Monday, the 8th of May, and the transformation is complete, as in, we're in full hurricane mode here folks. You may possibly be asking, what is hurricane mode? It's that tedious, but brief span of time that seems to go on forever when all you can do is wait for the thing to pass, kinda like a kidney stone, but this one's about 400 miles across. Donna, the kidney stone's name, is slowly working it's way down the narrow tube of ocean that lies between Vanuatu and New Caledonia in the southern Pacific. There are many delightful things that all of us aboard Feelin' Good planned to do when we sailed into this lovely part of the world, riding out a passing cyclone wasn't one of them.
For those of you, like me, who live or have lived under the shadow of the Atlantic hurricane belt you know what "hurricane mode" means. But for those who've never enjoyed the privilege, it's that point when you realize you've done all you can to prepare, and there's nothing more to be done but wait it out and hope for the best. It’s a form of self-imposed household lockdown. Whatever you've overlooked like ice cream or extra beer will have to be suffered without because you’re now beyond the point of no return. The weather outside is to dangerous to drive in, roads could get blocked, and all the stores are closed anyway.
The first couple of hours are always a bit exciting. I mean, your home town is now all over the national news, maybe even global depending on how deadly the thing has been forecast to be. And to your surprise, some of the reporters are actually able to pronounce the name correctly. After the first twelve hours of this circus the fun's over. All you wanna know is where the kidney stone is hiding out, but you're fed up with flipping channels and wading through the tide of low-information weather jabber. You're sick of hearing the storm's name endlessly repeated, and sick of those TV weather guys standing outside in their raincoats breathlessly explaining in ever more colorful terms that you're getting wet. Full hurricane mode is when the storm is no longer a prognostication, no longer interesting, and no longer fun, but a fact of life that you're being forced to live through.
Flash to 2017's late season Cyclone Donna. This is the only pacific cyclone I've ever met, but I know many of her Atlantic sisters personally. Being a native of Florida, I've had unfortunate intimate contact with many a hurricane. Back in the sunshine state, you know the moment you're truly in the thick of it when the lights blink out and stay that way. This is an ominous sign because once the electricity cuts out, it's out for the duration, and depending on where you live, it could easily be weeks before you get your utility service back. As far as first world countries go, the U. S. of A. is exceptionally poor in the infrastructure department; embarrassingly so. Americans know this, and so they tend to be resourceful. At the farm in central Florida, we used a power takeoff generator hooked to our diesel tractor to supply the house. We would back the beast up into the driveway and plug it into an outlet we'd wired up in the garage, elegant it was not, but it worked.
Back to the kidney stone. This is my first time riding out a blow at sea, and that's proved to be pretty interesting. One plus I've taken note of: with our own, in house utility service, the lights don't go out. All systems are functioning normally on board, and we have plenty of ice cream and beer. When I look out the window, all of that water I see flowing by is supposed to be there—it's nothing new. So far Donna's turning out to be more of a bore than anything else, which is certainly a blessing. But the long hours spent waiting this thing out aren't good for the waistline. Cyclone munchies have fully set in. Tea's just baked something gooey and chocolatey, along with a bunch of other great stuff that's been steadily coming out of the galley. I've discovered the cookie stash here in the saloon too…not good at all.
We're fortunate that New Caledonia's geography happens to afford a first class hurricane hole; appropriately located at the main island’s far southern extremities. At the moment we're tucked up so deep inside that we aren't even feeling the effects of the swell. Back in Florida, land of many kidney stones, all of the shrimpers, and deep-sea charter captains would've gone to hide their boats up inside the narrow fingers of mosquito infested mangroves. They'd have tied off their boats any and every which-way to Sunday, cracked a beer, and hoped for the best. Here in New Caledonia, we actually have lovely jungle covered mountains surrounding us. There's a national park only a short tender ride away with waterfalls and a hot spring which we all visited before things went too far south. At this stage of the game, however, nobody's going anywhere because beyond the protection of our hiding place, just a few miles in fact, winds are hitting 100 knots and the seas are currently running up to twelve meters.
It's Tuesday, the 9th of May, at 0500UTC and inside our cozy, floating home we're experiencing a pronounced swing and swaying pull as FG dances off the end of 140 meters of 13mm anchor chain. The rain is unrelenting along with the howl that only a storm of this magnitude can produce. The sensation aboard is similar, if not as severe, as the Mistral we experienced in Sardinia back in 2014. The latest images (yes, we still have internet!) show Donna is holding at Cat-3; her eye now passing the entrance of our hidey-hole. The kidney stone is dishing out the pain as it continues to inch south. The paperelle run past us in mass herds while gusts swing us left, then back to the right like a slow motion washing machine on an endless cycle. We've reached the peak of our cyclone ride as a harmonic carbon hum sings from the rigging and resonates with a low groan through the hull. You can tune your ear to the sound, and that last gust was just a bit shy of forty knots. All of this tells us we're getting the baby-food version of Donna, and just outside of our hidey-hole, all hell is breaking loose.
Wednesday morning I awake to silence. Outside my window the sea is glass, patches of blue sky have appeared, and the rain has stopped. I go out on deck. If this were Florida, the scene would be overwhelmingly depressing because all you would see is the amount of cleanup work that lay ahead. Out here though, there's no visible damage anywhere. No yard filled with downed trees and crushed landscaping. Only the sounds of birds in the forest singing as if they're celebrating. I can hear the aforementioned waterfall though. It's actually about a mile away, and when we visited a couple of days ago it was a tame cascade, but the sound I'm hearing says it's swollen to a raging torrent. Other boats have already begun to pull out and leave the hole. Soon we'll be raising anchor to follow them. Hats off con grande gratitudine to our outstanding crew for doing such an excellent job of positioning and preparing FG. A sailor's worst nightmare, facing a cyclone at sea, and our guys turn it into a soggy picnic—we are Feelin' Good!!!!
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