Hounds of hell unleashed on Southeast coast

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August 2004 has earned its place of notoriety in the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration archives for being the stormiest August on record. The U.S. Southeast was overwhelmed with hurricanes this past season as one storm after another, from all sides it seemed, churned northward from balmy Caribbean waters. A record eight storms that month were of sufficient strength to be named by the National Hurricane Center. This despite the fact that NOAA announced in September that the contiguous 48 states experienced one of the coolest summers on record.

When Hurricane Charley tore into Florida’s Gulf Coast in late August, wind speeds were at a steady 145 miles per hour. But the southwest Florida coast didn’t get the surge the next storm, Frances, delivered to the opposite coast, overwhelming marinas and tossing boats indiscriminately onto previously dry land. And then there was Ivan, which seemed to combine the worst of each of the previous storms and whose slow, lumbering gait gave the Gulf Coast states ample time to worry — especially as grisly reports from western Caribbean nations trickled northward.

How does one prepare for such conditions? Ocean Navigator Contributing Editor Chuck Husick, who keeps his boat near St. Petersburg, Fla., wryly noted that, other than doubling up his docklines and fenders, “Seems to me you have to rely on luck of the draw and insurance in these cases.” Luckily for Husick’s 46-foot Irwin ketch, the worst of Charley passed to the south, and the surge was negligible in his area.

Not so for the fleet of Steve and Doris Colgate, who for the past 40 years have been operating the Offshore Sailing School in Fort Myers, Fla., having trained more than 100,000 sailors in the craft of seamanship. The Colgates said they were thankful it was their off season, which meant much of their fleet of boats was elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the school had 10 sailboats moored at South Seas Resort on Captiva Island: seven Colgate 26s, a Hunter 466, a Mainship Pilot 30, a Hunter 365 and a 17-foot motor launch.

“The eye of Charley came within a few miles of South Seas Resort,” Steve Colgate said. “Our staff, all great seamen, did a great job of tying off the boats. We used 3/4-inch twisted nylon and ‘spidered’ the boats between piers, using dock pilings — not dock cleats.” The boats were kept as far from the pilings as practical.

Colgate said the marina was otherwise empty, which meant there were no runaways to contend with. There was little damage, save a few downed rigs, when the Colgate 26s partially broke away and tangled with some pilings. Docklines that remained secure were stretched bar-taut throughout the storm, he said.

The Offshore Sailing School’s offices remained open throughout the ordeal, despite a loss of electrical power, according to Doris Colgate, thanks to the charter company The Moorings, which allowed the school use of its offices for a few days.

The school’s 40th-anniversary celebration, initially planned for Oct. 28 to 31, has been postponed, however, and several courses offered for the fall are being rescheduled for other Offshore Sailing School venues, according to the Colgates. Visit www.offshore-sailing.com for more information.

Commercial salvors and towing companies scrambled to free boats entangled in mangroves, tossed as they were like so much detritus along the Keys and Atlantic coast when Hurricane Frances, a Category 4 storm, plowed ashore just north of West Palm Beach, Fla. on Sept. 4.

Hurricane Ivan sacked the Gulf Coast with a ferocity of Biblical proportions. The Gulf Coast between the Florida panhandle and New Orleans was destroyed beyond belief — boats, cars and buildings mixing freely along a hundred miles of shoreline.

At press time, Jeanne had devastated Haiti, struck weather-weary eastern Florida and was heading north.

By Ocean Navigator