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Hurricane Earl

We had been watching Earl for several days as it developed. The forecast track looked like it might pass far enough offshore to miss the Crystal Coast, but a jog to the west put Matthews Point in the watch area early on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 with potential strike late Thursday or early Friday. The call went out to remove boats by the end of the day Wednesday. I made arrangements with Robby to work Wednesday and get my inventory to the point that he could make a preliminary entry, then come in over the Labor Day weekend to finish up. I let dockmaster Paul know that I would be down very late Wednesday and have the boat off dock early Thursday morning.

After a long hectic day at the office, starting at 4:50 am and ending 13 hours later just before 6:00, I got on the road. I stopped for a few light supplies in Goldsboro, reckoning that the New Bern/Havelock stores would probably be cleaned out of bread and ice, and arrived at Matthews Point about midnight. In addition to Valor, only Big Kahuna and Perfect State were still in the marina. I grabbed a few hours of sound sleep and was up early to finish offloading loose items from the boat. Joe roared off in Big Kahuna early, and soon afterward I followed out in Valor as Dr. Wayne and his wife put the finishing touches on Perfect State. I anchored at the top of Mitchell Creek, not quite all the way at the top as another boat had taken my Hanna spot, but still in company with Annie Belle and Marian Claire. For ground tackle, I set the Danforth on thirty feet of chain and then set out another thirty feet of rode. I set this arrangement, then pulled up to the end of the chain and shackled on the plough. I ran a second rode from the plough and let out about thirty feet on each line. I could have used more scope but the anchorage was tight and I didn't want to risk swinging into a shoreline dock or one of the other boats anchored nearby.

A call to the marina on channel 71 produced a ride in the form of Bill in his skiff. I was back at the marina before noon. Dr. Wayne had taken Perfect State up Clubfoot Creek, so the marina was completely empty. I spent the afternoon helping around the marina. Jet and Galen were passing lines under the deck of the dock to prevent it from floating off, so I relieved Galen to allow him time to do other jobs. We gathered up all loose matter on the docks, including the fire extinguishers, life rings and various items that people had hurriedly pitched off their boats in the rush to get out to anchorage. Later I rode out with Dan and Paul to check on boats. We left Dan on one boat that he was watching as it had a slow leak and defective bilge pump, made a swing aound the top of Clubfoot Creek and picked up Dan on the return trip. Back at the marina, I helped Galen wax the port side of his boat which he had hauled for the storm.

As the day went on, I had to decide which course to follow. I had three possible plans. Plan A was to go back out to the boat and ride out the storm aboard, to go into action if the storm passed well off shore. Plan B, if the storm looked to be close enough to bring significant winds to Matthews Point, was to overnight in the truck at the marina. Plan C, if the storm turned west and came straight in on us, was to hightail it for Raleigh. A direct hit would have meant power outages, downed trees, blocked roads and general mayhem for the whole area. If that was a prospect, I needed to be far enough west to get out and home to Winston to fulfill my commitments at work.

The storm had consistently tracked slightly to the west of the projection, so I thought Plan B was the most likely. By Thursday afternoon, though, the storm turned off to the north and it was clear that it would pass off Cape Hatteras. I made arrangements for a ride out to the anchorage and packed a couple of duffles with enough provisions for the night. Around 4:00 pm, Galen ran Dan and me out to our boats, and we were committed to riding it out at anchor. By this time the wind was coming strong out of the NE, a steady 25-30 knots. The creek had risen to the point that the shoreline docks were just above water. All the boats seemed to be riding easily. Earlier we had seen a big cabin cruiser down the creek fouled on its own anchor rode, riding stern to the wind. Paul had expressed his strong disapproval of the owner and worried that the boat would break free and drift down on other boats, but fortunately during the day a party had gone out and gotten the boat swinging properly on its rode.

Around dark a light rain began to fall. With the boat swinging to the wind, I could leave the boards out of the companionway and get good ventilation without too much rain coming in. By 11:30, the wind had backed around a little more to the north still 25-30 with some stronger gusts, indicating that the storm was close to our latitude. I decided to rack out and get some sleep in case I needed to be up later during the height of the storm. In the event, I slept soundly through the night as the winds never really picked up. At 6:30 AM Friday, I found winds from the NW, probably 20-25 with gusts. The water was already starting to drop.

Dan hailed me and we got on the VHF for a minute, verifying that we were both in good shape. Then Dan inquired whether I had coffee. I did not, in fact my supplies on the boat were limited to bread, peanut butter, Almond Joys, water and liquor, so Dan graciously jumped in his kayak and paddled over with a thermos of coffee. As the morning went on, the wind continued to back and the water flowed out of the creek. I pulled anchor at about 11:30 and got back on the dock before noon. By now the wind had backed around to due west. John on Ching Ching was already tied up, and other boats began to trickle in. I helped Galen wax the starboard side of his boat. We speed-waxed it as the water was going out fast and he wanted to get his boat back in the water while the ramp was still submerged. I picked up some broken limbs and raked out the gravel paths, then joined Dan, Dale, Cory and Paul for a ride up Clubfoot Creek to check on the boats and deliver Dale and Cory to Hi Flite. Jeff and Michelle came zooming past us in their new skiff, on the way to Swan. Michelle sat in lotus position on the bow with her perfect posture from years of dancing, in a tiny bikini, hair flying in the wind. We found the boats in good condition except for Tico Time and a big Cheoy Lee both aground on a point. They were anchored in adequate depth, but the wind shift swung them around into the shallows, then drove the water out of the creek. Rumor has it that the Cheoy Lee is owned by the new owner of Sea Tow, and he had one of his boat jockeys bring it up from Morehead City for the storm.

Late in the day, Jet wanted to put his fishing skiff on the lift and I gave him a hand. However, the cable on one corner was lapping over itself and we set to work getting it unsnarled. Bill and Helen came up in the golf cart and Bill came over to help. After fooling with it for a few minutes, Bill called for Helen to come pull on one of the cables. I smiled at her and said "you know you have a mess when you have to call the women in to help." We finally managed to get all the cables in their right tracks.

As much as I would have liked to stick around, I needed to hit the road. I showered, made a last pass around the marina to say goodbye to everyone, and headed out around 6:00. I arrived back in Winston around 11:30 Friday evening after an uneventful trip, and was in the office before 8:00 Saturday morning. Two long days of work later I was caught up, leaving Labor Day Monday to unpack and do chores.

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