Posted in sailing, theology

The Storm of the Century: A Sailing Story

By Elizabeth Prata

Storm_of_the_century_satellite

Left, 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

Below, the anchor as seen at night, through clear Bahamian waters, 20 feet down!
It was convenient to be able to see that it was set well. Note the ripples the
chain made in the sand as the boat at anchor sways gently to and fro.

anchor

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.

 

the Intracoastal Waterway.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 over the VHF radio. The chatter about the coming storm was pitched and nearly manic. I heard one mariner say “I’VE NEVER SEEN ISOBARS THIS CLOSE TOGETHER!!”

 

 

anchor 2
In gentler times, another day of Intracoastal Waterway sailing.

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. In the end we decided to return tot he safety of the harbor. If we had stayed at that tiny, exposed anchorage, we probably would have died. As we came back in to the harbor from our day sailing, we heard the weather buzz over the VHF radio. Sailors are normally sanguine about the weather. This chatter about the coming storm was pitched and nearly manic. I heard one mariner say “I’VE NEVER SEEN ISOBARS THIS CLOSE TOGETHER!!”

The severe weather talk prompted us to set two anchors instead of one. We took it seriously.

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 #2 each night. The third, a Bruce, was the spare for emergencies. I considered this an emergency.

My husband 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 prevailing direction for the season, 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 this unusual storm with its 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.

Then we waited. The storm came.

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. We needed all the help we could by motoring into the wind, receiving pressure on the anchors. We had to stay in our anchored spot and not drag and slam into other boats as the wind pushed us around.

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. I think of the King in Daniel 5:6 as he saw a human hand appear out of nowhere and begin to write something on the wall

Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.

This unbelievable wind, it seemed like a monster, a clawing, gobbling thing intent on devouring the yachts in its path like matchsticks, coming toward us. 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. For its 37′ size it is considered a heavy and substantial boat. The derecho hit us on broadside 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 squinting into the black. Just clutching the wheel and hoping. There was nothing else we could do in the face of such awesome power.

The derecho passed over. The boat righted. The wind remained strong and we stayed on deck tending to all the things we needed to in order to stay afloat. Eventually the worst wind passed and left behind a week of blowy winds, still pinning us down. Thankfully, we were unscathed but many boats sustained damage, even though we were anchored in the safest harbor for miles. 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. He is the one sure thing, the one place to clutch onto in a storm. The one place where at calm, you remain rooted in the spot. I will hold fast to the anchor. We are blessed to have Jesus as our anchor, the Rock of our faith.

Matt Boswell and Matt Papa are authors of this song. Matt Papa’s website is here

This post first appeared on The End Time in July 2017.

Posted in bible, encouragement, sailing

In the lee of Jesus

Love to Jesus

Lord Jesus, if I love thee my soul shall seek thee, but can I seek thee unless my love to thee is kept alive to this end?

Do I love thee because thou art good, and canst alone do me good?

It is fitting thou shouldest not regard me, for I am vile and selfish; yet I seek thee, and when I find thee there is no wrath to devour me, but only sweet love.

Thou dost stand as a rock between the scorching sun and my soul, and I live under the cool lee-side as one elect.

When my mind acts without thee it spins nothing but deceit and delusion; when my affections act without thee nothing is seen but dead works.

O how I need thee to abide in me, for I have no natural eyes to see thee, but I live by faith in one whose face to me is brighter than a thousand suns!

When I see that all sin is in me, all shame belongs to me; let me know that all good is in thee, all glory is thine.

Keep me from the error of thinking thou dost appear gloriously when some strange light fills my heart, as if that were the glorious activity of grace, but let me see that the truest revelation of thyself is when thou dost eclipse all my personal glory and all the honour, pleasure and good of this world.

The Son breaks out in glory when he shows himself as one who outshines all creation, makes men poor in spirit, and helps them to find their good in him.

Grant that I may distrust myself, to see my all in thee.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Edited by Arthur Bennett

I simply love the Valley of Vision Puritan devotionals. They are so Jesus-centered. It’s refreshing to read and ponder written prayers devoid of anything from today’s toxic effects of me-centered, prosperity, self-esteem nonsense.

EPrata photo

I lived aboard a small yacht for two years, and through that experience I have a deep appreciation for the biblical allusions related to anything nautical. The Lighthouse, the stormy seas, the waves, reefs, and lee-side are all familiar to me and I can deeply identify with them. I suppose it is the same with the believing farmers and fishermen regarding the agricultural or fishing metaphors. Not that one needs to have had a certain life experience before understanding, but the life experience Jesus causes us to have does deepen some aspects of the Word and we gravitate to them on a different level. It’s like when a person becomes a parent for the first time, they understand the biblical verses related to parenting on a different level then they did before.

Though our boat is at anchor in this photo, we spent many a day that looked like this as we tried capturing wisps of wind occurring here and there and so inching along over tiny waves.

The sailor is ever restless. We want to go and we thus pray for wind. The wind comes but it’s not enough, or it’s too much, When the boat finally settles on a loping rhythm up and down the waves, the sailor wishes he was in port. Of course the moment one is in port, one wishes for the freedom of the sea. And so it goes.

The frustration of no wind can’t be overstated. The luffing sails, slack and listless seem almost an affront. One cannot manufacture wind. One cannot control the wind. One only waits, hopes, prays, and looks. The sailor learns patience. The sailor learns to relinquish control.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

The opposite is a problem, too. Too much wind can damage the boat, set the sailor off his course, or even swamp him and all will be lost at sea. The storms can be terrifying to the pagan.

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 5Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. (Jonah 1:4-5a)

Luke wrote of the travails Paul endured when he put on a ship that set forth too late in the year. In their part of the world, winter was a time when many storms brewed up and winds became contrary in a moment.

The Storm at Sea

Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:13-15).

And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. (Acts 27:4).

Sailors know the prevailing wind‘s direction given the time of year. Prevailing winds are winds that blow predominantly from a single general direction over a particular point on the Earth’s surface. They try to use islands as their shelter, making it a lee. This means if the prevailing wind comes from the east toward the west, if you sail or anchor on the west side, the island has blocked the wind and you will have more peaceful waters upon which to sail or sleep. Like this:

source

As the poet stated in Valley of Vision, “I live under the cool lee-side as one elect.” We have a great and powerful Mountain, our Rock to shelter and protect us from the storms and winds that try to blow us off course or drown us. Our Lord is our ever-present oasis of safety. Thus, thanks to Jesus Christ, it is well with our sail soul.

Posted in creation, God, sailing, salvation, testimony

A Testimony

Yah, here’s some personal stuff, which you know I hate to talk about. Someone had asked me in a comment if I have a testimony on the blog. I don’t, so here it is. Jesus is great.

As an 18 year old, I’d decided I wanted a traditional life. It felt right and good to pursue that. I’d grown up in a time which normalized everything that was contrary to God: open marriage, adultery, feminism, gender roles were reversed, experimentation was encouraged, drugs & alcohol were everywhere, etc. It was the 60s. None of that seemed right or good to me. I decided I wanted a marriage, home, and a career as a teacher. I wanted a solid, grounded, traditional life.

When I went to college I found the man. We hooked up when I was a freshman, and moved in together by sophomore year. We married when we graduated. We saved for a house, those were the days when you saved up, and put 20% down on a home. It was new, and we saved up for the furniture, and by then I’d gotten a teaching job. My husband was an engineer. Normal!

By the time I was age 26 he had found another woman, had an affair, and left. I was against the divorce. He left anyway. What happened to the traditional life I’d worked for? I did everything right, but it hadn’t worked out. I was perplexed. Where had it all gone wrong?

I was left with a mortgage to pay on a beginning teacher’s salary. Hard. I got a second job working 4 nights a week at the local movie theater, and still not making it, I got a third, weekend job at a local bookstore. It was still obvious to me that it was better to go through life two by two, a married man and woman, but no man was on the horizon. Alone, I had to deal with the chimney sweep who wouldn’t leave the house when he’d finished cleaning the woodstove, the tax preparer making crude and inappropriate comments as he looked over my W2s, the car salesman who said we had to finalize the car deal at the local bar, the rapist stalker I worked with the police to catch… It is clear that it was much better for a woman be married to and under the protection of the husband, emotionally, financially, and safety-wise. This is a philosophy many women today reject.

By the time I was 29 I was wrung out, tired, and frustrated with life. I pondered the following questions constantly:

–Is this all there is to life? It seemed that life was so short compared to whatever else was out there. What was it all for? To work 50 years, retire and die? It seemed all pointless. Humans had obviously not evolved but there had to be another purpose to man, since biological human complexity far outweighed the vaporousness of what seemed like a relatively short life.

This was the 80s and consumerism was at its height. I had a house, a new car, a 27 inch tv, a VCR (expensive item in those days) yet none of the ‘stuff’ fulfilled me either. I had friends and literary and cultural pursuits and dinner parties and jaunts to the beach but those didn’t satisfy for very long either. I was totally confused as to what life was about. I knew deep in my heart, though, that something else was out there. I kept looking.

That was the Ecclesiastes portion of my life.

By the time I was 29 I’d had it with traditional living. It was not cutting it for me. Maybe the 60s were right, a NON-traditional life was the way to go, except that people picked the wrong experiences to have and I’d pick better ones. I decided to dump my life and find a new one. My version of a non-traditional life was to not work a 9-5 job but instead to travel. I joined an Earthwatch Archaeological expedition and went to Italy for a month, the first two weeks traveling by myself and the second two in Tuscany digging up a castle.

At this exact time my friends set me up with a date with a man. We went out a few times but didn’t really connect, until he asked the $64,000 question. “If money was no object and you could live any way you wanted to, what would you do?” I answered right away that I’d get on a boat and sail to Bora Bora. He dropped his slice of pizza and said that he was in the middle of buying a yacht and he planned to sail to The Bahamas. We discussed our philosophies of non-traditional living, and by the time I came back from my August in Italy, he’d bought the boat and we went sailing away by October.

And so began the Romans 1 portion of my life- God revealed in creation.

We sailed about 11,000 nautical miles, we delivered a 22 foot motor boat from Naples Fl to RI adding another 1100 miles under our keel, we went across country in the VW van, we went in an ice breaker ship in Labrador, we drove around Ecuador, train traveled around Europe a bunch of times etc. I was still looking for that ever elusive something, and indeed my heart connected with God by seeing His creation, but not Jesus and my sin.

It was not until the third portion of salvation road that got me over the salvation threshold, something from the book of Mark (a story for another day).

Sailing was interesting. I saw the entire US coastline at a 3mph rate. We docked in every port. We passed every type of marine conveyance from kayak to aircraft carrier. We learned about canals and locks. The Dismal Swamp, Intracoastal Waterway, barges, fishermen, Chesapeake watermen, bridge tenders, smugglers. In the photo below, we had decided to make an overnight passage sailing from Charleston SC to St Augustine FL. The photo was snapped by my husband at about 6AM, it was sunrise and I’d had the dogwatch- 4-6 am. It’s the coldest, darkest part of the night and you are never so happy as when you see that sunrise. Everyone hates the dogwatch. I’m dressed in three sweatshirts and two pairs of sweatpants, and gripping a cup of hot, black coffee my husband had just passed me as it it was a life preserver!

Ocean sailing at night is disorienting. You look and look for the Lighthouse and when you see that light you sigh with a deep relief because now you know where you are and where you are going.

The famous diamond pattern on Cape Hatteras, NC lighthouse.

In the ocean, there are things to hit. Buoys. Whales. Even containers. When a container ship is in a storm, some of the containers fall off the deck, did you know? They float just a few feet below the surface for a few hours or so on their way to the bottom. If you’re sailing at night, there’s no way you’d see it in the dark. During the day you might notice a strange wave pattern- if you happen to be looking that way. Sometimes you read in the paper that a container washed up, once a container full of Nikes spilled out onto a WA beach. This is a snippet of a news article from 1999 Nat Geo:

“The sneakers were lost at sea when the container ship P&O Nedlloyd Auckland encountered a hurricane mid-Pacific. Heavy rolling threw a dozen 40-foot-long (12-meter) containers overboard, two filled with Nike shoes.”

Hopetown Harbor, Bahamas lighthouse

Anyway, until the container is either picked up or washes ashore or sinks completely, it presents a hazard to mariners. Sometimes you hit one and you sink. Or you could hit a whale. Steve Callahan’s story was made famous in the 80s with the publication of his book, Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea. He “hit an unknown object” and his badly damaged boat sank, he later said he thought it was a whale. He made a sextant with three pencils and an elastic he had in his pocket and navigated himself in the lifeboat that way. Cool.

Coastal overnight sailing is more hazardous than mid-ocean overnight sailing. Objects in the mid-ocean are there but the chances of hitting them are reduced dramatically. Sailing at night along the coast means you have to be ever vigilant that the wind doesn’t push you toward shore- and hidden reefs- or that the current doesn’t push you, or that you don’t hit other boats out there fishing or smuggling (illegal fishermen and smugglers don’t use running lights). The biblical metaphor here is that in coastal sailing you have to constantly check course. Even being a half a degree off for any length of time could wash you up on the rocks pronto. That’s why I don’t give an inch on doctrine. None of the Apostles did, warning us severely.

Below is a photo of our vessel. A Tayana 37, Taiwanese made 37′ boat with wooden mast, wooden bowsprit, full keel, faux-lapstrake, beamy, lots of beautiful teak, and 24,000 pounds of solid, if not immediately responsive, live-aboard sailing yacht. I used to joke that we had to make a reservation to get her to come about. She was a good boat.

Anyway, she was my home for two years, along with my husband and the myriad of motley non-traditionalist fellow sailors out there who became friends. We were all looking for that certain something. I know I found it and it turns out that I didn’t even have to sail 11,000 miles to find it. Or maybe I did.

The sailing ended at age 34, the world traveling ended at age 40. Then I got saved at age 43. Ah! So THIS is what life is all about!

When Jesus talks of Him being the Lighthouse, I can relate. When Paul says do not make a shipwreck of your faith, I can understand. When Hebrews writer says do not drift away, I get it. When Jude warns of hidden reefs and wild waves of the sea swept along by winds, I know what he means.

Shakespeare was right, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet) I knew it, I just knew it.

“For the invisible things of him, that is, his eternal power and Godhead, are seen by the creation of the world, being considered in his works, to the intent that they should be without excuse” (Romans 1:20)

The LORD made a wondrous world, set me adrift in it, watched me from the beginning, gradually shortened the leash, and in His timing, brought me to His bosom. I traded the leash of sin for the chains of glorious servitude to my master. More to the metaphor, my anchor holds, He is Jesus, and the chain will never break. As beautiful as this world is, I know that the next one will defy comprehension and exceed in beauty anything we can conceive. “No man has seen…” I think we will all be there soon.