We have officially survived our first, and hopefully last, hurricane. His name was Matthew and he was a big boy that made his presence known from the Keys all the way to Hatteras, hugging the whole coast of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
I have always had a fascination with weather systems, especially hurricanes and other tropical type storms. I watch the NOAA websites and reports regularly. When hurricanes are present near land, I watch hourly and streaming if there are webcams to be found and still online.
Matthew rolled off the coast of Africa as a system to keep an eye on without much potential to develop into anything until it got closer to the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. Weather reports kept saying it would fizzle out or turn North or stay far South. I kept watching and just had a feeling that this was not going to do any of those things, that this would be the first hurricane of the season with some real potential to do a lot of damage and wreak havoc wherever he went.
As Martin and I watched this system move across the Atlantic, we made the call to not move the boat south just yet and stay in St Simons Island, GA until things were clear. I changed my upcoming flight to Chicago to depart from Jacksonville instead of Fort Lauderdale for an upcoming conference, we cancelled reservations at Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale for October, cancelled concert tickets to Post Modern Jukebox in Fort Lauderdale, rented a car for the additional month we would be staying in GA, and then waited and watched.
As Matthew sat in the Caribbean and powered up to a Category 4, we were talking about what would need to be done if he decided to come out way. We are in an area that has not had a direct hit by a hurricane in over 100 years. We are tucked in nicely on the GA coast, then add the terrain of the seabed and the currents that run off the coast, it becomes even less likely that anything can hit this area directly. But Matthew was a determined boy and decided he would visit all the southern USA coast.
Much destruction was caused as Mathew powered slowly over Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba. Haiti had over 800 lives lost and hundreds more lost everything they had. Matthew did not weaken any and plowed up the center of the Bahamas as a Cat 4 storm, exited as a Cat 3, then powered back up and set sites on the USA. By this point the predictions by NOAA had the track running just off the coast all the way to New England. We watched, waited, and prepared.
Everything was taken off the deck of the boat, all lines were doubled, chafe guards were added to all lines, sails were tied down tight, anything that could move was removed, the dinghy was taken ashore and tied down, everything inside the boat was braced and stabilized, the freezer was emptied, the refrigerator emptied, everything that needed power was turned off, all thru-hulls closed, disconnected from shore power, all power shut down, and then we packed.
Our rental car is a Ford Mustang convertible. Anything that we plan to take off the boat must fit in this car, including two humans and one little Yorkie. As we moved through the boat, it slowly dawned on us that we may be packing the boat for the last time and whatever we take with us may be all we have left after the storm passes. The mood is solemn, the tears flow, we sift through our belongings on the boat and choose what to save and what to sacrifice to Matthew. It is a sobering task to parse through what you own and is interesting to see what becomes valuable.
I got my guitar, my newest Martin that is signed by Jack Johnson. I got a variety of clothes, and everything that could remotely be called warm. I got my bathing suits, cover-ups, and bras, since it way too hard to find any of these things that I like and fit right. We took several food items that were comfort food for the days ahead, especially the bag of Dove chocolates. Packed the laptops, iPads, iPhones, boat papers, all log books that pertained to the boat, grabbed my pillow and a few toiletry items, packed up the dog, and we were ready to go.
We made reservations at the dog-friendly La Quinta in Dublin, GA for two nights, then on to Macon for one more night, and then to Kingsland, GA for any additional nights that may be needed. As we left St Simons Island, GA that Thursday morning, sadness was a common feeling on the docks as people left boats and homes to the forces of nature while hoping enough prep work was done to minimize the damage. I could feel my gut being wrenched from me as the tears welled up in my eyes and that Mustang rolled out of the parking lot. We were now under a mandatory evacuation for Glynn County.
We headed north on I-95 for about an hour and then picked up I-16 heading west just outside of Savannah, GA. The GA state troopers were in the process of clearing all Eastbound lanes preparing for all roads to only head west. It was an impressive site to see. In addition, utility trucks from everywhere were already heading into areas all up and down the coast preparing to get power back up as it got knocked out. I was very impressed with law enforcement and all first responders. They did an awesome job and made a bad situation flow like clockwork.
It was seven days before we could get back to the boat. Flood waters from the storm surge had to recede, trees had to be cut away from the roads and houses, power lines had to be reinstalled, and traffic lights had to be cleaned off the ground and new ones installed. Out on St Simons, the raw sewage lift pumps had also failed causing raw sewage to overflow on the island, which required hazmat teams to come in to do clean up.
Once the sky cleared and winds calmed, we came through without a scratch and so did our boat. Even the solar panels stayed in place and continued to produce power. We took the next two weeks to get everything back to normal and get ready to head south. It was time for hurricane season to end and make our way down the coast toward Biscayne Bay and a nice warm winter.
Now we must decide if we want to cross back to the Bahamas or sail around the Keys for a couple of months first. Either way, we leave the memory of Matthew behind and hope our experience with hurricanes remains a story from the past.