Hurricane Ramblings

Rob Temple
Friday morning at the Windfall II
Friday morning at the Windfall II

Capt. Rob reports on the hurricane from the safety of "evacucation."

I don’t know about the rest of the Ocracoke residents, but I always have trouble not taking it personally when the first major storm of an Atlantic hurricane season starts making a beeline right toward me like it’s got my name and address!  I’ve been known to advise friends if they want to avoid hurricanes they should just find out where I am and go somewhere else. 

Used to be when I spent summers in the Bahamas back in the early 90’s the hurricanes would leave Ocracoke alone and come smack me around down there.  In fact, one of those years, after I’d bought a home in Ocracoke but spent winters chartering in Everglades National Park with spring and fall breaks in the Bahamas, there was a Hurricane “Bob” that formed up and immediately attacked me in Man-O-War Cay, Abaco before tracking across the Gulf Stream to hit Flamingo, my winter base in the park.  Then it turned north and actually hammered Ocracoke for a while before heading straight back to the Bahamas to hit me again! Give me break….

“When does your summer tourist season wind down?” visitors often ask me.  I usually answer, “When school reopens or the first hurricane, whichever comes first.” 

“What do you do with your boat?” they ask. 

“Tie her up like a spider in a web over at the Base Docks and make sure my insurance is paid up. By the time the storm is imminent I’m probably not going to be any safer on the other side of the sound than I’d be right here.”

“Do you take your family and leave?” 

“All depends. Sometimes do, sometimes don’t. Whenever we had a baby in diapers we’d pretty much always go because you never know how long you’ll be without electricity and such  (to say nothing of cold beer!)”

There are always trade-offs, of course.  By the time the first hurricane arrives we’re usually pretty tuckered out and ready for a break in the routine.  “Evacucations” have a certain appeal, hiking to Appalachian waterfalls after a sweltering humid summer on the coast.  But the downside is the grinding uncertainty of what might be happening back home and when, if ever, we’ll be able to return. 

Rarely has the decision to leave been based on the forecast strength but Hurricane Andrew changed that for me. I’d been spending the summer alone on my schooner tied to a private dock in Naples, Florida.  Friends who lived in Flamingo in Everglades NP were ordered by the Park Service to evacuate.  They, of course, had no way of knowing that by driving 40 miles up the road to Homestead and checking into cheap motels they were jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  Wind gusts from that storm downed the Channel 6 TV tower which was engineered to withstand 200 m.p.h! Most of them hunkered down in shower stalls while roofs were blown off their motels.  One guy went out the morning after to find the windshield of his van smashed and a dead goat in the front seat.  Another found a galvanized 10 penny nail stuck through the steel tailgate of his truck like it had been shot from a gun.  Without exception they were all on meds for PTSD for at least a couple of years afterward.

I was lucky.  By the time Andrew exited the SW coast at Naples the winds were down to a mere 95 m.p.h. and instead of storm surge, Andrew blew the water out of my canal and my schooner nestled safely on the mud bottom. Two days later, however, when I saw what was left of Homestead I decided that anyone who sticks around when warned of something like that is a good candidate for the Darwin award!

Several days before Hurricane Florence appeared on the scene, I bought a ticket to fly from Raleigh down to Austin to help my daughter move back to NC.  So, as the storm approached, there was no option for me other than to leave ahead of the weather.  By the time my boat was secured it was beginning to look like a good time for the rest of the family (including dog and cats) to take the other car and visit Ohio relatives.  I couldn’t help but wonder a little, as I prepared to board the ferry, what – if indeed anything – would be here when I return.

As I write this on Thursday evening I’m waiting things out in the comfortable Durham home of my first cousin whose name (drum roll please…) happens to be…. FLORENCE.  While we’re enjoying reliving old times – she’s the one who taught me to sail when I was 15 and she was 18 – our respective cell phones are constantly interrupting with calls to and from family and friends all checking on each other. I keep overhearing her say, “Hi, this is Florence. The good Florence!”

As we greeted the day on Friday, we started getting reports from Ocracoke that all was well. The Windfall II came through just fine, per my nephew and former first mate, Charles. Ocracoke was lucky again. So maybe, actually, it turns out it's best to find out where I am and go there – the hurricanes come, the hurricanes go, and we clean up and carry on. 


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