The hurricane season officially started June 1 but became real to us on June 25th when there was a mass exodus from the Bequia anchorage. We had seen on local television a satellite photo with a circular cloud mass coming off the coast of Africa but, when talk began about the tropical depression developing into a tropical storm and coming in our direction, almost everyone panicked! People were heading off to small islands nearby, to Grenada, and some all the way to Venezuela even though bad weather was several days off. Other than the satellite photo on television, we didn't have sufficient information to make an intelligent decision. To depart just because everybody else did would have meant that we would miss many sights and, besides, how far do you go? Where would be safe? We talked to seasoned cruisers Mel and Jackie on Drogheda and they told us they were going to get the weather forecast that afternoon and then decide what to do. We decided that was a sensible plan and adopted it for ourselves. At 1630, we tuned in the Ham Cocktail Net to listen to a special broadcast by George who doesn't usually work on Sundays, but did this week because of potential bad weather. Good news! The tropical depression was dissipating and heading further north. There were other tropical waves around, but we had dodged the first bullet. There has never been a tropical storm to hit this area in June so history was with us. [The very next morning, one of the SSB (single side band radio) weather forecasters predicted that the dissipated tropical depression was expected to begin circulating again as it approached the Windward Islands where we are. Fortunately, he was not correct, but you just never know for sure.]
Sunday afternoon everyone was still in a tizzy about the tropical depression. Mel and Jackie had come to our boat for happy hour and to share with us their experiences in Venezuela. While we were sitting in the cockpit, we saw a dinghy coming toward us, a newly arrived cruiser, seeking information about the hurricane. A great joker like my youngest brother Jack, Mel told them that the tropical depression had developed into a hurricane and was headed our way! After their initial wild-eyed look, Mel laughed and then gave them the good news.
A tropical disturbance, tropical wave and upper level trough are all terms for "poorly organized weather systems associated with rain squalls of varying intensity," usually overcast with clouds and gray skies. A tropical depression is "an organized weather system with sustained winds of up to 35 knots and rain." A tropical storm is definitely something to be avoided as it has lots of rain and sustained winds of 35-63 knots. Once the sustained winds become more than 64 knots it is called a hurricane." (From the Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands.) Another interesting weather feature is smog or haze. This is not caused by industrial or urban pollution but rather by red dust from Africa. The recent dust cloud spanned a wide area from Grenada to the Virgin Islands, covering everything with light red dust.
The VHF radio is used as a means of communication, its distance being "range of sight" from the mounted antenna, preferably as high as you can get it. Like the party-line telephones of olden days, when one boat hails another on Channel 16 or other designated hailing frequency, anyone and everyone is listening and likely follows along to listen when you change to a talking frequency. On one hand, it's like eavesdropping on your neighbor, but on the other hand, it's assumed that everybody does it. Like talking to my friend, mild mannered reporter Kirk Loggins--you know never to say anything that you don't want broadcast to the world!
On June 27th, we arrived in the Tobaga Cays, just south of the insurance requirement of 12' 40." The day had been windy, gray and overcast and, as we approached the islands, a squall came through with some rain. We had to slow down to give it time to pass so we would have visibility to do eyeball navigation into the anchorage. After the squall moved through, we followed the narrow passage between two islands and entered the Tobago Cay anchorage. Bob selected a spot behind a small island with some protection from the wind, dropping the anchor and backing down on it. The dissipated tropical storm, now downgraded to a tropical wave, was expected that evening. About 7:30 p.m., we were watching a video when the wind generator began shrieking. We saw lightning for only the second time since we left the States, so we unplugged everything. The wind raged, blowing more than 40 knots for 45 minutes. The boat whipped from side to side in the churning water. The dinghy tied to the sailboat next to us flipped into the wind, twisted several times, and landed upside down. Fortunately, their outboard was on the rail. One of the charter boats dragged its anchor and a single-handed cruiser jumped into his dinghy and went to help the guy. While they were re-anchoring the charter boat in the pitch black dark, the cruiser's dinghy got tangled with the chartered dinghy and the wind flipped the cruiser's dinghy, submerging the outboard. After the cruiser helped the charter boat anchor securely, the cruiser had no way to return to his boat some 400 yards back. He called for help on Channel 16 but no one had a dinghy in the water to take him back to his boat. Fortunately, the next day he was able to flush his outboard and get it working again.