The Tabor Boy Project

Dangerous Decision - Personal Account from Hurricane Bob, 1991

Andrew Major 1991 (Re written and edited 1993)

Outside, the wind grew violent and the rain came down as people scurried around. Trees were bending over as their leaves tore from the branches to pelt anyone downwind. I knew it would be my last call home for a while. As I stood in the hallway with no lights, I punched in the numbers on the phone. My brain was numb. I lacked all emotions. My mom was home alone in Panama, while my sister was still in the states, and my dad was traveling in Costa Rica on business. The thought raced through my head of how would Mom react when I told her what I had decided to do.
My mom answered. ”Hi, Mom,” I said. “Well, I can’t get out of Marion before Hurricane Bob arrives. The Highway Patrol is not allowing anyone to drive on the highways. I will have to stay in Marion and get a ride to the airport in the morning to fly out tomorrow.” I dreaded the question that I knew my protective mother was going to ask next. Out it came. It hurt my ears.
“Andrew, where are you going to stay during the hurricane?,” she queried. I did not want to tell her.
“Uh...I” should I just blurt it out, I thought? “...Well, Capt. and Eric, the first mate are going to stay on the Tabor Boy, so I thought that is where I would stay. It is really safe, since we are not really going to budge one bit.”
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?,” was her response.
I continued to explain, “Attached to the starboard anchor is the penant, which is a one inch steel cable about forty feet long. That is made fast to an anchor that weighs about six thousand pounds. There is a series of chain links, each link weighing thirty—five pounds, and at the end is another mooring weighing nine thousand pounds. I don’t think we were going to move.” It was finally up to me and that is where I wanted to be, so my mom felt a little relaxed. I knew that if she were right there, she would have grabbed my hand and never let me go.
The three of us walked out into the darkening sky and headed to the parking lot. It seemed like a gusty Buzzards Bay day, but there was an abundance of people scurrying around franticly trying to get last minute chores completed and homes and boats protected before the full force of Hurricane Bob hit. Mrs. Geil drove up to give us our bag of food we would need for the duration of the storm. Capt. said his goodbyes and we were off to the dock. I had the same feeling I always get before I leave for the trip south to Charleston on the Tabor Boy. I felt unsure of the upcoming events, my stomach felt empty and my mind was thinking at the speed of light. My mind was trying to absorb everything around me. I noticed the wind picking up its cadence. The waves in Sippican Harbor were growing higher and higher as the hurricane bore down on us. My heart hammered in my chest. I was so anxious as to what it would be like that I couldn’t wait to get on board.
The launch ride out into the harbor was very quiet except for the ever increasing wind that whistled past us. Capt. was particularly quiet. He wore his thinking face. I felt safe because I trust Capt. and his sound judgement. All that was going through my head was a bunch of questions...”Would we drag our mooring? What will we do if we are driven up on the shore by the winds and seas?” I tried to concentrate on what was at hand and what had to be done on the vessel.
The Tabor Boy was ready and waiting as the wind increased its intensity. Every moving thing had been cleared off the deck and stowed out of the direct wind. The three of us gathered close together to review our emergency plans. If we did break loose, Capt. would run back to the helm and put the enormous Detroit Diesel in gear and give her forward throttle to hold us against the wind and waves. Eric was to run up to the fore deck and drop the port anchor first and then the starboard anchor. I was to turn on the Hydraulics that operates the windless. I was also to relay messages or do anything else that I was told to do.
The winds were now blowing in the sixties. The last time I had been in something that severe was about ninety miles off the coast of Virginia on my first ocean voyage on the Tabor Boy. The winds then were in the sixties and the waves were no smaller than twelve feet and I was glad to be on the Tabor Boy in that gale and not some smaller vessel. The waves here were about three feet, and the smaller boats were bobbing all over the place as they strained against their moorings. They would ride up the face of one wave, push their bows into the air only to come down crashing into the following wave. A couple of sails started to unfurl. We had opted to take our jibs off and tie the staysail, foresail and main on their booms and gaff. Lashed down the way they were, I can assure you that they were going nowhere.
The wind now raged up into the eighties. It looked like it was raining outside, but on closer examination I saw that the wind was simply lifting the water off the breaking wave tops and driving the droplets into the air to form rain. I had lost track of all time as I sat, mesmerized by the scene unraveling before me. All I knew was that I was on the Tabor Boy and that I was getting off alive. I kept looking to Capt. to check his facial expressions for signs of distress. I was relieved as I could tell he was fascinated with the storm and sure of our situation. He had always said in Lifeboats class that if the people in charge start to break down, the situation and problems that arise will quickly multiply in the confusion. I started to think about my family and when I would see them. I had never experienced weather quite like this in Panama.
During almost the entire storm, we stood behind the deck house and watched the many activities. The wind was gusting in the nineties. I was over my fear as Capt. said that this was probably as bad as it would get. I was fascinated by the activities that were going on around us. Boats started to float by, driven by the wind and high waves. Two boats had tangled up in front of us and could have posed a threat to the Tabor Boy. They started to drift in our direction. They appeared like two wrestlers tethered together in combat as there was a mooring line caught between the two, ready to take out everything in their path as they surged downwind. They caught one boat and started to drag it along, when the mooring line snapped, whipping back, cracking against the hull of one of the yachts.
Another boat broke its mooring. Its jib was torn and unfurled. The sail caught the wind and soon it was on the port tack, headed straight for us then veered at the last moment. It missed the Bunker Hill, which is the launch for Tabor Boy, that was moored astern of us by only twenty feet. The storm had turned some peoples’ lawns into surging beaches. They definitely had water front property!
We could see through the binoculars that waves were surging against the sea walls of Tabor. We also could see that there were many boats washed along the shore and boats that were all tangled together.
The water started to calm down as the hurricane continued its path north east of Marion. The wind had changed directions everything that blew ashore or up the harbor was now being blown back in our direction. The funniest thing was all the 1"x 1"x 2 ft. wooden blocks used at the marinas were loose and about five hundred of them were floating in the harbor. You probably could have walked to shore if the blocks would support more weight. Within an hour we were able to safely leave Tabor Boy. After the storm had passed we saw a Hereshoff 12 floating by us. We decided to go out and retrieve the small sailboat and tie it astern. It was our good deed for the day.
We slowly motored around the harbor in the launch looking at the damage and the boats washed ashore. The destruction that had taken place was truly unbelievable. As this was still the height of summer sailing season, there were hundreds of yachts moored in the harbor. What normally looks like “Toothpick City” with hundreds of masts reaching up into the blue skies of Marion, Sippican Harbor now looked like late Fall, when almost all the boats have been hauled for the winter. In the shallows at the end of the harbor was a confusion of boats. Masts were tangled and broken. Other boats were sunken with only masts peeking above the water. We made it to what used to be the Hoyt pier, only to find three boats washed up against it. Another had washed over the pier and had its heavy mooring stuck. It was almost humorous to see these boats stuck on the playing fields, in the health center lawn, and in the middle of Front Street.
Yes, Tabor Academy is truly the school by the sea and now three times the school in the sea. Capt., Mrs. Geil, Colin, Eric, and I spent the night on the Tabor Boy with electricity, hot water, TV, and heating. I did make it home to Panama a day late. My family was happy to see me home, and alive. Hurricane Bob will always be in my memories. I did survive Bob, and best of all, I was on the Tabor Boy. I was able to live this experience because of my decision . . .a decision worth while.

This was written for by Andrew Major, for a creative writing class while at Tabor Academy.

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Tags: Bob, Boy, Hurricane, Tabor

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Comment by Peter A. Mello on January 7, 2010 at 10:14am
Thanks for sharing this incredible experience. Looking back from where you are today in life, would you still make the same decision? Now you are where your mother once was, how would you feel if you received a similar phone call? I know you originally wrote this as a student, but I'm just wondering how time and experience might influence your thinking on your decision.

Thanks again for adding such an important story to the The Tabor Boy Project!
Comment by James Hutton on December 10, 2009 at 12:50pm
Andrew, thanks so musch for sharing yourr castory. It braught back several memories of mine aboard the TABOR BOY and other ships. It's great to read of the continuing passion for the schooner and dedication to protect her in all conditions. I’m sure you grew from the expereince as we all have from perservering “elevated situations” aboard the TABOR BOY

Andrew, thanks so much for sharing your story. It braught back several of my memories aboard the TABOR BOY and other ships. It’s great to read of the continuing passion for the schooner and dedication to preotect her in all conditions. I’m sure you grew from the experience as we all have from persevering “elevated situations” aboard her. All-A-Taut-O!
Comment by Andrew Major on December 5, 2009 at 3:21pm
Just found this today on one of my old hard drives I was going through.

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