When I moved from Michigan to Rhode Island in 1980, sailing my old Pearson Triton through the lakes, canals and Hudson River, it never occurred to me then that tropical storms pose a threat to boats in New England. Guess I’d forgotten the photos my father showed me of the devastation the ‘Hurricane of ‘38’ caused to Massachusetts forests 100 miles inland.
I wasn’t in Newport long before I got my own look at a hurricane.
Gloria struck in the summer of 1985 I was working at Cruising World magazine then, and one of our newer employees decided that all of the filing cabinets on the ground floor ought to be moved upstairs. Then he took it upon himself to remove the second floor air conditioners that hung out over the sidewalk below. Unbeknownst to him, all that held the air conditioners in place was the top halves of the casement windows. When he lifted the window, the air conditioner toppled overboard. Reacting quickly, he grabbed the electrical cord and began screaming, “I can’t hold it! I’m gonna drop it!” Pedestrians stood back, dumbfounded. Then he let go the plug end of the cord, whereupon the air conditioner hit the sidewalk and split open. At that point I think someone told him to go home.
Those of us with boats split early, too. I rowed out to Adriana, my 1967 Pearson Vanguard and wrapped towels around the mooring pennants where they passed through the chocks. I took an extra line from the mooring chain, over the bow roller and aft to the mast. Then I set two anchors in the expected direction of the first winds.
Several times during the highest winds I dared walk down to the docks where I could get a look at her…as if there was something I could do if she came loose. Fortunately, she survived. But not all the boats did. Several broke their pennants and went careening through the mooring field, taking out other boats on the way. Most of them ended up against a stone seawall in the northeast corner of the harbor, half sunk, rigs broken, raw fiberglass carnage.
In the eerie hours preceding another hurricane, I decided to haul my Mako 22 photo boat at a launch ramp in Brenton Cove, at the southwest corner of Newport Harbor. With the help of a few friends, we got my car and trailer situated, then went back for the boat. There was a line of boats waiting to haul out, the owners anxiously backing down pickup trucks and snatching them from what certainly seemed the jaws of destruction. Finally, just one boat remained ahead of us, a 30-foot cabin cruiser. The owner was aboard the boat, on the flybridge, yelling instructions to his wife who bravely backed the trailer down the ramp. When it was sufficiently immersed, he roared up onto the trailer, jumped off the bow into the bed of the pickup, ordered his wife out and slid into the cab. Throwing the truck into gear, he hit the gas and pulled out in a big hurry. Unfortunately, he’d forgotten to tie a bowline to the trailer and pulled it right out from under the boat, which landed with a thud on the rock ramp, then rolled to one side. The owner, of course, couldn’t believe it was he, not his wife, who’d made this incredible blunder. He cursed and kicked at the air. I resigned myself to having the Mako ride out the storm in the harbor. She made it, but not before the winds blew off the teak locker lids and sucked out everything inside. Miraculously, the next day I found the lids floating in a pile of debris.
My boats have luckily made it through a number of other hurricanes, the worst of which was Bob, whose eye passed directly over Newport in August 1991.
That said, as I write I’m listening to the NOAA weather advisory regarding Floyd and Gert. It’s mid-September and there’s good fall sailing left. But 155-mph sustained winds and gusts to 190 mph?! I’d feel a lot better if Viva rode this one out on the hard.