Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tales from the refugee road…

Life would be a whole lot easier if hurricanes would make up their minds earlier, then let all the social media outlets know what’s going on. Our little family caravan has been in three different hotels the last three nights, scooting along hither and yon based on where the latest guess of where Florence will dump the huge load of water she has dragged across the Atlantic these last couple of weeks. We didn’t have a reservation at the first hotel we stopped at in Augusta, GA; having left a half day early to be on the leading edge of the refugee wave. We know what it's like to worry about the gas gauge nudging empty, crawling along with thousands of others on bumper to bumper four-lane highways, short tempers and crazy people in the driver’s seats. Once in a lifetime was enough.

The decision to leave early was a good call, and we landed in a nice hotel after an easy drive. But it cost well over $100 / night. The next night we moved to the hotel where we had reservations for a week, one where the cost was modest. Unfortunately, the accommodations were far more modest than the price suggested, and when the forecast put Augusta well within the flooding and tropical force winds it didn’t seem a good place to stay. There was no inside hallway so the door faced the outdoors. Even closed air, sunlight, and insects had easy access around the edges. Rain would surely just pour into the room when the weather folded, and the families would either be jammed into one small area for the duration or isolated from each other with no inside access. The windows were paper thin and not well mounted. It wasn’t hard to imagine a wind gust driving them right across the room. We decided to bail and head further inland.

The new destination was Chattanooga, about a 4 hour drive away. But the youngest member of the crew, the 8-month-old, went into full volume protest the minute we left the parking lot. She has no clue what is going on; all she knows is that her routine is upset so, so is she. She didn’t settle down even after nearly two hours on the road, Mom and baby both needed to stop. The next exit was Madison, and that’s where we landed.

This hotel has inside access, it also has a toilet that runs continuously, the phone is broken, there is no elevator to our second floor, the ice machines don’t work, there was no toilet paper on the roll or in the room, and the advertised internet connection isn’t. All ours for just shy of $100 / night after taxes and fees. Normally I would bail on such a place, but the little ones don’t really care about any of those things and they are just not up to making four moves in four days. So we will ride out the storm here.

How long that will be is still an open question. It looks like the brunt of the impact will be north and west of Beaufort, SC. There seems a pretty good chance that the boats will come through, so we will have homes when we return. Power, flooding, and road access will determine when we head back. Until then we will settle in here and make the best of it.

I was an airplane driver for decades, and put about a quarter of a million miles on motorcycles while wondering around the country. I have spent more than my share of time in hotels. There have been good ones, bad ones, and average ones uncounted. But it seems to me that, on the whole, “average” has dropped several notches in the hotel industry, while the price of “average” has gone way, way up. I would love to list names and addresses' of the hotels in question with the idea that if no one complains nothing gets fixed. But I don't have that much faith in the "customer service" side of America's economic system any more. I would love to believe that companies have some commitment to providing the best service they can at a fair price. But what I know is that their main, perhaps only, concern is how much profit they can make. I fear the cost of fixing things, if they were fixed at all, would fall on the people who work here instead. Costs to fix the facility would be found by reducing the workforce, cutting pay, cutting benefits (assuming there are any), while increasing the work load. That was my experience even in the high end world of aviation operations. I can't imagine hotel workers are fairing any better.

All and all I would much rather be on the boat. I just wish the hurricanes would cooperate a little more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

C Sharp, not B Flat


Almost all of the forecasts suggest that the Beaufort Area is going to be in the preferred southeast quadrant of Florence, with the eye of the hurricane far enough north that tropical storm force winds will be about the worst we can expect. We were about all set to go, with the plan to pick up the cars Monday and get them mostly packed, finish up the prep work Tuesday morning, and head off. We picked up the cars and were gliding along getting things done, me in the cockpit thinking about just when I should start pulling the solar panels. It was around 3 PM, with good amps still flowing into the batteries. I wanted them stuffed full before we closed up Kintala and left her to her own devices. Deb came up from below,

“The Governor of SC just issued a mandatory evacuation order, and we are in it.”

We looked at each other for about 10 seconds, thoughts dancing back and forth between us as often happens with people who have been together for a long time. Then we shifted into full tilt boogie mode. Having shuffled out of FL a year ago, one among millions with a killer storm closing in on our heels, getting out of dodge ASAP was the new plan.

It took about 7 hours of relentless effort. At 10:30 PM the kids were buckled in and we pulled out of the parking lot, the rest of the crew of Blowin' In The Wind following in their own car.  Getting away from Beaufort by auto is mostly done on 2 lane roads, roads that were still mostly empty. It isn’t hard to imagine what they will look like over then next 48 hours, but it will be two cars less thanks to the Governor's declaration.

Hotel mirrors are infinitely fascinating.
So we sit this morning in a hotel room, watching Mother Nature do her thing out in the Atlantic, and wondering what it will mean to us. We know a lot of people are going to get hurt, a lot of others will mark Florence as a, perhaps the, major event of their lives. And the amount of physical damage is almost sure to be astonishing. When we sat through this with Irma, just a year ago, the thought was we were likely to lose everything. At the last moment the storm turned away. This time around it appears Florence will land just far enough to the north that Beaufort will seen nothing but a small storm surge and 30 knot winds.

On the one hand, I have little confidence that it will work out that way. This is a big storm and (in my humble opinion) there is way too much confidence being put into one set of models, with only passing mention being made of those models that show the eye of Florence landing further to the South. On the other hand, we had the resources necessary to move out of harm’s way, and now sit in an air conditioned hotel room, dry, comfortable, food and shelter assured for some of those we love most in the world.

There is a homeless man who lives in the waterfront park in Beaufort. We often see his bed made up on one of the swings when taking an evening stroll before heading back to Kintala for the night. I’ve talked with him a few times. His name, he told me, is “C Sharp” not “B Flat.” I didn’t get the story behind the name but, having recently taken up learning music, I had to smile. (I suspect "C-sharp not D-flat was what he meant but, he made up the name, not me.) Like most of the homeless people I have met, he clings to a fierce independence as one of the tools he needs to survive.

We didn’t see him during our hurried prep to get going. I have no idea how he will fare if Florence moves his way, but I know there are thousands of people who can’t make the choice that we did. That is enough to know that we can count ourselves as among some of the most fortunate people the world has ever known. Sure, we have made some good choices. But they were also choices that were within our reach, but were not within the reach of others.  Something Florence, and Irma before her, has taught me to never, ever, forget.

Friday, September 7, 2018

On the Run, again

It was exactly one year ago to the day that hurricane Irma turned us into weather refugees. We weren't sure when we made the run to Atlanta that there would be anything left of our cruising life when Irma was done. At the last moment she wiggled just a bit to the east and we came through unscathed. Tomorrow we will start stripping Kintala and Blowin' In the Wind, prepping for the arrival of hurricane Florence.


Florence isn't near the monster that Irma was, but all indications are she will be making landfall near here. Like Irma, a track difference of just a few tens of miles will likely tell the tale. Unlike Irma, the boats will be riding out the storms on the water. There is simply no where to run, no boat yard close enough that has room to get them hauled. We are pretty far up the Beaufort River, 10 miles in from the coast line, with trees, low hills, and marsh lands all around. It could be worse.

We will take all the precautions available to us over the next two days, pick up the cars Monday afternoon, and beat feet inland first thing Tuesday morning; with Wednesday / Thursday being the estimated time of impact. I would have liked to put another 24 hours of buffer in there given the mad rush we experienced of millions of people trying to get out of the way of Irma. But this time we are running straight inland rather than trying to get off a peninsula, and likely 50 miles would be enough to be safe. The hotel is 120 miles away.

There is, as usual, some chance that someone else will bear the brunt of the hit and we are going to a lot of effort for no real reason. The problem is that we can't know that until it is too late. So we will prep, get to safety, and see what happens.



I don't know if this is the "new normal". If it is, it needs to be part of the calculations for those thinking of living this way. Five years we have been out, and this is the third serious threat we have faced from hurricanes on the east coast. One has to wonder if sooner or later the odds just have to catch up. But I'm not sure there are any options better. Gordon basically bashed its way up the Mississippi River, surely a rough ride for at least a few "Loopers." Land dwellers have fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, mudslides, and a daily exposure to driving cars, to reach out and rattle their world. We have hurricanes.

So this weekend we will prepare. Then we will be on the run once again.


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Internal Calendar

One of the things I stumble over when sitting for a long time is forgetting just how special it is to live on the water like we do. When moving, my internal calendar logs days of resting at anchor after a day’s travel, watching the sun set over a new horizon. There are days of exploring new places and other days of visiting favorite places not seen for a while. We will have flown sails, gotten on and off of docks never seen, worked navigation details, fussed over the weather, and been enchanted by the antics of wildlife. All things that are special to this life.



It is different when sitting. The internal calendar logs days we ran out of water, that we needed to provision, that the Ding needed its bottom scrubbed, and that diver came to clean the bottom of Kintala. We do all these things while underway of course, but they pass mostly noticed, just part of the traveling. When sitting they become the major event of the day.

Days sitting also amplify the feeling being vulnerable. I doubt that we are any less vulnerable sitting secure on a mooring ball than when out wandering. When out wandering it feels like we are, at least, a moving target rather than sitting ducks. It is hard to cling to the illusion that one is the “Captain of one’s fate” when one’s boat is collecting barnacles on the bottom far faster than miles in the log.

It doesn’t help that the hurricane train in the Atlantic is starting to crank up. Nothing kicks up that vulnerable feeling like having an ocean full of storms.  Hurricane Florence which, until this morning, was expected to struggle to just make hurricane status, is now a major hurricane. Even more fun? The National Hurricane Center has all but admitted they have no clue what this storm is going to do next. I extrapolated a course based on its actual (rather than forecast ) course from the last few days. Should it decide to just keep going the way it is going, which is supposedly highly unlikely, it will show up on our door step in about 10 days. There is at least one spaghetti track floating around that shows it doing exactly that. By the end of next week there looks to be a good chance there will be three named storms out there dancing around. The end of hurricane season suddenly seems like a long, long way off.

For all of that, come every evening after the sun goes down the cockpit calls. The air is warm bordering on comfortable, insect assaults are infrequent and easily ignored, dolphins often puff and snort, cavorting around the mooring field, and all is well in our watery world. That makes for a pretty good day to log on that internal calendar.