Given that it’s currently gusting in the 40s and has been blowing over 30 all night, I’ve got weather on my mind.
“Have you ever experienced any real storms?!?” is a question we get asked occasionally. “Storm” is one of those labels I try not to throw around too lightly, but there have certainly been a few.
Sailing to Australia from New Caledonia was probably my first. The seas were huge and sloppy, so the windvane couldn’t steer and the only thing anyone could manage was 1-hr watches, hand-steering through the mess in the dark, outside, alone, surrounded by columns of lightning that were hitting the water around us. I didn’t usually do night-watches, but I was excited to be a part of the adventure and happy to do my part. I was 11.
Or anchored in the Red Sea, trapped in a nothing-Anchorage by a set of snarling winds roaring down from the Suez Canal. Red dust on everything, bow burying in the anchorage’s breaking waves, counting snubbers as they broke one-by-one BANG and just wishing I could go play with my friends on the boats anchored around us. I was 13.
Flying down the coast of Nicaragua, further offshore than we meant to be but without any real way to get back closer in. Winds had been building overnight and we thought it would be better at sunrise but then the sun rose and we could SEE what we had just been hearing. Waves building and breaking and building until it suddenly hits you that you are craning your neck up, up, UP to see the top of that curler and aren’t waves meant to be below the boat, not towering over your head? The forecast was wrong (the forecast is often wrong) and this is not what I signed up for. We’re doing a “rolling restoration” (we are always doing a rolling restoration) so we don’t fully trust the rig and when we finally FINALY make it into a port — after a night of what I can only describe as “fireball lightning and hell” — we discover our backstay fitting has a crack halfway through it and I throw up in the anchorage at the realization of just how closely we toed the line of real disaster. I was 21.
Skip ahead to winter living aboard in Portland, Maine. Nor’Easters are a real thing and one particularly bad blizzard caught everyone hard. A neighbor’s Genoa started to unfurl (which nearly always results in an immediate shred) but with a broken leg there wasn’t much he could do but stand in the companionway and watch. The community rallied and we wrestled that sail to the deck, yelling through the rain and collapsing exhausted on our bucking bronco of a boat when it was finally done, not a stitch ripped. That was 2016.
And then maybe now. Today. This minute, blowing a steady 39 and gusting 49 knots and hopping around on a mooring in Newport, Rhode Island. We saw this coming last week, knew we needed to be somewhere in case it really materialized (we’ve had so many lucky misses with hurricanes over the past few years that I’ve grown a little reliant on just wishing storms away).
If I’d been to Newport before (and seen the size of the harbor and the fetch that can kick up) and if I’d known our alternator would kick the bucket just as we tied up to a mooring (leaving us unable to run our engine for more than maybe 5 emergency minutes or make any power on these cloudy overcast days) I would have gone for the $$$ marina slip and maybe even a hotel.
But we didn’t so here we are. Listening to the wind shriek so loud it sounds like the kettle whistling but I don’t think anyone is making coffee just yet and feeling continuously amazed at the small creature we birthed who is still sleeping peacefully through all of it and is hopefully too young to be able to remember this in what I’m sure will be his own long list of “storms I’ve weathered”.
Now back to watching the anemometer (I found the word) and waiting for sunrise.