9/11/18: After Solomons Island, we made our way down the west coast of the Chesapeake Bay. We were heading towards Yorktown, VA, where we wanted to spend a couple days exploring this historic town. We stopped twice on the way down: our first night at a small marina near Lookout Point and our second at anchor in a small bay at the south end of Fleets Bay. After Yorktown, we intended to spent a night or two near Norfolk before heading down the ICW on our final push to New Bern. But Hurricane Florence put everything on hold, perhaps indefinitely.
When we first arrived in Yorktown, Florence’s path was still unknown. The probability cone and various models had her making landfall anywhere from northern Florida to Massachusetts. The most likely path, however, had her heading towards central South Carolina. It was still too early to make any decisions or start any storm preparation plans, so we spent our first couple days reprovisioning, fixing some minor things on Shanti, and visiting Yorktown (more on this in a separate post). We did ask the marina if they’d have room for us should we need to stay and they said absolutely, no problem. By Friday night, the most likely path was moved northward to Wilmington, NC, but the probability cone still covered Norfolk and points north (including Yorktown). We asked ourselves, “What if each new storm update keeps moving the path further north?”. It was time to make some decisions and execute some plans.
We had already ruled out staying on the boat should she move northward, so we first had to decide where (and how far) we would go, how we would get there, and where we would stay. We figured a hundred miles inland should be enough, so after looking at the map, we chose Fredericksburg, VA, about 105 miles north of us. Next, we reserved a rental car for a week, starting on Monday morning. After that, we reserved a motel room in Fredericksburg for a week, starting on Tuesday. We talked to the marina, reserved a slip for a month, and moved the boat from the transient dock to an actual slip. We started prepping the boat for the worst, which turned out to be no easy task.
The list of things to do was extensive. Outside the boat we removed all the sails and canvas, deflated and stowed the dinghy, replaced all of our daily use dock lines with our storm dock lines, removed the dorades and screwed on the storm covers, plugged and sealed the holes where our anchor chain went through the deck, removed and stowed everything from the boat railings (grill, life ring, life sling, etc…), put chafing guards on our lines anywhere they rubbed on something. Inside, we closed all the seacocks (with the exception of the two that allowed our cockpit to drain), got rid of all the perishable and frozen food, and insured things were placed where they wouldn’t roll around or get tossed around. This was made more difficult due to the weather that was rolling through – scattered thunderstorms and heavy downpours. We wanted to stow everything dry to avoid mold and mildew. No sooner would we unfurl a sail to take down and put it away than it would rain, the sail would get wet, and we would have to furl it back up and try again later (only the next time we tried we had to leave it unfurled for a while to dry). The same thing happened with our dock lines that we hung on the rails to dry before stowing. It was a slow, frustrating process.
On Monday, the Virginia governer issued an evacuation order for residents in Zone A, which included anyone living near the coast and also several miles up the Chesapeake. The marina was in Zone B, which was on alert for evacuation. The US Navy ordered all their ships berthed in Norfolk to head to sea. At this point, Florence was still on track to hit Wilmington as a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane and was predicted to move north after landfall. It didn’t look good for Yorktown. The predictions called for tropical storm and possible hurricane force winds with heavy rain and extensive flooding. By Tuesday morning, we were down to the final things: getting rid of perishable food, packing up clothes and personal items, powering off everything on the boat except the bilge pump, and insuring things were situated where they wouldn’t roll around or get tossed around. By 2:00pm we were on the way to Fredericksburg. On the way, we stopped by a Walmart and bought 2 more cases of water (we had 1-1/2 cases with us from the boat), as well as some extra food, just in case. We checked in to the motel around 4:00pm and were told by the front desk clerk that Florence could reach Category 5 before making landfall and was still predicted to head north over land.
We were both relieved and anxious at the same time. Relieved that we were off the boat and out of immediate danger, but anxious about possible flooding, power outages, downed trees, and other uncertainties should Fredericksburg also get nailed with heavy wind and rain. We also had so many questions that couldn’t be answered. Would we be OK here in Fredericksburg? Would our boat be there when we were able to return? Would we be able to continue to New Bern since it was directly in Florence’s path? And should we continue, considering there would be heavy damage and destruction, and they would be facing weeks or maybe months of recovery? And if Shanti were still there, should we haul our boat and pick up again next spring? Or, if we hauled, should we consider selling Shanti and move on to something else? We honestly don’t know what’s next, but we know we’re safer here than on the boat, and we will have some decisions to make once this is all over.
Update 9/13: Late Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center issued an update which indicated Florence would take a sharp turn south after making landfall. We are now breathing a sigh of relief, as Fredericksburg is now only supposed to get an inch or two of rain. Yorktown is supposed to get 4-6″, which will still cause major flooding, but the winds are supposed to top out at 30 knots. There’s also not supposed to be much storm surge that far up the York River, so Shanti should be just fine. So some of our questions have been answered, but North Carolina is still going to get hammered. While we certainly feel relieved, our hearts go out to those in the path of Florence. First they have to deal with the immediate effects of Florence: power outages, major flooding, destruction from wind and storm surge, limited food and water, and lack of support services. And after that will be the long, slow, painful process of recovery.