It began at 1:36 in the morning with a rush of heavy air pushing Caprica hard to starboard. The stillness of the boat was broken by the screaming roar of the wind through our 50 feet or rigging. In that fleeting moment of consciousness, I thought “This is just a taste,” and drifted back to sleep knowing that we were prepared and that the real weather was still 20 hours away.
Flash forward through those 20 hours of steadily building wind and ultra-low tides to a moment where an incredible BANG echoed through our hull. The violence of the bang outstripped the jet engine like blast of 60-knot gusts through the rig and the 15-degree heel to starboard. It was one of those noises that instantly told us that something substantial had failed.
Moments later I was through the companionway and low crawling forward on the port deck. Caprica lifted and strained against her dock lines in the slip as the white water swirled against her bow. Our neighbor’s 46-foot boat Tire Swing heeled hard over and shot forward. Her spring lines groaned and popped against the considerable tension as the yacht bucked. I turned my head away from the salt spray and looked up with the high power headlamp and watched our masts in unison sway, but still perilously close.
I was amidships checking the port breast line and the oversized cleat. When we heard the bang, I initially thought that we parted the immense amidships horn cleat or that we lost a line, but everything checked out. Had we sheered a thumb thick stainless steel bolt? Then I wondered if Caprica’s mast had met Tire Swing’s in a jousting match. All options were bad.
I hunkered down as another gust lifted Caprica before I shimmied back into the cockpit. The last time I had done anything like that was well offshore of New England, at night under similar circumstances to deal with a problem. Even then I was harnessed in.
In the cockpit, I watched another headlamp through the darkness. The disembodied light swiveled, ducked and lifted as it moved forward and aft. It was He-Man aboard the 44-foot steel sailboat Fire Fly checking and adjusting lines. Fire Fly is further down G dock, and more exposed to heavy weather. That being said, Fire Fly is an expedition style boat capable of Antarctic sailing. In conditions that would break Caprica apart, Fire Fly wouldn’t even notice. The disembodied headlamp began to approach, and it was time for a late night chat. We met at the dock in front of Tire Swing and gave our own SIT REP’s offering assistance if necessary promising to leave the VHF’s on 68 if we needed to get through. The bitter wind ended our CONFAB prematurely, and we were off to continue the chore list. Moments later He-Man called for me. His tone was urgent, full of command presence.
A new arrival to the Republic of G dock had parted her starboard bow line, and the boat was chewing into the dock. I fished the parted 3/8 inch dock line with a breaking load of just under 3,800 pounds out of the 40-degree water and realized the violent bang that we heard in Caprica was the dock line of a boat several slips away parting. I was relieved, but then He-Man said: “We have to help this guy.” Bracing against the ever-maddening wind, I looked at the center cockpit boat slamming into the dock, riding up and down with every wave and exhaled. He-Man was right of course. If you could fix it, you did. That was part of the sailor’s code. You help when possible. Without hesitating, He-Man ninja jumped Olympic style onto the heaving and pitching deck. We assessed the situation, and he handed me the other end of the parted dock line. I tied the three stand line around a piling, and He-Man emitted a cave man guttural grunt, pulling the bow off of the pier hand over hand. I moved amidships and pushed against the rail until my legs screamed at me. We were fighting the wind, waves and the 15,000-pound boat. This is how people get hurt, I thought.
Our preparation for this storm started a few days before anyone was talking about it. We were caught off guard once by a weather event, and I promised that would never happen again. We were anchored in a small cove within Cuttyhunk Island. One of the most beautiful places that we have ever seen, we wondered why the small anchorage was filling with large cursing boats and tiny weekenders alike. Over the next 30 hours, we rode out a gale at anchor with too little chain out. It turns out; it was just enough. We sat safely as other sailboats experienced gear failure or their anchors slipped, and they dragged across the harbor to end up hard aground.
I check the weather religiously and analyze the three major weather models (NAM, ECMWF, and GFS) constantly. We don’t often rely on newscasters to tell us what they think. It’s the same data. I just don’t get paid. We’ve been through these weather events before, and it follows a typical pattern. Lots of wind, followed by extreme low tides as the weather forces the water out of the Chesapeake Bay. We rig multiple lines, add fuel, water and prep major systems as if we are heading out for an extended cruise. The last thing is to tighten lines, secure the dingy, sails and stow additional canvas.
Living aboard means that sometimes we have to deal with inconvenience, but the tradeoff is that we are consistently connected to the physical world. Every day, we witness the beauty and power of nature. Whether it is a storm at sea or a simple sunset we marvel at the world around us. We lost that connection in our house, and it hurt.
We are blessed in many ways. We have family, framily and great friends all who reach out to us during heavy weather events to offer us a place to stay. We thank them and offer the same. Caprica always has heat, electricity and running water. She is a 20,000-pound survival pod built for grueling conditions. As the boat was heeling hard starboard with winds sustained in the 40’s and gusting to the 50’s, we reminisced our epic sail from Block Island to Cape May last summer. We were close hauled with a heavily reefed mainsail and running a working jib forward. We had sailed through the night under gale conditions and hove to during a line of violent storms. We dodged a few freighters and fishing trawlers as we continued south as the wind picked up, gusting to 50. It was an exhilarating sail and reminded us why we live this way.