It’s the suspense that does it! For four days now we’ve been hearing about the hurricanes
coming up to “get us” here in Nova Scotia – Danielle has dissipated offshore, but
Earl is a category 4 and likely to hit us by Saturday and it seems likely to be a
biggie. And hot on his heels is Fiona, then Gaston and this morning the news came
in that a new named storm has just formed off the shore of Africa. Oi vey!!
Of course no-one can tell you with any certainty exactly where it’s going to hit
or even how strong it’s going to be, so it’s all computer models and a lot of guesswork.
Not even the experts know. They say that’s why God invented economists – so weather
forecasters can feel good about themselves!
One minute Earl’s aiming right at Nova Scotia, next few hours he’s turned more west
towards Maine, a few seconds ago he was turning north again, more towards us. Can’t
wait for Sunday to arrive!! Serious storm warnings out all down the east coast, Cape
Hateras, Nantucket, Maine etc: can’t imagine the devastation that will happen if
there’s a direct hit anywhere there. They’re all very low-lying areas.
And of course everyone’s an expert! Everyone has a different story about anchoring,
everyone has a different story about where will be safe, everyone has a different
story about what to do. The yards are choc-a-bloc full frantically hauling vessels,
so we’ve decided our best bet is to ride it out at anchor - hope that’s the right
A few minutes ago, a concerned shoreside resident John Mosher dinghied out to us,
worried that his mother's dock might break loose and damage us - the available anchoring
space if we want to lay out a lot of scope is limited, but we did re-position Al
Shaheen so hopefully any potential floating debris will miss us!
After assessing all our options, listening to all the local experts, we’ve crept
into Princes Inlet in Mahone Bay, borrowed a huge 60 pound spade anchor from Morgan’s
Cloud (ours is a 45 pd CQR and perhaps just not up to the job), ploughed into the
mud here and put out a fair amount of scope. Taken all the sails off, the flags down,
anything that flaps or blows is either buried in a locker or removed – now we’ve
just got to wait and see what happens. Nerve-racking!
Very good websites on www.stormpulse.com and www.nhc.noaa.gov (the official weather
site) – take a look at those to see what’s happening, up to date. And put up a few
prayers for us and all other idiots like us!
Other than that, we’ve had a great trip back down towards Mahone Bay, our eventual
haul-out and Al Shaheen’s home for the winter 2010/11. Of course we’d planned to
spend longer over the trip from the Bras D’or, but that’s one of the joys of sailing
– you never can tell what tomorrow’s going to bring! Just exiting St Peter’s lock,
we came across a little home-made boat (I’m sure the mast wasn’t much more than a
glorified broomstick!) that had just sailed down from Newfoundland. Some people have
more brains than sense!
We re-visited some anchorages we’d been in 2006: Sambro Harbour had been a favourite,
where we’d crawled in in thick fog and tied up next to a big sword-fishing boat:
wonderful chat with the fishermen aboard about their life out at sea – crazy guys!
This time we tied up to a nice new dock they have, and went ashore to watch them
offloading a boat who had just arrived after 4 days at sea, 150 miles or so off.
Three bluefin tuna had made their trip worthwhile - $10,000 just for those three!
Plus they had a boat load full of swordfish and Porbeagle shark – no wonder the young
boys aboard were smiling!
The day we arrived in Sambro was one those those real stinkers, and everyone was
out on the beach – some in strange contraptions – this was a parasail with a difference
– towed behind a little motor-boat, the guy was having a ball!
It was a strange trip back – mainly motoring, very little wind at all and what there
was dead on the nose – and for days on end, not another boat in sight! As if we’d
dropped off the edge of the chart, where “ther be dragons”!!! The appearance of a
sail was cause for a quick radio chat, just to prove there were others around! Until
we hit Halifax – and then we were suddenly in the middle of a traffic jam – crossing
the traffic separation scheme going in to Halifax Harbour, we had one tanker anchored
just in front of us, one coming out towards us at 14 knots, and two steaming up behind
us at 16 knots! Thank God for AIS, because we couldn’t see them visually until it
was a bit too late. Halifax Traffic are a great crowd though – very laconic, very
comforting, quite casual about making sure everyone’s in the picture, although it’s
a bit weird to have the radio controller telling this huge tanker behind us to “watch
out for Al Shaheen, due to cross your bows” when in actual fact if he hit us we’d
be mincemeat and he wouldn’t even feel the bump!
We’ve been able to spend some time ‘boning’ up on the bird life – nothing else to
do motoring all day (except on a really flat day when I could take my computer out
on deck and do some editing!) Courtesy of a bird book from Coryn Gooch and another
bought in Bedeck, we’ve got quite good at distinguishing a gull from a tern. Now
all we have to do is decided which sort of gull and which breed of tern!! Hey, we
all have to start somewhere!
It’s breathless aboard, stinking hot: the locals claim this is the hottest it’s been
for years, and I’d go with that. Impossible to work on deck midday, the deck is just
too hot to walk on (I always go barefeet), and the only thing to do is duck below
for some respite and hope for a bit of a breeze. I guess all the wind has been sucked
up into that damn Earl out there!
Diary of a Hurricane
1 Sept 2010
2pm: NOAA’s hurricane advisory says Danielle is fizzling, but Earl is likely to hit
us on Saturday 4th, and hit hard, and then Fiona and Gaston are following on their
heels. Earl is already a Category 4, which means potential wind speeds up to 131-155
mph (that’s 114-135 knots or 210-249 km/hr – terrifying!) Fortunately it looks as
if the eye will pass to the west of us and we’ll just get hit by the storm surrounding
So, we have borrowed a huge 60 pound spade anchor to replace out little 35 pound
CQR, and a 40 pound Fortress in case of emergency, from Morgan’s Cloud, and after
much crew/skipper ‘discussion’ as to the best place to be in a blow, have anchored
here in Princes Inlet, Mahone Bay to wait it out. The inlet’s fairly shallow, slightly
open to the SE, but heavily protected by land mass and high trees to the other three
sides of us.
All this endeavour seems quite ridiculous right now, however; the inlet’s like glass!
Social evening ashore.
2 Sept 2010
2pm: Okay, Earl’s been down-sized to a Cat 3, but now due to hit us directly. And
that’s still winds of 111-130 mph (96-113 knots). So, we’ve spent the day taking
off both headsails, tying down the mainsail into a thick sausage on the boom with
a spare halyard, removing anything that will blow or flap, flags, life preservers,
danbuoy, etc. Strapping down anything that could move or shift in a blow. Just in
case. Moved our anchoring spot: lotsa experts around here, lotsa advice on which
anchor (everyone has their favourite and lots of stories to back it up), where to
anchor (generally along the lines of “not too close to my dock/boat”), how to anchor
(two anchors, lotsa scope, tie ashore into the trees) etc.
It lands up being your own decision in the end.
3 Sept 2010
9am: Up to Cat 4 again, the NOAA website still has the track moving around somewhat.
Considering it hasn’t even reached US landfall yet, and is only moving at 16 knots,
feels sometimes like we’re making a big fuss over nothing. Certainly the locals seem
very casual about it, no-one’s even taken in their water-toys yet.
2pm: Okay, NOAA now has the eye coming dead overhead. All the water-toys have disappeared
suddenly, locals are out testing mooring buoy strengths (by tying a motor boat up
to the mooring buoy and pulling back on it as hard as possible with those massive
diesel engines!). They believe in their moorings here – convinced that 2000lb concrete
blocks are adequate, and will not be swayed by the fact that concrete loses half
its weight in water. Or that in the last hurricane several moorings ‘floated’ – that
was blamed on the swell coming in! Local yachtie came out to put his 20 footer on
a mooring, scooted past in his dinghy with an amazed query to his mate “they’re going
to anchor for this?” Morgan’s Cloud has two 4000lb rocks bolted together – he’s not
going anywhere in a hurry! Still blistering hot and dead calm, no sign of anything
big on the way except for what we see on the websites. But we’ve put out more scope,
just in case, now have 40 metres out, 10mm steel chain all the way – no wimpy little
ropes for this sailor!
8pm: Earl’s down to Cat 2 they say, but that means potential winds of 96-110mph (83-95
knots) are still due to clobber us, and the track is still slightly to west of us,
due to make landfall in Yarmouth. Lots of friends here though – amazing how many
folks have come forward with offers of or just encouragement.
9pm: no major change to report, so bedding down on salon berths as our bunk is full
of sail bags!
4 Sept 2010
1am: fridge motor is running non-stop, so have turned it off. Why choose now to break
5am: no birds – is this the beginning? Some rain, not much, big globules, just enough
to force us to close the hatches and make everything hot and sticky. John can’t sleep
– major worry furrows on his brow. Suspense running high.
6am: 25 knots of wind suddenly, rain falling more heavily now. NOAA now adamant we
(Mahone Bay/Halifax) will get a direct hit. Wind SE as predicted, Earl now moving
at 32 knots towards us, faster than before but at least not as strong. Now down to
Cat 1 (74-95 mph, 64-82 knots). Considering I grumble at sailing in 25 knots, the
thought of having 64-82 really tightens my stomach!
7am: coffee time – we’re awake anyway! Engine on to charge batteries, flattened by
fridge running all night. Now constant 20-25 knot winds, nothing too drastic. It’s
the tension that gets to you – the constant waiting for something big to happen!
Nothing much more we can do now, but I almost wish it would start.
8am: 44°24’.847N 064°19’.952 W Have started to note positions in case we drag. No
point in putting the anchor alarm on, as it’s likely to go off every few minutes.
Barometer down from 1003 mb at 5.30am to 994 mb now – big drop. Guess this is it.
I’ve taken my computer out, working on an edit to give myself something to do.
9am: 44°24’.847N 064°19’.954W Spade rock steady in 26-30 knots wind constantly now.
Smith Cove guys and most of ME coast on the OCC Net seem to report a non-event, lucky
them. Lotsa rain here now, sheets of it. Mahone Bay Marina VHF call “say Chuck, yr
house just broke off its moorin’ ther’.” John has taken the diving snorkel out in
case he has to go on deck – will need the goggles to see in this driving rain – and
probably need the snorkel to breathe too!
9.15am: Baromoter 990 mb, falling fast. I’m editing Zerelda’s fantasy story – dragons
and demons more acceptable than what’s happening outside! Sky and general surroundings
quite dark, white horses on inlet.
9.40am: Winds 30-35 knots. Wind generator broken its lashing – at least it’s not
screaming away and frightening the daylights out of me! Motor yacht moored just astern
us is about to lose its bimini – flapping around like a ghoul in the gloom!
10.30am: 44°24’.849N 064°19’.954 Still holding steady although Al Shaheen heels and
bounces horribly in major gusts – have to hang onto my computer! Winds gusting 40
knots regularly now – hard driving rain, steep choppy seas built up in the inlet.
Can’t believe I was saying it was like glass yesterday! Wifi has disappeared – no
lights ashore, so I guess no power there. Only VHF connection.
10.35am: DSC Mayday call – s/v Summer Delight, 43 ft yacht, solo sailor in trouble.
Poor guy! Followed up by coastguard, co-ords given, requests for help, very broken
signals. 45 knot winds, nauseating sea, must be terrifying for him. Very near us,
but on the other side of the land mass.
Have just packed all necessities into grab-bag: John’s computer, cell phones, sat
phone, passports, boat papers, wallets etc etc – and John’s pills – just in case.
Does he really expect us to swim ashore with this??
10.55am: 44°24’.851N 064°19’.958. Solo sailor has abandoned his boat and is swimming
to land so I guess it can be done – locals there to rescue him. Spade anchor holding
well – have to put one of these on the Christmas list. Horrid nasty hobby-horse motion
in the water now, big chop, not nice.
11.10am: 44°24’.852N 064°19’.956. Tied grab-bag up in its own life-jacket, just in
case! Winds now constant at 40-45 knots. Driving rain, sea’s quite aggressive. Really
scary. Only consolation is that land is close by and I’d probably make it to swim
11.30 am: 50.7 knots! Although John says he thinks the wind instrument’s under-reading.
Huge gusts, boat pounding all over the place, really unpleasant. And really frightening.
Have stopped working and packed my laptop into the grab bag with other stuff.
Stuck my head out of the cockpit – and a little bird just went past! Can’t say it
was flying, but it at least was managing to steer!! Couldn’t tell you what it was
– doubt he was even sure himself at that point. Didn’t his mother give him the ‘keep
your head down in a hurricane’ lecture?
Two men in yellow slickers appeared on a roadside dock to tie their canoes down –
in 50 knots of wind? Bit late, I’d say! Sail tie has worked loose on the mainsail,
flapping frantically and slowly unwinding, but there’s no way we’re going out there
to tie it up again! Will read instead. John’s staring out the companionway with a
worried look on his face. Barometer down to 968 millibars.
11.40 am: 44°24’.871N 064°19’.969. Have we dragged?
11.45am: 44°24’.876N, 064°19’.972. Yes, about 50m. Now what? Howling friggin’ hurricane
out there. Still constant 35-40 knots of wind. VHF call from someone’s whose mooring’s
dragged – told to cut loose and go anchor across the inlet – she says her little
anchor won’t hold, so told to get engine on and keep motoring up to mooring to stay
12.00 noon: Sudden drop in the wind – down to 25 knots. Quick chat with Morgan’s
Cloud, and we took the gap to dive up to the bow to let out more chain. He says that’ll
dig it in again. Now 44°24’.882N 064°19’.935W.
Of course, to do that we have to unwrap the chain from around the Samson post where
John has put it to take some load off, (never seen him do that before!) undo the
snubber as usual, unclip the Blake slip (first time I’ve ever seen this contraption
too!) that is now also on the anchor chain (and this is done with a hammer!!) then
a mad release of more chain... then a frantic re-doing all of the above to secure
things again before the wind starts again. Oi vey!
12.15pm: Suddenly calm. Wind’s dropped, 10-15 knots, rain’s stopped, boats are all
starting to swing to SW. Little red yacht ahead of us is taking the gap to re-anchor.
Should we? Is this the eye? If so, what to do about re-anchoring? When the other
side of the doughnut hits us, I feel we’ll be too close to R6, the motor boat now
directly astern of us: chat with Morgan’s Cloud and he assures us we have room.
John would like lunch.
VHF calls coming in re damage etc: someone tore all the cleats off his stern on the
dock, several moorings broken loose, but nothing too drastic, it appears. The papers
tomorrow will have some full stories, I’m sure.
12.45pm: 44°24’.874N 064°19’.924.Dead dead calm: unbelievable that only an hour ago
we were hanging on by our toenails. Barometer now 975 mb, rising slowly, wind down
to 9 knots. Just finished a lunch of bacon butties. Two fishing boats talking on
VHF have just ‘confirmed’ it’s all over – “that’s okay Bert, it’s over, Mum said
it’s clear now” – even fishermen have Mums! So, how long do we have to wait for the
“back side” to arrive? And will it be harder? Still don’t like our position now relative
to R6 or his dock, which is breaking loose already.
1.15pm: 44°24’.837N 064°19’.926W. Re-anchored – just too close to R6 for my sanity!
Pulled up a huge metre long dead branch with the anchor – had to break it off with
the mooring pole. Massive black clouds still scudding past high up – with blue patches
showing out to sea. Barometer up to 980 mb. And the birds are back! Next to no wind
now, down to regular 5-9 knots with an occasional minute-long 25 knot gust. Long
may it last!
2pm: Amazing! Sun’s shining, the birds are back, blue skies above – still lots of
heavy black clouds screaming across the sky, lots of wind howling through the trees
on the tops of the hills around us, but down here, it’s like a Caribbean anchorage,
John says! Is it all over? No wifi, so can’t check NOAA internet site, VHF weather
channel still giving an 8am forecast, so that’s not much help!
3.15pm: 44°24’.836N 064°19’.915W. Occasional gusts up to 30 knots again, but infrequent
and short-lived. The barometer is at 990, so definitely on the up. I think this is
the “back-side” and as Bert’s Mum says, it’s over.
6.15pm: life resumes its normal pattern. Ospreys chirping, wind blowing gently, G&Ts
on tap! Scott and Candace from Rosebud came over, to congratulate us on our smart
re-anchoring manoeuvres and ask for tips on anchoring – it was them we heard on VHF
whose mooring had lifted and they spent nerve-racking last twenty minutes or so
motoring up on it to stay attached. Then Jan and Nina from Raven came over too, they’d
spent the time hunkered down on the opposite shore, tied to the trees on shore. So
close on shore that when the swing to SW came, cars were stopping to check if they
Jan said their instruments measured 69 knots; John on Morgan’s Cloud says he saw
64 knots, so it seems ours were definitely under-reading. Thank God is all I can
say – I’d have got off the boat and swum ashore if I’d seen it go that high!
Interesting statistic: it is 6 years ago almost to the day that Al Shaheen survived
Hurricane Ivan in Grenada, West Indies – 7th September 2004 to be exact.
5 Sept 2010
10am: now the cleaning up begins! The VHF has been going mad this morning, as people
are salvaging lost docks, dinghies that blew away, moorings that broke loose - and
unfortunately several lost boats! This was a classic conversation:
...hey Chester, you ther by the island?
...yeah just here.
....you see her?
...aground? She’s up in the fuckin’ trees!
But no reports of lives lost, and that’s the most important. Al Shaheen (and all
aboard) came through her second hurricane; boat unscathed, crew and skipper a little
wiser and a little greyer!
Ps late Sunday: one death – guy’s whose boat broke its mooring and he tried to swim
from shore to salvage her. Not a good idea.