TS (might as well say Hurricane) Gabrielle. September, 2001.
We were tied up on the Florida side of Ft. Myers Beach. I got tired of watching the September 11th stuff and started watching a TS in the gulf heading for Texas. I much prefer the NOAA write-ups over the junk the Weather Channel puts out (who were still calling the storm to hit Texas). There seemed to be a concern that the High building up North might swing the storm east. THat was all.
We decided to cancel our passage, just out of precaution. Nothing more was said about it.
The next morning I watched it closer on the radar. It seemed to be tracking north, then northeast. I realized the High was building and that the storm would likely start heading toward Fl. By that evening, it had made a 180 and was now on a B-Line for us.
I stopped by West Marine to double/triple our fenders, lines etc. I WAS THE ONLY ONE THERE!!!! THE BLOODY STORE WAS EMPTY!!!!! "Huh? What Hurricane?" was the response.
That night I doubled up all of the lines, fenders, started taking down windage. The next afternoon, it was chaos. Everyone was frantically trying to get supplies (you can forget it 24 hours before a hurricane... let me tell you) and find a place to tie up their boat. I wanted to move my boat inside where I could have pilings around me, but the owner refused as he was using it for a staging ground for other boats to get them off the water and secured (he ran a rental). He told me the storm would not be in until late the next day and he would move me the next morning. In fact the storm was forecast to start hitting us around 1-2 pm that next day... but I was watching the High build and I thought we had a good chance for it to accelerate.
Accelerate it did.
It struck us at about 1130 pm THAT night. There is no moving or doing anything at that point. You just weather it out. We never planned on staying on the boat, but got stuck there because they shut the bridges down at 35 sustained. You are stuck on the island. Then the surge started to come in and the entire island was under water. At that point, best just stay on your boat and hope you prepped everything and hope it holds.
The old adage that there is nothing you can do once a storm strikes is true and not true. THere are some things you can do. You can raise your lines (or lower, depending on the what the water does). You can do things to guard for chafe. You can change fenders (assuming you are tied up to a dock). However, once it starts really gusting, you can't even stand up... especailly on a rocking boat. And, worst of all, you are stuck there. You are NOT getting off.
The worst part was about 2 or 3 in the morning when the alerts were going off on the VHF. Tornadoes were tracking and forming around us (yes, for those who do not know, you get a LOT of tornadoes in hurricanes). One had formed just off the coast beside us and was tracked to move very close to us. That was the worst part of the whole storm... not knowing if we were going to get hit by a tornado on top of everything else. Turns out it stayed just offshore and moved across the cape. Lucky us.
Why am I recounting all of this? Well, for lessons learned:
1) DO NOT TRUST THE WEATHER FORECASTS FOR HURRICANES, TS, OR TD'S. I lived through Gabrielle, Charlie, Jean, Francis, and got scratched by Ivan. I am not sure they called any of them right... especailly Charlie and Gabrielle. Nothing against forecasters and forecasts, but they are rarely very accurate. That inaccuracy, indirectly, took over 25 lives in Charlie and put me and my family on the boat through Gabrielle. Learn to read forecasts and learn how they work. CHart storms and watch how highs and low track and what they do. I am not expert... but funny how a few hurricanes will give you a "crash course" in meteorology.
2) IT IS JUST A BOAT. There is nothing worse than riding out a hurricane on a boat that I have experienced. Nothing. It is not worth it. Get off, and get off early.
3) HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE BEFOREHAND FOR WHERE YOU WILL WEATHER A HURRICANE. Sounds simple, and I guess that figures into the 'duh' factor. Everyone says they SHOULD do it... but hardly anyone DOES do it. The only thing worse than weathering a hurricane out in your house or boat is weathering it in your car in the middle of the worst traffic jam immagineable.
4) CHECK THE LOCAL CODES FOR BRIDGES. They shut down most of Fl at 35 sustained. By then, you are staying whether you want to or not.
5) HAVE ALL OF YOUR FOUL WEATHER SUPPLIES ON HAND, EARLY. What once was scoffed at by S Floridians is now common practice. I bet the majority of houses have extra flashlights, batteries, canned goods, bottled water, gas/diesel, LOTS OF BUG SPRAY, and typically a generator and cooking source. The boat should have all of that plus the lines, etc to make the boat safe. Here is a little word of warning when the big ones come: you cannot get out money or use credit cards (no electricity), you cannot get gas or diesel (no elec), you cannot get any groceries (and could not buy them if you could), no refrigeration, cooking, sewer (yes, no sewer), water, and a thousand other things you take for granted. Imagine being dropped into a swamp in LA... that is what it is like for weeks. Don't count on the government to save your butt - that is a joke (and I do not think it is their responsibility... but that is another story). You better have a lot of cash and a lot of supplies or you will be miserable or dead.
After Charlie, I remember waiting in line at the grocery store (several days later) for them to open. They finally got a generator and had limited power. There still was no gas and they could not take credit cards. There was a young girl holding a crying baby. SHe was maybe 20-21, crying in front of the doors, saying, "I ran out of Infamil and my baby hasn't eaten in a day or two... does anyone have any forumla, please..." Broke my heart man, I actually teared up. Don't get caught like that. Especailly in a boat, don't get caught like that and listen to a little bit of reason that I have put above. It might just save your life and that of your families.
You cannot imagine the power of those storms and the damage they will do until you have been through one first hand.
Well said...a great post that I thought should be one that gets bumped this time of year..
Note to Mod......Feel free to move this post to appropriate thread/forum