Hurricane Hugo Rhiannon

A Yacht Chef’s Old Hurricane Story [Part 1]

I know this is a culinary blog, but my yachting stories are what has defined my cooking “portside”, and I think you might find this particular story interesting…

In the late 80’s to the mid 90’s, for about 8 years I lived aboard a couple of sailboats with my Ex and a beautiful cat named Kaliloo. We arrived in St. Thomas, USVI in November of 1988. Life was idyllic for about 9 months, and the next hurricane season ensued. September 1989 was to be a very active storm season. We were living aboard our 33′ Hans Christian Cutter/Sloop with our 9 month old kitten. Hurricane Hugo was making its way up the Caribbean chain, and we made a decision to ride it out in the mangroves of Culebra, Puerto Rico, which is considered to be one of the best hurricane holes in the Caribbean. When we got there, it became immediately evident that so did everyone else. There was no way for us to even squeeze into the protected mangroves, so we had to anchor out behind a small island, put out all of our anchors and ride it out. We thought we’d be OK because the forecasted path was well above us and on the other side of St. Croix.

Hurricane Hugo hit the Caribbean with a vengeance on September 17, 1989.

Murphy’s Law struck again, and we took a direct hit. By that, I mean we ended up having the eye of the storm come right up and over us, which is a very bad place to find yourself. We were hearing on the short wave radio that the expected wind speeds were for a Category 4 storm. We would have loved to have gotten the forecasted wind speed, but we unfortunately sustained a high grade Category 5. There were logged and registered by the Navy and Coast Guard sustained winds of 160 and 182, with gusts of 220. We’d actually heard unofficial reports of sustained 203, with gusts to 250. The registered barometric pressure on our own barometer was 28.2, however, the Navy told us we bottomed out at 28.0. The pressure was so low, that you could feel it in your lungs and your ears continually popped with every gust.

We lost our 33 footer, named “Rhiannon”. She was made a total loss by our insurance company. But, to help aid us financially, the insurance company was kind enough to make us what they termed a “Total/Total”, which means that they weren’t interested in any of our belongings or gear and we were allowed to remove a lot of gear, winches, helm, any electronics that still worked, any sails not attached at the time of our loss, and all our kitchen gear that was able to be salvaged. This allowed us to sell some of it second hand and recoup some of our losses. We were also able to remove a lot of stuff and use it on our next boat… Yes, we were gluttons for punishment, and we went immediately out and purchased our new 43′ Mason named “Cherish”.

If you are interested in reading a blow-by-blow report (literally!) of what happened, please read the next few blog episodes…

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