Hurricane Bob | The Hurricane Nobody Took Seriously
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.
The magnitude of what they had been through wouldn’t become apparent until the next morning: Of the estimated 150 boats in Provincetown Harbor, 38 had sunk on their moorings. Another 45 boats had broken free and beached along the shore.
Two factors, one natural, one human, kept the toll from being much higher. As luck would have it, Bob struck during low tide, saving a great deal of property from much worse damage. And Officer Curtis had ordered the Coast Guard 44 off its mooring with a solid crew on board.
As reports from around the Northeast came in, it was soon apparent that this small boat may have been the only Coast Guard vessel active during the hurricane. Without doubt, Ken Cope and his crew recorded the most rescues performed anywhere on the coast that day.
“I’ll tell you, I’ve never seen anyone work that hard retrieving boats,” says Jimmy Costa, who watched from the shore. “It’s amazing they did what they did in the conditions they were in. I could see the bottom of their boat at times, I could see his paint job, I could see his propellers coming out of the water. They were right on their side. Just to maneuver, let alone tow, is unbelievable. I don’t know how those guys were working lines. They saved an unbelievable amount of money and grief. I’m still shocked nobody drowned.”
“The crew kept me together,” says Cope. “They performed perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for any more. Even when the anchor wouldn’t come out and the engine wouldn’t start, they didn’t panic. But I’ll tell you, that’s nine hours I never want to do again.”