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D and I walked three miles today and rewarded ourselves at the half way point.

The Saga of The Live-Aboards and the Broken Dock During the Northeaster of February 25

This is a story mostly about communication - and how we pretty much failed miserably on the the night of February 25th. We have no excuse as we have a system and we had used that system successfully three times during the storm. But we all failed totally during our biggest and longest challenge, when Windrifter's dock broke away from Dock A, the main dock. (Confession: This is also a story about how much we live-aboards love our shrink wrap. We hate to give it up before its time.)

As was recounted in the storm timeline article , at 11:00 PM EW was in the cockpit driving our boat as we had broken three stern lines and decided not to try another repair until the winds and waves had diminished. I was trying to get some rest -- if not sleep -- and had my alarm set for 11:30 to relieve EW. I had our marine handheld radio to communicate with other live-aboards and one of our personal communicator radios so EW could call me if he needed me. (He could also bellow.) He would not be able to hear me call him on those radios as the winds and broken shrink wrap cover made it very hard to communicate unless I was right next to him and yelling. (As I write this on March 4, my throat is still sore.)

D called me on the marine radio and asked whether I could hear yelling and whistles. I could not but told her I would head out immediately - got my foul weather gear on and did so. D and J also left their cabin immediately -- J without full foul weather gear as we was afraid that yelling and whistles meant someone was in the water. (That is what we all thought.) I very briefly told EW why I was leaving the boat and did not take any radio device with me. 

On the dock were R and C - owners of two large sailboats farther out A on our side of the main dock. They let me know that they had been making the noise in order to get J and D's attention as their dock and hence Windrifter, their Westsail 42, was breaking away from Dock A. We three agreed that we needed to get the boat yard crew down -- with heavy lines, work boat and come-alongs so R and C went to shore to make that call. I thought J and D had been apprised of their situation, but they did not understand what was happening.  J thought I had company on the dock, but I was now alone. 

Let's have a bit of back story here -- Three Important Things

  1. D and J had realized prior to the storm that A Dock had weakened where one of the two connectors attaches their pier to the dock. D had called the marina and the crew had attached a very heavy line from their pier diagonally across A Dock to provide extra holding power. In retrospect, she wishes she had asked for chain instead of line.
  2. R - who has the beautiful schooner at the end of the dock on our side of A Dock had discovered that the storm had caused a plank to be pulled up from his dock. He had pretty much decided that he had done all he could to tie off and protect his boat, and that he thought his pier may break free so he was going home.  Plank Pulled from Dock 2.25.10 C was on the main dock as he had decided on his last trip out not to get back on his boat. It was being pushed so far off the dock that he didn't think it was safe to get on and off alone. R also had that problem. They were both going to let the rest of us know they were leaving but discovered that D and J's dock had broken.
  3. Shrink wrap is very, very important to us. It keeps the boat warmer, it prevents ice from forming on the inside off the hatches, it allows us to work on deck during inclement weather. It lets us get spring deck projects done in March and April instead of May and June. On the other hand, in a storm it creates a lot of windage, in high winds it can be difficult/impossible to hear what people on the docks are saying, and - though we use clear shrink wrap, it is not transparent. You cannot see what is happening through it. 

OK, back to our previously interrupted saga:

I could see that Windrifter's pier had totally separated on one side and the other connection was compromised. J is on deck and I thought he knew what was going on. By looking out his door he could see that Windrifter  was now 10 - 15 feet off the dock so he was trying to determine what line had broken and how to get secure. He asked me to move  a line from the cleat closest to the main dock to a cleat farther out his pier. (It was a foolish request and stupid of me to comply but he is the captain of his ship and I did it.) I crawled out the narrow, compromised pier completed my task and crawled back and then and only then thought about what he had asked and why and came to the correct conclusion that J had no idea his dock had broken. 

By jumping up and down and waving my arms, I got his attention. Then by shouting foolish wordy sentences such as "THAT LINE IS NOT YOUR ISSUE! YOU HAVE WORSE ISSUES THAN THIS!" I conveyed no real information but I got him to look out his door to see what I was yelling at. Then he realized his dock had broken. 

    NOTE: Communication Fail # 1. This was stupid and foolish. R or C or I should have immediately gotten aboard a boat and called J and D via radio. R and C did not tell me that they had good reason not to get onto their own boats and that they were going on shore to make the call. You certainly couldn't use a cell phone outside that night. 60 MPH winds and rain don't make for good cell calls. I however, had a boat that was being driven to keep it on the dock. While our shrink cover frame had partially collapsed and I had to crawl through the wreckage, I had no safety issues getting on and off our boat. The wise woman would have gone back to La Luna, told EW what was up, and gotten on the radio with J and D. Not telling EW was Communication Fail # 2. The less ego driven wise woman would have gone onto our boat, told EW what was up. Called J & D and sent EW back to help them. He knows more than I do.

About the time I am yelling at J, he realizes that the light on the dock power post is much closer to his boat than normal. He's a smart guy so he started putting two and two together. Then he realizes that the post isn't just closer to him than normal, his bow pulpit is banging into it and it's clear the post will be knocked over (into the water?). Separately, (since we can't communicate) J and I are both very concerned about what can happen if the post is knocked over and the power isn't killed. One of us could be. I'm all over that like white on rice. 

 Our neighbor A -- on the power boat one slip down from J and D had arrived home just before 11. I had mentioned in my pre-storm post that it would be a miracle if his shrink wrap frame held. It didn't hold. A attends MBA classes in Boston and by the time he got home, his frame and plastic were destroyed. He immediately did what he could to prevent the frame from damaging his boat and then offered to help us. He is friends with the dock master so I asked him call him directly - not through the answering service - and to find out how to turn the breaker off on that side of A Dock. A had it done in less than 10 minutes. Score 1 for our side.  Good thing -- at left is the power post - post storm. This happened shortly after A turned off the breaker. 

At this point, R and C have come back from calling the boat yard and the stern of Windrifter has come close to the next pier down. We cut some fenders off the near end of J & D's pier where they are now of no use and tied them to the far end of the down wind pier so their stern won't bang against the dock unprotected. Since just prior to R and C's return, Windrifter's shrink wrap door blew off (a story told in the post about how I injured my arm) J can see us move the fenders and he begins to understand that he has no idea where his boat is in the slip. So - as much as he loves his shrink wrap (remember, we all love our shrink wrap) he decides to cut two "windows" in order to get a clear picture of what is happening -- because we still haven't gotten on a radio and called him. He tells D to cut a window on port side of the stern and he cuts one in the bow pulpit. J's window is small and low.(J loves his shrink wrap.) D cut a large picture window - more the size of a sliding door. In J's shrink wrap. I think it physically hurt him at that point.

R & C tell us all that they are planning to leave when they are no longer needed and they suggest that we all leave. I relay that to Alex and EW but I know that EW isn't leaving - nor are J and D and I don't see any reason for us to. I would still have felt that way even if I knew they were worried about the schooner's dock holding. Pulling up a plank with a cleat on it is a new thing for us. It does not inspire confidence that the dock will be able to hold the schooner, resulting in dock dominoes. I saw dock dominoes once and it isn't pretty. In the post storm discussion, it was felt that running La Luna and providing pressure on our pier helped to ease things on our side of A dock. I'm not sure that would have an affect on R's pier, but maybe. (?)

D isn't leaving without Romeo, their very handsome Maine Coon Cat. Of course she isn't -- but Romeo should leave without D. In a storm like this, the late great Jake would have been in EW's car at 7:00 PM when we could have easily gotten him off the boat and up the dock. We call these "dog storms" for a reason. When a bad storm was imminent the dog went to shore, leaving us without that worry. I told J to have D put Romeo in his carrier and hand him to me out the bow window as the bow pulpit was right over the dock. No problem. A very vocal Romeo and I went up to headquarters where I left him in his carrier under the laundry table. Then, there really was nothing to be done until the boatyard crew arrived. 

R, C and Sam secured the bow line of a wooden sailboat that is berthed a bit closer to shore but was pressing down on Sam's dock. Then, R and C left. By this time, it was 4 hours past high tide and the waves were finally calming down. The winds were still very high but I knew that EW may be ready to fix our stern line issue, so I left to help with that, staying behind afterward to watch the boat while EW went to help J and D. 

By that time, the boat yard crew had arrived. Kip, the owner of the yard is very good in these situations. He has an uncanny knowledge of how to move boats and docks in high winds. They took one very long line that Sam offered up for the cause and used a dinghy to tie the line from Windrifter across to a cleat on a pier on C dock, across from where A where all winter live-aboards stay. C dock is empty in the winter. 

At some point, the piling on the end of Windrifter's home pier started to tilt. This has never happened and at first Kip thought the piling had broken, but the pressure from the wind and and the pull of Windrifter ultimately caused the piling to fall onto the boat's aft starboard quarter, into the lifelines.  As this became a potential and then a real problem, lines were tied to that piling were taken out two the end pier and J tried to use his come-along to right the piling. That didn't work. 

Remember, how much we love our shrink wrap? Well the first thing Kip wanted to do was get a line on Windrifter to another piling. Kip wanted J to put the line around his winch so he could haul on it. So J got the line through the "window' he cut in the bow pulpit, then had D go before him as they took the line aft. She would cut a slit in the shrink wrap, J would put his hand out and grab the line and move it aft incrementally. D would cut another slit and J would hand himself the line from hand to hand, moving from slit to slit until the line pulled the boat at the correct angle. I can only imagine EW and the four boat yard crew guys standing on the dock in 60+ MPH winds waiting for them to complete their surgical cuts and move the line. As J said later, "I have spring projects left and we had a lot of stuff on deck. I worked really hard to get this boat covered properly this year and didn't want to give up my shrink wrap." We know how he feels. In any event, while Kip and J were able to secure the line from another piling to a winch on Windrifter, that line wasn't able to help them move the boat at all. 

J & D had to cut their lines from the boat to the broken dock. As D says -- "We had problems that night, but our lines held. The dock didn't." The first plan was to move their boat to C Dock.  First though, we had to get them in a position to move and we had to wait for the wind to die down a bit. While the weather liars were totally wrong about the intensity of the winds -- and somewhat wrong about the direction (they were ENE not straight NE), they were totally right about the time of intensity and when the winds would start to abate. 

Communication Fail # Whatever -- Still and again, no one thought to get on the radio to J & D. While they were able to get off the boat via the pulpit, they were busy with lines (and cutting slits) and did not do so at that moment. When we had our post-storm discussion, J and D expressed how frustrated they were to not be involved in the discussions about their boat. In fact while the shrink wrap was on, they didn't know everything they were dealing with. As D said, "The worst part for me is seeing all these men on the dock talking about how to save our boat while we weren't involved in the discussion at all."

It was about this time -- and while I was still on La Luna, so the winds were still high -- that one of the boat yard crew (having discussed it on the docks) asked J and D whether they could cut their shrink wrap off to reduce the windage.  J and D realized this was required and readily agreed. D still had the knife and started cutting herself. She also worked to get things below decks so that they wouldn't get soaked or blow away. She would cut and grab stuff and throw it down, cut and grab stuff and throw it down. In the meantime the boat yard worker, who is apparently an expert at shrink wrap cutting was decimating the wrap. Ultimately D left him to that part of the job and she threw stuff below as quickly as possible.  

Right after the shrink wrap was cut from the boat, the piling fell farther into Windrifter, getting entangled in the life lines. J removed the life lines, but the piling remained one with the boat.

At about 1:30, I arrived back on the docks, having decided that La Luna was doing just fine with the new, brilliant spring line arrangement EW had designed and immediately joined D and EW as they worked to hold Windrifter's bow off the dock. Windrifter has a bow pulpit and a bob stay.

The bowsprit extends from the bow of the boat, creating a lovely area to watch dolphins -- but I digress. The forestay which helps to hold the mast upright is attached to the bowsprit on Winddrifter. (La Luna has no bowsprit and our forestay is attached to the deck of the boat.) A bobstay is a rod that goesBobstay damage on the dock
  from underneath the bowsprit back to attach to the hull of the boat to provide a downward force to counteract the forestay. As you can see in this photo, Windrifter's bob stay was grinding against the dock. It didn't do much for the dock and J was very (and rightly) concerned that damage to the bobstay could bring the mast down. That would be a bad thing.

In addition, there was a metal electrical box on the dock down wind of the now knocked down power post and we were struggling to keep the bobstay from bashing into that. 

Now, imagine this all taking place with at least 60 MPH winds (we think more). Windrifter's crew was more easily able to hear us with the shrink wrap off, and they could get on and off the boat to talk with the crew and check out the situation. But it was still very windy and raining. At that point, it was decided that we were going to wait for the wind to lessen and take the boat to a slip across the way on C Dock. With the crew working to secure the boat and hold it off from the dock, D and I decided to head up to Headquarters to take a break and visit with the traumatized cat.

While we were on shore, someone figured out that the bow line that had been rigged to prevent Windrifter from taking out the electrical box, was also preventing the boat from reversing to get free of that box. Different lines were rigged and somehow the crew, J and EW got Windrifter down wind of the box.

Life on shore in the laundry room was much more pleasant than life on the docks at that exact moment, so we gave Romeo time out of is carrier and we gave ourselves time to talk and decompress. Lovely. As our thirty minute respite came to a close, I suggested that we take Romeo back to the boat, saying that if they were going to C dock, having him along for the ride would be easier than crossing the dock bridge with an upset cat in a storm. 

But once we arrived back to the boat, Windrifter was securely tied to the next pier down on A Dock, the same pier that the power boat is tied to. For a brief moment in time that is where they planned to remain for the night. We put the cat aboard, helped with the remaining lines and fenders, and EW and I hugged J and D and went to bed. As we were crawling into our bed at about 3:30 AM, I heard voices on the dock, but thought it was simply the boatyard crew doing a final check. Not so.

J and D had removed the lifelines that had entangled the fallen piling. But when they moved down a slip, the piling simply followed them, falling farther into their boat. With the life lines removed the got the piling positioned differently, but now it was threatening their hard dodger.  Understandably, they were not comfortable with that arrangement and felt the piling would cause a lot of problems as the tide rose. J said later, "I think everyone felt we would be fine in this slip for the night -- except us. It seemed to me that at one point we went from 7 people on the dock helping us to just D and me and this giant piling in our boat. There was something wrong with that." 

J got off the boat and had a conversation with Kip, discussing what would happen to the piling as the tide rose. Kip agreed that J was right and their boat was still in danger. So just after EW and I had gone to bed, the crew got the large workboat, tied on to the piling and held it off of Windrifter so J & D could get free -- and back into a different slip during the storm. 

Umptiupmph Communication Fail: The crew really didn't take a lot of time to let J & D know what was planned. D wouldn't move the boat until she was sure there was enough water at low tide in their new slip. They had already cut all of their dock lines to get free of the broken dock and had juryrigged lines and fenders for the temporary slip. Now they had to get free from this arrangement and move out quickly, as the boatyard crew called out, "We can't hold this thing up all night, you know!" Also, J & D did not call us for help -- even though we told them we were sleeping with the radio. One boatyard crew person helped to catch their lines and one other part-time live-aboard arrived in time to carry their fenders over the bridge to them. 

J was at the helm, "The waves were say down but it was still pretty windy. This boat doesn't back well on a good day. I had to back it across the way in to a slip; it took a little of fore and aft work, but one of the crew said for me to just get it between the piers and they would catch me." D was running on decking getting the lines untied as quickly as possible. They had no time to get the fenders which were tied to the dock and D had little time to get fenders and lines from one side of the boat to the other. Must have been a lot of fun. 

Afterward, one of the crew said that he had noticed Windrifter still had a lot of stuff hanging in the water -- most of it bands to hold the shrink wrap in place. He realized that any of it could have gotten tangled in the boat's prop -- but decided it was too late to do anything and that they were due a little luck. No harm, no foul. 

Shortly after 4:00 AM Windrifter was safe in her new slip on C Dock, ending her saga. The crew went to bed at 4:30.

The photo below shows the boat in the new slip, looking toward their destroyed pier. 

Windrifter in C Dock looking toward the destroyed dock

Here's a view from A dock, also the next morning:


By the way, EW says there are Sou'westers and Northeasters and no Nor'easters. He's the captain. If you have an opinion, I welcome them in the comments.

Final note: There is not big finish for this article, just like there is not big finish for a storm night. Once things are secure we go to bed. Then we talk about the storm for the next three days. That's just the way it is. 


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Dora St. Martin

Thank you to all my fellow liveaboards who left their own boats in such a storm to help us save our boat - and to the South Port Marina crew for all their help. We would have had much more damage without such a team effort. Romeo sends a special thank you to Barb who is now is his personal hero. J&D&Romeo, Windrifter.

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