Tuesday, April 19, 2011

If That's All There Is My Friends Then Let's Keep Dancing,

2011 04 19Ga
Elizabeth City, NC or VA or whatever.  I never get it right.

Twenty Two dead.  Ten miles north of us a bridge destroyed.  Ten miles south of us two docks with boats still tied to them torn away from their marina and reported  by the Coast Guard as a hazard to navigation.  Tornadoes and water spouts all around us.

Two miles East of us a continuous emergency broadcast urged all boats to find someplace safe because hell was about to be unleashed on coastal waters.  No time wasted with Gale warnings or small craft advisories.  Just "Get to a safe haven.  NOW."  The Coast Guard are on edge.

Having been well forecast we chose, on the day of the storm, to remain in our anchorage at Mile Hammock Bay, North Carolina, just south of the Camp Lejeune artillery practice range.  Our anchorage was jammed, full of boats seeking refuge from what became one mother of a storm.

Wind at 30 knots blew steady from about 2:00 p.m. As light faded to dark the wind increased  to 35.  There was just enough light at 8 p.m. for us to see the towering cumulous on the horizon making their leisurely North Carolina way right for the anchorage.  By 8:30 light was not in short supply as the thundercells were over us producing virtually nonstop lightning.  Odd colour though - orange and pink and tangerine colours not the stark yellow of Ontario lightning.

Before the thundercell makes contact with our little group the boat ahead of us, a small Catalina out of Quecbec crewed by an elderly couple, tore loose from the bottom  and, freed of its constraints and urged on by 35 knot winds found itself roaring right for us.  

The Budget Committee rushed forward to do what she could, her actions aped by the old man onboard the delinquent vessel.  Somehow Catalina wife got the diesel going, or more likely had it running the whole time, and tried to power her little craft out of our path.  

It almost worked.  The BC and the old man fended off the stern of the Catalina from Meredith with boat hooks and adrenaline.  

I remained at the wheel, engine running as it had been for twenty minutes, doing the little I could do to manoeuver our well anchored boat out of the way of the rampaging Catalina and more importantly planning tactics in the event, all the more likely now, that our anchor would be torn out of the bottom by the force of impact with the errant Catalina. 

The desperate measures invoked on both boats resulted in only a couple of mild taps on our hull.  We shrugged as the Quebec couple drifted by.  No harm no foul.

The Catalina reset its anchor and dragged again.  Twenty minutes later it dragged a third time.  The old couple moved to a different part of the anchorage seeking stronger dirt into which they could dig their anchor.

We sat in the cockpit of "Meredith the Erstwhile" listening to the mounting number of emergency Coast Guard broadcasts on the VHF.  The reports of damaged and warnings to people too stupid to come in out of the rain were as numerous as the thunderclaps. 

Thundercells brought wind - sustained 40 knots for almost an hour.   Even Meredith was smart enough to bow to the force of this wind and we frequently found ourselves heeled 20 degrees in the wind pushed by the bow sideways to our rode.  

By storm's end another boat, which we dubbed the "Virginia Wolf" (Edward Albee fans will know why) had broken loose of its tether and, in a flurry of angry recriminations expressed at full  volume, the husband and wife team motored into the storm rather than reseting their anchor.  

This tactic did not work and one by one each of the boats in the anchorage turned on all available lights so the Virginia Wolf, a loose cannon in a tight anchorage would be able to see where the obstacles were.  Finally, its crew blaming each other at full volume for a series of personal defects which apparently resulted in their boat breaking loose, the boat decided to anchor in very shallow water.  The rest of us turned our lights off.

Funniest was the declaration by one self righteous prig that his radar showed the storm was past and we could all relax.  As he removed his thumb from the mic key the heavens opened and two feet of water (or so it seemed) dropped in a solid mass on the whole anchorage.  Following the water came renewed wind.  Atmospheric rage continued for another 20 minutes.

And then it was over.  Near instant calm.  No wind. 

Well, it felt like no wind.  The anemometer saidwas still reading 25 knots but it sure felt calm to us.

Next day the toll exacted by the storm continued.  Embarassed by events the two boats which broke loose left the anchorage almost before first light.  Neither has been seen or heard from since.  

Two other boats which left the anchorage just after us ran themselves aground in open water.  Both needed tows.  Both headed immediately for marinas after being rescued by BoatUS and Towboat.  

Six other boats just sat in Mile Hammock and went nowhere.

We have been bone tired since we left.

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