Every morning, Alison and I take an hour to chat, have breakfast and strategize about work. Between 0430 and 0530 is our only real time to just spend time with each other. To catch up over a cup of coffee and the occasional bowl of hot oatmeal. We lay out the previous day’s events and daily teacher struggles. Our plans, sound bites and what if moments are replayed and relayed across the mahogany salon table until Eleanor sits up and announces from her berth “Good Morning!” or “Hey guys! What are you doing?” Of course, there is the occasional yell from astern “I’m HUNGRY!” Then the long day begins.
Among our daily topics is the weather. An aspect of nature that we have zero control over but has total control over how we live our lives. Most mornings, after we have our daily SNAFU CONFAB, we take a few minutes to scan the various weather models that are available to us. Weather models that we plan offshore passages with and have come to know and rely on; giving us to the ability to predict the tracks of low-pressure systems well before the standard weatherman starts relaying information.
Hurricane Flo grew, matured and strengthened at sea where we could watch. Flo gave us time to plan, time to prepare as she grew, ultimately moving ashore with winds over 130 miles per hour to cause catastrophic damage in the Carolinas.
Mike, on the other hand, grew up overnight just south of Cuba and had a 20% chance of forming into a hurricane. Few expected the latest storm to be much of anything, let alone punish the Florida panhandle as a dangerous category 4 hurricane; closer to a Cat 5 clocking winds more than 155 miles per hour.
On Sunday, October 7th, we saw the European models and knew that Mike would grow into a hurricane, then rapidly intensify. We saw that the GFS 22km and the ECMWF 9km nearly agreed on track, speed, and strength. We saw that our area would be affected by strong gale conditions. But, what we didn’t see was any real local discussion of the impending weather event. It wasn’t until late afternoon on Wednesday that the local JB weather guru with 22,000 likes posted about potential impacts to our area.
Thursday morning SOMDWXNEWS posted that we would have a busy weather day with the remnants of Michael moving through the area with “…a lot of rain…” Later in their post, they said that “Winds North at 10 to 20 MPH. 2-3 inches of rain possible.” After reading the SOMDWXNEWS post, my wife and I agreed that the local sources missed the mark, thinking back almost ten years to when we lost a car during an un-forecasted high wind, high water event. By late Wednesday, the trusted NAM 5k model showed impending Strong Gale conditions, bordering on Storm force with high winds, and soaking rain. Yet it was business as usual even after NOAA began lighting up the region with warnings.
By late Tuesday, many of the G dock citizens doubled lines, secured loose items, and added fenders expecting a hard northerly. We lashed the dinghy (AKA the Jack Burton Pork Chop Express) to the deck, removed our canvass and added several heavy duty dock lines capable of absorbing jarring loads from frequent high gusts.
Thursday arrived with its usual weight of a weeks’ worth of exhaustion but included the bonus of a horrific sore throat and a pounding headache. I spent my last hour at work making Friday sub plans and bugged out to pick up Eleanor.
At home, we rigged for sea conditions, settled in with Netflix and a large pot of chili. Every so often, I checked the radar as the rapid-fire lighting bursts lit our port lights. As shown on the radar, large swaths of wide yellow rain bands slid into our area as the wind increased from a low pitched moan to a constant howl through the rigging. Caprica leaned hard to port as the deck was raked by the rain. With a slight lull in the wind, Caprica stood tall, centered over her keel then was again pushed hard over in her slip by a powerful gust. The new dock lines creaked and pulled taut against the pilings. The fresh three strand line immediately began cutting through the treated wood and the doubled chafe gear.
Again, Caprica leaned hard over against her lines and into the fenders. Eleanor moved into the forward head to brush her teeth as we set out her pajamas. I popped my head out of the companionway hatch and was instantly power washed. Half choking and half gasping, I slammed the companionway shut and asked myself “What was I thinking?”
The wind continued to build to over 40 knots with the occasional blast to the low 50’s. We were warm, safe and dry inside of Caprica. Confident in her strength, construction, and our equipment; I flipped on the nighttime red salon lights.
“The shore power is out,” Alison spoke softly standing at the navigation table and peering at the electrical panel. “It’s going to be a long night for a lot of people,” I said enjoying the warmth and comfort of our soft red interior lights and the gentle hum of the fans. The main system on the boat that runs on shore power is the air conditioner, but we anticipated losing power and cranked the temperature down to arctic. Caprica was quiet and comfortable as the gale erupted outside to storm conditions.
I settled into our bed feeling the familiar underway motion of Caprica, but while we were in the slip. “It’s just like being offshore,” I said to Alison as the boat leaned into her fenders again.
“Yeah.” Accustomed to the noise and motion of a Gulf of Maine passage, we were quickly asleep.
The 0430 alarm was suddenly blaring, and we were on autopilot with coffee quickly made.
As daylight filled the creek, we walked the Republic of G dock assessing the damage. Caprica was unscathed, but several other boats wore the scars of a night chewing the docks apart or laying against a piling. Our neighbor parted a bowline rated for 16,000 pounds, but the secondary held. Unlike what we saw at the Annapolis boat show, the boats at the Republic were built tough for sea and can withstand heavy conditions and damage.
The Facebook feed was full of friends without power, trees through houses, flooded roads and a two-hour delay at school.
The damage was minimal at the Republic, and by the gauge of experience, it was an easy night for us. Many in our area were not so fortunate with damaged homes, but it takes one quick google search for Mexico Beach Florida to remind ourselves of what we take for granted.