Photo Essay: Hurricane Joaquin

About a week ago, I heard the news that Hurricane Joaquin was sparing the East Coast - I was happy. When I was told that the outer bands of the hurricane were going towards Bermuda - I was nervous. When I learned that the hurricane was a Catagory 4 and heading towards Bermuda - I got on a plane. If you've ever lived on an island, you may be familiar with the "pit" that forms in your stomach as you watch a hurricane unfold.

I left Washington D.C. the day before Joaquin was scheduled to hit Bermuda. As I waited at the gate, I noticed the message flashing above the door for the pilots: "High Wind Alert". That did not make the pit feeling go away. Once I arrived back in Bermuda - a smooth flight I might add; thank you U.S. Airways - it was time to get to work! First things first: pull the fishing gear off the family boat, named Troubadour, and move her to our hurricane mooring, which is six miles away. The wind was already starting to pick up at this time, and a rain squall could be seen far off in the distance. My husband, Jim, and father-in-law, Blake, both took Troubadour up to the mooring and got caught in the downpour.

Once Troubadour was anchored down and ready for Joaquin, we continued to board up the houses. We started with our property, which is up at the top of a hill. This time last year, Bermuda was hit by Hurricane Fay and Gonzalo within a span of 5 days. We lost our roof in both of these hurricanes, and we were not taking any chances with Joaquin. We secured some of the rooms from the outside and some from the inside. The Laundry Room door was even sealed! Just to ensure we had a little "greenery" around the house after the storm, I moved all of the plants indoors to protect them from the 80mph wind. Before we left the house, I slapped some ducktape on the windows to ensure they wouldn't shatter all over the place if broken by debris.

Once our house was complete, we moved over to Jim's parent's house. Although situated by the water, the house, built by my father-in-law, sits low and is shielded by a small hill. My in-laws' house is a bit safer than ours in terms of structure, and this is where we would be spending the hurricane. Not to mention, everyone feels safer when there are a few parents around; Jim's parents are hurricane pros! Once their house was boarded up, we watched as the waves morphed from nonexistent to reckless.

I watched through the bedroom window as Jim and his mom wrestled to move a palm tree down a flight of steps to keep it from getting wind-whipped. The phones rang every 20 to 30 minutes; relatives and friends calling to "check in." Ring! I picked up the phone to hear a very polite and calm voice on the other end asking for my husband, "Good Afternoon, this is Stevie - is Jim available please"? A simple question that would have been normal on any other day, although today - as we're preparing for a hurricane - seemed entirely out of place.

I replied, "Uhm - yes, he's here, although he is currently carefully inching a palm tree down a flight of steps". Stevie said, "Oh, well - I'm calling about Troubadour". With those few words, the pit in my stomach grew bigger. Stevie explained to me that another boat had come loose and had become tangled in Troubadour's line. Given that Jim was still wrestling that 50-pound palm tree, I passed the phone to Blake. The look on his face as he sat on the phone said it all: our boat may be in danger of being damaged, or worse yet, sinking. Troubadour is our livelihood; it's how our family makes a living. Blake built the boat during the late 1970s and early 1980s; just as Jim was "coming onto the scene". In a sense, Jim was raised right alongside good ole "Trouby" - as I sometimes call her. Without little knowledge of what was actually going on with the boats, Jim was ready to hop in the car and head to the mooring. I, however, was very hesitant to leap into a car during the middle of a hurricane for many reasons but mainly because, I knew that if the boat were in danger, it could be repaired. Jim's life, on the other hand, might not be.

Blake and Jenny, Jim's mom, decided to stay and make sure the house was okay. During a hurricane, it's important to have someone stay at a house if the need arrises to go out into a storm. For example, a brace may need to be adjusted if the wind changes direction.

Thinking the truck might be more safe to ride off into a storm in, I suggested we move our car out of the driveway. No time. Jim was determined to get on the road as soon as possible and our car was readily available. So, we took off in an 11 year old Toyota Yaris. (And to this day - I will continue to swear by Toyota!) As soon as we left his parent's house, we passed one of the Bermuda Telephone Company trucks. Hand gestures were exchanged between the driver and Jim, who was behind the wheel; almost as to say, "You're out in this crazy wind too? Be safe... be safe." Once we got onto the main road, I was surprised to see other cars out as well. What shocked me the most was seeing a few walkers and joggers. But... hey - maybe they were on the way to their own boat too!

We continued our "Magical Mystery Tour" towards the boat. On the ride down, I dialed a few phone numbers frantically; trying to seek out another set of hands for help or get an update on our boat from folks in the area. In attempts to get a hold of Roger, a family friend, and another fisherman, Jim rattled off a few numbers off the top of his head: 704-23... 68? 58? 705-2367? Three of my attempts resulted in a recording stating, "The number you are trying to reach is not in service" or "...is not a working number". When you're in a state of panic, it's harder to remember a phone number you dial frequently.

We were a bit desperate to reach Roger because he lives close by to our hurricane mooring and we thought that he may have been able to see our boat and give an update. Not to mention, Roger is fearless. We knew he would be just as willing as we were to go out into the middle of a hurricane to help. This is a man who usually sits on his boat during a hurricane - just in case anything goes wrong during a storm. Again, a fisherman/woman's boat is one's livelihood. A boat surviving a storm is key, and precautions must be taken. Unfortunately, we could not remember the last two digits of Roger's phone number.

Next plan: call Paul, one of Jim's best friends from childhood. He's also a fisherman and a very savvy boatsman. His parents also lived close by to where we were headed. We wanted to ask if it would be okay to stay at their house if we "got stuck" after rescuing our boat. Paul's response, "Oh YAH", said with a strong Bermudian accent. "That's no problem; you can stay." After I had hung up with Paul, our cell phone rang. It was Jim's dad; he had gotten ahold of Roger who could see Troubadour from the dock by his house. She was safe. We're assuming that the smaller boat had untangled itself and moved on to its next victim. Once we heard that our boat was safe, we turned the car around and went home; unsure of what had happened - or what might happen - to the loose boat. We arrived home; pulled our car into the driveway and parked it far away from any trees that may come crashing down. We ran up the stairs, and I gleefully skipped into the kitchen. Jim's mom reached out for a hug and happily said, "Yay! Well done you two". This was not Jim's first experience jetting out into a storm to save Troubadour... but it was certainly mine. And I was glad it was over! We resumed our positions around the kitchen counter. Hovering over the phone; waiting for the next phone call about Troubadour... which hopefully, wouldn't come.