I may very well be responsible for hurricane Hermine that just hit Florida. Most cruising sailors, or at least the smart ones, spend the hurricane season outside of the hurricane zone. June to November is the hurricane season with August – September being peak. The safe zone is north of Florida or the very south Caribbean. When I was recently asked by another sailor if Tampa Bay is safe I unequivocally told them, yes! I went on to say, when was the last time you have ever seen a hurricane enter the Gulf of Mexico, make a hard u-turn and slam into the west coast of Florida? The normal path of hurricanes in the gulf is either to continue on westward or turn north into the Florida pan-handle. Tampa Bay hasn’t been hit by a major storm since 1946. Usually Pensacola or west is prime area. Murphy’s Law and Mother Nature were listening to our conversation and decided to have a little fun.
For a little while, the spaghetti models were forecasting exactly what I said rarely ever happens. The tropical depression number nine that passed over the northern Caribbean, up the coast of Cuba and into the gulf stalled and started to increase in intensity. It was forecasted to make a hard u-turn. For a couple of days we were looking at a direct hit. About 7 days before landfall, the forecast for Tampa Bay was bleak but at worst was a tropical storm. Then, about 3 days before landfall, the storm further intensified. It was forecasted to reach a Category 1 Hurricane (winds 74-95 mph, 64-82 kt, 119-153 km/h). Lucky for us, the spaghetti models were all in agreement the storm would turn northeast and hit the pan-handle missing us by about 200 miles. I have to say at this point, 200 miles is as close to a hurricane as I ever wish to be. Let’s make that 400 miles!
Cindy and I make decisions together when we have impending weather. We basically gather as much reliable information as we can and formulate a plan. We tend to minimize what the local TV is telling us. Listening carefully to what they say we hear words like potentially and not probably. I swear they just try to scare the bejesus out of people. The Weather Channel is the worst. We tend to gather our information from various navigational weather web-sites. We look at weather updates about 4 times a day and really stay on top of the forecasts. We check even more frequently as the storm nears (less than 5 days). We have several safe options in Tampa Bay. If we move Cream Puff, we need to make the move about 4 days before the storm. After this, the options of moving are drastically minimized. Our plans range from something as simple as not BBQing that night to the extreme of abandoning Cream Puff and running like hell to high ground. On this particular occasion, we decided to stay put in our marina and hunker down. We added extra dock lines with chafing precautions. I procured a commercial fire hose a couple of years ago. Where the dock lines are prone to rub and wear, we wrap them with a length of fire hose. We stowed and tied down anything that could blow away. And, we unplugged from shore power (to prevent power surges and brownouts – we have a generator if we need electricity). We double check all our pumps and ensure our emergency pumps are close at hand. And then, we wait.
We had no surprises with this storm. It was exactly as we expected. For the most part we had sustained winds of about 25-30 kt (30-35 mph). We experienced an occasional gust of 45 kt (50-55 mph). And, we had a lot of rain. And I mean, a lot of rain! During one of the gust I stuck my head up and snapped this picture (above). It was taken about 5pm when it is normally still light. You can see how dark it is. If you look carefully, you will notice our boat is leaning about 10 degrees to the right as the wind was coming from the left side of the picture. After this bout of rain, we folded back the remaining cockpit canvas covers, closed the hatchway and didn’t stick our heads up until the morning.
This morning we awoke to clearing skies and lighter winds. The power at our marina has some issues but thankfully no boats were damaged. The water is still high and will remain so for the next couple of days. There is a lot of local flooding. Many of the streets downtown are closed. But apparently, these are the normal flood areas. We saw a Department of Transportation (DOT) sign up on one of the prone areas yesterday that read “No Wake Zone”. Someone at the DOT has a sense of humor. We are glad the rain stopped today as we are out of milk and need to walk to Publix (grocery store). This is currently our biggest crisis.
The really good news: The relentless heavy rain has washed ALL the bird crap off our boat. Cream Puff is now super clean. The zika carrying mosquitoes have been blown up to New York City.