Tom and Nancy’s Hurricane Sandy Adventure

Attending to Hurricanes

Throughout the summer various tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes were spinning out in the Atlantic. Knowing we would eventually be heading south along the Atlantic Coast and potentially into the path of these tropical storms, I looked at hurricane news every few days. But in early October I gradually stopped watching. Hurricane season was pretty much over and we weren’t headed south yet.

Hurricane Sandy hits our radar

Then, while at Hall Spars buying parts for the boom vang, we met Phil Garland, Vice President of Hall and a friend of our Whidbey sailing friends, Jeff and Alixe Hugret.

Phil gave us a tour of the plant, where we saw one of the enormous inner struts for an America’s Cup contender being made. And we gave Phil the rundown on our plans to leave the Boston area and sail south, first to his neighborhood of Narragansett Bay and then on to the Chesapeake.

When we got home we found Phil had added us to his email list and begun to send daily weather reports about a developing storm called Sandy. His first message was signed, “We’ll have to keep an eye on that one.”

Hurricane Sandy Daily Updates

The reports, from Commander’s Weather Service, were detailed and interesting. They added a marine angle to all the land focused coverage we began to see on the TVs in every bar, restaurant and laundromat.

Friends and acquaintances started to talk about Sandy too. The consensus here seemed to be that when the storm finally showed up here it would be a strong Nor’ Easter.

Soon Sandy became national news. All our family members called to warn us about it. I used to do the same to our son, Jeremy when he first moved to Virginia and they had their first hurricane.

My brother, Dale was the first to bring the nickname Frankenstorm to my attention. Then someone let me know that Sandy was predicted to be bigger than the Perfect Storm. I saw that movie. I started to panic.

Sandy Becomes Hard to Ignore

Tom, who went through two hurricanes in New Orleans as a kid, steadfastly refused to talk about the storm or to get flustered about it. He treated all reports just as he always has those annoying Northwest Storm Watch reports. Which is to say, “Pffft.”

He has a point, Seattle area weather reports hype every little gust to the heavens and then everyone just gets a little wet, again. I wasn’t so sure though. Hurricanes do happen to the east coast now and then.

Image of duct taped deck hardware in preparation for Hurricane Sandy

 While he continued working on the steering pedestal and getting the engine controls hooked up I covered leaky spots with duct tape. When the previous owner of Sunshine II became ill, his family put her up for sale. She sat unloved and uncovered for a few years and developed some depressing leaks. We’d planned to fix them properly, removing all the deck hardware to get rid of rusted screws and bad caulk, drilling out and re-epoxying the broken edges of hatches etc, once she was in the water. We covered the boat with a tarp each time it rained.

But faced with a potential hurricane, I knew we’d have to take the tarp down to reduce windage. In strong winds and blowing rain, at best a tarp’s effectiveness will be reduced, at worst it can catch the wind and pull the boat in an unwanted direction or tear hardware from the deck. Even protective items like dodgers are removed from boats during storms. A constant stream of boat owners flowed into the marina to take down precious canvas.

An aside – Hurricane preparedness in the marina mostly means hauling boats out of the water. Take several hundred round bottomed things weighing 10 tons each, that are designed to float on water and crack like eggs upon contact with land, and balance them above the pavement on metal toothpicks in the path of 100 mph winds. This is the insurance industry’s preferred method of reducing payouts due to storm damage. I find it counter-intuitive.

On the other hand, thousands of ships have been lost in hurricanes, including unfortunately, the tall ship HMS Bounty, just days ago, in Sandy. And I wouldn’t want to sail Sunshine anywhere near one.

Battening Down Hatches – Literally

The day before Sandy’s scheduled arrival, as the winds gusted stronger, we installed a couple of storm hatches Tom built to replace the ones that needed repair. Then we cleaned up, stowed tools and plywood and secured the dinghy and other waterproof items as best we could. I spent some futile moments wishing we’d called the surveyor about revaluing Sunshine. With all the work we’ve done she’s now worth far more than she’s insured for and we need his updated opinion in order to fix that.

Sleeping In the Wind

That night we enjoyed winds of 30 mph and gusts we estimated were 40 – 45. In our previous location we’d been protected by a rock wall and winds like that had been hardly noticeable. If there was an impact it was to our ears – from the constant clanking of unsecured rigging on nearby boats. They sound like a herd of cows ever heading for the barn.

In our present higher and more exposed location, a 10 mph breeze feels like a gale. And when those strong gusts hit, Sunshine shuddered. Around us the masts and rigging of other boats didn’t just clank intermittently, they hummed. One boom was tuned perfectly to play like a horn. Imagine a giant blowing steadily across the neck of a huge Coke bottle and you’ve got the picture.

Sleeping in those conditions was a little difficult. The bigger gusts did wake me. Then I had to get up about 4:45 to use the bathroom. We’ve got sanitation hose on order but not yet installed, so we use the marina facilities. Which means walking between all those shadowy, clanking, humming boats. A little eerie. It wasn’t raining though, just very windy.

On the way back I had a short bout of vertigo when a speed boat on a trailer appeared much closer than usual. It took a second to recognize it as the one that had been sitting under the bow of Alchemy, a big cruising sailboat that’s parked across the road from Sunshine. It had rolled out from its spot and now sat in the middle of the road. The tang of the trailer was pointed like a lance at the bottom of Lucky Too, the 40′ luxury sport fisherman that’s parked next to Sunshine.

I thought about grabbing the chain and pulling the boat away, but the wind was hitting her square on her stern, I didn’t think I could fight it to turn her bow into the wind. And if I did, then the whole stern would be ready to scrape up against Lucky Too, rather than just the point of the ball socket. And if I only got her half way around before a gust overwhelmed me … I didn’t know what. So I went and found one of the big blocks that they set the keel of each boat on and stuck that under the trailer’s wheel.

Standing back I considered what would happen now that one wheel could move and the other not. The wind was predicted to clock around from the North East to the South East. It might spin the trailer and send it down the hill, potentially toward other boats. So I switched the block to the other wheel and went to bed. And then I lay awake thinking I should go back out and find another block to put under the other wheel. If the wind got strong enough to swing the trailer around (and what do I know about what hurricanes can do?) it could potentially sweep a stanchion out from under Lucky Too, and if LT went over, the stanchions on her port side would topple toward Sunshine.

Worry, think, fall asleep, worry, second guess, fall asleep, worry, listen for crashes, fall asleep went the rest of my night. At some point I heard an engine outside and groggily thought it must be the yard guys moving the boat. When I got up, it was tucked in beside the fence just down the hill and out of the way.

Fun with weather

In the morning we puttered around securing things, cleaning up, putting buckets under drips etc. Then I texted our friends Jesse and Stacey saying we were heading out to Hull to see what the seas were doing, hoping they’d join us. They were on their way to the marina to check on their boat, Smitty, so we ended up riding out together and having lunch.

Hull is a spit of land that juts out into Massachusetts Bay. On the map it looks like a tiny Cape Cod. The seas that hit along Nantasket Beach, its eastern side, are not open ocean but they still gave us a good dousing with salty spray when they crashed against the sea wall. Some sent plumes of spray higher than three story waterfront houses. They also gave us something to extrapolate from as far as what was hitting waterfront communities in New Jersey, 300 miles down the coast.

Image of waves at Hull, MA from outer edge of Hurricane Sandy

Back at the marina at high tide we checked on Smitty and Sunshine and ran into others from L Dock, also out checking on their boats. An impromptu hurricane party on the sundeck overlooking the marina.

Jesse and Stacey had invited us to stay at their house if the storm got bad. When we took them up on the offer the winds were steady about 35 – 40 with gusts to 55 or 60 and forecast to get worse. But by the time we had dinner, watched storm news (and an antidote in the form of Tosh.0) and went back to the marina to see how the high tide and storm surge were treating Smitty, things had calmed down dramatically. The air was so still it felt like we might be in the eye of the storm. It almost seemed silly to stay at the house, but we were already moved in there, so we stayed and slept very well.

Interesting Side Note – This was only the second time we’d been in a house since leaving Montana in early August. The other time was when we toured Paul Revere’s house in Boston.

The Aftermath

As it turned out, that was a good choice, Sunshine was pretty damp inside, we would have been grumpy and dismal had we stayed aboard. Which let us know it’s time to work on buttoning up those leaks for real so that we can all three hold on to our sunny dispositions.

So in the end the locals were right, we experienced a Nor’ Easter. New Jersey, New York and the crew of the Bounty, got the full force of Hurricane Sandy, Frankenstorm, megastorm, the storm that was bigger than the Perfect Storm.

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  1. Haha, I forgot about that picture with the seagull. That did come out good.

    You need to start putting a “Tidal Life” water mark on your photos or people are going to start stealing them.


  2. Hi Nancy,

    It’s good to hear Sunshine, you and Tom survived Sandy’s lashings without too much difficulty, except for the inevitable, time-consuming storm preparations and the loss of sleep. I love the photo of the seagull in the wind and the waves crashing on the breakwater. I can feel the weather in that photo–well, not quite–I can imagine it enough to know I’m glad I’m not on anchor watch. The sky is as gray here as there,and we’ve had plenty of rain, but none of the scary winds.

    Thanks for the interesting update. I hope life to returning to normal for you and Tom.

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