When we saw this storm forming in the Atlantic, we somehow sensed that trouble was coming. Having lived in Florida for the past 20 years, we are used to all the hurricane watches and warnings that come along with living in this beautiful State, but this one seemed different from the onset. Shaun, usually calm and collected in most situations, seemed panicked and that made me very uneasy. This was the first hurricane we would go through with a motor yacht as our home and so of course this made us a little nervous… actually a lot!
Hurricane Irma set numerous records for its intensity and endurance, leaving meteorologists both awestruck and fearful. It remained a Category 5 storm, with winds topping out at 180 miles per hour or more for an unprecedented 37 continuous hours. It also ranks as one of the strongest storms ever seen in the Atlantic Ocean. Irma set it’s course and continued its movement toward Florida. The entire state braced for landfall, which was excepted in the Miami area. Shaun watched every program online and said he feared that this thing was going to shift to the west, which would take it onto our coast and travel north, right over Tampa Bay, which our beloved Happy Wife calls home.
It was time to prepare! Not only did we have multiple rental properties to protect in the St Petersburg and South Tampa area, but we had to secure our boat. We made plans with the dock master on the Tuesday before the storm was due to hit Miami, to secure a slip closest to the yacht club on the inside of the marina. We docked in between other big boats and behind the seawall. We were expecting the worst. We secured Happy Wife by triple tying her down with thick storm ropes. We then started the tedious process of dismantling every loose item and every piece of furniture on the flybridge and main deck. Anything that could move was taken to one of our boarded up mid-renovation homes. We duct taped every tiny hole and crevice that we could. We secured the dock box tops, folded down the arial and taped that down. We took the bimini off and removed every piece of metal work that could move. After placing the storm cover on the helm, we used bungy cords to keep the helm doors shut and then braced it all with ratchet straps. Everything else that was small was placed in our dining room (we loving call it the wind jammer after several Royal Caribbean cruises lol)
Our happy wife looked like a bomb had hit it. But after about 3 days of work and moving things around, she was secure. We packed one suitcase with anything we would need to take with us. (Valuables, you quickly realize, are the people you love and not the stuff, as we rushed around to fill the bag with our belongings) On Saturday midday, Shaun handed me the steps to place inside and I walked though our boat for one final check. I placed my hands on the picture of my dads hands in our living room. They are the most gorgeous, rugged hands that represent so much to me, to us. In the photo they are on a bible… he is a retired preacher. Tearfully, I prayed. I locked up the doors and Shaun helped me down. I looked at him and he had tears in his eye. I cried too. We patted our old girl and bid her farewell. We were both so exhausted, emotionally spent and afraid…worried that this would be the last we would see of her.
After boarding up our youngest daughter’s home and taking her and our grandson, we made our way to our eldest daughters in-laws to board up their home and settle in for the storm. She has 2 cats, a dog and 3 chickens. I had to have a giggle as I drove down the highway with our little chihuahua on my lap, 2 cats on the front seat howling and 3 chickens in a crate clucking on the back seat! Their house was out of the flood zone at least, but the path of the hurricane would move directly over us on that Sunday night. We actually had a great time being locked up together. We made the most of it and played games with the little ones to make fun and not so scary. We baked a hurricane cake, built a tent and played rocket ships etc. In the background, the TV on mute, showed the storm going even closer to Tampa.
On Sunday at noon as Irma made landfall in Marco Island, we called my father in South Africa for him to pray. Our two girls huddled with us in a circle and we tearfully hung onto every word he spoke. We felt at peace after that. We suddenly felt the impact of the prayers of everyone worldwide that we knew were on bended knee for our State.
That night, we somehow all slept as the storm came for us. Huge bands of wind and rain came howling through and then, at about 1.30am, the absolute eerie silence of the eye moving over, woke us. Once past the winds came again. As per prayers, the storm miraculously basically dissipated on land and hit us as a cat 1 instead of a 3 or 4! This would’ve been catastrophic to say the least. At sunrise, we woke with the kiddies and looked outside. We had survived! It was the best feeling ever. We didn’t even lose power. We thanked God first and foremost for a safe passage through.
What a relief and what a joy on that Monday, as we walked back down to our Happy Wife in the marina, safe and sound in her slip. We held hands and took moment to just look across at her.
Shaun and I are not materialistic, but we have put our heart and soul into this boat. She is so much more than just a vessel on the ocean…she carries our family, our dreams and memories with her. We are now twice as grateful and thankful for our happy life in our Happy Wife :-)