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Hurricane Bob | The Hurricane Nobody Took Seriously

Hurricane Bob | The Hurricane Nobody Took Seriously
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Cope and his crew expected to ride out Hurricane Bob bouncing around their mooring, with a safe fish-eye view of the storm. Yet Officer Curtis insisted that the crew of the 44 pack 24 hours’ worth of provisions and carry a portable radio to back up the regular communications system. Cope and his crew thought that kind of extreme, although of course they did it.

By 9:45 the winds were at 35 knots, and the card game was suspended; the crewmen, wearing their orange Mustang suits and heavy-weather harnesses, were on deck watching what was, for most of them, their first hurricane at sea. The first call came in: Flyer’s Boatyard, a neighbor of the Coast Guard station in the west end of town, had been working feverishly to pull as many boats as possible from the harbor. But a bunch of floats still bobbed around. John Santos, whose family has run the yard for decades, knew he had to get them to a safer spot, and the far end of the harbor, tucked up against Long Point, seemed like the best place. He had strung the floats together, towing them with two outboards through the rising chop when an engine sputtered and died.

Bad timing, worst case. But this was the kind of work the 44 was built to do; 35-knot winds were well within her range. Cope ordered the boat off the mooring. The crew attached a towline to the front of the makeshift caravan of floats. Cope agreed that the lee of Long Point was the best place to hide. Approaching the shallows, he built up speed and then released the towline. “We kind of slingshot them up onto the beach,” he said.

Cope swung back to his mooring, snagging the line to tie up. The cards waited, but this was one game that would never be played out. The radio crackled again: The Golden Dawn, a Maine fishing boat taking shelter in Provincetown Harbor, called to say she was taking on water.

The Golden Dawn sat at the edge of the inner harbor, east of the Coast Guard mooring, less than a mile away. It was tight quarters, with dozens of boats crowded into the protection of the granite breakwater. Cope was glad for his recent training. He remembered to use engine power to help steer, to back one engine and rev the other for tight turns, to drive rather than pivot, simple techniques made possible by two powerful throttles. Dean Demers prepared a pump and made ready to board the fishing boat as they approached, when a new version came back: “He’s not taking on water, he might be taking on water’,” Cope heard on the radio. In the howl of the rising wind, the 44 tossing, Cope looked around angrily. The fishing boat’s battery was dead and needed a jump start, actually, which the Coast Guard could not provide. This was not a life-threatening situation. The 44 turned and fought her way back to the mooring, leaving the Golden Dawn on her mooring inside the breakwater.

In just the 20 or 30 minutes needed to reach the Golden Dawn and return, Cope realized that the winds had doubled to 70 knots. Bob was arriving. Now would be the time to tie up and ride him out, like every other Coast Guard boat in the Northeast was doing. But in Provincetown, it would be different: The Bay Lady II, over 80 feet long, a strikingly handsome steel-hulled boat that offered summertime harbor cruises, was too big for her anchor and mooring. Slowly, inexorably, Bob was pushing her toward the beach, toward a jutting pier, toward a score of other boats moored in her path. On board, the owners called for help.

Cope was willing, but it was Officer Curtis’s call. Do what you can, Curtis told him. “We don’t run away from problems. That’s not why the Coast Guard is here.”

The Bay Lady was close by, on the western side of the harbor. Cope tried to position the 44 as close as possible, fighting chop at every turn, while Demers waited for the right instant to heave a line. Heaving a line across 70-knot winds is not something that can be practiced. Cope jockeyed the 44 to within 25 yards, and Demers hurled the lightweight messenger line; it was a perfect throw, wrapping itself snugly around a stay on the bigger boat. “Beautiful!” Cope yelled to his engineer. “That’s beautiful to see.”

They played out 200 feet of the heavier towing line and started the tow, a 44-foot boat trying to drag an 82-foot boat across hurricane-force winds. “We made all of one knot moving across the harbor,” says Cope. Demers, positioned to the stem, heard the line under so much stress that it was growling, barking like an angry dog. Yet it was holding — so far. The shallows in the lee of Long Point, the same place Cope had taken the floats, was the only place the Bay Lady might be able to anchor. Slowly, the 44 pulled her burden across the harbor. As they neared the point, Cope checked his fathometer to see how much water they had underneath them. No reading. The bottom was churning violently, sand swirling to the surface, blinding the equipment. He made his best guess, got the Bay Lady tight into the lee, and ordered his men to stand by while the sailing boat tried to anchor. As they watched, it was clear their work would be for naught: The Bay Lady was too big, the anchor too small. The boat already was being pushed back across the harbor toward Provincetown.

“There’s nothing left we can do with the boat,” Cope yelled to the Bay Lady’s skipper. “We’ll take you off if you want.”

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