Friday, March 11, 2011

A Bit Of Excitement

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

Yesterday, Libby was doing her volunteer work at the library.  I stayed alone on the boat installing our new AIS radio (more on this later).   When I got to the point of turning on the new radio, I heard an emergency weather alert from the coast guard.  I looked outside.  Sure enough big dark clouds were bearing won on us out of the north.

I battened the hatches and checked above decks for loose items.  I tried to call Libby to warn her not to leave the library, but her phone was turned off because she was in the library. Catch 22.

When the storm hit it was fierce.   It blew a maximum of 49.9 knots (57 mph, 25 meters/s) It lasted for more than 30 minutes.   There was lots of chatter on the radio.  Anchored boats broke loose and started dragging.   Boats in the bay blew up on the beach.   A pontoon boat with 20 tourists out for 1/2 day snorkeling was reported overdue.   A 50 foot sailboat in Channel 5 lost power, and drifted into the bridge.  In two locations [presumably small] sailboats capsized and dumped people in the water. The Coast Guard, Tow Boat US, and Sea Tow were all swamped with calls for help.    This morning onthe net people were looking for water jugs, floating cushions and oars taht had blown away.

Perhaps the best story I heard second hand.  On a boat moored near Tarwathite, the wife was ashore.  It was the very first time that she had ever gone alone in their dinghy.  Must be their first month cruising.  The poor woman was trying to return to the boat when the storm hit.  The wind blew so hard she couldn't steer it with the outboard motor.  Worse, the bow was lifted by the wind and threatened to flip it over.   However, she was close enough to her boat that her husband saw her plight.  He dove in the water, swam to her aid, climbed on board, and managed to return to their boat.   I was looking out and saw the last few seconds of this drama.  They tied up the dinghy, and went below decks to dry off.   As I continued to watch, the wind lifted their dinghy out of the water and almost flipped it.

Poor woman.  Think of all the nice things I've been saying about the cruising life.   A major factor for the female half of the partnership is the feeling of security and confidence in one's ability.  Women just hate it if they don't feel safe.   To have this happen on the woman's very first outing ever in the dinghy is unimaginable bad luck.  I sure hope she recovers from that terrible experieince.

By the way, even without a phone call, Libby was smart enough to stay inside until the storm passed.

Also by the way, how would I have fared if I got caught in that storm in our dinghy with no motor?   I can't row against 50 knots of winds.  I probably would have failed to keep the bow into the wind.  I would have been blown downwind.  I would have tried to throw the dinghy painter around another boat or a mooring.

If I got blown up on a sandy beach nothing bad would happen, but if blown on rocks or docks the dinghy could have been destroyed and I would be at risk for injury.   It would be best in those circumstances to jump overboard and hang on to the dinghy.

What if we had a motor?  Maybe, but not certainly, I would have been able to navigate fine as long as the motor kept running.

To tell the truth, it's not a contingency I've ever evaluated before.

The big lesson for everybody -- don't leave shore in a small boat when black clouds approach - period.

1 comment:

  1. Of course this would not help in every situation, but I carry a small anchor and rode in my 7' rowing dinghy. It serves a few purposes:

    1) Set astern at a dock to keep the dinghy from washing into or under the dock (when appropriate).

    2) Anchor boat while snorkeling or swimming.

    3) Set ashore in sand.

    4) Anchor boat if I'm caught out in strong wind or current and can't make progress (have not had to try this in real life yet).

    Mine is a small Bruce that will fit through a deck plate to stow in the bow/seat molding. I have about 20' of chain and then a long length of rope (forget how long).

    Interesting comment about women not being happy unless they feel safe. I hadn't thought about that, or that men would feel happy if/when feeling unsafe (?). I guess I was thinking that most people want to feel safe, and that a subset of both men and women either don't mind either way or get a "buzz" from feeling unsafe. Maybe more men then women, typically - but some of each gender.


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