Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hurricane Hugo

Yesterday afternoon, we crossed over into South Carolina, the state of my birth.

I am camping in the middle of nowhere about 100 feet from the intracoastal waterway. I have already seen a big sailboat heading south this morning.  Yesterday we saw a ketch heading north with his jib up, his main down and the iron sail puttering along.

Deja vu...

I motor sailed up that very same canal along the entire coast of South Carolina from Charleston to Norfolk, Virginia in September 1989. At the time I was working as delivery crew on an old gaff rigged sailboat. We had been hired to deliver it from Fort Lauderdale to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Initially we headed offshore, sails hoisted and the engine silent. The new owner of the sailboat was with us. He turned out to be a royal pain in the ass.   He had no experience with boats or sailing. Indeed he had bought this one, his very first boat, sight unseen!  At that point and time in my life, I worked with a crew agency that offered up assignments at sea, so that is how I came to be working on the vessel for what should have been a 7-10 day delivery, give or take.

The fact that we were offshore sailing northward with no land in sight, distressed the owner greatly. He thought we could and would sail fifty feet from the beach all the way up the eastern seaboard. He fought with the crew continually.  In his crazy little brain, we shouldn't have been eating or sleeping for 10 days, just working 24 hours around the clock on unfed stomachs.  He even complained if we drank coffee or water.  His steering skills were disastrous because if we dared to sleep while he was on watch, he would divert course westerly in hopes of getting us back in sight of land. We were making a lousy course.

Finally the crew declared mutiny. We detoured over to Charleston so we could literally put the owner off his own boat. This was for his own safety (so that our temptation to kill him would be greatly lessened.)  We also stocked up on groceries because his rationing of one tiny can of soup per day to be shared by the entire crew was a ridiculous idea. We had hard work to do and starving us of food, sleep and water was not making it any easier.

As we motored into the fuel dock in Charleston, I handed a dock line to the owner, explaining to him how to get off the boat to fashion it like a figure eight on the dock cleat. As we inched over closer to the dock, he took a running leap, dropping the dock line in the water while  screaming something unintelligible over his shoulder as he ran off down the dock as if the very devil was chasing him. We never saw him again, but I heard later, he did in fact make it home to Maine, whether by plane or train, I've no idea.

We tried to go back out to sea, but the weather had turned to unsettled conditions. Hurricane Hugo was dancing around the Caribbean threatening to hit my home port of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

We turned back for Charleston, then began motor sailing up the intracoastal waterway. I was thrilled to see this part of the world.  I loved South Carolina, but this was my first and only trip up the entire coast by boat. Somewhere around Norfolk, the boat developed serious engine trouble. We pulled into a marina for repairs but they were rather costly. We contacted the owner in Maine for funds, but he left us dangling for days.

Days that we should have been working, not resting up twiddling our thumbs, making a multitude of trips to the Western Union office, looking for the promised funds.

After numerous heated conversations over the phone including threats of stripping the boat to sell off bits and pieces to collect our pay, the owner finally wired our funds by Western Union. The boat was left at a yard in Norfolk.

Meanwhile I had left my boyfriend on our shared houseboat in the Virgin Islands. While I expected to see him again in under two weeks, it would be nearer to  ten weeks before we would find each other again. At that time I would finally learn the fate of our home. My boyfriend had moved ashore just before the storm to stay with friends. Our boat simply vanished during the hurricane. Not one  stick of it was ever seen again.

After hurricane Hugo left the Virgin Islands, nearly devastating everything in her wake, she turned her sights on South Carolina. The eye of the storm, packed with 100 mile an hour winds and a storm surge of 17 feet slammed into the Francis Marian Forest, where I had just sailed up the intracoastal waterway and where I am this very day, currently camping.

Deja vu...

It's a small small world and I seem to have come full circle.

As morning unfolds, this camp is super quiet with no manmade noises at all. Just birds singing and a mockingbird seemingly imitating all of them.


  1. Welcome home. We're in Mt. Pleasant. Fancy a visitor?


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