How I Survived Hermine

Published on September 6th, 2016

by Matthew Fortune Reid
I am a sailor, pure and simple. I give myself to this fact, because to deny it is to court unhappiness. I am blessed with a sixth sense – an innate ability to feel trouble before it happens.

Like the time in Nice, France, when I was having a late afternoon picnic and something warned me that my lifeguard skills would be put to test. I ended up kissing a dead man that day and resuscitated him…four times. Not a pretty experience.

Or shortly after that, four days in fact, in Ajaccio, Corsica. I again felt my spidey sense tingling and just managed to catch a girl as she fell down in convulsions from heat stroke.

Or the time in Hobart, Tasmania during the 2014 Sydney to Hobart race when a small plane flew over us and again, the tingling began. That plane crashed and killed three people an hour later.

400px-MA_Essex_Co_Manchester-by-the-Sea_map

Manchester by the Sea

Or, even more recently during Hermine as the storm reached the northeast. I am skippering a McCurdy and Rhodes 66 ketch at the moment and have been riding out the weather on a mooring in Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts.

On Monday the 5th of September, it was steadily getting breezier and wavier. I could see 10 foot faces breaking onto the rocks of the small barrier islands just outside Manchester Bay. Four foot residual swells were rocking and rolling the boat all day and into the night. The wind was in the sustained 20s, with gusts just below 30 knots all day.

That uneasy feeling crept upon me once again and I walked the deck for the thousandth time looking for something to allay my uncomfortableness. As a stared at the mooring lines and the anchor in its bow holder, I flashed through what I would need to do if the mooring broke or started dragging.

I looked at the dinghy, suspended by two halyards on the starboard forward quarter. Should I drop it in case of emergency, or would it just be in the way? I decided to leave it where it was. I took a mental note of where my gear was and the order in which I would do things if the mooring gave, and then went to bed at around 21:30.

The boat was really rolling and it was difficult to fall asleep, but I did. Some hours later, I woke up wide-eyed and serious. Instead of popping my head up and looking around, I grabbed my gear, life vest and sea boots, flicked on all the necessary breakers and started the genset and engine room blower.

I then started the main engine and with high-powered light in hand, took a look around. Sure enough, the boat was on the move…and rapidly. We were already even with the last boat in the mooring field and about 350 to 400 meters from a rocky lee shore on Misery Island.

I began to hold the yacht in place with the engine and started my assessment of the situation. Wind was down to the high teens but waves were still a problem. It was pitch black and I was marking my position with lat and long in a notebook every few minutes.

I called the Coast Guard on channel 16 and gave them the run-down of my plan to anchor, basically where I was at. I didn’t want to try and motor too far due to the unknown element of the mooring still connected to me and the lobster traps that were surrounding me as well.

I began the process of running up to the bow and getting the ground tackle and windlass ready for the drop. Back and forth, back and forth, I slowly got things going. Finally, it came time to drop the hook and just in that time, I lost another 100 meters while the anchor and chain slid out.

It finally caught and I set it good. I then gave it a 5 to 1 scope and sat anchor watch for the rest of the night at now 00:45. As I looked at the lee shore, now less than 250 meters away, I estimated that I had an eight-minute time window that if I had missed it, I would have woken up crashing on the rocks. God I love my sixth sense.

An obvious question might be, did I have the anchor alarm on? Yes, for a 75-yard radius. I did hear it beeping, but that isn’t what woke me up as it didn’t sound off until I was on deck already.

Whatever got me out of my bunk did it in a hurry. I felt like I didn’t have time to do anything but go into action. I feel super-lucky that I have a hair-trigger sleep mode. I rarely fall into a deep sleep. It is more like a half-sleep where I am totally aware of what is going on around me at all times. It is usually frustrating because, hey, we all love to sleep.

However, as a sailor, it has boded me well. I can jump out of my bunk relatively crisp at any moment, at any little foreign noise, motion, feeling or smell. I think this is why I was born a sailor and just never realized it until later in life. Now, for better or worse, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

The end of the story is that, Tuesday morning, I contacted Manchester Yacht Club and told them the situation and that I wanted to grab another mooring. I dropped the old mooring, which immediately began to drift off. I then brought the anchor in and motored into the mooring field.

I alerted the staff that the mooring was drifting away and they grabbed a work-boat and retrieved it. The mooring set-up is a helix drilled into the mud, then some sort of ‘bungee’ system and a super strong braided line that is then connected to a chain and up to the mooring ball itself. That super strong braided line was what failed. It snapped like a wet piece of spaghetti.

After all of this, I just want to go sailing…

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