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Block Island Squall - when your smallness is laid out before you

There is nothing like the threat of harm to remind us of our presumption of safety.

We arrived late to Block Island as we needed to stop off in Montauk to pick up a package. Tad and I conceded our plans for the day and enjoyed a snack on the deck while watching the sky and water dance in bountiful shades of blue. We decided to take the tender to the island for dinner when I had a nudging to check the weather. There had been no prediction of rain or reason to think anything would change, but I was compelled.

The weather app said it would rain in about 20 minutes and continue through the next two hours. Not wanting to get wet, we decided to stay put for the evening. I went below to check the fridge and plan for dinner when Tad shouted for me to come outside. "Look at the horizon," he said with excitement.

The water and sky before us still danced blue, but from the horizon upward was as if someone had taken a large marker and blacked out the sky.

In only a matter of minutes, the blackness as if hit by a water balloon, dripped long streaks of grey over the indigo canvas, and the sea beneath us began its rumble. As I pushed our folding bikes under the table and started to pick up shoes, pillows, and things I didn't want to get wet, the boat started to rock. Tad was doing a quick walk around to assure all hatches were closed when the sky above us became night and the wind began its roar.

With a deep prolonged growling, the sky broke open its fury and lightening - the darknesses only light - shot bolts across the harbor from every angle. Hundreds of boats tossed upon the water like floating toothpicks. The winds were now around 40 knots and you could feel the panic as sails dropped, anchors pulled and boats drifted into each other. Equally weighted, violence and helplessness marked the keepers of pandemonium.

Three sailboats collided directly in front of us and a Navy service boat was tossing about on our starboard side when Tad yelled we should pull up anchor and see if we can make our way out of the harbor. I went to the swim platform to grab my life vest only to see a yacht heading directly for our stern. She was a large vessel with two anchors, but only one was in use. The dropped anchor was stretched tightly under its bow and likely dragging along the ocean bottom. The anchor still nestled in its housing was coming directly at us. While the pandemonium gave the feeling of fast-moving chaos, the reality was he was drifting so the approach was more like a slow-motion movie, which gave me time to anticipate.

The initial impact was the crown of their anchor with the steel framework of our cockpit awning. A woman on the boat raced forward with a fender (boat bumper/protector) in the hopes to cushion both boats from the pending impact, but the anchor pushed between the V-cut in our awning locking their fluke around into our metal arms so we could not move forward, back, or put anything in between. Their anchor gnawed at our frame as the boats moved up and down with the rocking sea. I assessed which part of their anchor I could grasp without harm, and I began to push.

When docking boats, you learn it takes only small amounts of pressure or pull to move these large vessels, so with all my might I pushed against the protruding anchor as the woman on the other boat pushed against our boat. The rain was beating upon us making it difficult to see, but our eyes shared the same determination to keep us from colliding.

I had left the back cockpit door open so I could call out positioning to Tad, but he struggled to hear me over the thunder. The captain of the other boat left the helm to check on us when the woman waved him away and yelled, "pull her back!, pull her back!" It was almost surreal how she and I were synced in thought. When she instructed him to pull back, I looked at the positioning of their bow and yelled at Tad to turn the stern starboard. And, like a well-orchestrated dance, as our boat turned and theirs pulled back, the hook of their anchor broke free, and the impact was diverted.

Now dislodged, I ran to the bow (front of the boat) to give Tad the signals for our anchor positioning so he could align the boat. In normal conditions, I mirror my arm with the angle of the anchor chain so Tad can move us to achieve a straight up/down chain alignment. I then hit the retract switch and pull the anchor up. However, with the rain, lightning, and unyielding winds knocking us about he said there wasn't time to wait. I mirrored the chain with one arm anyway and depressed the retract button with the other. The chain moved five or so feet and then stopped. Crap, of all times to be well anchored, I thought to myself. I let the chain back down and tried again. In the meanwhile, Tad watched my arm and worked to position us better. After multiple attempts, the anchor loosened and pulled to the surface.

Looking back at the harbor as darkness lifted.

We made our way through the confusion of the harbor and out to sea, to wait for the storm to pass. While the seas were more tumultuous further away from land, I felt safer as I watched boats in the harbor still crashing into each other and US Coast Guard boats trying to maintain the havoc.

The squall moved on after 45 minutes or so, and as quickly as the dark descended upon us, it lifted back into the heavens.

Once we were safe, I was caught by a swirl of heightened emotions and had to fight off crying for the rest of the evening. There was a sense of fear and comfort - both anchored in respect - and I felt incredibly small; small in being reminded of my lack of power amid mother nature's roar. And although comforting, smaller yet in God's reminder that although Mother Nature may roar, it is He who rules stormy seas and calms angry waves.

And I could hear Him say...

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9


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