Thursday, September 1, 2011

Irene. Wind Machine. Queen of Mean.

originally posted in the Annapolis Capital: August 29, 1:17 pm | (permalink) | (0 comments)
irene navy[photo: satellite view of Irene on her way towards us; courtesy U.S. Navy]

Now, it’s calm and dry and sunny – as though Irene has used up our quota of wind and rain for the entire week (month?) in one single tantrum. Now, it’s laughing with neighbors and surveying the relative lack of damage to our boats. Now, it’s sitting in the cockpit with a cup of coffee. But only yesterday … Being on a boat in a hurricane has different worries of course than being on land for a hurricane. We’re not worried about power; we’re used to making our own – it’s not like you can run an extension cord out to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Or water; we topped up before the storm and that supply generally lasts us 3 weeks, more if we’re in careful-conservation mode. Or flooding; hey, we’re a boat after all, we’ll just float above it. Or even falling tree limbs; no trees out here. But remember I just recently posted about how being on a boat lets you be more in touch with nature, with the feel of the wind and the waves? Sometimes, we’re rather more in touch than we want!

The day Saturday started with mild winds generally building as people completed their last-minute preparations. Winds circle the eye of a hurricane counterclockwise, and the eye was predicted to pass east of us. That meant the winds would come from the northeast, then north, then northwest – pushing water out of the Bay rather than into the Bay as Isabel did in 2003. So the early, and strongest winds were on our beam. As each gust hit the boat tilted to port. Dishes shifted in lockers, and items fell from the shelf above the v-berth. We don’t heel any more than that when we’re underway sailing. And of course the wind. We have no anemometer (wind speed indicator) but we could get a pretty good feel by the sound and the feel -- the stronger the gust, the higher the volume and pitch. I began to distinguish between the sounds of moderate gusts, 30s and 40s, that made the rigging whistle, and the stronger ones, 50s and 60s, that were more of a scream. Large drops of rain were driven sideways, rattling on our windows and deck. Irene was being one noisy storm! The larger gusts set the mast to vibrating, and I kept waiting for the sickening sound of a dockline breaking. Luckily didn’t happen – of course it helped that we had 12 of them, and many were a bigger, stronger size than we use for everyday tie-up. The northeast winds continued for a long time, a bit longer than I had expected, and I began to worry. This could indicate that the eye of the storm was going to pass closer to the west – and closer to us (hence stronger winds) than expected. But finally, as the night wore on, and we wore out, the wind shifted more north. This put it on our bow, so even though it was just about as strong – and noisy – it was a bit more comfortable because we didn’t heel over as much.

We periodically left our little bubble of light and warmth and relative calm to go topside and check on the condition of dock lines that were working overtime, checking for chafe (rubbing and wear) and adjusting accordingly. It only took about 10 seconds out in the weather to be completely drenched. The wind and pelting rain were strong enough that it was almost hard to breathe when facing into it; in a worse storm than this one, we even wore a snorkel and mask to be able to see and breathe.

I’m intrigued by the various ways my liveaboard friends spent their time during the storm. Cindy scrubbed and cleaned. Dave cooked elegant gourmet meals for one. I obsessively checked storm tracks, and organized recipes. Dan polished off a 700+ page Tom Clancy novel. Here’s my theory: when it’s dark and every screaming wind gust tips the boat sideways and reminds you that there’s only a fiberglass eggshell between you and the storm’s fury, you do anything you can to create a feeling of control, of normalcy, in your little floating world.

Help me test my theory: go to Life Afloat on Facebook, or the comments section here, and post how you spent the storm. BTW, what’s with hurricanes starting with the ninth letter of the alphabet and Annapolis? We had Isabel in 2003, and the remnants of Ivan in 2004, and now Irene?


  1. so stay away from Annapolis when it's time for the I storm next year? Glad you guys were safe, and that the only casualty was your rum!

  2. Thanx Chris. But what an intro to our town for your new college student!