Sun, snorkelling, sailing…
The sun screen has not been used, and we still didn’t manage to get afloat. However, we were treated to a front seat viewing of a meandering tropical storm named Nicole, making her evolution into a Cat 4 hurricane (she did abate to a Cat 3 as she crossed the islands).
We’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts before we left home. Flights and accommodation were booked, as it looked highly unlikely that the insignificant little tropical storm we saw was going to give anyone any grief.
Well, the little storm matured. Two days before Nicole’s forecast visit, it became evident that the locals were starting to take the storm seriously. We observed workmen in little trucks absolutely everywhere (all the vehicles here are very narrow, coordinating well with the bendy little roads), trucks laden with sheets of plywood and nails. The workmen were busy boarding up shop windows in Hamilton. Some shops even had elegant custom-made shutters that had evidently seen service before. Houses were closing their shutters and sandbagging doors. In addition, there was a lot of activity at the Dockyard marina, as boats were busily being hauled out of the water and squirrelled away in all the alleyways between the substantial historic stone buildings. There were rumours that the ferry service could be suspended at any time.
We were staying in a resort hotel with a main lodge (where all meals were served) and a series of out-lying cottages overlooking the sea on both sides. We received a letter of notification from the management as to the estimated timing of the storm, and their plans to manage the safety of staff and visitors alike, and the feeding of their guests throughout the duration of the storm. Breakfast was definitely cancelled!
The day before the anticipated arrival of Nicole, ferries were cancelled. We began thinking of getting in a stock of some essential storm food supplies, so we took our scooter to the grocery store. We were not alone! I have heard the term ‘storm chips’ before, but never yet witnessed this – but the shelves in the chip/crisp aisle were denuded at 0830 hours! Lacking any possible marine activities, we set out to try to reach the far end of the island (and the yarn shop) in St. Georges by bus. This was a new experience for me: the skill of the Bermudian bus drivers is quite something to behold as they merrily hurtle their craft around the squirming roads, with frequent short notice stops for the many bus customers. The journey was fascinating, and our fellow passengers very friendly. We successfully handled a transfer in Hamilton, and eventually arrived at St. Georges, only to find that it was almost completely boarded up in anticipation of the storm (including the yarn shop). I experienced my first (and last, I trust) conch fritter, before beginning the return journey. The grocery stores, banks and gas stations were all extremely busy. It occurred to us that these folks have done hurricanes before.
Back at the resort, the sea state was actually calmer than it had been, so we took advantage of that to get in a very brief snorkelling swim. Yes, there were some pretty knittably coloured fish. Oh my, the sea is so wonderfully warm here that I didn’t even squeak (I’ve become a total wuss when it comes to immersion in cold sea water).
Dinner was preceded by an official Hurricane party, which is a great way to get everyone to attend a briefing! It was put to us that we should all be in our rooms by 2300 hours and plan not to leave them again before we were notified by phone, likely about 15 hours later. Baskets of supplies were being delivered to our cottages during the evening. We were assured that the resort had never before had a power outage and that the local phone and internet network should hold up without problem.
Overnight the wind picked up, blowing hard but nothing untoward. Things began to hot up around 0600, and I luckily had made and drunk my morning cups of tea before the power began to falter and give in totally around 0930. We had a sea view on both sides of the cottage, and I started to monitor the falling coconuts (such an esoteric activity for a Northerner) and the height of the sea level. The palms bent less than I would have predicted, but the foliage snapped and crackled viciously. Around 1130, the eye of the storm reached us; it was very distinct. A quiet lull, the sun came out weakly, and we took a little walk about outside, where several palms had come down. A few boats were on the beach. The hotel manager dropped by with a further briefing.
We were back indoors when it began again. It was almost imperceptible as to what the exact change was, but you could tell it was about to begin again. The wind swung around to the other side of the island; we began the waiting game again. By this time, things inside were sticky and damp (too sticky for knitting wool IMHO), we had no power, internet, phones, a/c, or more importantly: tea! I’d just given up trying to take a nap, when one of our windows let go. Luckily I was nearby, and able to keep it wedged in the hole. We tried all kinds of creative arrangements with the luggage rack and ironing board to keep it in place, but in the end we came up with two Swiss army knives wedged into the window casing, with our ‘occasional’ table, topped with an ottoman (with me on top to add some much needed mass) to hold it in place. I was subsequently replaced by an assorted furniture wedge against the far wall (formed with two chairs and some cushions)! After this we just had to wait it out. We were glad of our filled bath of water – BTW it takes 8 ice buckets to fill a toilet cistern!
Late afternoon the wind began to moderate; we happily reemerged to wander about. The luxuriant tropical foliage had taken quite a hammering. I was fascinated by the coconuts and other variously shaped palm tree fruits. Dinner was to be served at the lodge, where,thankfully, there was enough emergency power to cook in the kitchen. A very congenial meal was served by candlelight, eased along with a few liberal and appropriate Dark & Stormy’s being served. Long unused flashlights were issued before we headed back to our dwellings.
By the following day the power had been restored, but no internet or phone. There were heaping mounds of tree limbs and foliage strewn far and wide, but there did not appear to have been too much structural devastation (bear in mind we had no news or internet). It turns out that two back-to-back hurricanes in 2014 had sorted things out nicely – there was far more destruction then, apparently. Children were enjoying their second storm day (they don’t get many snow days, I imagine!) Everything remained closed, buses resumed midday, and everyone was busy clearing up. My heart was saddened by the loss of the formerly beautiful flowers and foliage, but consoled myself, that unlike in Nova Scotia, all of that will bounce back with astonishing speed in this climate.
I have experienced one previous hurricane (Juan Cat 2) about 10 years ago whilst at home in Nova Scotia, and the comparisons are interesting. Our house then shook, wobbled and vibrated throughout, shingles flew, siding was ripped off. Our limestone cottage didn’t wiggle a bit. The devastation in Nova Scotia was far more catastrophic, as trees came down by the thousand, but of course they hadn’t been tested before. It is easier to be storm-stayed at home, with food supplies, buckets, camping stoves, battery powered radio, flashlights, and tools; if felt rather strange to be in the care of others.
A holiday that will be remembered!