Saturday, August 20 – Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Luperon, Dominican Republic
Stacy’s great-grandmother, Irene, used to sing that old song, “good night, Irene…good night, Irene…I’ll see you in my dreams.” This week’s “Irene” could’ve been a real nightmare! What is it about us and hurricanes that begin with the letter "I"? Most of you probably know that we went through Hurricane Ike in September, 2008, while we were still in Kemah, Texas. That one was "only" a category 2 storm, but had a cat 5 storm surge. What did that really mean? Our marina suffered an 11+ foot storm surge (the parking lot was under 5’ of water), and hundreds of boats were lost when their fixed and/or floating docks rose higher than their moorings would allow. Our 12' dock pilings barely survived, and we were lucky enough to come away with only minor damage to the boat.
Fast forward to August, 2011... We'd been watching "tropical wave 97", a system that threatened to pay a visit to our part of the Caribbean. Sometime over the weekend, #97 was reborn as "Tropical Storm Irene", with a projected track that came over Puerto Rico and right into our back yard. Mind you, we weren't too worried given Luperon's reputation as a hurricane hole, thanks to the surrounding mountain range and the harbor's protective mangroves. Still... By Saturday, we knew there was a good chance we’d feel some effects of the storm, but initial tracks brought it over the center of the island across the mountains. The good thing about that? While the mountains would likely get 10-20 inches of rain (triggering possible mudslides), they would also break the storm apart and significantly reduce Irene’s wind speed. We prepped Pipe for tropical storm-force winds (30-50 mph expected), taking down the bimini, clearing out the cockpit, and lashing down the kayaks and any other potential projectiles. Unfortunately, by Monday morning, the forecasted track had Irene paralleling the DR’s northern coastline…heading straight for us with no protective mountain peaks to intervene. Suddenly we were facing hurricane-force winds (75+ mph), and had to re-examine our preparations. We’ve probably mentioned this before, but our mooring ball places us less than ten feet from the mangroves at certain wind angles. While it can be quite buggy, this placement is quite a comfort when we’re threatened by bad weather. Apparently it’s also comforting to the entire Puerto Plata fishing fleet, who stormed into the Luperon harbor all day Monday. Half a dozen fishing boats plowed into the mangroves, bow-first, a hundred yards from us. Given our lack of swinging room, we figured things could get a little too cozy if more boats decided to line the mangroves around us. Enter my brilliant husband…Rene decided to back our stern into the mangroves and tie up, while our bow would remain on our mooring ball. This was initially planned as a temporary move to reserve some swinging space; once the fishing fleet got settled and the winds started piping up, we’d cut loose from the mangroves and allow Pipe to swing with the wind. Four lines and a conversation with Storyville later, we all decided that maybe staying anchored to the mangroves wasn’t such a bad idea…did we mention that the powers that be were now forecasting 80-100mph winds? Rene got us secured and then helped Deana and Troy tie Storyville to another cluster of mangroves. With five anchor points, as well as making ourselves a much smaller target for dragging boats, we felt pretty good about the upcoming storm.
One thing people don’t tell you about hurricanes…it’s downright boring waiting for things to happen. All of those stories of hurricane parties? Getting loaded isn’t such a great idea when your “house” can break free and hit (or be hit by) another boat. (We’re such party poopers!) We finished our prep work by lunch time, and sat on the deck watching the fishing boats tie up. Weather.com had projected 60-80mph winds by 6pm, but with the exception of a couple 30mph squalls, the harbor was dead calm until well after sunset. The wind picked up to 30kts around 10pm, and we had our first dragging victim of the night: a 50’ catamaran pulled its mooring out of the mud and drifted down half the length of the harbor. It passed within 15’ of an anchored boat, but finally settled undamaged near the town pier. We tried to get a few cat-naps overnight, but spent most of it awake listening to the boat chatter and weather updates on the VHF. The best news came when we heard that Irene was slowly veering offshore, and was expected to be 30-60 miles out as she passed us. The mangroves certainly lived up to their reputation, and we heard more than felt the gusts that came with Irene’s bands. Although winds near the eye exceeded 100mph and 10’ waves crashed outside the mouth of Luperon harbor, there was rarely more than a few ripples around us.
Tuesday morning was a bit more exciting, as the eye passed north of us around 10am. Winds picked up to 25-35kts for the better part of two hours, and a number of boats began dragging around the harbor. Dinghies went zooming to offer assistance whenever possible, and the crew at Marina Tropical helped a number of dragging boats. Fortunately no one was hurt, and none of the boats suffered any major damage. For the most part, Irene was, thankfully, a non-event for us. We were free of the mangroves and swinging back on our mooring by Wednesday morning, and were looking forward to going into town to see how Luperon itself fared. Jerry hosted a "Good Night Irene" post-hurricane potluck party on Wednesday night, where the Barcelo rum flowed all too freely, and everyone brought some tasty treats.
We also know that Irene hasn’t finished her journey yet; she’ll likely be a category 3 or possibly 4 hurricane as she bombards the Bahamas on her way to the East Coast. Our thoughts are with the many people we met in the Exumas and Abacos, as well with our cruising friends in the Carolinas. We’ll keep an eye on the weather sites over the next few days, and hope everyone stays safe and sound.