As they say, "any friend will help you move, a true friend will help you move a body." After the tornado ripped through Deltaville, we know who our true friends are. We learned how well-built our boat is. And we learned some new skills.
Winds were powerful. Red Ranger was bouncing all over the place in her slip. We couldn't really do any of our ordinary boat-yard jobs. All I did was watch the creek and take pictures of the anemometer. When it was in the 30's it seemed kind of cool. When it ratcheted up to the 40's, the cool factor had faded.
The creek was filled with whitecaps. Because the wind was from the South East, water was blown straight up the creek.
Waves were breaking over the docks. Ed, the dockmaster, had seen worse during Hurricane Isabel. So that's the benchmark. This is hurricane scale badness.
Saturday was going to be grill night. We brought some things to grill so we could share a meal with the folks at the marina.
Shortly before 6 PM, Monday Morning tore a plank out of the dock and was bashing herself into pieces against the finger pier. Also, on the weather side of the dock, a brokerage boat tore a plank out of the dock and had slid forward to start bashing against the structure.
John, Tom, Brooke and I managed to secure the brokerage boat. John, somehow, reached around to the inside of the shed to locate a cleat on the wall of the building and belay the boat to that.
Meanwhile, Tom's boat, Monday Morning, was pounding against the piling at the end of the finger pier. The piling was tearing off the teak caprail on his bulwarks. Amongst other things, it had fractured his bow pulpit and his anchor was swinging free like a weapon.
It was starting to rain. Waves were breaking over the dock, dousing us. The gusts threatened to knock is into the creek. Tom—old salt that he is—had on his proper oilskins and his offshore sailing harness. The rest of us were in shorts or jeans and light-weight rain jackets.
Red Ranger had pulled one cleat free from the dock and was wrenching out another. The brokerage boat we had secured, similarly, had pulled out a cleat.
At this juncture, thought isn't an option. Experience, Skills and True Friends are what you have to rely on.
Tom and Nancy—separately, I think—had a strategy for getting Monday Morning under control: start the engine and drive slowly into the wind to ease the pressure on the docklines. With Monday Morning pounding, and the anchor swinging like a mace, it was very dangerous even getting close to her.
I was standing behind Tom on the finger pier, looking up as the teak is being splintered. It's all a matter of timing: boat goes down, and you grab the lifelines and ride her up. One... Two...
Then the pier where Tom was standing collapsed into the creek. I was—by some miracle—still on the dock. Tom, however, was down in the creek. But old salt Tom was wearing his offshore harness with his inflatable PFD. I reached down and grabbed him by the harness to hold him up.
John—who used to fly rescue helicopters, and has done this kind of thing before—appeared behind me, and said "On three. One, two, three," and we hauled Tom up onto the dock. Just like that. As if we knew what we were doing. There's a certain skill in hoisting a heavy weight.
At this point, Monday Morning is still loose, but no longer bashing the finger pier, since the pier has fallen into the creek and is floating away.
Strategies 2 and 3
Red Ranger had pulled out one dock cleat, and was wrenching another loose. But there are others. So I could unroll some line and used additional cleats down the dock. The reason this worked is because I had already doubled up the docklines. I had rigged double breast lines on the weather side and also put a second spring line to a piling.
Also, when rigging the extra spring line, I'd taken the time to use my yankee turning blocks as fairleads to be sure that the spring line didn't chafe on anything. I'd hate to have my mizzen shrouds saw through a spring line in winds gusting over 45 kn.
I passed a boat hook to Nancy, who was helping Tom, John, Dave and Clifton capture a dockline from Monday Morning to try and secure here. CA and I took in our bimini top to reduce the windage as much as possible. We left the dodger, because it was difficult to take in under the circumstances.
I ran the engine for a few minutes (5? 10? not long), motoring into the wind. But Red Ranger was reasonably secure. Also, as our dockmaster pointed out, we have insurance against this kind of catastrophe. There's no compelling reason for silly heroics. So I was talked off the boat by cooler heads.
While I was flirting with heroics, Tom, John, Dave, Ed and Clifton were getting Monday Morning under control. Nancy had fished out the plank which had failed, along with it's dockline. All three men hauled the one dockline while Clifton made the docklines fast to pilings instead of cleats.
Brooke came over to Red Ranger to help rig a third spring line to a piling. I brought out more heavy-weight dockline and Brooke bent it to a piling on the opposite side of the dock.
After getting one dockline secure, Monday Morning was no longer bucking dangerously. Tom could clamber aboard, rig additional lines to his deck cleats. This allowed them to get a second dockline to piling. However, these were essentially breast lines and Monday Morning was still pulling back into the creek and was in danger of slamming her boomkin into the pilings.
Tom put a third line around the base of his mast. Done with Red Ranger, Brooke and I helped haul this line dead into the wind to a third piling.
Recovery Strategy 1
At this point, John, Brook, Nancy and I were able to stand on the dock and confirm that—for now—all of the boats were reasonably secure. The gusts were threatening to tip us into the creek. The dock was heaving with waves under it, and Red Ranger (as well as Monday Morning and two other boats) hauling on it. Ed and Dave added lines to one of the boats on the weather side. The other boat on the weather side had pulled a cleat out, and Clifton belayed that boat to a piling.
We could now spend a few minutes to catch our breath, observe and think through any remaining problems. CA checked fenders all around to be sure we were reasonably free from chafe. She looked at dodgers and bimini tops. I had to jump back on Red Ranger to secure our dodger where a set-screw had come loose.
Recovery Strategy 2
Clifton smiled and said, "Hurricanes are like this. Exciting and scary. But the rain is warm, so it's not that bad, really."
He smiled. It was—after all—exciting. It was our first gale-force wind. But Clifton had seen this kind of thing before. As had Dave, Nancy and Tom. They had a pocket full of strategies and skills for dealing with this. Clifton's point was that we'd fought the elements and suffered only a minor defeat. You can't hope for much more than that. Some dockage was ripped apart. Tom's boat had suffered epic damage to the teak caprail, but she was afloat and secure. No one had gotten seriously hurt.
I'd been beaten up worse in skiing accidents.
It's important to have positive attitude and look at the successes instead of the failures.
Recovery Strategies 3 and 4
I was ready to go indoors and dry off. But Tom was still fussing around on his boat and Dave was shaking his head. "I can't leave him alone," Dave said. Good point. Hazardous conditions mean we need to have Buddy Pairs. So Dave stuck with Tom until Tom was done fussing. John and I watched the progress before heading in to the lounge.
Turns out, Tom was getting Dry Pants. Nothing improves one's disposition like dry pants. We all needed to clean up and dry off.
Recovery Strategy 5
While we were finishing the puttering around on the dock, it's important to realize that it's barely 7:00 and we're wet and tired. Cindy Ann, Susan and Nancy continued the hard work of making everything safe and secure by getting to the grilling part of grill night. In addition to Dry Pants, another important part of recovery is a Solid Meal. You aren't really safe and secure until you're fed and dry.
Midway through the final stages of setting the table and finishing the steaks on the grill, the power went out.
So, some buddy pairs went back to the boats for flashlights and headlamps. CA and Tom went out. CA and Susan went out.
We were a little too wired to sit in the lounge. But after a little milling around, we settled down to tuna, salmon, hummus, potato salad, texas toast and some strawberry pie.
After our meal, we noticed that the wind had stopped. Utterly stopped. It was raining in epic, torrential, awe-inspiring quantities. But the wind was gone.
The marina damage was nothing compared to the devastation in town.
Two of Red Ranger's pilings were damaged severely. One piling was broken off somewhere below the waterline. The other piling was leaning in so far that we can't get out of the slip. We tried. The piling is immobile.
We learned an important lesson about Red Ranger. Her deck cleats are amazingly well built. No worries about those cleats, they'll rearrange sistered dock pilings.
The town of Deltaville took a direct hit from the tornado. It was our first tornado. The devastation was shocking and humbling.
We learned a lot of strategies for coping with heavy weather. We learned some new skills. We reinforced the skills we already head. We learned some strategies for recovering from the stress and strain.
Sunday, we were feeling a little shell-shocked. Nancy offered this advice: After a passage or a storm, a down day is essential. No serious jobs, no heavy labor. Putter around, eat, sleep, spend quality time staring at the water.
That's exactly what we did. We wandered into town. We hung around in the cockpit. It would have been a great day for sailing, but we preferred to just sit and count our blessings.
Sound boat. Necessary skills. True friends. Blessings and grace.