October Blue

Mon, 10/12/2015 - 7:30am
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Walking out in the morning to play with the dog, moving from the west-facing door in shadow to the barnyard in sun is like walking back into summer. Last week, during a morning of radio hysteria over a hurricane that seemed every moment to be less of a threat to us, the weather site upon which I rely showed an odd forecast for this day. “Clear” it said, over an orange sun surrounded by a ring of ten beams of deeper orange, today’s fine weather, but above it, hedging bets, a band of red signifying possibility of a severe storm.

We had a blasting storm from the northeast, one which kept the boats in port from late Thursday until Monday morning, three full days without service. It has been awhile but it does happen. A few years ago there must have been a slow news day in Providence because the second day of no boat to Block Island made the news, complete with live coverage from Galilee. It was a lesson, this odd drama over something that was unusual but hardly seemed that newsworthy, underscored when there was no update the day following, the third in a row the vessel sat at the dock on the other side of the water.

All of those computer models, which moved Joaquin from an odd inland track to the coast quickly settled on a projected path out to the east. As I write it is moving from a Category 1 hurricane to a Tropical Storm, a great white swirl on the radar but so far out to sea not even the fringes of it touch us. 

Last week a bad fall storm was descending, and Joaquin was stuck in the Bahamas, for us, good news. It was not moving and there was no way it could run north, almost die, only to collide with the northeast system, be complicated by a whole series of weather factors and turn into what became known as the Perfect Storm, the No Name Hurricane of 1991, almost 25 years ago. 

It would be remembered here for it causing the loss of the part of Spring Street that was again ravaged in Sandy. It came the fall after Hurricane Bob which scattered vessels all around the New Harbor and breached Sachem Pond but otherwise did little damage. The end-of-October-into-November gale did not go away, it looped offshore, a very rare occurrence and felt very stalled as it prowled. 

It would be remembered all along the coast which was so impacted but beyond our little corner of the world — and within fields of meteorological study where what one man dreams another dreads — it would likely have passed from memory but for a book written about a swordfish boat out of Gloucester lost in the storm.

The book, billed as non-fiction although much of it is speculative, was made into a movie and that vessel, the Andrea Gail, became the symbol of the Perfect Storm.

Back along someone remarked that for all the damage inflicted on the Bahamas by these hurricanes, we do not seem to hear as much as we do of other places. This time the storm stalled and intensified and word came that a container ship with a crew of 33 was missing. The hurricane, by one account “hurdled past hurricane categories 1, 2 and 3 until it settled at 4” and by all messages and trajectories, at the El Faro, a United States flagged container ship, its engines failed, was trapped in seas worse than the North Atlantic in the Perfect Storm. 

The Coast Guard was looking for survivors, reporting on finding lifeboats and survival suits, bits of wreckage that confirm the ship was lost while Joaquin blithely danced across the Atlantic, spinning down to its eventual demise. News outlets are looking for quotes, for second guessing so early in the game, and finding those offering what should have been done, and one Captain ,who has been going to sea since 1968, offering “In this case, I think, it was the worst-case scenario... everything that could go wrong did.”

And I have to wonder, absent a best selling book and major motion picture or a song like the haunting “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” — does anyone even listen to such songs anymore? — how long it will be before the El Faro fades from the collective memory. 

Here, the storm is over, the sky is finally clear and blue and the sun warm. There is virtually no wind; today I could lift the hood of my car to refill the wiper fluid that has been drained by all these days of trying to wash salt from my windshield. 

My east windows are not bad, it rained hard enough to wash away the salt, but the south facing kitchen windows are as gray as my windshield. They are too high for me to reach and there is no more than a chance of rain for the next ten days; I will have to drag the hose around the corner and spray them clean.

It blew and it rained and the boat did not run for three days but these storms can be expected to run that length of time. Weirdly, the big maple at the corner of my yard looks no different than it did before the storm, neither striped of leaves nor singed by the clouds of salt that rolled in from the sea. It is wonderful in summer, my shaded yard, but now I am ready for full sun.

The ocean is October blue, calm it appears until I go upstairs and look south and see it is ragged and white at its edges, torn where the land rises up through it. And in the Bahamas, the Coast Guard was no longer searching the sea for survivors of the El Faro, but coordinating with a company in Florida to carry supplies in seaplanes to places where the airports have been destroyed.

Three days without a boat? We were very lucky.