Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hurricane Arthur update

We are docked at the north ferry landing in Portsmouth, Virginia (map), a familiar stop.  The city of Portsmouth provides this dock, along with a similar dock at the south ferry landing, free of charge for boaters to visit the city.  Old signs prohibit overnight docking, but handouts at the visitor center contravene those, with a limit of three days in any 30-day period.  Folks at the visitor center, right here at the north landing, are very helpful, and there is even a boater's book exchange there.

Three days will be plenty of time for us to ride out the storm right here, at a sturdy fixed dock with heavy pilings, as you can see in today's cover photo.  The small basin is protected on three sides by concrete bulkheads and open only to the Elizabeth River.  While Arthur was upgraded last night from a tropical storm to a hurricane, we are only under a Tropical Storm Warning here.  We remain outside the cone of probability for a direct hit.

The National Hurricane Center's panoply of names for storm conditions can be confusing, so to be clear, a Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions, which are winds between 39 and 73 mph, are expected somewhere within the warning area.  We are in a warning area that extends all the way to the coast, and specifically the warning runs from the NC state line to Cape Charles.  It is almost certain that the coast will be hit with tropical-storm-force winds.

We are 17 miles from the coast here, nine miles from the Chesapeake, and ten river miles from open water, so wind speeds here, while still potentially into tropical storm territory at 35 knots, will be considerably less than at the coast.  We are also protected on all four sides by buildings or large warships -- what we get here at ground level are swirls and eddies of diminished strength, a fact which has had us miserable aboard since arriving, as it's been 95+ degrees and humid, and we are getting virtually no breeze whatsoever.  If not for the approaching storm, we'd be leaving the dock for the anchorage, where we'd get more air flow.

We normally tie Vector up with 5/8" lines, but for Arthur we broke out our 3/4" storm lines.  We have our usual five lines on the boat at this writing, but we'll probably have a couple more on before the bulk of the winds hit.  We've also deployed our new fender boards for the very first time, to keep us from slamming into the pilings if the winds bounce us around some.

Last night we took the ferry ($3 round trip) to Norfolk and walked to the Town Point Club for dinner.  Spending a couple of hours in the air conditioned club was a welcome respite from the mugginess.  Unsurprisingly, temperatures will plummet tomorrow, so things should get a bit more comfortable after the storm passes.  We ran the generator for an hour or so when we returned to cool the boat down before we went to bed.

The Town Point Club has a first-class view of the Norfolk fireworks display for the Fourth, and they are having a party.  So I inquired if they expected that to be canceled, and they allowed that they were expecting the weather to pass by 3pm and for the fireworks show to go on as scheduled.  They thought some of the city's park-side events might be scrubbed simply because the tents and awnings normally set up for the event would be too risky in the high winds earlier in the day.

I'm not holding out a lot of hope, but if the storm has really passed and the display is really going to happen, we might take the ferry back to Town Point, or perhaps walk a few blocks north right here in Portsmouth, and try to catch the fireworks.  Before Arthur cropped up, the plan had been to move the boat up to the anchorage in the morning, where we'd have unparalleled ringside seats for the display, which is launched from barges not all that far away.

I know some readers are wondering what we'll do if the forecasts turn out to be wildly inaccurate and the worst happens.  To put everyone at ease, let me just say that we are docked immediately adjacent to a large hotel, and we can always lock up the boat, stuff the cats into their carriers, and evacuate to the hotel, which is literally just steps away, if need be.  And while we are taking all necessary steps to ensure the safety of the boat and all aboard, most of the folks around us are going about business as usual -- they've seen it all before.

I will try to post an update here tomorrow as the situation develops.  To all our friends in the more immediate danger zone, be safe.  And to our friends in the Red Cross who will be deploying to North Carolina and possibly elsewhere in the wake of this storm, thank you -- we are with you in spirit if not in person.

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