Hurricane Watching, Livelihood Protecting
The strangest thing was how the boats were not lined up as usual, swinging on their moorings together and all facing the same direction.
No-- the strangest thing was how the sun was shining. It was hot, actually very hot, brilliant, with almost no wind. Those facts conflicted with what our eyes were taking in, as we watched our harbor go through the cycle of the high tide. The last time we’d all been here like this was for the one they called the Patriot’s Day Storm back in April a year ago. I remember a screeching gale, and cold, driving rain.
You’d expect rain. You would at least expect wind. Instead, we stood around in shorts and flip-flops, dozens of us, tending to puppies, straddling four-wheelers and bicycles, eating Henry’s ice cream cones and ribbing each other, relying on lame humor perhaps to diffuse the anxiety. We tended to quiet down and pay attention as each big swell came through the harbor. Someone commented on the strange pattern of the swells, the very long period…there would be three big waves, each more powerful than the one before, and then an uncommonly long time before the next three.
One fisherman made the trip home to Matinicus from the mainland in the storm; he told us that crossing the bay wasn’t bad, that he didn’t even get his glasses wet until just north of the island. Running through the mouth of the harbor, though, between the breakwater and Wheaton, that was another story. From where we stood, to make it through there safely looked damned near impossible. He said you could do it if you timed it right. Clearly he had.
Hurricane Bill, somewhere off in the distance and headed for Newfoundland, provided a sensory disconnect for those who stood at the head of the wharf on Matinicus on Sunday the twenty-third. Pieces of wharves old and new were wracked and broken, but the air service plane flew overhead. Skiffs were hauled out and at least one was sunk, but the ice cream tasted great in the muggy heat and the irony. The sea was full of pieces of wood, but there wasn’t enough of a breeze to keep the boats all headed into it. The harbor looked like a little kid’s bathtub, boats all random.
A few of us were just rubberneckers, there to see the surf crash over the breakwater, to snap pictures of the spray shooting up in the air so high as to clear Wheaton Island across the harbor. Most, though, were lobstermen, boat owners, and this was scarcely a mindless diversion on a Sunday afternoon. If one of those mooring pennants should part, if one of those boats should cut loose…what’s the plan? I didn’t hear anybody talking about that; you don’t exactly think out loud about something like that, but think we did. A little more wind would have helped (now there’s something I never thought I’d hear said on Matinicus!)
This business of boats all over the place instead of lined up as usual meant an increased chance of collision and damage on the mooring. They disappeared into each trough and bobbed up again. George watched his Robin R. take the thrashing as every man (and June and Ellen) watched his lobster boat; each was somebody’s livelihood.
Lobster traps piled on the wharf were knocked down and scattered to some extent, but a couple of the guys had run lengths of rope through them, to prevent them all from going overboard in ten directions. The seas washed over the top of the wharf, but not by much; some of the beer cans and bits of pot warp were still there after the tide. A few guys sloshed their way halfway the length of the wharf to the mast and boom, to pluck out a skiff that was not benefiting from the experience. Teenagers climbed up on the ferry ramp works to take photographs.
The sound was distinctive, more a roar than anything else, a deep, thundering, distant-sounding noise. We all stood at most a couple of hundred feet from the powerhouse, but nobody heard the silence when the engines stopped…