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Hurricane Bob | The Hurricane Nobody Took Seriously

Demers ran back up on deck to tell Cope he couldn’t restart the engine. Get the anchor overboard, Cope told his crew. He knew it weighed 60 pounds and ought to hold, even in this chaos. What he didn’t know was that the metal pipe designed to hold the chain and feed it off the bow had broken, binding the line in place. The anchor was jammed.

Cope stood at the wheel, feeling a helplessness he’d never felt on duty before. He suddenly realized that he and his crew could die in Provincetown Harbor.

“Prepare to ground!” Cope yelled. “Strap in! We’ll try to make a controlled landing on the beach!” Now Cope found himself in the position of the boats he had been trying to help — except, of course, there was no Coast Guard to call.

Demers had run back below, trying to feed out the anchor chain, a futile effort with the anchor pipe busted. The open door to the engine compartment was slamming open and shut. He went back to the port engine one last time before following his coxswain’s orders and tried the mechanic’s last resort: He kicked the starter. “It popped back,” he remembers, “and the engine started. Believe me, that made my day.”

Back in control, muscling the 44 toward the inner harbor, Cope spoke to O’Malley. “I’ve found my limitations,” he said. “It’s a hurricane.”

The fog lifted long enough for them to look around. Finger piers were breaking apart, debris was smashing hulls. Shingles from the roof of the fish-packing house filled the air like shrapnel. Demers watched in fascination as the three tall masts of a big sailing boat toppled like trees.

The wind veered from south to southwest without diminishing. The breakwater, now end-on to the wind, no longer caught the biggest waves, which had a mile of open water to build on. Even in the small spaces between piers, the chop was at ten feet. This was no place to rest. Cope headed back out.

Dozens of boats, large and small, had ripped off their moorings. Sailboats careened across the harbor at eight knots or better under bare poles, with no one on board. The Miss Sandy, a well-known Provincetown fishing boat, had parted a line at the wharf and was swinging, not yet loose. Cope positioned the 44 against the Miss Sandy, trying to muscle her back into position, relying on locals who had braved the winds and were standing on the pier ready to tie her down again. Suddenly, they screamed for the Coast Guardsmen to turn around: The Golden Dawn, the same boat that had called for help before Bob truly arrived, was running free behind them, a 65-foot domino about to knock down a score of boats that lay in its path.

Once again Demers had to heave a line, and on the second try he got it to the rampaging fishing boat. Cope pulled her in tight behind the 44.

“Where do you want to go?” Cope screamed to the Golden Dawn’s crew. “Which beach do you want to land on?” The shrieking wind drowned their answer. “Finally, I figured to hell with it,” he remembers. “We moved west and put him on our mooring. We figured there was no way we were getting back to see it.”

One Provincetown native, Jimmy Costa, who was on the waterfront trying to protect his own boat, couldn’t believe what he was seeing: “That dragger [the Golden Dawn] was sideways to all the other boats in the area. If the Coast Guard hadn’t come, grabbed him, and pulled him out of there, he would have taken some stores on Commercial Street out, let alone the boats.”

After securing the Golden Dawn, Cope turned east. Todd Motta, a Provincetown fishing boat captain, was in trouble on the Liberty Belle. Like many, Motta had figured he could ride out the storm tied to the wharf. But his wooden hull absorbed a pounding from other boats tied alongside. When Motta released his lines to try to run out of the harbor, debris (probably from a lobster pot torn free) fouled his propeller and stalled his engine. Motta was drifting toward the beach. He managed to plant three anchors in surging shoal water, but he was taking a beating. Cope swung around the wharf and pulled nearby. Compared to some of the heaves Demers had made that day, this one was a piece of cake. Cope towed the Liberty Belle to a safe spot beside the pier.

“What do you need?” Motta shouted to Ken Cope.

“A cup of coffee,” Cope shouted back. He could see his hands shaking from fatigue. But he could also see, with relief that felt even better than coffee, that Bob was laying down. The hurricane was as fast moving as it was intense. It was eerie, almost supernatural, how quickly the winds were dying. They had dropped back to 35 knots, calm enough for another game of cards.

Cope had lost track of time. When he looked at his watch, it read 6:00 P.M. After nine hours of brutal pounding and fierce concentration, he and his crew were physically and mentally exhausted. Slowly Cope eased the 44 away from the wreckage downtown and motored back to the Coast Guard pier.

Updated Monday, December 2nd, 2013

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