Six years ago I was living on my sailboat in the Abacos, Bahamas when Hurricane Jeanne decided to pay a visit. I'd never been through a hurricane before and I'll admit this girl from Kansas where tornadoes wreak their havoc usually in the middle of the night with little advance warning, held some disdain for a storm that announced its arrival well in advance. One of the first questions you encounter when you decide to live on a boat is "What are you going to do if you find yourself in a hurricane?" so you read everything you can get your hands on about the subject in the hopes that you'll never have to use that knowledge but there I was with a hurricane bearing down so now it was time to put the disaster plan in action. We were in Marsh Harbour at the time, at a little marina called the Port of Call. Jeanne was still about a week out and in all probability would veer from its expected path and miss us all together. There was a big party planned at a deserted beach on another island that everyone, and I mean everyone, was going to. For a change the cap'n and I decided to listen to our heads instead of our livers and decided to skip the party. You see, we weren't supposed to be in the Abacos still, we were supposed to have been long gone from that chain of islands. We were supposed to be clear down in Venezuela waiting out hurricane season somewhere south of latitude 12. Alas the tides of friends and parties had kept our docklines tied firmly to the Abacos and now we found ourselves without a prearranged hurricane hole to "hole-up" in. We knew we didn't want to stay at the dock, we'd seen enough videos of marinas during a hurricane on the weather channel and we didn't trust the holding well enough to anchor in "Mushy Harbour." Luckily, we managed to score the last mooring ball available in Hope Town on Elbow Cay and instead of putting off the inevitable for one more day (or two or three depending on the severity of our hangovers) we skipped the party and started making our boat hurricane ready. We used the information we'd gleaned from years of reading about the upcoming momentous event and more importantly we listened to others that had been through hurricanes before. We moved the boat to the safer harbor of Hope Town while all of our friends were moving theirs to Man-Of-War cay which was considered to be safer. We had waited too long to secure a place over there. We took all of the sails down and stowed everything that was possible down below. If it could move, it was tied down, if it could chafe, it was wrapped. With Jeanne still a couple of days out, we found ourselves sitting in our bare cockpit with nothing left to do but worry while all of our friends were still scurrying around moving their boats and making ready. We watched as self-appointed harbour masters shoo'd late-comers desperately seeking shelter from the storm back out of the harbour entrance, only a handful of boats were allowed into Hope Town and we were lucky to be one of them. We finally accepted that there was nothing more we could do and what would happen would happen and decided to take the ferry back over to Marsh Harbour and our friend's house where we would be staying even if it was two days before Jeanne was supposed to arrive on the scene. That decision was just another lucky happenstance since the ferries which had been assuring everybody that they would be running the next day, all of a sudden had the keen insight that maybe they out to secure their own boats, and announced the next morning that they would not be running after all trapping people on whatever cay they happened to be on.
I won't go into the details of the hurricane itself because I've already been long-winded enough and I've already told you in an earlier blog about the plight of five alcoholics stuck in a house during a four day hurricane and the desperate measures they take when the booze runs out. Envision "Lord of the Flies." But there were lessons which that bitch Jeanne taught me that have helped me weather other storms including the storm that alcohol and I have brewed up together. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Find a safe harbour. One where the holding is good and you are protected from the brunt of the storm. No matter how rough that safe harbour gets, no matter how much it tosses you around and leaves you sick and feeling like you might die, don't sail back into the storm. Ride it out. The storm will eventually pass over your harbour but if you cast your lot with the storm you can't know how far she will carry you from safety or to what depths she will drive you.
2. Surround yourself with people that are concerned for your safety and will help do whatever is required to help you get secure because they know that if you are not secure, you could break loose in the storm and drag into them, doing damage that could cause them to sink or lose their own safe holding causing both of you and whoever is in your path to end up broke and battered on the rocks. Don't let other boats that could be a threat to you in your safe harbour.
3. Listen to the advice of the people that have weathered storms before. You may receive different and even conflicting advice but listen and discern which advice is applicable to your situation and your "boat" and then apply it. It's great to read and listen but it only works if you do the work. All of it. No skimping and no half measures allowed, because the storm will find any hint of weakness you have left unprotected and that's where she'll take her opportunity to destroy everything you've tried so hard to fortify.
4. Use every lifeline you have, even if it's a little frayed.
5. Stow or get rid of anything that could become a missile and cause a hole or do damage to your "boat".
6. The friends that stick with you through the storm will be there afterwards to help you clean up and will be there to guide you away from or see you through future storms.
7. When the storm has passed, stick your head out and assess what damage it has wrought and then get off your ass and start cleaning up and rebuilding. Find the weak spots and make them stronger so they can withstand the next storm, if it comes. Don't wait for someone to do the work for you, your friends are there to help but it's your boat and it's up to you to make it seaworthy again.
Our boat made it through the storm with no damage and was as dry as a bone inside. Although it did look like someone had picked her up and shook her real good and not everything I though was stowed securely was.The Port of Call Marina that we were docked at before the storm was destroyed. Several of the boats that crowded into Man-O-War dragged and did damage to each other. A couple of weeks later, Hurricane Frances was hovering on the scene and while the weather forecasters said she was not going to be a threat, we were skeptical so we kept everything stowed and tied and sure enough she swept in. Once again the boat did fine but I learned another lesson.
8. There are always more storms on the horizons, you have to watch out for them and keep your defenses in place.
So today I'm out there doing my best to check my defenses for signs of fatigue and sending out my karmic lifelines to my friends in the Abacos even if some of them are a little frayed.