Storm of the Century, March 1993. I was living on my sailboat, and I was in it. The arrow shows where.
I was saved at age 42, and before that I traveled a lot. I lived on a sailboat for two years, traveling about 10,000 nautical miles (with another 2000 miles on a speedboat delivery). As they say, “A lot of blue water under my keel.”
We left on our first voyage in October 1992. In March of 1993, we were anchored at Georgetown Bahamas, where we experienced the Storm of the Century.
In this from the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, we read the article Lost at Sea:
They called it the “storm of the century.” … that unnamed freak March tempest killed as many people in Florida as Hurricane Andrew and left $500 million in damage, even dropping snow in the Panhandle, by the time it finally moved out of Florida. It took with it a 40-foot sailing ketch called Charley’s Crab. No scrap, no bit of flotsam, no article of clothing was ever found from that boat, and after two desperate SOS calls, the four people who were sailing it just off the coast of Palm Beach were never seen or heard from again.
The storm continued to wreak havoc as a record-breaking blizzard as it moved up the east coast of the United States and into Nova Scotia. NOAA Weather:
The Superstorm of 1993 (also called the Storm of the Century) was one of the most intense mid-latitude cyclones ever observed over the Eastern United States. The storm will be remembered for its tremendous snowfall totals from Alabama through Maine, high winds all along the East coast, extreme coastal flooding along the Florida west coast, incredibly low barometric pressures across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, and for the unseasonably cold air that followed behind the storm. In terms of human impact the Superstorm of 1993 was more significant than most landfalling hurricanes or tornado outbreaks and ranks among the deadliest and most costly weather events of the 20th century. (source)
Wikipedia specifically mentions the derecho winds:
The squall line produced a serial derecho as it moved into Florida and Cuba [and The Bahamas, Ed. Note] shortly after midnight on March 13. Straight-line winds gusted above 100 mph at many locations in Florida as the squall line moved through. The supercells in the derecho produced eleven tornadoes.
Today’s point, is the anchor.
1993 was before the internet and cell phones. GPS was very new and few sailors had it. Yet the sailing network still worked. We had been dithering about anchoring outside the harbor a little ways off behind a small island, really a sand bar hump, that had a lone palm tree. If we had followed through with that decision we might have died. As we came back in to the harbor from our day sailing, we heard the weather buzz. The chatter about the coming storm was pitched and nearly manic.
The severe weather talk prompted us to set two anchors instead of one.
As we further learned of the severity of the storm, I suggested that we set a third anchor. We possessed a third anchor but it wasn’t attached to the rope (rode) yet. We normally used the CQR as the main anchor and the Danforth as the backup two each night. The third, a Bruce, was the spare for emergencies. I considered this an emergency.
My husband resisted, but I pushed. Eventually he got busy and attached the anchor to the rope and set the third. We’d set the two anchors as if the wind would come from the normal direction, north-northwest. The harbor was very large, it could hold up to 400 boats in peak season. It was peak season. There were many, many boats anchored around us.
Storms in that location usually come in from the north-northwest. However as the unusual derecho swept over the peninsula of Florida, the Gulf Stream, and then western Bahamian Islands, it became obvious this was a storm that didn’t adhere to anything “normal.” It came not from the north, the usual winter storm pattern, but from the west.
As boaters anchored ahead of us were hit with the wind we heard them yelling into their VHS radios, reporting data from their anemometers. The wind only increased as it swept over the harbor.
“It’s 50 miles an hour!”
It’s 75 miles an hour!
“It blew out the anemometer at 98 miles an hour!”
My husband looked at me wide eyes. Without a word, he turned on the engine.
I heard it before I saw it. A terrible train sound increasing in its unearthly roar even as it blackened the horizon and roiled toward us at unbelievable speed. It seemed like a monster, a clawing, gobbling thing intent on devouring the yachts in its path like matchsticks. The last thing I heard before it hit was the incredulity in one yachtsman’s voice:
“IT’S COMING FROM THE WEST. THE WEST!!!”
It hit. Our sailboat had a full cast iron keel from bow to stern, weighing 7,000 pounds. Our boat overall weighed 23,000 pounds. The derecho hit us on the side and slammed us over like a baby in a tub dunking a rubber ducky. Our side rail hit the water and as we righted, two of the anchors popped loose. My husband had gunned the engine to full speed, but we made no headway to relieve the wind’s pressure on the third anchor. All our prayers were on that last anchor. One thin rope ending in one metal anchor is all we had between us and destruction.
Boats all around us were dragging. Some were dragged by the insane wind onto the beach. Others were dragged into each other, masts tangling and rigging twining together. My husband and I stood the storm shoulder to shoulder, engine at full throttle, leaning into the wind staring into the black. Just standing. There was nothing else we could do in the face of such power.
The derecho passed over and left behind a week of winds. Thankfully, we were unscathed but many boats sustained damage, even anchored in the harbor. We heard that the sailboat Charley’s Crab (Florida restaurant owner) on its way across the Gulf Stream was lost, a tugboat and a freighter were lost at sea, too. Overall 48 people on the sea were reported missing. The Coast Guard rescued 160 people at sea. 270 people died on land.
That one little anchor, that one thin line, is all that saves you in a storm. It’s all that keeps you in one place at night when you pull down the sails and anchor in place. You go to sleep knowing that the anchor has to hold. Otherwise as you sleep, your boat could be dashed upon the rocks or swept to sea.
Christ has meaning for me as The Sure and Steady Anchor. I will hold fast to the anchor.