The Storm That Changed my Life

In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a lot. From Key West to Charleston, SC, we’ve seen dolphins, whales, tropical fish, sea turtles swimming in ten foot seas, beautiful water, muddy water, clear skies, storms and everything in between.

A few weeks ago we arrived in Key West, FL. It felt like such an accomplishment after having started out living and cruising full time on our boat a little over a year ago up in Maine. Key West was great. A special place with nice architecture and foliage in the old downtown area and neighborhoods.

We changed our minds about where to be for hurricane season. We’ve decided to head back up the the Chesapeake Bay area. This isn’t like packing for a two day road trip. No, on our boat it will take a good three weeks. So, a week and a half ago we left Key West and experienced being in the gulf stream for the first time. We did an overnight where we took two hour shifts on and off. I was nervous but it went really well. The seas were relatively calm, along with the wind. Las week we were in Ft. Lauderdale, FL for a night and then headed out for what we expected to be a 24 hour run in the gulf stream. After our first 20 hours or so we decided to take it further and stay out for 36 hours. We were feeling good and conditions were mild. We felt rested and the weather wasn’t calling for much of anything but a few showers. Unfortunately the second day I was sea sick. That wasn’t fun. We lucked out and skirted in front of a storm and to the east of another.

We check the weather once every hour or two and by the time I took the helm (wheel)  for my shift at 3 am, there still wasn’t any weather predicted. There wasn’t much wind so we had our main sail fully up. (we would have had it reefed if we were expecting bad weather) Within about 5 minutes I was yelling for Tobin to come back up on deck. It was as if I had driven the boat in to a storm. It didn’t come on slowly. We were in it and it got worse. There was no way to deal with the main sail with the seas and the wind so we had to leave it up. We had our pfd’s on and were harnessed to the boat. Pretty quickly the hail began. My first thought was that our faces were going to be scared or cut up. The hail was so big and came with such force from the wind. We tried to keep the boat in to the wind but that wasn’t helping us. We finally decided to turn with the storm and move with it. At this point the seas had escalated to 10 feet and the wind was blowing at 70 mph. Really. Neither of us had ever experienced weather like this. In a way I’m glad that it was dark so that I couldn’t see just how big the waves were around us.

The main sail started to tear and rip apart. It wrapped itself around one of the spreaders (a piece perpendicularly attached to the mast). This became scary because if the spreader were to break, the mast would become unstable. I asked Tobin what we should do if that happened. He said we would go inside and hang on. Would the mast break? Would we get tipped sideways with the main and mast in the water and be pinned there? This was the scariest part.

Its amazing how much spontaneous praying goes on at a time like this! In the moment and in talking about it later, both Tobin and I knew that the boat was going to be O.K. I was more concerned with the mast and about one of us falling overboard. I am so thankful that we have the strong steel boat that we do. Many boats wouldn’t hold up in 10 foot seas and 70 mph winds.

About half way through this experience our bimini and solar panels began to break away. This acts as the cover over our heads when we’re at the helm. I tried to hold on to the structure but it was pointless. Once it started to go, it was gone. First it somewhat collapsed and then was still attached but being dragged behind the boat and hitting the rudder. We had to cut the wires and let it go. So, our cover and 4 solar panels are now at the bottom of the ocean about 20 miles NE of St. Augustine, FL. I hope they’re making a good home for some sea life!

We lost other random things from the deck. We’re not sure if our main sail can be salvaged. Its fairly torn up and shredded in many areas. We were in this storm for over three hours. It seemed to pick us up, hold on to us, and take us with it. At about 7 am we were at the entrance to St. Augustine, FL. Once we realized we could safely get in the channel and not be pushed against the break wall, we went for it. Immediately things started to calm down once we were in the channel. It was shocking what had just happened. The boat and us looked like we had just been in a washing machine! Luckily, most things inside were secure, including the dog and cat that had huddled together in a corner against a bulkhead. The deck of the boat had wires, the sail and random stainless steel parts strewn about. All in all the damage was costly, but the damage hadn’t been done to the boat.  BALANCE (the boat) is a strong one!

As the morning came and things got lighter we motored in to the Intracoastal Waterway. We didn’t talk much. We both had some tears. The thing that made me most sad in the moment was seeing all of the hard work that had been put in to the boat torn apart and lost. We can save up again, but it was thinking of Tobin’s effort that made my heart hurt. We said that morning that it was like a break up or death. The only thing to do is to pick up and start again. So, we are!

We’re motoring up the intracoastal waterway (can’t sail with our main and a half broken spreader). We’re expecting to be in Annapolis within two weeks. This is the time of year of regular afternoon thunderstorms and showers. I’m definitely a bit paranoid now of storms! And, it is ironic since we decided to come up to the chesapeake area for hurricane season to avoid situations like this! Maybe we over thought it…………Our timing has been off this year. Last year we were in the Intracoatal waterway in record low temperatures. The last few days there have been record highs in the low 100’s. Hm…………….

To be clear and realistic about our life on the boat, most days are not like this. Life on the boat is different, interesting and ever changing. We’ve been from Maine to Key West in a year (and I’ve traveled to teach in other areas), having seen more in that time than many people see in a lifetime. Experiencing that storm has not changed my mind about cruising and living on a sail boat. For now, I wouldn’t trade it. I do hope however to never experience anything like that again. And, if we do, I hope to be on this boat when it happens!

So, we’re headed to the Chesapeake. Coincidentally I’m teaching parts of a few yoga teacher trainings in that area this coming Fall and teaching at a new studio for me in Philadelphia. (,,

I’ve gotten up early the last couple of mornings to have an extended breathing and meditation practice. Its going to take us a little but of time to actually calm down. We’re both very sore from that night and the tension in our bodies and stress of trying to hold on. Its always interesting to have times like this put things in perspective for you. We’re intact, our home (the boat) is relatively intact, our animals are happy and of course seem to have forgotten the situation within minutes of it passing!

This is the latest for now. I hope in the next blog I report things having been very, very uneventful!

Watch the weather and safe travels to you!

Smokey skies from the fires in Georgia

A storm in the Gulf Stream that we were ahead of

Beautiful water in the Gulf Stream

Tobin and B Dog swimming in Ft. Lauderdale

B Dog keeping watch

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Apollo un-phased after the storm


10 thoughts on “The Storm That Changed my Life

  1. Patti

    Oh Jamie! I am so glad you are all okay. It sounds terrifying and I am so sorry for all the damage. I hope nothing but easy water and calm skies for you ahead! Love to you!

  2. Tim Jordan

    You leave me breathless Jamie Elmer. Geez, I think I was holding my breath just reading this. What an adventure! So glad you’re blogging and more glad that you’re safe. xo

  3. miki

    thankful that you are ok.
    animals are blessed with really living in the moment.
    you describe everything so well.
    pleasure for me to experience it all from dry land ‘tho i do envy you being on the boat.
    think of you often,

  4. Gail L-C

    Wow, Jamie, thanks for sharing this tale with us. I’m so glad you are safe! This is the first time I’ve read your blog and I’m glad to be on your list. I always wanted to live and cruise on a boat; I didn’t even know you sailed–wow! That’s some fine sailing and hanging on! Take care, Gail

  5. Regina

    Jamie, you have the makings of a book in all of these writings. Reading from the beginning, one can see your freedom of expression grow and become more and more lyrical and insightful. Your thoughts on the storm made me weep and say a thankful prayer that you all made it through and have emerged better for the experience. The angels are watching over you and your brave crew and captain. God bless you each and every moment.

  6. Andree Santini

    Wow, Jamie, I’m in awe of the ocean and your sailing through this. I’m so glad you and your family are safe. Sometimes all we can do is flow with the storm. I drove (my boring old car) close to a mini tornado a few weeks ago, with nowhere to move but wait as trees and all sorts of debris flew horizontally across the highway. Crazy weather from nowhere and in a sudden there, too, but it was thankfully over much quicker than your experience. Keep breathing, and see you in Easton.


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