We are always cognizant of impending hurricanes during this time of the year. We get instant alerts on our phone from two apps, BoatUS and Hurricane Tracker. Over a week ago we began monitoring Hurricane Irma.
We spent most of Labor Day weekend on the hook anchored off of Three Rookers Bar just north of our Marina in Dunedin and headed back to Marker 1 Marina late on the afternoon of Labor Day and saw that Irma was going to be something to contend with, and decisions were going to have to be made.
Our first order of business on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, was to get topped off with fuel, as we didn't know if we were going to stay put at our marina, or try to avoid the storm by traveling to another location.
I know from experience that our fixed dock slip at Marker 1 Marina would not be our first choice as a place to have Swing Set during a major storm, much less a Category 4 hurricane. Clearwater Harbor Marina is the closest marina with floating docks, and the very early predictions for the path of Irma took it up either the entire east coast or the west coast of Florida, so trying to outguess the path was going to be problematic to say the least. I made a call to the harbormaster at Clearwater Harbor Marina, Brooke Cunningham. Brooke told us to make an online reservation on their website ASAP to "get in the system", but he had a handful of slips still available, but we needed to make up our minds quickly, and he also suggested that instead of making a reservation for the upcoming Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I should make it Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, as he thought Irma was going to be on top of us on Monday and Tuesday. That turned out to be very good advice.
Next, I visited the office of Marker 1 Marina to determine if we could possibly move to an adjoining slip that was wider which allows for scope for tie off lines to increase the chances of surviving the fluctuating levels that come with storm surge. Kyle Huff, the dockmaster, and the dock administration manager, Caitlin, was in the office when I asked if I could move to, if possible, to the adjoining slip. I was just "checking my options".
I got blank stares for one thing, they probably weren't use to anyone coming in that early to discuss a hurricane plan. I was told that someone was expected to arrive for that slip by the weekend, so I was not encouraged to make that particular option a part of my plan. On my way out of the office, I received an affirmative nod from Kyle when I mentioned a possible move to the floating docks at Clearwater Harbor Marina. "That would be a good move", he said.
Rosie and I walked across the street so I could get a haircut, and while I was getting clipped, Rosie went to the online reservation form for Clearwater Harbor Marina and made a reservation online for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the 10th, 11th, and 12th of September.
To follow-up, I called Brooke again when my haircut was finished and after considering the logistics of preparing our home for the hurricane, and getting to the marina in time to prepare the boat, we decided to add Saturday the 9th to our stay and book four nights in Clearwater. Brooke had our online paperwork and told us we were good to go.
Meanwhile, some friends and former dock mates from Marathon Marina , Tim and Christie Ayers, contacted us and asked me what I thought of floating docks, as he was in the fixed docks at the Clearwater Beach Marina and he had a chance to go over to Clearwater Harbor which is on the other side of the bay on the mainland. The Beach Marina is on the barrier island at Clearwater Beach. I told him what our plans were, so we began co-ordinating efforts to get into adjoining slips at Clearwater Harbor Marina so we could "spider web" our boats together in the double slips. Brooke was very accommodating, recognizing our desire to do the responsible thing to protect not only our vessels, but he also knew he had two "captains" coming in who at least pretended to know what they were doing.
We headed home to our condo, feeling very confident of our plan, with intentions of preparing our home for the hurricane and then going back to Swing Set on Friday to strip the canvas and make other preparations, and then get to the Clearwater Harbor Marina just after daylight on Saturday the 9th.
It didn't take long to get our home in order and on Thursday, we were relaxing at the pool after our work, taking it easy, but not looking forward to the work we had to do on Friday.
But I had this nagging feeling that I was wasting time. My intuition was not unfounded.
Late Thursday afternoon we received an email from Marker 1 Marina. We were being told that they were expecting major damage from the hurricane at the marina, especially in the wet slips, and that if we could move our boats from the wet slips, that was being advised, and that the marina was officially closing that evening by 6 P.M., electric was being turned off, and that access to the marina would be denied on the causeway leading to it by 6 A.M. the next morning, Friday the 8th, four days before Irma was due to arrive, if at all!
Phone tag started. We had to contact Brooke at Clearwater Harbor Marina to see what the status was of the slip we were to occupy, thinking we were going to anchor out until we could get into it. He said the slip was open, and it was ours if we wanted to come early.
Then I called Tim Ayers and he also had learned of the news, and he was told to come early too, and he also heard that the city of Clearwater was going to deny access to the marina after Friday morning. I also wanted to make sure he was going to move their boat to Clearwater Harbor, because I was actually having thoughts of taking Swing Set to the "armpit of Florida" and into Steinhatchee, as the path of Irma wasn't predicted to go there.
No, he still intended to meet us there, and again, it turned out to be fortunate that we didn't decide to head to Steinhatchee.
It turns out that the denied access in Clearwater was only to the beach marina, not the mainland marina, but we didn't know that. We grabbed our things and made the drive to Marker 1 Marina and got there around 5 P.M. on Thursday afternoon. On the way over, our friends Brett and Christine Thompson had called and offered any assistance we may need, and at first thinking I was going to have to take the boat alone down to Clearwater, and Rosie would meet me there with the car, they agreed to come to the boat and then take our car to Clearwater, about five miles away, but this was a BIG help.
When we got to Marker 1, I saw Kyle and he said "Hi, how's it going?" and I answered, "You're kidding, right?" but with a smile of course.
I made quick work of stripping the canvas enclosure for the flybridge, stowing the window panels just below our windshield in the salon. We used a ton of beach towels to place between each panel to protect the Stratoglass windows.
The zippers were really hard to operate and I was kicking myself for reneging on the promise to myself to keep them lubricated after installing the top three years ago. Even though the zippers are plastic, had it not been for the panels having zippers pulls on both sides, inside and outside of each panel, I may have broken a few zippers in removing them. As it was, everything came off intact. Brett showed up just in time to help remove the bimini top and also to help me remove the propellers from both wind generators.
Brett and Christine took the car and we took the boat and got down to Clearwater before 7 P.M., and had it secure in the slip by the time Tim and Christie showed up with their 40 foot Mainship. We helped them in, got them tied up, and Tim and I lashed the two boats together.
I took this the following morning because when we got done the night before it was way past dark. I didn't show Tim's boat. Let him publish his own blog. Hahahaha.
We sat out with Tim and Christie and toasted our success with a couple of beers before the rain started. We were all beat and had no trouble turning in by 10 o'clock. At 3 A.M. I woke up realizing that we had left our cargo bicycle at Marker 1 Marina, also remembering that we were told that we would be unable to access Marker 1 Marina after 6 A.M.! I laid awake trying to decide whether or not we should go get the bike. It was locked to a post under the main building, but I was also certain that even though the bike wasn't going anywhere, surge would inundate the bike and the saltwater would ruin it. We had a considerable amount of money invested in that bike and the custom cover for it, so I really wanted to go get it.
Rosie stirred and sensed that I was awake. She sensed that when she heard me muttering to myself. "What's the matter?", she said.
"We have to go get the damn bike. I forgot we left it at Marker 1."
We stuffed Holly in her carrier and drove up to Marker 1. No one was around and it was pitch black. I felt my way to the bike and unlocked it in the dark and rolled it out to our car where Rosie was waiting. I had no allusions about trying to fit this two person bike into our little Ford Escape, so I told Rosie to meet me at the filling station up the street so I could put air in the tires. The bike hadn't been ridden since we moved to Dunedin 20 months ago, although I had kept the tires inflated. Well, to a degree.
Once I had some success at filling the tires, I told Rosie to meet me at Brett and Christine's condo in Dunedin, and I pedaled the five miles to their place in the dark, the chain squeaking all the way. By the time I got there I thought I was gonna die. It was too early to wake them, so I locked the bike behind their garage and we went to eat breakfast. By 6 A.M. we texted them and asked if we could keep our bike in their garage until after the storm and they said we could. On the way over there I told Rosie that I was going to make our friends an offer that they couldn't refuse.
We got to Brett and Christine's just as they were staggering out of bed, probably not too happy about being up so early, but I suggested to them that the two person cargo bike would be a great addition to their garage full of toys and they could keep it indefinitely if they would agree to let us use it when or if we even took Swing Set on an extended trip. We think that's a pretty good deal and hope they do too. We headed back to Clearwater.
We tied up some loose ends on the boat, and on our way out we stopped into the Harbormaster's office to talk to Brooke. We had discussed our dissatisfaction with ourselves about the fact that Marker 1 Marina was not really able to satisfy our needs as a harbor for Swing Set. The pilings and docks are too short for a high tide, much less a hurricane. We asked Brooke about the possibility of getting the slip we were in permanently and he told us that it was ours if we wanted it, but to make our decision after the storm passed. There was always the possibility of not having a boat left to put anywhere. How true.
We went back to the boat to defrost the refrigerator, now knowing that the electric was going to be turned off late on Sunday night. That made more sense than doing it on Thursday, three days prior.
We had groceries to get home to the refrigerator, not knowing if the electric there would stay on past Sunday night, but one thing at a time. As we drove past the causeway to Marker 1 Marina, I was a little miffed that Causeway Blvd. was not closed off like we were led to believe it would be.
Swing Set was as secure as we could make it, and everything at home was secure too, so we spent the afternoon at the pool and then engaged ourselves at a hurricane party with some neighbors into the evening on Saturday, not knowing how bad this forecasted category 5 hurricane was going to be. We tried our best to empty our neighbor's keg of Budweiser before the hurricane knocked out the electric for the cooling, but we failed.
Sunday we spent watching Irma make her appearance and believe it or not, I learned something I didn't know before. Of course, living in Missouri, we hadn't much experience with hurricanes, but blog readers might remember how we holed up at Bobby's Fish Camp on the Tombigbee Waterway on our way down here in 2012. We were warned about "storm surged" and was advised to stay put there until the threat had passed.
Watching the news on Sunday, I learned that the term "storm surge" should actually be called "storm retraction and surge" because the strength of an approaching hurricane sucks the water from the ocean and the bays, leaving the shallows around them in a field of sand or mud. Had we left Swing Set at Marker 1 Marina, she would have been setting on the ground. Water under the boat at low tide only leaves about a foot of water beneath it.
I mentioned our fortuitous decision to not head for Steinhatchee, and the predicted path of Irma was not heading directly for the armpit of Florida. I did fail to mention that my desire to take Swing Set to the hook was tempered by the fact that our dinghy motor is still waiting for a new carburetor. I don't like being on the hook without a way to get to shore.
I'll not rehash our Irma experience here at home. I'll just say that we had our "safe place" inside the condo. I inflated a double size airbed and wedged it over our heads in a landing of our stairway. We lined the floor with camping pads and sleeping bags, had our "go bag" with essential items nearby, and battery powered lamps and flashlights handy. Holly was on her leash and close by our sides the whole time, and we even had our motorcycle helmets at the ready. Neither one of us can take a chance on further brain damage.
By the time Irma reached us, she was tired out, sort of like trying to find new love at an old age, but it appears we can survive a Cat One hurricane here at home with no trouble at all. I think half the state of Florida lost electrical power except us, and here I was looking forward to eating bacon all day so it wouldn't go bad. That, and drink the rest of the neighbors Bud.