Ralph Howell – Boca Raton, FL
Hurricane Irene just blew through Florida and it made me think of hurricanes I have known, Irene being the most recent but by no means the first.
About 1949 a Hurricane passed over the tip of Long Island when I was 75 miles from home in an old 36’ wooden boat I rebuilt after it was sixty years old. I had no engine and certainly no radio so I assumed what I saw was just a hard wind blowing from the direction I wanted to go to get home for work on Monday. I put four reefs in the mainsail and headed out into the Sound on the ebbing tide. It wasn’t long before it was thundering and lightning and blowing like stink (at one point the sky cleared and we saw northern lights) and we spent eight hours plowing into fierce seas that shook all 7 gross of screws I had put in that bottom. We pumped and prayed and prayed and pumped and when we finally made it into a safe harbor, we found out why we were the only boat we had seen all night… hurricane warnings had been posted since the previous day! Fools rush out where angels fear to tread!
In the mid-fifties I was in the process of building an Incinerator for the Town of Oyster Bay. Alongside the building the engineer had designed a pit where all the tin cans and unburnables were sluiced by the strong jets of water after they were dropped out of the grates in the furnaces. This pit was designed of concrete in the shape of an inverted, truncated cone with the apex about fifty feet below ground level.
At the time of Hurricane Carol we had excavated the hole and set up the conical shaped concrete forms. The deluge of rain drained the whole five acre site into this hole, burying my forms and filling it with muddy water. We no sooner made order out of chaos and got the forms re-erected than Hurricane Edna arrived and filled the hole once again, burying the forms once more and trying my patience (and my pocketbook) to the very limit.
You might say I have had a toe-to-toe confrontation with hurricanes.
Three times more I was caught away from home in my 40’ yawl, once in a harbor on Martha’s Vineyard, once in Port Jefferson and once in Greenport. It is very hard to sleep when the wind makes that much noise and extreme tides mean lines have to be adjusted all night long, not to speak of the rolling and the pitching and the realization that angry water is only inches away from your bunk.
When we bought our apartment on St. Thomas in 1969 we asked about hurricanes, naturally, and we were assured there hadn’t been one in 45 years so they assumed they were out of the track. Fine… until Hugo came along and devastated an unprepared Island in an unbelievable way… followed by two more hurricanes that lead to a huge assessment on my apartment and a plunge in real estate prices. I sold at a bargain price a year ago and you can be sure I am happy to be relieved of that ongoing exposure.
So when Irene came knocking at our door, Natalie and I drove down to the beach and enjoyed watching the fierce waves while standing on good old terra firma and reminisced about other days filled with much more terror and much less firmer.