Riding Out a Tropical Storm
My first order of business this foggy morning is to apologize to Paul Dorr, the captain’s brother and cook. I want him to know that although I personally feel that each member of the Heritage crew is thoroughly awesome, I readily admit their language last night in the Bowdich’s galley was beyond the pale. I’m planning some variation on the Philadelphia Address: “I can no more disown the Heritage crew than I can disown the windjammer community.” But Paul stops me at “Hey Paul, sorry about last night.…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Paul says.
“Was that your first encounter with the Heritage crew?” I ask.
“Oh no,” Paul says. “The Heritage crews have been like that forever. Each year the people are different, but they’re somehow always the same.”
And Paul should know. He’s been doing the windjamming thing for quite a while.
In the mid 1980s, Paul and his younger brother, Owen, left their home in Massachusetts and drove a VW Bug through an early spring snowstorm to join the Maine windjammer fleet for fit-out season. They’ve been at it ever since.
Captain Owen on the morning after the storm.
According to American Eagle captain John Foss, schooner bums in the ‘80s had a nickname for the elder Dorr. Paul’s propensity for anachronistic clothing and his preference for bicycle transportation over internal-combustion engines earned him the moniker “Time Warp.” Nobody refers to him by that name any longer, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch. Paul still rides his bike, and, while working aboard the Nathaniel Bowditch, he dresses in chef whites. Last night, he proudly served an old-school baked haddock recipe he found within a 1940s edition of the New York Times. It was delicious.
Earlier in the season I said that some cooks join the fleet for the sailing; that, for them, “the galley is a mere entrée into the larger windjamming world,” but it’s preferable for captains to hire cooks “for whom the galley is the endpoint.” Paul defies this either/or proposition. Paul got into the business for the sailing, worked aboard many different vessels as a deckhand and a mate, but now cooks because that’s his preference. (At age 49, Paul is toying with the idea of leaving the windjammer industry to open a small, high-quality restaurant with a prix-fixe menu.)
But his dedication to the culinary arts doesn’t preclude Paul from working on deck. On most windjammers of this size, the captain would sail with a mate, messmate, and cook. On the Nathaniel Bowditch, however, Captain Owen sails with two deckhands and Paul, who serves as de facto mate.
Most deck crews would be loathe to take orders from a cook, but the deckhands on the Nathaniel Bowditch are clearly grateful. Mike Daniello, 21, and Gerard Hoogeboom, 18, are both first-year sailors. At this point in the season, they’ve pretty much figured things out for themselves, but they seem relieved whenever Paul Dorr emerges from the galley to coordinate tasks in his chef whites.
Paul doesn’t mince words on the deck. His commands are urgent and direct — some might say terse — but the heft of his competency assuages any hard feelings.
Captain Owen, too, seems to appreciate his brother’s counsel. Yesterday, before departing, Paul mentioned that the wind direction would allow us to sail off the dock—a circumstance that had happened only once before in the five years that Captain Owen has owned the Nathaniel Bowditch. The crew raised the headsails and the foresail, cast off the lines, and sailed into the channel without ever engaging the engine. A crowd of yachtsmen standing on the docks applauded the rare maneuver as Captain Owen sailed past.
Today, as the Nathaniel Bowditch sails into the fog off North Haven, Captain Owen and his brother discuss possible locations to ride out the approaching storm.
Hurricanes are infrequent visitors to Maine. The cool waters of the Gulf of Maine generally diminish hurricanes to tropical storms.
It’s been 17 years since the Midcoast has experienced hurricane damage. Hurricane Bob made landfall in Maine in August of 1991 after raking Rhode Island and Massachusetts with 115 mph winds. By the time the storm reached Maine, however, its maximum sustained winds were 65 mph.
Prior to that, Hurricane Gloria landed in Maine in 1985 packing 60 mph winds. Hurricane Ginny struck the coast with 80 mph winds in 1963.
The most recent hurricane-related deaths in the Midcoast occurred in October 1962 when Hurricane Daisy made landfall with 80 mph winds: in Thomaston, a falling tree limb landed on a car, killing its passenger; in Rockland, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a storm-befuddled driver.
The Midcoast’s worst hurricane season was 1954. Hurricane Carol arrived in August with winds between 75 and 100 mph. Less than two weeks later, Huricane Edna struck the area with winds of 115 mph. The second storm downed hundreds of trees and many homes lost electrical service for several days.
Tonight, Tropical Storm Hanna is predicted to sweep over our area. She’ll carry torrential rains and sustained northeasterly winds of 40 knots, substantially less than hurricane force.
The Dorr brothers rule out returning to the dock in Rockland because the forecasted wind direction would batter the Bowditch’s hull against her dock. Instead, the plan is to find an anchorage with good holding ground and protection from the northeast. Captain Owen settles on Gilkey Harbor off Islesboro. Owen is concerned that other boats will sail for this location, so he’s determined to beat the crowd. He sails directly for the anchorage to stake his claim. All the while, Seth, the younger brother of the two children aboard this trip, continues yesterday’s steady discourse with the captain.
“Are we there yet?”
“Can we go any faster?”
Shortly after lunch, the deck crew drops the storm anchor and pays out 100 feet of chain—more than double the usual amount. The extra length of chain is important. Tonight, when winds push against the Bowditch and the anchor chain pulls tight, the angle of the long chain (relative to the seafloor) will tug the anchor backward rather than upward. This will ensure that the anchor’s fluke digs deeper into the mud rather than breaking free from it.
After the anchor is set and the sails are furled, Captain Owen makes an announcement.
“The storm is predicted to roll in tonight at about nine o’clock. The wind will blow 40 knots through the night and into the morning. We should be perfectly safe here, but I can’t guarantee we’ll be able to leave in the morning. We might have to wait here until the wind dies down. If you have a plane to catch tomorrow, or if you’d be more comfortable on land, we can make arrangements to take you back to your car tonight.
“If you’d rather tell your friends that you rode out Tropical Storm Hanna aboard the Nathaniel Bowditch, you’re welcome to stay.”
Five people gather their belongings and climb into a rowboat. Captain Owen fires the outboard engine and motors his departing guests to the Islesboro Ferry Terminal. From there, a ferry will take them to Lincolnville and Cathie Dorr, the captain’s wife, will pick them up in a van and return them to Rockland.
The rest of us stay put.
As predicted, the rain rolls in at 9:00, and it is a downpour. Throughout the night, Mike and Gerard climb out of bed at the top of each hour; they confirm that the anchor is holding, they bail the rain-filled rowboats that strain against their davits, and they dump the pools of water that collect in the awning. In my cabin, I sleep heavily amid the churn of heavy rain that falls on the wooden deck above me.
In the morning, all is well. The anchor never slipped an inch and there is no damage. Six to seven inches of rain fell overnight, but there are now glimpses of blue sky between the silvery clouds scudding in from the northwest. The wind is blowing a steady 20 knots; it’s a perfect day for a sail.
In the Bay, the Nathaniel Bowditch sails at an exhilarating 10 knots for home. Seth has resumed his place at the captain’s side, but, for once, he’s not asking if we can go faster.
Up next: The final sail of the season; 3 nights aboard the American Eagle.
Gerard preps the anchor.