Thursday, October 12, 2017

Whispering Jesse and Hurricane Irma

Brian cooling it after helping set anchors in Marine Stadium
(Click photos for full-size views)
(I apologize for the delay in posting this account. The events depicted took place September 7-10, 2017.)

When I received the mandatory evacuation order from the Coconut Grove Sailing Club in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma making landfall in Florida, I knew I would need to travel to Miami and move Whispering Jesse to a safer place. I flew there on the Thursday before the hurricane struck on Sunday and was met by our friend Brian McGrath. He picked me up at the airport in the early afternoon and drove us to the club, where we quickly fired up the boat's engine and motored across Biscayne Bay to Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, north of Key Biscayne. The stadium is an abandoned motor boat racing basin that now serves as Miami's best hurricane hole. It is protected on all but the northwest side, the shallow water keeps the wave action to a minimum, and the muddy bottom offers good holding. The other recommended hurricane hole is the Coral Gables Waterway, a mangrove enshrouded estuary where Brian and his co-owner had moved their boat, Lionesse, a couple days before.

Marine Stadium was less crowded with boats than expected considering our late arrival, and we found a good anchoring spot away from other boats, though a little exposed, about halfway down the basin, across from the abandoned concrete bleachers. We spent the afternoon hours setting anchors using the strategy outlined by former CGSC Commodore Bill Beavers during his annual hurricane preparedness seminars. The idea is to set three anchors 120 degrees apart from each other with about equal scope. I was pleased with my foresight in having replaced the short, rusty anchor chain attached to Whispering Jesse's primary anchor, a 40-pound CQR, with 100 feet of chain and new nylon rode just this past spring. The boat included a second anchor, a 26-pound Danforth, when we purchased her, and I had added a second similar one after Bill's seminar three summers ago.

Miami skyline at dusk from Marine Stadium
We turned the boat into the northeasterly wind and dropped the primary anchor off its windlass, letting out all 100 feet of chain and about 50 feet of rode. Then, using neighboring boats as markers, we maneuvered the boat as far off the wind to port as we could and dropped the first secondary anchor off the stern. We did the same with the remaining anchor on the starboard side. We then led the secondary anchor lines up to the bow, adjusted their slack, and cleated them off separately. Finally, we took back the 50 feet of rode on the primary, readjusted the secondary lines for sufficient slack, and securely snubbed the primary anchor's chain. With all three anchors secured at the bow, the boat could spin freely if it needed to, though the possible tangle would be difficult to unravel after the storm.

In addition to setting the anchors, Brian and I needed to reduce windage, but we were sweaty and tired, and it was starting to get dark, so we opted to wait until the next morning. We spent the evening eating sandwiches Brian had picked up and discussing the current political situation, about which we have opposite but well-reasoned opinions. Then it was off to restless sleep in the stifling cabin.

Whispering Jesse is a cutter rig, with two furling head sails. They are a serious pain to remove, so I left them in place, tightly furled and with the sheet lines wrapped in spirals from their clews down to the deck, where we secured the extra to the lifeline stanchions. The main sail we also left in place, secured inside its heavy nylon Doyle Cradle Cover. We took down the canvas bimini and dodger, secured their frames, removed the Forespar davit we use to raise and lower the outboard engine, removed the covers from the engine itself, and replaced the dorade cowls with plates. It wasn't as much as we could have done, but I hoped it would be enough.

Whispering Jesse secured with 3 anchors in Marine Stadium
Juan from the sailing club picked us up around noon in a launch and took us back to the club. The mooring field there was eerily empty. There were still a few boats remaining and Juan explained that the owners were unable to move them, because of distance or health issues, or because they no longer cared. Juan said the club's policy is to "86" those boats from the mooring field and bill the owners for their boats' removal.

I had been in touch with other friends from the club, Erik and Karen, and they had offered to let me stay in their guest room during the storm. Brian drove me to their place, about a mile from the club, and we parted company, with my undying gratitude for his invaluable assistance and with best wishes for our boats making it through the storm.

Karen is an emergency services coordinator, so naturally she was called out for the entire duration of the storm. Erik is a college professor, and all the schools were closed in anticipation, so he would have been home alone if not for my company. Their boat, Ms. Mary Lou, was secured in the Coral Gables Waterway near Brian's. The night I arrived at their place, they hosted a hurricane party with other CGSC members. Erik and Karen are quite the cooks and served up an amazing meal of grilled meats and vegetables, homemade bread, and homemade pumpkin pie with homemade ice cream. The drink of choice was the aptly named Dark and Stormy, dark rum and ginger beer over ice.

Karen was gone before dawn the next morning, leaving Erik and me with the minor task of preparing their place for the coming storm by closing their hurricane shutters and securing loose furniture, outdoor plants, and ladders. Over many cups of coffee, there was plenty of time for talk about past sailing adventures, storm tactics, personal histories, and politics. Erik and I are more of a mind than Brian and I when it comes to political philosophy.

Saturday night was blustery but Sunday slowly degenerated into a serious tropical storm. Erik and I couldn't see much from behind the hurricane shutters but what we did see was concerning. There was not much rain but the winds were fierce, with gusts we estimated at 80 knots or more. Trees were beating against the house and losing branches. Shrubs were denuded. Cell and internet access had died the evening before and the electricity had gone out by morning, leaving only my battery-powered radio tuned to Miami public radio for storm updates. The announcers warned people to stay inside and not be "knuckleheads" by going out into the thick of the storm, so we sat in the little light afforded by battery-powered lanterns and worked up serious cases of cabin fever. By late afternoon, when we had convinced ourselves that the worst was over, we donned our rain jackets and ventured out to see what there was to see, a couple of reckless knuckleheads afterall.

What follows is a slideshow of what we saw:

Falling trees destroy a wall along Bird Avenue in Coconut Grove

The intersection of SW 27th Avenue and S. Bayshore Drive, looking toward Dinner Key Marina, is knee-deep in water

Looking southwest along S. Bayshore Drive toward Peacock Park and the Mutiny hotel

Kenneth M. Myers Bayside Park exercise equipment is underwater; Coconut Grove Sailing Club clubhouse is in the background

Howling winds, MT Celebration crew securing lines, empty CGSC mooring field, club house in distance

Debris in Dinner Key Marina parking lot; a man's body was found in debris piled near the Mutiny hotel

Destroyed sailboat in Dinner Key Marina

Grove Bay Grill/Scotty's awning framework with destroyed sailboats and massive piles of debris

Sinking catamaran and debris piled at Grove Key Marina; Erik and I were interviewed here by a USA Today reporter but as far as we know the story was not published 

One of many sailboats we saw tossed up on shore

Next: The day after the storm