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Riders on the Storm


Okay. Hurricanes are awful. They're unpredictable, terrifying, and often result in incredible suffering. I should know. I was dispatched once to an offshore oil rig in a 110-foot utility boat to rescue 30 guys in the midst of a hurricane—a knee-knocking extravaganza if ever there was one. Then a few years later I was constrained to enter Cameron, Louisiana, one black night at the helm of a 197-foot tug supply vessel during a hurricane, an event that stretched my state of mind to extremes I hope never again to visit.

Moreover, as a magazine journalist for decades, I've covered the aftermaths of major storms like Andrew and Katrina, thereby developing an understanding of the genuine heartache catastrophes engender. And as a coastal homeowner for several years, I have boarded up many a window and secured many a boat, and then driven off into a starkly uncertain future.

But hey, in spite of all this dreariness, could it possibly be that hurricanes ain't totally bad? Could there be at least one special circumstance under which a hurricane—albeit a rather modest one—offers the prospect of enjoyment, maybe even fun? I think so. And by way of explanation, lemme be deeply honest about what happened a few months ago when Hurricane Gustav blew through the Florida Panhandle.

Deeply honest? Well yeah. Hurricane Gus actually wasn't much of a hurricane; he was closer to a tropical storm. But why split hairs? Gus was without a doubt a legitimate storm, and one that foisted tons of surge water upon the Gulf Coast. He was disposed to a certain dramatic flair as well, an important factor as you will see in a moment.

The first I heard of Gus was from my friend Steve who's the dockmaster at our marina. My wife and I were just taking leave of Betty Jane on a Sunday afternoon when he zipped by to say, "Hey guys, looks like we got another one comin' up the Gulf of Mexico. Thought I'd let you know."

I'm not sure whether my response was typical of most boat owners, but it was certainly typical of me. After battening down Betty's hatches, I cranked up my Blackberry to check on the stormy specifics, blinked in dismay at the result, and then as we were driving home, descended six fathoms into a funk lowlighted by sighs and apocalyptic visions.

Yes indeedy, I'm a worrywart, although the problem's eased off over the years. I mean, to effectively deal with boat ownership on the Gulf Coast during hurricane season I used to have to burn through a whole stack of self-help books every morning. Now I've got the stack whittled down to just one, well-thumbed tome, along with a very expensive insurance policy, of course, also well-thumbed.

At any rate, with some foreboding, I began pondering the computer models of Gus in my office late that very night, wondering whether I'd have to haul Betty during the next few days or simply move her to the canal behind my friend Jack's house. (The best site for pondering such gloomy subjects, by the way, is Wunderground. Simply click on the "Tropical/Hurricane" button and let your insecurities run wild.)

Lady Luck put in an appearance, though. The models eventually settled into salubriousness toward mid-week, at least from Betty's standpoint. Our marina would most likely have to endure some high water, wind, and rain. But there'd be no serious damage. This was great news, at least in most ways.

But to be deeply honest (remember the deeply honest thing I mentioned earlier?), for several weeks running, the upcoming weekend had been heavily scheduled with chores relating to the ol' homestead. You know the drill: hedge trimming, lawn mowing, car washing, crack-in-the-living-room-ceiling fixing. And while dreading this bout of lubberly domesticity, I'd been simultaneously wondering how I could somehow worm out of it.

"What about the boat?" my wife asked Friday night, as Gus wobbled into the hinterlands and ominous music emanated from the Weather Channel.

"Well," I sighed with the dramatic flair I typically use to manipulate events for evil purposes. "I called Steve this afternoon, and he says they're gonna have water over the docks tomorrow or Sunday. Probably have to shut the power down temporarily."

"Should you go over?" she asked in a tone I've never been able to quite figure out, not in 19 years of marriage. Is there some amusement in it? Does she perhaps have my tricks figured out? Does she find them transparent?

"Well," I continued to sigh, while striking a hurricane-heroic pose, "Maybe."

Driving over to the marina was great—I just happened to have an old Jimmy Buffett CD in the glove compartment. And when I got there, I immediately waded into a host of like-minded individuals cheerily slogging around the semi-submerged docks enjoying Hurricane Gus. Or rather the relative absence of Hurricane Gus.

The sun was out and fun was in the air. My next-door neighbor Tom sat backwards on the flying bridge of his Viking telling us about the good times he used to have in the Florida Keys. Dave dropped by to see how everybody was doing even though he'd had his boat removed from the marina much earlier in the week. A bunch of sportfishing types—refugees from storm-pestered Alabama—grilled grouper over by the condos. And Steve continued to swash by periodically to report on the state of the tide.

"Dealin' with hurricanes is a blast," my friend Burt summarized as he adjusted a springline on his Fleming, "especially when there's hardly any dealin' to do

This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.