed north. We keep waiting.

     We’ve been telling each other that we’re on the final stretch over and over since about 7PM. We’ve taken turns laying on the floor promising the cat the same. Now it’s Saturday and hundreds of promises have been broken. Allie is seriously pissed. She won’t even look at me.

     As I visualize our position in the storm, my brain feeds me visions of that giant swirling red eye on the surface of Jupiter. Now we have the same thing on Earth. We’ve watched its birth in flaming reds, oranges and yellows on our glowing “smart” phone over and over. The fucker will swirl on for all eternity. I’m so damn tired, but this storm will just keep spinning and spinning and spinning and spinning. Next week, next month, next year. We’ll just be anchored here – bouncing and thrashing in its merciless red arms.

     I can’t help thinking about the catamaran that disappeared behind us. We watched helplessly as he made a call on the radio to inform our friends downwind of him that his anchors had just busted free. We listened in on the VHF as he declared in a state of exhaustion that he was, “ready to give this boat away.” Hours earlier he had been motoring up on his anchors to take strain off the lines and managed to wrap one of them around his propeller leaving him hung up sideways to the steadily building storm force winds.

     Our friend wished him luck. Kim and I stood squeezed side by side on the companionway ladder with our heads poked out into the darkness and howling rain. We watched his mast-top anchor light steadily shrink down toward the horizon as he dragged past the rest of the boats, and out towards the center of the Shands Bridge.

     We grit our teeth. The bridge – straight downwind of us – is too short for our boat to clear. It was like watching a dream tumble into the abyss. We hoped our anchors would keep holding.

Log – 2AM Saturday

     The thrashing has died off significantly. There are still strong gusts, but the steady winds have lightened, the swell wrapping around the point has eased considerably. Thank God, because before that we only had the broken promise of an approaching calm while congregations of shrieking banshees laid us over this way and that.

     The last procession of white wraiths screaming across the surface of the water has also ended. The rain has let up and the clouds are lit from below with a wonderful orange sodium glow. It’s feeling good, but now both of us are wide awake. Downing that cup of 18-hour soaked cold brew coffee that was still sitting on the engine at midnight probably didn’t help.

     A surreal series of neon aqua explosions have been lighting up the sky just beyond the trees. Nearby transformers exploding? It’s reminiscent of when we were anchored in a creek for hurricane Irene and it flooded seventeen feet and breeched the damn. The explosions are silhouetting the trees. To us, the consequences are distant and imaginary. We want MORE EXPLOSIONS!!!

     Again, Kim and I take turns hanging on the companionway ladder, mesmerized by the spectacle. Between the zooming orange clouds and the struggle on the surface, my mind doesn’t want to shut down.

– – – * * * – – –

     Finally I had no choice. I laid back, my hand still clinging to the trigger of my Zoom H4n recorder. Aimed skyward at the howling banshees, I fell back into unconsciousness. The howling persisted.

– – – * * * – – –

Saturday Morning

     In the last two years, it’s hard to think of a time where we’ve felt this wonderful. The other boats have all pulled anchor. The skies are blue. The water is glassy smooth and a cool breeze is blowing through the hatches.

     We’re all alone swinging on the hook. Once again, at home in our own little Bay of Tranquility.

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