I was working on the boat Tuesday afternoon, enjoying the quiet. The boys’ tutor had cancelled for the day so they were on their laptops as well. Richard was at the grocery store and I’d given him a pretty long list so he wouldn’t be back for an hour or two.
I thought I heard thunder in the distance so I checked the radar. A large, red blob was heading our way so I enlisted Max (age 16) to help me secure the lines, and look for any loose objects on the deck.
After we were finished, we sat down in the cockpit to watch it blow in. No big deal. We do this every day this time of year. It’s fun to take a break from work, relax with family, and watch God’s daily Florida fireworks show. The rainy season storms roll in like clockwork. Thunder and lightning, a cooling, strong wind, rain, and then things get quiet again.
This day, however, would prove to be different…
I first noticed something was off because the clouds were not uniform. Usually, the front wall of the storm, with waterfall-type clouds in the lead, precedes a dark gray wall, which indicates where the rain begins. Despite the dark sky in the distance, it will be serene and still, and sweltering with no breeze, until the front wall of cold wind suddenly hits. The temperature will instantly drop 10 or 15 degrees and, with the Florida summer heat, that’s always a welcome relief.
I noticed, while looking to the south, that the clouds in this storm were all different. Nothing was uniform at all. There were waterfall clouds to the south but, rather than just curling over, high in the sky, they were drooping so far down they appeared to be almost touching the ground. There was also a variety of different sizes and shapes of clouds all around us.
Off our stern, to the east, light wisps of clouds were spinning and falling over each other at a rapid pace, like white tumbleweeds, heading north. It looked like a fast-forward video and I’d never seen anything like it before. The wall of water, which would inevitably hit, was far off to the southwest. I checked the radar again. The big, red blob was still growing, and moving slowly.
Coco bounded up the companionway stairs, and joined us in the cockpit. I wasn’t paying much attention to her because the mishmash of swirling clouds had me mesmerized and concerned. I didn’t know what they meant but I didn’t think it was good and I couldn’t stop staring. At that moment, Coco jumped out of the cockpit, ran to the stern of the boat, looked up at the sky, and starting whining loudly and repeatedly.
My mind reeled back to that fateful day in Texas, more than 20 years ago. Our beloved dog at the time, Baysha, started whining and whimpering one evening for no apparent reason. And then, all of the sudden, all of the French doors in our house, which opened inward, including one of the bedroom doors, flew open. Instinct kicked in. I yelled at the children to get to the bathtub. Our daughter had a little friend over who had fallen asleep on our sofa. I scooped her up, and ran with the rest of the kids. A moment later, a tornado touched down in our backyard. I called it a “touch and go.” It came down in the middle of our little pine forest, and went right back up. It left behind a large, bare, round area of damage. It apparently never touched back down after that.
So, when Coco started whining and crying, I grew very concerned. It was at this moment that Mason popped his head up through the companionway. He smiled really big, and said, “Cool! This is gonna be a BIG one!” He happily plopped down next to me to enjoy the show.
I pointed out the dancing, swirling, tumbling clouds behind us, racing from south to north. I then pointed out the waterfall “front” of the storm to our south. I asked him what thought that meant. He didn’t have time to answer. At that moment, the wind wall hit. The quiet marina instantly turned deafening. Loose lines began to snap violently. Halyards clanged painfully against masts. Tarps and sun shades flapped at breakneck speed, threatening to escape their shackled corners. Pushing the hair out of my face, I looked at Dock 5, to the south of us. All of the sailboat masts leaned over together, like a row of drill team dancers, at about 70 degrees.
Seagulls erupted from their perches, racing in all directions, not sure where to go, or how to escape the melee. A large flock of smaller birds rose from the trees in the park to our south. The group gathered together in a crooked, oblong mass that formed and reformed like an angry swarm of bees. After a few moments of obvious indecision, the mass quickly rotated, and headed west, away from the oncoming wall of water.
So many weird things were happening all at once and they all pointed to one inescapable fact. We were gonna GET IT!!
Max had already jumped out of the cockpit to check the lines again. I followed him to check the bumpers because No Tan Lines (“Tanny”) was flush against the dock. There was no way we could tighten the lines on the port side in that wind. The bumpers were holding and, despite the high tide, were still positioned correctly.
I didn’t want to alarm the boys but I had a decision to make. This was different. Something was happening. I didn’t know what it was but I had to decide – remain onboard or abandon ship? There was obviously a waterspout or tornado somewhere nearby, but where? Was it behind that dark grey wall of water that was approaching from the southwest? Was that big wall the waterspout itself? Could it really be THAT big? If it was hiding behind the wall of water, we wouldn’t see it until it was too late. Even waterspouts and tornadoes miles away can generate tremendous wind speeds. I knew it was there but WHERE WAS IT?!?!
The wind was screaming now and whitecaps were inside the marina. I noticed my knees were knocking together and I was shivering. I tried to hide both from the boys.
There’s a captain’s lounge made of concrete blocks right outside the dock gate but we are pretty far down the dock. If a waterspout or tornado approached, we risked being blown off the dock, or being sucked up into it. If we stayed in the boat, would a waterspout sink us, or pick up the boats on the dock, even our 52-foot, 45,000 lb. one, and push us all onto land like a pile of matchsticks? If one approached, should we jump in the water, swim underneath the cement dock, and hold onto pilings that are covered with razor sharp oyster shells??? Arrrghhh!!!
I looked at the boys. They looked at me. And, I did what any panicking parent would do when trying not to alarm their children in an emergency situation. I shouted above the wind, “WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?!?!”
Ever the calm and collected one, Max shouted back, “I don’t see any of our neighbors running up the dock! Maybe we’ll be okay here!”
I yelled back, “You’re right! We’ll stay here! Let’s get the Go Bags and put our laptops in those in case we have to run!”
Mason yelled, “Mom! Are you scared?! Cause if you are, that means I should be scared!”
I smiled through chattering teeth, hid my violently shaking hands, and hollered back, “I’m not scared at all, honey! We’ll be just fine!”
I’m such a liar…
Just as we were going inside, the water wall hit. Rain lashed down on Tanny and we tried to steady ourselves inside as she rocked violently. Max pulled out the Go Bags, which are waterproof, and we unplugged and packed up all the electronics. We then turned off the air conditioners so we could hear any sudden change in the wind. Poor Rambo, who is terrified of storms, was in shock on our bed. I couldn’t get him to react to me at all. He just laid there, staring straight ahead. I checked to make sure he was breathing. He was.
Then, we sat down to wait. I reminded the boys that, once the rain starts, things stabilize. The front of the storm, where the cool air meets the blazing hot air, is where the instability creates violent weather on the front end. Mason asked me some questions about that and I did my best to answer, telling him we’d research it more once the storm passed.
And, that’s when we heard it. Drip… Drip… Drip… Drip-drip… Drip-drip-drip… DRIP-DRIP-DRIP-DRIP-DRIP-DRIP! Every boat has leaks. Some are bad. Some are small and just annoying. Ours are all small, except for the companionway. When the rain comes in sideways from the south, we get a waterfall coming into the salon. And, this was going to be a waterfall day. We all got up, and started putting down towels. Then, we sat back down again. I checked the radar on my tablet. The worst of the red blob hadn’t hit us yet but that was just heavy rain. Flooding doesn’t affect us on the boat. We just float higher. The wind was already slowing a bit. The stress level dropped as we were no longer in fear of Tanny being sucked up into the clouds to meet up with Dorothy and Toto.
An hour later, we were out of the woods. Richard arrived back from the grocery store, pushing a dock cart full of yummy goodies. The boys and I met him in the cockpit. They quickly relayed the exciting story and I told him how brave they’d been. I said, “You missed all the fun!”
He laughed, and said, “Good!!”
We heard from Ali and Justin that streets were flooding all over Bradenton from that storm and there were flood advisories here, too. We’d gotten several inches of rain already and it continued raining throughout the evening, and all night, but we didn’t mind. We were able to relax, and enjoy the gentle rocking of Tanny, and the sound of the fat raindrops hitting the deck above our heads as we went to sleep.
As Coco had predicted, we learned the next day that the storm birthed twin waterspouts right off Longboat Key and one of them was HUGE! If you want to see the impressive video, check out my Facebook page. I “shared” it today, August 30, 2018. And, please friend request me while you’re there!! 🙂
Today, we’re nervously watching a tropical system forming near the Bahamas. And, it’s predicted to head our way. It’s been very cloudy, and raining on and off since that big blow on Tuesday. Even if we didn’t have radar and The Weather Channel, we’d know something was amiss in the atmosphere.
This time last year, we were preparing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma and I still get a bit anxious when I recall the stress and excitement from that week. I never realized how BORING our lives were before we moved onto a boat. I HIGHLY recommend it for other adrenaline junkies!! 🙂
As I was just about to post this, I heard thunder. The storms are starting early today. Just took this photo off the port side, looking southeast. Time to batten down the hatches again! Whoo hoo!!
ALERT! The Fall, 2018 24-Hour Short Story Contest is only 2 1/2 weeks away! Have FUN competing for cash prizes and free books! CLICK HERE for more info., and hints on winning!
Jump on board with the Hoy Family as they move their children, pets, and business onto a 52-foot sailboat!
Angela Hoy lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is the publisher of WritersWeekly.com, the President and CEO of BookLocker.com and AbuzzPress, and the author of 24 books.
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