Thirty-five years ago, when Anita Bryant was pitching sunshine, her intention was to sell orange juice, not Florida. As it turned out, she helped inspire a frost-bitten phalanx of station wagons that turned south as soon as the leaves turned color. Nowadays, "ya'll" has given way to "youz guyz" and those who can still shake the sand from their shoes migrate seasonally. When I made the move years ago my friends were jealous. Now, after a record hurricane season, they feel sorry for me.
They really shouldn't, for I have a hurricane plan.
Tuesday October 18: As I write this, we are square in the crosshairs of the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) cone of uncertainty and self-doubt-again! Wilma has had her eye on South Florida for some time and, frankly, after an engagement with her late sisters last season (Frances and Jeanne), I wish she would just get it over with and have her way with us. I remain optimistic as she is still a few days out and the chances that she will follow the twisted path that the NHC's under-funded, overworked forecasters have chosen for her seems a long shot. What's more, the storm is certain to engage the Gulf Coast first and tire before it reaches Stuart.
However, as I am not a gambling man, I've begun preparing-kind of. Our 37-foot Bertram, Anhinga, was already up the river at Stuart Yacht where she has ducked more than one blow in the past while draining my wallet. She is currently interned for a rub rail refit. To protect my investment, I have woven her in a web of braided dockline that will allow her little wiggle room and keep her at least five feet from a solid object. I lashed her outrigger lines, secured her cockpit shade but chose not to remove her canvas as it has survived modest blows in the past. As usual, for the well-prepared the greatest threat will be other boats. Fortunately, I am berthed next to a knowledgeable skipper who has secured his vessel wisely.
Friday, October 21: The cartoon analogy is obvious; the forecaster's timing with Wilma seems no better than Fred Flintstone's. Instead of sprinting like a racehorse as predicted, she is wobbling about like a drunk on the dance floor. As she was supposed to be here by now, the authorities have had far too much time to pontificate. The rating-righteous local TV weather guessers are busy selling batteries and flashlights, while the gloomsday politicians are hoping to inoculate themselves from responsibility by reviewing their strategic reserves of ice and drinking water. It's an unbearable chatter! At this point I am looking forward to mandatory evacuation.
Wilma is still on target, which is a bit troubling. The computer models, which rarely agree, seem determined to either cross us or sideswipe us. As the wind speeds predicted to impact us are still manageable I have resisted further effort-kind of. My wife, Nelia, now insists I move Ladyfish, her 19-foot Hewes flats skiff, from the boatlift to the trailer. Before completing this mission I queue up in a fuel line and fill her with high-test. Secured behind our house she will serve as our gas station should things turn sour. Nelia has also suggested that I remove our 13-foot Whaler tender from the davits on our dock as it has just been restored from last year's blows. I overrule her and wrap the 13 with lines and chafing gear, an approach that should suffice given the conditions predicted.
Sunday, October 23: Nelia, as our family meteorologist, has issued her hurricane warning. Wilma will land on the west coast of Florida as a Category 3 (111 to 130 mph) and pass near us as a Category 2 (96 to 110 mph). Nelia has noted Wilma's size and the modest effect the Everglades could have on taming her prior to arrival on the East Coast.
Hmm...three direct hits in 12 months statistically it seems impossible. What's more, Wilma's projected track has not varied in days and the odds she will waver are still in our favor. With evacuation mandates looming, we close our shutters and head north to St. Augustine where we complete our hurricane preparations at the Casa Monica Hotel with an excellent bottle of pinot grigio.
Tuesday October 25: The track the NHC had been suggesting for days was right on the money, as was Nelia's prediction-some long shot! As we head south the last gas available is north of Vero Beach. Our first stop is the boat, which has fared well (again) losing only a bit of canvas. Nelia, of course, reminds me that she suggested I take it down. With the help of a chain saw, we cut a path to our door to find that there's no power. But the house is still standing. The newly restored Whaler has been scarred yet again, and so am I after another "I told you so". We will spend the next few days clearing the yard and the next few nights aboard Anhinga. Such is the price for living in paradise.
So am I finally discouraged, ready to move somewhere safe-like Ottawa or Ottumwa? No. Instead I have simply modified my hurricane plan. I'm afraid I am single-minded when it comes to my vision of paradise. For me paradise (Florida) is the ideal place for boating and our piece of it is merely a parking place for Anhinga. If our house is blown away, so be it; I intend to use its foundation as a parking site for a land yacht (motor home)-since a moving target is harder to hit.
Did I mention that it's 70 degrees and sunny now? Come on down, youz guyz!