In the wake of Isaias

Storm damage at my buddy’s marina. What a fight the boat and dock must have had. Photo by Kevin Adamczyk

The surreal aspect of Aug. 4 didn’t begin until 3 p.m. This was the Tuesday that Tropical Storm Isaias rolled through New England, and I was listening to the radio, one eye on my computer screen and the other on the wildly cavorting trees outside my window. Suddenly, this interruption from the emergency broadcast system, which I’m paraphrasing: A storm cell associated with Tropical Storm Isaias has just been identified as capable of spawning tornadoes, and is headed for the Middlesex County region of Connecticut.

Say what, now?

I flipped on the TV, and there on the local news was a graphic they’d made – in menacing red, of course – that showed the path of the cell, which indeed went right through my town. To reach us, it would cross Long Island Sound at the astonishing rate of 70 mph. “If you live in Middlesex County,” the meteorologist said, “you have 20 minutes to find adequate shelter.”

Words I thought I’d never hear living in Deep River, Connecticut.

What followed was an impersonation of Chicken Little by me, in front of my family, in which I focused on pulling stuff out of a closet in the basement, where we could shelter. I also filled every receptacle I could find with water.

By the time I got back to the TV the cell had crossed the Sound. The meteorologist reiterated his impassioned plea: Everyone in the red corridor must find adequate shelter!

And then, as I stood there, mouth agape, the station did something stunning: It switched over to its regularly scheduled programming, which happened to be “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” They were discussing make-up tips.

Life so rarely fails to entertain.

No tornadoes were spawned in lower Middlesex County, thank goodness, but boy did we get one heck of a storm. It was mostly dry, but featured heavy, sustained winds with the occasionally frightening gust. New Haven, just down the coast from us, saw one that was 66 mph.

For such a fast-moving system without real teeth, this storm certainly felt different, and managed to wreak havoc on an impressive scale. The local news in Connecticut reported that over 700,000 folks lost power, and as of this writing – Friday morning, Aug. 7, a full three days after the storm – roughly 500,000 still haven’t gotten it back. The state is trashed, with trees and lines down everywhere.

The utility companies here seem to have been caught with their pants down. But they’re not alone. I think many of us didn’t take Isaias seriously. My Siren 17 now lives, fully rigged, at a local boat club. When we got word from the club on Monday that everyone should consider removing their boats or, at the very least, take their masts down, I told my brother-in-law to meet me down there. A few guys were milling about, but only one was hauling his boat away. I thought: “What am I, nuts?” But we were there, and the process only takes 15 minutes. As we took the mast down I could hear the lecture I once received from a boatyard worker, who informed me that the spars on my previous boat, a 26-foot Commander, essentially presented as much surface area as a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood. Sobering stuff.

That night I asked my neighbor, who keeps a 19’ Aquasport in a slip near the mouth of the Connecticut River, what precautions he was taking. “I’ll add some extra springs and fenders,” he said. The next day he spent four hours fighting to save his boat as vessels in neighboring slips sank. He said his dock resembled a sine wave. That his marina was open to the south, with a huge fetch that ended in Long Island Sound, didn’t help.

Meanwhile, around the corner in Essex, a buddy who lives on his 44’ X-Yacht said he never saw more than 30 knots. Across the river, in Lyme’s Hamburg Cove, frequent Points East contributor Mike Camarata was holed up on his big catamaran, securely attached to a 300 lb. mooring. He said Isaias wasn’t too bad; he’d been there during Irene, which he thought was worse.

My boat? I checked, and it’s fine.

As are all the boats around it that people left untouched.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.