HE WILD WEATHER had come up fast, and slammed
Chez Nous all day, the VHF repeatedly blasting urgent
tornado warnings all over North Carolina. My wife Mel and
I had tried to head out into the Neuse River earlier, but the
weather had forced us to turn around and anchor. A large tug,
the Beaufort Belle, steamed past us into the sheltered waters
of Adams Creek, spray streaming over her high wheelhouse. I
hailed her skipper on Channel 13. He said in the many years
he’d been running the trip around Maw Point, these were
the worst conditions he remembered. I longed for a marina, but knew
that we’d probably damage the boat or ourselves trying to dock in the
high winds. I hoped our chances were better at anchor.
For the rest of the afternoon, we listened to horrific reports of tornadoes sweeping across the state from the west, destroying large buildings and killing people. We
forced down dinner as darkness swept in, listening to TV reports of hundreds of
tornadoes, and stayed glued to the radar trying to decide whether we were going
to be lucky or not. We were in a long creek, where friends had successfully ridden
out hurricanes, and where we’d ridden out tropical storms over many years, and
we’d anchored in the creek’s broad mouth. Our large, heavy boat needed plenty of
room to swing on the long scope we deployed, and plenty of room to drag, which
isn’t unusual in tornadoes. We anchored in only eight feet of water, for two reasons.
First, it made our extensive length of all-chain rode much more effective in helping the anchor dig in and stay. For severe storms we deploy considerably more rode
than the normal rule of thumb, which is at least five times the distance from the
bow roller to the bottom. We used all chain, a carefully rigged nylon snubbing line
and other tactics we’ve learned over the years. So even though in theory we needed
only 60 feet of scope because of the eight-foot water depth, we deployed more than
100 feet. We knew that even if we were missed by the advancing tornadoes, we
were still in for a hell of a blow. The holding was good, a few inches of soft mud
over thicker mud, mixed with gray clay underneath, and we spent an hour carefully
working the anchor deeply into the mud.
Second, even if we were to sink, the water was too shallow for us to be completely covered. From past experience we knew that a tornado could do many things,
including turning the boat on its side, allowing water to pour in. Although we had
carefully secured all the hatches and ports, there are always ways for water to enter.
If this were to happen, and the boat sank, our hull would be above water. Our beam
is 15 feet. Even if the tornado completely flipped us upside down, we knew that if
we could swim our way out and up, there would be plenty of exposed hull to sit on.
Our swinging room was taken away from us when two smaller boats came in and
anchored nearby. We often anchor in the broad outer areas of harbors, leaving the
snugger areas for the smaller boats, which
need it more. In this anchorage, there was
plenty of room for smaller boats to anchor
farther up the creek, in an area where we
wouldn’t have had sufficient space. I tried
to tell them politely that we were only at the
open mouth because of our size and need for
swinging room, but they stayed.