Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ten Years Passing

Hopefully all North Carolina sailing brethren have battened down the hatches for Ophelia – seems that the southeastern U.S. is a brutal place to be for boaters these days…on the other hand if you own a boatyard and a crane you’re doing a land office business. I was blown by Hurricane Marilyn in St. Thomas, USVI on September 16, 1995 (ten years ago from this Friday). The strongest part of the hurricane, the eyewall to the east and northeast of the center, passed directly over St. Thomas. Maximum one-minute surface winds at that time were close to 95 knots and from a reasonably safe location on land in the lee of Water Island I huddled with friends and listened to people on the VHF plead for rescue – either they’d been anchored and blown loose of they’d taken to sea to ride it out. Hard to believe that it’s been ten years…the memory of that time is indelibly etched in my mind. A few years ago I wrote a short story loosely based on that experience from the perspective of a man taking refuge on his sailboat in Hurricane Hole on St. John. As I review it could use some tightening…but in honor of a decade past here is an excerpt…

At sunset the light succumbed gradually to a churning darkness - a malignant cloud swallowing the horizon. The wind continued to build and patchy squalls swept through before turing to steady rain. The air was heavy and humid, steeped in thick brine. Christopher sat in the cockpit and kept a wary eye on the surrounding boats, tried to fix their location in his mind. If any of them broke loose they’d smash through the lagoon like deadly pinballs. As he turned to find the boat anchored behind him the half-light was suddenly cut off, no dusk, just an abrupt passage into a violent night. He pulled his hood over and cinched it tight, checked to be sure the safety tether attached to his harness was clipped to the rail.

A blast of cool air hit his face, scent of ozone and then the rain became a sheeting downpour. The boat swung broadside in the face of a shrieking gust then steadied as his anchors bit. He caught a flash of a cabin light to starboard and then it was all darkness, raging wind, the dim red glow of his instrument lights reporting eighty-knots. A dull rumble of thunder and lightening lit the besieged lagoon for an instant, a glimpse of the other boats straining against their anchors, a haze of rain and mist and ocean whipped by the wind melting instantly into darkness. The wind strengthened, howling with a renewed ferocity. Christopher tucked his chin in his collar and stood, his head scraping the canvas bimini. He reached up and touched it gingerly. A corner had ripped loose and was snapping against the metal frame. No way it would hold. He was considering cutting it free with his knife when with a roar an invisible hand landed on his chest, knocked him flat in the cockpit.

The canvas disappeared with a loud bang and the boat heeled steeply, water spilling over the rail and washing through the cockpit. Christopher hauled himself to his feet, legs braced as the boat shuddered and plunged like a wounded animal. He watched in disbelief as the wind indicator read one hundred and then slowly bled away to seventy.


wingssail said...

Nice story, I can feel the wind and storm when I read those words.

Different subject:

Do you believe in Giant Squids?

I was sceptical until my friends Neale and Andrea sent me the photos you can see here:

WBM said...

Coming from you, that's high praise...