Last Sunday was a cozy, comfy day in our new floating home, a 52′ Irwin center cockpit sailboat named “No Tan Lines.” It rained off and on and we had a few good blows but nothing strong enough to cause any leaks in the ports and hatches.
We curled up with our laptops, and watched movies while we worked. Just before bed, curious about how long the rain would last, I checked the radar. I said to Richard, “It sure looks like that thing might be rotating in the Gulf…” I honestly didn’t give it a second thought because it was just drizzling outside and the wind had died down after dark.
Monday morning, it was still raining and we were snoozing soundly with the comforting patter, pat, pat of rain hitting the deck above our heads. I was rudely interrupted from my slumber when my phone dinged. Rubbing my eyes, I checked the screen. It said: “Tropical Storm Warning Issued for Pinellas County.”
I sat up in bed. Richard was wide awake, too, thanks to my shocked outburst.
I said, “It must be a mistake.” I zipped my fingertips over to weather.com and, yes it was really happening. The warning would be in effect until 2:30 p.m. My mind quickly calculated… That meant a tropical storm was going to hit us, and leave the area, by 2:30 p.m. I squinted at the top of my phone screen. It was already 7:30. Holy (bleep)!!!
I quickly texted our adult kiddos. The storm was supposed to hit the Tampa / St. Pete area. Frank and his girlfriend, Hollyday, live in Tampa. We live on the water in St. Pete. Ali and her husband, Justin, live about 45 minutes south, in Bradenton (in a Class A flood zone). And, Zach and his wife, Mary, live in Sarasota. I also texted our managing editor, Capt. Brian, because his boat is docked here, too. The radar showed there was a huge, swirling mass of reds and oranges heading for all of us.
Richard and I got up, quickly dressed, and woke up Max and Mason. Needless to say, we did NOT take Mason to his sailing class that morning. The wind was howling louder and it was already raining sideways. While the storm was coming from the West, right for us, the rain and wind were coming at us from the East. The energy was racing to meet up with the storm! Cool!
As we emerged from the cockpit, this is the sky that greeted us.
As we hurriedly started preparing the inside and outside of the boat, Poor Coco kept looking at us, silently asking when she could go potty. We checked the radar again to see if there would be a lull in the rain. There was none so Max put on his sailing clothes (knowing he’d get soaked), and took her out to the grassy area, which is waaaaaay down the dock. We have a pulley system that we use to pull the boat close to the dock, making it easier to get on and off. But, if you cleat it, and forget about it, the changing tide can rip the pulley out of the dock itself. I figured Max and Coco would only be gone about five minutes so I cleated it. Big mistake. The winds were already blowing steady at 21 mph, and blowing the boat away from the dock. The cleat ripped out.
When Max returned, I had to pull, and pull, and pull on the starboard bow line to get the boat closer to the dock. The tide was already very high and Max had to pick up Coco, and hoist her onto the deck. I then got the swim ladder from the other side of the boat so Max could climb on board. That’s how high the tide was! Usually, we can just step onto or off of the steps we have on the dock next to the boat.
And, for those of you who are wondering, yes, we DID have a storm plan. If we were to get a named storm, we would:
1. Have the boat hauled out at a local boatyard. If we don’t do that, and if the boat sustains any damage, the insurance company won’t pay for it.
2. Head to our daughter’s house or, if the storm was going to hit her, too, head to Orlando instead.
Problem was…it would take us two hours just to get to the boatyard with the boat. The winds were already violent, and increasing in intensity, it was raining sideways, waves were crashing over the rocks in the basin and, needless to say, traveling there would have been far more dangerous than just staying put. We later learned two fisherman had to be rescued by the Coast Guard in Tampa Bay after their fishing boat was sunk by the storm. I’m sure they got up early that morning, thinking they’d have a wet but fun day catching dinner. Two hours notice for a named tropical storm was not enough time for anyone here to prepare.
My phone rang. It was the county emergency service. A recorded message told me we were under a tropical storm warning, that no evacuations had been ordered, and that no shelters were available. Well, of course there were no resources ready! Nobody knew!
Once Max was back on board with Coco, we only had to wait for Richard to return from the store and for Capt. Brain to return from storage, where he was getting extra supplies, an extra generator, and his all-weather gear. Max and I were busy on the deck removing our sun shades, which had been very expensive, and were taking quite a beating in the wind. By that time, it was blowing steady in the 30 mph range, and still increasing. The wind was whistling violently through the rigging on the boats and higher gusts produced deep rumbles in the distance, similar to thunder but longer, and with a low-pitched moan.
Fighting the “needle rain” that was pelting our faces (one barb nailed me right in the eyeball), and trying not to get blown overboard, we tied everything down that we couldn’t put inside the boat and we continuously checked the lines to ensure none of them were coming loose. We couldn’t risk the boat hitting the dock, the pilings, or another boat.
We then stood on the stern of the boat, and looked out over Tampa Bay. Waves were crashing over the rocks of the marina breakwater, and the boats all around us were bucking broncos, just like ours. It was AWESOME! At that moment, Mason jumped into the cockpit in his sailing gear (a shirt and short with thin material that dries quickly), gave us a huge smile, and said, “This is gonna be FUN!”
When we first moved to Florida, Mason was only five years old and he was terrified of Florida’s huge thunderstorms during the rainy season. He is no longer afraid of storm. Now, he LOVES them, just like his mama! 😉
Check out Mason’s attitude about storms now!
Our cat, Rambo, is still terrified of storms. He meows when they first hit and then he lays on the floor in a CATatonic state, probably brought on my his anxiety. Richard has already talked to the vet about getting him some sedatives for when the weather gets bad.
I took some pictures and videos of Max and Mason, their hair blowing wild and the “needle rain” stabbing at their skin. At no time did any of us feel we were in danger and the boys were not frightened at all!
When Richard and Brian both returned, the winds were close to 40. They, too, had to climb the ladder to get on board and Brian got to work putting a large tarp over the middle of the boat. I had found a significant leak over one of the windows, which was repeatedly filling up a plastic bowl I’d laid out. Brian checked the dingy, checked and rechecked the lines, noticed that one of us (probably me) had let the halyard loose and it was flying all OVER the place, about 20 feet above our heads. Brian tried to catch it with the boat hook but the winds made that impossible.
We watched marina security come along the dock in their all-weather gear (bright yellow suits with black trim), checking on all the vacant boats. The boat next to ours was bumping against the dock. The security guard was sitting on his butt on the dock, pulling on the starboard bowline with all his might and he could NOT move that boat by himself. And, unfortunately, we couldn’t help him because we couldn’t get to him. After the pulley cleat ripped out, and the winds really started howling, we couldn’t pull our boat closer to the dock. We were stuck on the boat until the winds died down.
We all sat in the cockpit, enjoying the violent show, soaked to the skin (but not cold at all), our fingers all pruney, gazing out at the raw fury of mother nature and the power of God. Down below, Richard was whistling in the galley, making us all pizza for lunch. We were having a BLAST!!
The eye wall was close!
About half an hour later, when the winds were reaching their peak (around 50 mph), we could see small bits of blue sky to the west. The eye wall was close!
While the forecasters said the eye would pass over us, it did not. It hit Anna Maria Island, about 45 miles down the coast from here, which is where Justin works (he’s an executive chef). It then passed over Bradenton, which is where Ali and Justin live. She reported later that a large tree branch fell on their lanai, bending it pretty badly, they had a lake in their backyard, and they had a mountain of wet leaves on top of their lanai. The night before, lightning struck a tree next to their house and they’d lost power for several hours. Ali, being 8 months pregnant, wasn’t very happy having no air conditioning for several hours but it came on before the next morning.
We never lost power. The only damage we had was the broken cleat and a pretty sopping wet cushion from the leak I’d detected a few minutes too late.
A neighbor two boats down had a support for his bimini rip out of his deck. A boat behind ours, on a different dock, was crashing against the dock repeatedly and we couldn’t see any bumpers on that side of the boat at all.
Two hours. That was all the warning we had before the brunt of the storm descended on our floating home. And, even when we got the warning, it was already POURING and the wind was already sustained above 20 mph. Furthermore, leaving wasn’t an option because local roads were already flooding. Many of the folks who weren’t here taking care of their boats likely would have shown up to tie extra lines, check bumpers, and more before the storm hit. But, everybody was taken by surprise. After the storm, folks at the marina were out helping their neighbors. Richard and Brian first checked on Brian’s boat, which had no damage, and then helped a neighbor who’d also lost her pulley.
While we are still shocked that a small cold front turned into a tropical storm in just a few hours, it was a really cool day! We all worked together to protect our new home and we all laughed, and gazed in awe at nature, and had a fantastic time! I wouldn’t trade that fun day for anything. What an adventure!!
THIS WEEK’S MASONISM:
“If evaporated milk is evaporated, how can you drink it?!?!”
Hugs to all!
P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the FALL, 2017 24-Hour Short Story Contest! There’s a limit of 500 spots so SIGN UP TODAY if you want to play!
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Angela Hoy lives on a mountain in North Georgia. 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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From your beginnings here in the Houston area, you know how devastating a tropical storm can be. You were very lucky that it wasn’t very severe since you didn’t have any warning. It looks like you have a disaster plan in place and will have enough warning when a big one comes along.
Wow! You are getting your permanent sea legs and becoming seasoned sailors at breakneck speed. What an adventure to be sure. Be careful out there!