My phone dragged me out of a lovely, sound sleep Monday morning. It was a weather alert. Now, I swear I’d checked the weather five days out after last week’s mayhem. Problem is…the weather can change so fast. That was my first mistake.
My phone said, “Tornado warning, blah blah blah.”
We get those all the time in Florida so I rolled over, sat up, and thumbed my eyeballs over to my weather app. A huge red blob was advancing on us so I yawned, got up, got Mason up, got dressed, made my coffee, etc. About that time, Brian (our Managing Editor) hollered from the dock, “Come out here and look at THIS!!”
We scrambled outside and THIS is what we saw!
If you want to see what that thing was doing, and how fast it was moving, look at the video I posted RIGHT HERE. Seriously, you HAVE to see that video! God is AMAZING!!!
Other folks were out on the dock guffawing at the sky as well. We’d never seen anything like it! Rather than duck inside, or run down the dock to the captain’s lounge for cover, we just stood there staring in awe. Within minutes, a hard rain hit. No warning sprinkles. Just an instant deluge. It was too late to get off the boat so we dove back inside, and got into the cabinet holding our “oh sh*t bags,” which are waterproof. We all quickly started stowing our essential items just in case we had to abandon ship.
And, THAT’S when it happened. No Tan Lines (“Tanny”) lurched starboard and stayed there. Usually, she bounces right back. Not this time! We went from nothing to 60 MPH winds in a heartbeat. And, then we heard a really, really weird sound. It sounded like an electrocution buzz…like from old cartoons. I can’t really describe it any other way. A very loud BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!
Brian yelled, “WHAT IS THAT?!”
I knew what it was. I screamed back, “THE TORNADO!!!”
I’m certain my pulse was in the 200 range at that moment. I knew leaving the boat at that point was impossible, and possibly deadly. I jumped on the bed on my hands and knees, and looked out the starboard port. The rain was a sideways waterfall. It was so heavy I could barely see the boat two slips away. And, at that moment, I went from being absolutely terrified to accepting of our fate. And, it was a kinda nice feeling. It reminded me of my near-drowning in Costa Rica, when I just stopped fighting the waves, and everything got very peaceful. I lived, of course, but it wasn’t really a bad experience. It was comforting and I have since talked to other people who’ve experienced the same phenomenon.
Anyway, back to the storm…
I jumped off the bed, and yelled, “Grab onto something and do NOT let go!!!”
At that second, I knew there was absolutely NOTHING we could do other than hang on tight. If Tanny took flight, we’d get pretty banged up but I’d seen enough “marina after tornado” videos on YouTube to know that fiberglass boats don’t splinter apart. Tanny weighs 44K lbs and her 12 lines are tied down to two cement docks, and pilings the height of telephone poles, buried deep in the sea floor. Docked boats hit by a tornado, if they are ripped from their lines, typically land upright, or on their sides, and they are almost always in one piece, unlike wood homes that can splinter apart.
If we could just hang on for the ride, we’d probably get pretty banged up but we could crawl out if she landed on dirt, or swim out in our life jackets if she landed in the bay somewhere. Chances are, she’d simply get tossed around, and end up right about where she already was. The danger would be items flying around inside the boat, and us getting tossed around like rag dolls.
My mind was racing with ideas. Should we hold onto the two masts? Should we strap ourselves to them? Should we hunker down in the small hallway, and pull a mattress over ourselves? Of course, my feeble brain wasn’t thinking the obvious. It was FAR too late to be making those decisions. And, by the time my brain finished figuring out what we should do, it was over. The funnel cloud passed over (it didn’t touch down) and we were left with moderate rain and quickly diminishing winds.
Mason (almost 14) had been sitting on the settee, holding his “oh-shi*t” bag, looking stunned. I asked, “Are you okay, honey?”
“NO!!!” he replied.
I checked on him frequently throughout the day, told him that emergencies we survive make us stronger people, that he’d have a great story for dinner parties in the future, etc., etc. He kept looking at me like I had a 2 x 4 sticking out of my forehead. By evening, he was back to his jovial, silly self.
That night, when I was tucking him in, he said, “I thought we were just going to get off the boat, and run down the dock.”
I explained to him that, once that wind hit, we couldn’t go anywhere. We could have been blown off the dock, sucked up into the funnel cloud, or killed by flying debris. He told me that the entire rest of the day had felt surreal, like he wasn’t actually “there.” I explained that he’d gotten a huge dose of adrenaline and that his body was “coming down” from that, and that the feelings were normal. I felt the same way all day, too.
Mason is just fine now, and realizes that Tanny is one tough girl, and can handle winds that strong, and much stronger (she’s been through Irma and two tropical storms just in the past three years, and she survived much worse before we owned her). So, he no longer needs to stress when we get squalls that are packing 30- and 40-mph winds. And, that fun will start in a few weeks during the rainy season. Whoo hoo!
Only after it was all over did I look at the details in the original tornado warning weather alert. About three paragraphs down, it stated that downtown St. Pete was right in its path. Had I seen that, I’d have gotten us all off the boat, and to the captain’s lounge, instead of guffawing at that awesome cloud formation.
POSTSCRIPT: I realized later, after unpacking my “oh-sh*t” bag, what my priorities really are. I’d packed my computer, phone, charging cords, ipad, and credit cards. That’s it. No make-up, no toothbrush. No clothes. Not even clean underwear. 😉
Angela Hoy lives on a 52' Irwin Center Cockpit Ketch (sailboat) with her family and pets. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, BookLocker.com, and AbuzzPress, and the author of 19 books. Keep up with her family's adventurous liveaboard lifestyle at GotNoTanLines.com.
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