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Eye of the Hurricane

Wherein the media-hyped, weather-related delusions of a long-distance boat owner are fully explicated.

Years ago, I remember reading a column in Power & Motoryacht by my ol’ buddy (and famous boat designer) Tom Fexas, in which Tom contended that keeping your boat at considerable remove from your home is a great idea. What Tom’s exact rationale was for promoting this concept eludes me now, although I believe it had something to do with absence making the heart grow fonder. You know—like, keeping your boat hundreds of miles away makes you appreciate her infinitely more—whenever you scrape up enough time, money, and gas to pay her a visit.

Of course, I hesitate to disagree with Tom here, considering that he hit the trail for that Great Boatyard in the Sky some years ago and can’t rightly defend himself. But hey, I gotta say—my most recent, storm-related, media-hyped experiences with long-distance boat ownership are literally crying out for exposure and explication at the moment, not only for my own good but for the good of other souls who toy dangerously with the notion of living in one place and keeping a boat in another that’s “a good ways off,” as we say in the sunny South.

Here are the details: Some while back, a serious storm was threatening Jacksonville, Florida, the city Betty Jane II calls home, but totally ignoring Tallahassee, the city where I live. This situation in itself was confusingly paradoxical. On the one hand, prospects were good—the homefront was safe. But on the other, prospects were bad—Betty lay smack-dab in the crosshairs, by the way things looked. I don’t know about you, but I have problems with ambiguity sometimes, despite my advanced age and supposed wisdom.

When the storm was four days out, I started keeping tabs, using two computer screens, one glowing with actual and projected storm tracks, and the other showing a succession of gloomy meteorologists and rain-soaked, wind-blown reporters, none conveying good news. Slowly but surely, I started to entertain grave thoughts, with Betty Jane II riding a vortex of recollections based on all the bad storms I’ve been through in my life.

“David, this is Bill,” I told my marina manager on the phone, “Better haul ’er. It ain’t lookin’ good.”

Three days out, I became genuinely alarmed, fired up a third laptop, and tossed my iPhone into the mix, from whence emanated text messages, Instagram photos, wind-swept amateur videos, and periodic screeching alarms. The ambiguity thing strengthened, adding to the ambience. All was wonderful where I actually was, but not so wonderful where I wasn’t. That evening, my wife asked knowingly, “Going to the marina tomorrow?”

What’s a 163-mile drive, right? The bimini needed to be removed from Betty’s flying bridge, so the wind wouldn’t rip it to shreds. The windows had to be taped, so they wouldn’t get destroyed. And the aftermath of Betty’s haulout two days before had to be checked—I mean, the guys who work at my marina have probably hauled a million boats over the years. But had they managed to pull this one off without a hitch?

With the storm one day out, I was back home after a whirlwind, 326-mile two-way jaunt, when a kind of media-driven, weather-related insanity set in. Yes, I was aware that my neurons were popping and snapping crazily between my ears, but I couldn’t help it. I had succumbed to all the computer-borne commentary, all the images, the videos, the texts, the tweets. I was going down! And my boat was so far away! And maybe going down too! Glub! Glub! Glub!

The day the storm actually hit was hell. Although I sat miles and miles away, comfortably ensconced in my office, my mind’s eye dallied interminably with improbable fantasies, courtesy of the techno-marvels of our modern age. At length, with darkness ascendant, I saw a Mad Max future: Betty Jane II ripped from her jackstands by an apocalyptic storm surge; liability-based insurance claims proliferating like popcorn; and a personal budget soon so depleted by storm-related expenses that I’d never be able to own a boat again!

But then?

When I arrived at my marina the day after the storm to find a totally benign situation, with the Betty Jane II and everything else in fine shape, there was simply no way around it. Although I continued to disagree with Tom’s overall take on long-distance boat ownership, I had to concede one point: While clambering aboard to take a look around, I had infinitely more appreciation for my boatthan I might have had otherwise. The heart had indeed grown fonder.

Read more of the Exploits and Misadventures of Capt. Bill Pike here. ▶