On September 22, 2016, a tropical wave formed somewhere off the west coast of Africa.
Over the next few days, this unassuming wave quickly developed into a formidable tropical storm.
By September 30, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported that the storm was now the most powerful hurricane in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007.
That's when Hurricane Matthew first caught my attention!
I've been in Florida for just over 8 years now and consider myself pretty lucky for not having experienced a hurricane yet. While, I have grappled with several tropical storms which, are still very dangerous, they cannot compare to the devastating potential that comes with a major hurricane. I guess my luck was about to change...
Hurricane Matthew was quickly gaining notoriety due to his increasing mass and speed. Newscasts, along with social media were providing warnings and updates regularly. Even though, it was still too early to know the storm's exact path, predictions started flying off the shelves, almost as fast as batteries and bottled water. There was a sense of quiet panic in the air and it was growing louder by the minute.
Over the next few days, Matthew barreled his way through the Caribbean leaving devastation and destruction in his wake. Haiti was hit the hardest, with respect to loss of life and news reports were estimating death tolls in the hundreds, possibly more.
Once the storm moved past the Bahamas, it started on a north-west course. When I looked at the forecasted path, it seemed as though Matthew was headed right for my front door!
Preparations went smoother than expected. Grocery store shelves were emptying fast but I was still able to pick up all of the necessities. In fact, beer and wine were on sale, while the price of water rose steadily. Go figure!
All of my windows already had fixed hurricane protection so I just needed to cover a few paned-glass doors.
The garage door made me a little nervous because it's not a hurricane rated door and could potentially blow in during the storm. I grabbed some scraps of lumber that I had laying around and threw a quick A-frame together, hoping that it would provide additional support.
I wasn't sure if it would work but it made me feel a little better. It looked cool too.
The hardest part of the preparation was breaking the news to my First Mate Daisy.
I explained, that a major storm was on the way and we would have to cancel her mid-day swim because there was still a lot of work to be done.
While, she tried her best to conceal her emotions, the concern was written all over her face.
There was one final task that had to be completed and the outcome of that effort was anyone's guess.
I had to secure my little sailboat...
As many of you already know, my sailboat has been sitting on blocks in my front yard for quite some time, undergoing restoration. If you read my post, "Carina", then you may remember that I had to remove and repair the keel because it was in such bad shape. Well, even though, I completed the repair, I haven't re-installed it yet. Re-attaching the keel is one of the final steps of the project since, the hull would need to be painted and I'm just not at that stage yet.
Although, the boat has been on blocks for months now, without incident, this was a bit of a different situation. The absence of the keel's weight (500lbs) is a major concern during hurricane force winds and I didn't want to wake up after the storm and find the boat overturned in my neighbor's yard.
Yes, that was a very real possibility at this point.
There wasn't enough time to re-attach the keel or put the boat back on the trailer so, I would have to figure out a way to secure her in place.
I started thinking about all the boats that endure storms while they are still on the water. Some make it and some don't, but those that do make it are usually the ones that are relocated to a sheltered cove and anchored at several different positions. This is done to mitigate the impact of extreme winds and high waves.
Well, the only way for me to shelter the boat at this point would be to bring the her inside. I thought about that for a brief moment but knew that she would never fit through my front door. I guess a sheltered cove was not one of my options.
I did have an anchor however!
Once again, it seemed like a good idea at the moment but I quickly realized that a 5 lb anchor was not going to be the answer to my problems.
Instead, I went to the hardware store and picked up several augers, which are also referred to as "Earth Anchors".
This just might do the trick!
On the night before the storm I was on my knees in a gravel driveway driving anchors into the ground. Some of my neighbors thought I was praying that my sailboat wouldn't blow away- maybe I was a little...
I took some dock lines and secured them to the cleats, just as you would if you were out on the water.
I was also able to tie down to the trailer and keel for additional anchor points.
Thursday morning October 6, 2016- The calm before the storm...
I woke early the next day and double checked everything I had done the day before. I was feeling pretty positive despite all of the dire newscasts and warnings.
I went outside to check the lines on the boat and found myself waving goodbye to several of my neighbors who were heeding the Governor's call for evacuation.
With a cup of coffee in hand and messy hair, I looked down at Daisy and reassured her that Matthew was no match for us... She looked back at me with confidence, then tugged in the direction of the fleeing cars.
She must have seen a squirrel or something...
By mid-afternoon the winds picked up and the rain started falling. I gazed at the dark dreary sky and noticed that the sun had held out until the very last moments. I watched quietly, as it slowly faded away, almost as if it were also seeking shelter from the storm...
Later that afternoon, I walked down to the water to evaluate the current conditions.
Matthew was here!
The seas were rising and the docks were nearly submerged at this point...
It was time to head back and hunker down for the duration of the storm.
The next few hours didn't seem so bad. It was still light out and I could see the trees swaying in the wind. The rains were moderate to heavy but nothing unmanageable. There were no signs of barns or cattle flying off into the sky so I decided to kick back, have a few beers and simply, ride out the storm.
Conditions started to deteriorate around 8 PM. I could no longer see anything outside but I could tell it was getting worse by the intensifying sounds of wind and rain. Daisy was pacing anxiously and I was monitoring the newscasts.
I lost power somewhere around 10:00 PM so I could no longer depend on the news or social media for storm updates. My cell phone was practically useless because I do not get a clear signal in the house and there was no way I was going to step outside for a few extra bars... My only source of information at this point, were the ominous sounds of howling wind, torrential rain, and debris crashing in the darkness. Now, I started pacing anxiously...
I tried to get some rest but slept with one eye open. I woke around 11:00 PM and decided to walk around the house to make sure everything was still in one piece. I grabbed my flashlight and headed towards the kitchen. I noticed a small blue blinking light where the stove sits. I turned off the flashlight just to make sure I wasn't seeing things and the light continued to blink!
It was the clock on the stove! I couldn't understand how this was possible, knowing that the power was out and the rest of the house was pitch black?
Apparently, a portion of the electricity was still on and the outlet for the stove was actually working. It was a stroke of luck and i wasn't about to question it further. I made a mad dash to collect every extension cord I could find.
Six cords later, my router and modem were connected and I was back online watching the latest storm updates!
At 11:15 PM, the news reported that the storm continued to wreak havoc with sustained winds of 130 mph. However, the eye remained approximately 65 miles offshore so we were only experiencing winds around 50-60 mph. Still very strong but not as severe as what was looming just offshore.
This was really good news! If the storm maintained this distance from shore for the rest of the night, we would only be impacted by tropical storm force winds as opposed to Category 4 Hurricane force winds.
Once again, I tried to get some rest but that just wasn't going to happen. Over the next 45 minutes the gut wrenching sounds grew louder in the darkness. It seemed as though the winds had increased and the crashing of debris was becoming more frequent. I convinced myself that it was just my imagination right up to the moment that I read the following National Hurricane Center update:
"Update, 12 AM: Hurricane Matthew is continuing to move closer to the Florida coastline and is now 60 miles east southeast of Fort Pierce, The storm has winds of 130 mph and is moving northwest at 13 mph, there was also a reported gust of 71 mph in Jensen"
That's when I lost the last bit of power!
Matthew did not want me anticipating his every move, so he severed my last link to the outside world. For the rest of the night I would have to rely on my own instincts and hope for the best...
By first light, the rains had subsided and the winds were diminishing. I knew Matthew was gone but still unsure as to the damage he may have left behind. Daisy and I were OK though, so it was time to go assess the situation.
Now, I know that at this point in the story you would probably like to know whether or not the sailboat made it through the night. Trust me the suspense was killing me too- but who doesn't like a little suspense? I'll save this part for the end...
Meanwhile, power was still out and I had no running water since the well pump runs on electric.
I did not have a generator so electricity was out of the question. However, I was prepared for the running water dilemma! Sort of...
What? It's water and it was running... I was fine with that.
It was time to venture out in hopes of finding a hot cup of coffee. I assumed there had to be a fast-food place or convenience store that would be operating on a backup generator... Wishful thinking!
During my quest for hot coffee I was surprised to see how many cars were actually on the road. Especially, since none of the street lights were working, which made for an interesting driving experience.
I got lucky though! Instead of sitting at each intersection staring at the confused driver across from me trying to figure out who had the right of way, I decided to get in line behind these guys...
There's no doubt that they were up all night also and desperately searching for hot coffee too! The best part is that everyone yielded the right of way to the Hurricane Research caravan which, I was now happy to be a part of.
I eventually separated from the caravan because we just weren't finding any coffee.
While, I'm sure they are experts at chasing storms, I soon realized that they seriously had no coffee chasing skills.
In the end, I didn't have much luck on my own either. No matter how many places I tried, no one was open for business.
While, I'm not the type to quit so easily, I finally gave up my quest after I pulled into this McDonalds drive-through...
OK, Coffee was not in the stars today... Let's go back and check on our little sailboat.
It was a triumphant sight! All the lines held through the storm and she had not shifted so much as an inch on the blocks!
Battered but not broken, this little boat stood before me like a brave warrior victorious after a ferocious battle! She endured a punishing storm but held the night, with strength, determination, and dauntless conviction that she was destined, to one day sail again....
Message from The Curious Sailor:
Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it!
Obviously, I was lucky enough to be in an area that experienced conditions far less severe than many of the other areas along the storm's path. In fact, the biggest impact in my case was merely the inconvenience of having to wait a few days for the utilities to be restored, which by comparison, is no impact at all...
Unfortunately, others were not as lucky and I don't want to lose sight of that in this genial telling of my personal experience!
Hurricane Matthew will go on record as one of the deadliest storms having already claimed more than 1000 lives-almost all being reported in Haiti...
My thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies remain with the victims and their families during these difficult times...
The following link contains information on how to help those who were not as fortunate: