When we climbed onto the boat on October 29th, I noticed that it was… wobbling, is the only way to describe it. Which is unusual for a boat up on stands. As I worked in the salon, unpacking our suitcases, I kept losing my balance. Chris said I was imagining things, then I pointed out that the oil lantern hanging from the ceiling was swaying. The wind, he said. Or maybe you’re just not used to being on the boat on the hard. I turned away so he wouldn’t see me rolling my eyes.
But later Chris checked the boat stands and several of them had loosened off. How did that happen, we wondered? Then we remembered that in September, Hurricane Ian, downgraded to a tropical storm after it made landfall on the Gulf side of Florida, passed directly over Titusville, s-l-o-w-l-y. People in the marina say there were 80-knot winds for 8 hours. No wonder our boat stands were shaken loose.
The boats in the yard did fine, but the shoreline was littered with boats that had come loose from their moorings or anchors in Hurricane Ian and ended out on the rocks. It was a sobering sight. Little did we know that shortly the “death” count would rise.
Our boat was launched on Thursday, November 3rd and we headed straight out to the mooring field planning to spend a week there provisioning and just generally getting the boat ready for the winter sailing season. Friday morning, we put the genoa up. Saturday, during our morning weather check, Chris noticed a low forming north of the Dominican Republic. “We’d better keep an eye on it,” he said.
We looked at the winds expected here at Titusville, considered going into the marina or even pulling the boat, but the greatest sustained winds we saw were 25- to 30-knots. We decided Monark could handle that and carried on with our work.
Over the weekend the low intensified and began tracking west. Monday morning, we woke up to find that the storm had a name now—Nicole—and heard the “H” word used for the first time: Nicole was looking like it could develop into a rare late-season hurricane. We took the genoa down, double-checked our mooring lines, and booked a motel for a few nights. Monark may be able to handle hurricane-force winds in a mooring field, but I knew I couldn’t. I think if Chris were here alone, he would have stayed on board. I’m glad he didn’t.
We were awakened in the night by a loud siren. The bilge alarm? No, it was coming from Chris’s phone. An amber alert? Or more common down here, a silver alert? Nope. A storm surge warning from the National Weather Centre. Be prepared to evacuate. We were doing the right thing, going to ground, we told ourselves as we completed our preparations to leave the boat. We made it to shore before the winds began to kick up, and as we drove towards our motel, another siren sounded.
“A HURRICANE WARNING is in effect for dangerous and damaging winds… Urgently complete efforts to protect life and property. Have food, water, cash, fuel, and medications for 3+ days. FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS FROM LOCAL OFFICIALS.”
The first thing we did when we got to our motel in Coco Beach was rush to the shore to see what was going on out in the ocean. It was completely overcast by then, the sky an ominous slate grey, and the surf was huge, waves breaking on top of one another far out to sea. Something big was definitely coming our way.
Not surprisingly, we both slept soundly that first night. Neither of us had really slept the night before, between the alert sirens and the worry. I woke once, not at all sure where I was. The wind had started to moan around the concrete bunker of a building. Here it comes, I thought. A text from the owner of the motel telling us that our money would be refunded in the event of an evacuation was not particularly reassuring.
The next morning we went straight to the beach… but there was no beach. It was covered with foaming surf. We walked through the town, or really the long strip of stores, motels, and bars, so many bars, that is Coco Beach. A big orange pick-up truck flying a huge American flag was parked on a corner promoting the Fish Camp Grill. “Alligators,” the sign boasted. “Frogs legs. Seafood. Fried pickles. Boiled peanuts.” Oh, and “Plant-based items.” Which I would have thought peanuts were.
Then we saw the saddest sight of all. Signs on Starbucks saying “Closed due to weather.”
By evening, Nicole, now a Category 1 hurricane, was predicted to make landfall at midnight well south of us but the wind and rain in Coco Beach were already fierce. We couldn’t step out the door without getting blown sideways. We watched from the window as the wind worried the cover off the motorhome parked outside. A flowerpot rolled past, then a Muskoka chair tumbleweeded by. We closed the blinds.
Neither of us slept, really, as the wind howled and the windows rattled and rain pounded on the flat roof above our heads. We kept checking various weather apps. The storm was tracking further north than expected, that is to say, closer to us.
By three in the morning, the eye of the storm was just south of Titusville, the winds blowing a steady 60 knots in the mooring field, gusting to 80, according to Windy. We had secured Monark with heavy lines, there was no way they’d chafe through, even in these winds. Was there? But the mooring. What if it the pennant parted from the ball, or the mooring itself worked itself free from the bottom? There was nothing we could do. Be brave, Monark.
At first light, we set out for Titusville, driving around debris on the nearly deserted roads, carefully dodging a downed power line. As we drove along the highway beside the Indian River, we tried not to look at the many boats washed ashore. So many.
We both fell silent as we approached the park at Titusville that looks out over the mooring field. The tension was unbearable. As the mooring field came in sight, we strained to see Monark through the salt spray. There were boats out there, surely fewer than before, but yes, there was Monark, bravely shouldering aside the heavy seas, looking for all the world like it was under full sail out in the ocean, beating into a gale. Which I suppose it was.
The anchor had been knocked loose by the mooring lines and was dangling at the bow, no doubt battering our long-suffering prow. We felt helpless, watching our boat battle the seas all on her own. There was nothing we could do, no way we could get out there. Hang on, Monark. The worst is over. Just hang on a little longer.
By the next morning the seas had calmed enough for us to dinghy out to the boat and assess the damage. Yes, there were anchor bites in the prow but no sign of wear on the inch-and-a-quarter lines tied to the mooring ball. I will never complain about heaving those heavy dock lines again. The boat was as dirty as we’ve ever seen it. In the shallow waters of the Indian River the spray is as much mud as water. Despite the thorough washing provided by the torrential rains, the boat was covered with a fine layer of salt and grit.
We dove below to check the bilges first which, as expected, were not exactly dry. But clearly the bilge pumps had done their job, which was surprising given that in four days without sun, the batteries had gone completely dead. They must have lasted long enough to keep the bilge pumps going through the worst of it.
I had stowed for sea before we left, so things weren’t flung around the cabin, but inside the lockers, things were in wild disarray. I can’t imagine what it was like on board during the worst of it. We did the right thing getting off the boat.
Over the next few days, as we talked to people at the marina, we got a fuller picture of what it had been like in the mooring field. Four of the 18 boats that had been out there ended out on the rocks. The owner of one was on board, and cut his arm badly on his anchor as he struggled to deal with his mooring lines, which eventually parted anyway. How he got from his boat onto the rocks in 80-knot winds I do not know.
As we put the boat to rights, the clouds cleared and the sun emerged, looking a little sheepish, I thought. Sorry about all that, it seemed to say. That evening, as it set, bathing the clouds in pink then red, it was as though nothing had ever happened.
Next time we’re in the path of a hurricane—and may there never be a next time—we’ve decided we’ll pull the boat and take our chances with wobbly boat stands.