s t o r i e s

An Abaco Hurricane Adventure

I fell in love with Man-O-War Cay nearly ten years ago, when Captain Nick’s Island Adventure Tour dropped us off for a brief visit during my first trip to the Abacos. Since then, it’s always been my favorite place in Abaco, but we’d never had any luck finding a place to stay on the island. Over the years, we’ve stayed at some of the finest homes and resorts in Elbow Cay, Marsh Harbour and Green Turtle, but this year we weren’t taking no for an answer. So after my friend Barry had spoken to possibly half the island, she was eventually referred to a woman named Leslie who told her that the old Bell House, halfway between the town and the narrows, had a guest house with air-conditioned bedrooms available for a week in mid-September. The fact that it happened to be the height of hurricane season was not about to stop us. After all, Barry, her partner Johnny, my mate Jim and I had spent an incredible week last year at Bali Hai in Tahiti Beach just as Hurricane Danielle was heading that way and everything turned out splendidly. We had Elbow Cay practically to ourselves, the weather was beautiful, Danielle took a turn toward the north and all we ever saw of her was a nice breeze that kept the no-see-ums at bay for a few days.As our date of departure begins to draw closer, we note another storm brewing in the Atlantic, but, remembering last year, we don’t give it more than a second thought. We pack our bags, head for the airport and board a mostly empty flight to Marsh Harbour, hoping the Bell House will be as great in person as it sounds on the phone.

The tide’s already out when we get to Man-O-War, so somehow our entire crew and all our luggage are squeezed into a small Boston Whaler to make our way slowly from the ferry dock over to the dock at the Bell House. Our caretaker, Joanne, meets us there. We unload everything into a huge bright red wheelbarrow, cross the road and gaze up at our long anticipated tropical paradise. Walking through the trellis into a spectacularly landscaped garden, we see two bright yellow Bahamian-style wood houses with white trim sitting side by side at the top of a gentle rise like a mirage. Joanne leads us to the house on the right and gives us a brief history and tour. She points out a note left for us by the owners, Ann and James, who are right next door at SeaBell and will pop over after we’re settled to get acquainted:“Welcome to the Winklette!

...there are two resident cats, Boomer (white) and Bollé (black and white)... This island has no water! All our water comes off the roof and is subject to the amount of rainfall we have. This means: Don’t run the water when you wash dishes and brush teeth... Boat showers a must... Don’t flush every time you use the loo! Just remember, a week’s careless renter can use an entire year’s supply of water!!! Thank you for your cooperation!! Enjoy your stay! There are beach chairs on the oceanside. Please pull them up each evening. Please sign the guest book upon departure. ..

Tropical storm Floyd still appears to be heading straight for us. Every report we hear predicts something different, and we’re not sure how long this perfect weather will last, so we begin exploring as soon as we unpack. Sunday we wake up and call Island Marine on the VHF to get our boat. They deliver one of their finest, “Johnnycake,” right to our dock with a firm reminder to return the boat first thing in the morning, so they’ll have time to get it safely stowed if the storm continues its course. We head over to Nippers’ for the Sunday Pig Roast and I marvel at all of the recent development on Guana. The mosquitoes are hardly even noticeable now, quite a change from our first visit there years ago, when they sent us running for cover. We marvel over the double-decker pool and enjoy a tasty feast on the patio and a dip in the ocean before heading back to Man-O-War. We toy with the idea of going out for a quick sunset cruise, but we’re all exhausted and never do make it out again.

A day and a half of the most perfect beauty in the world and tonight the rains start. The winds are picking up already. We’ve gone from CAT 3 Thursday maybe to CAT 4 Tuesday definitely and now the only debate seems to be whether or not we are crazy to be here. Everyone is sleeping but me when the first wave hits. Barry wakes up. We fasten a few windows and bring in some loose items from the porch. Stillness again. I read. Go out to the kitchen later and wonder if it’s safe to wait until tomorrow to move the food. Giddy with excitement and a slight undercurrent of panic, we debate a quick midnight run out to the beach to save the lawn chairs and watch the shooting stars. We watch millions of them lighting up a violent sky. Barry points out a large dark band, another rainstorm moving toward us.

This was supposed to be my relaxing vacation. Instead Jim wakes me up at 7 am moving food into our bedroom closet. Loudly. With my morning coffee we are boarding up windows, weatherstripping the cracks, moving furniture. Barry and Jim take the boat back to Island Marine, a wet and wild journey.

It’s noon Monday. Twenty four hours before the worst of it is expected to hit. The sky is clear blue and its hotter than hot. I grab my gear and my camera and head toward the narrows for a final swim. On the way, I notice that the water is almost up to the docks harbourside. As I approach the narrowest part of the road, I realize this is not such a good idea. Water sprays forcefully over the rocks. The beach is gone. Sweat and spray drip in my eyes. One good blast is all that’s needed to send me heading back the way I came. Quickly.

We borrow the golf cart and ride into town to grab a few last minute supplies. The settlement is a beehive of frenzied activity; men on roofs, dogs roaming restlessly, women dashing about with their children. We pick up our three special order loaves of hot coconut bread at Albury’s Bakery, then cross the road to refresh our supply of canned drinks, tuna fish, lamp oil and oreos in preparation for any emergency.

In the grocery, the girls stock shelves while they discuss the latest forecasts. They say it’s past Puerto Rico. It’s headed down to Hole-in-the-Wall. Barbados. Grand Bahama. It’s turning south. It’s turned north. One thing everyone is certain of at this point, it’s headed straight toward us here in Abaco. We hear everything from 8 am to noon. It should hit during daylight, which will be a good thing. It could well hit during high tide, which could be very dangerous, with ten to twenty foot storm surges predicted. The Winklette is maybe 75 feet from the ocean. A twenty foot surge could easily wind up in the center of our living room. Still, if the storm stays on course, West Palm Beach could easily be next. And if I have to die in a hurricane, I’d rather have it be in paradise.

The water’s getting higher still, even harbourside. It’s just below the dock I am sitting on, roasting in the midday heat. It’s time for a swim. I jump in. The water is icy cool, a sharp contrast to the burning sun. Harbourside the air is still, but over the hill you can hear the wind whistling and see the trees already starting to shimmy and bend. A curly-tailed lizard runs by and I wonder what will become of all the native animals when the water starts to rise.

Ann and James were scheduled to leave today, but have decided to stay and wait out the storm here with us. We take this as an omen; surely they would not keep baby Jeremy on the island if they felt that there was any real danger. After all, they have tickets out.

Right now, it’s so beautiful that it’s hard to believe anything bad could ever happen here. I swim out to the little island at the harbour’s entrance, which is quickly disappearing in the rising tide. Water breaks, even in the relative still of the harbour. It’s intense, but panic has not yet set in. What would be the use of it?

Barry, Jim and I are out for another swim. Could be our last opportunity before things take the inevitable turn. The water has backed down now, the tide heading out like it has every day for so many years. We watch the waves, huge waves, crashing on the reef out in the distance. The ocean suddenly seems way too close to our back porch, now barren save a few cinder blocks holding the kitchen shutters in place. A bird twitters overhead. Where will he end up tomorrow?

Boomer kitty stretches in awkward yoga-like poses, white fur blending into the white bedspread in Barry’s room. I prepare my favorite lunch, smoked salmon on wheat toast with cream cheese and veggies and seal the contents of my purse into hundreds of ziplock baggies; along with a change of underwear, a paintbrush, some toothpaste, gum, pen, paper and matches. The breezeway between the house and the kitchen gets increasingly harder to navigate. A few slices of nectarine go flying when I try to take my lunch out to the patio to eat. I cover everything with aluminum foil and make another attempt. In the kitchen, Jim is using half a loaf of the coconut bread to make the world’s largest PBJ, firmly convinced it will be his last meal.

Over at the dump they are burning trash furiously. Every so often, a small craft speeds crazily by the dock, a golf cart careens down the dirt and pebble road. Jim’s dad calls to tell us they are now predicting the storm will be a CAT 5 and may be approaching a CAT 6, if there is such a thing. This morning, the folks at Island Marine told Jim and Barry we were crazy to stay. “Get a charter, they insisted, get off the islands.” Jim was ready to run, but the rest of us decided we were in it for the long haul. Through better or worse, we are here to stay.

Not wanting to be trapped indoors any longer than I absolutely have to, I sit on the dock writing. But the wind is picking up now, even here. I haven’t heard a forecast in hours, but the last one was not so promising. This morning on the Cruiser’sNet, they were listing land-based shelters, starting prayer meetings up at the churches, announcing which businesses will be closed until further notice.

Even here on the quiet side, the water is picking up dangerous speed. Thankfully, the tide has dropped and the beach is reappearing. The dock is dry and out of harm’s way, for the moment at least. The Winklette is still dry and very dark, totally boarded up save for one side, so we can have a little air and light as long as possible. It will be interesting to see how long the power and water hold out. We’ve got two five gallon jugs in the living room, one for utility and one for drinking. And enough lamp oil and lanterns to light up the island for days.

I hum the theme song to Gilligan’s Island again and again...“a three hour tour... a three hour tour...” In the water, schools of tiny fish tickle my feet in a vain attempt to get somewhere. I must remember to recharge these batteries before we lose power, must get the computer safely inside a ziplock bag. But is there one large enough?

4:30 p.m. I head out to the beach to check out the scenario and am surprised to find that I am not the only person crazy enough to be out here. A woman is moving toward me at a brisk clip. As the wind picks up speed, a sharp stinging spray of sand blasts my ankles and I am wishing I had taken a moment to put on a skirt. We meet up and she introduces herself as Judy Gregory. Over the furious pounding of the surf, we discuss the improbability of the ocean looking so beautiful when there is so much imminent destruction, the fact that all of it is out of our hands anyway and what made us come here and decide to stay, both on this trip and, in her case, forever.

She tells me her children were over for their honeymoon during Dennis and got out just in the nick of time. That the lady next to her on the ferry was in a panic, trying to bribe her way off the islands. That everyone is leaving Guana because it isn’t as safe there. It seems that here in Man-O-War, the reef offshore should break the force of the impending waves. “This is the safest spot in the Abacos to be,” she assures me. As we battle the wind and swirling sand, she hands me a large smooth polished seed. “We had these when I was growing up, she tells me, you’re supposed to rub it and you’ll have good luck.” “I’ll take that as a sign,” I say, as we make plans to meet up after the storm. I head back. Already the wind has picked up considerably. The walk back is much more challenging than the walk out. “Oh well, I figure, I may not be able to get much in the way of exercise tomorrow...”

I arrive home to a near empty closed-up house. Johnny’s alone in the living room playing Snood on the laptop. I ask where the rest of the crew has wandered off to and he gestures next door. I head over and meet Betsy and her low-rider dog Tasey, who live down the road but are planning to ride the storm out at SeaBell. Betsy wears an origami sea shell necklace Barry made for her. Ann serves a proper high tea on the front patio as a parade of friends and neighbors stop by to check in and make last-minute arrangements. Baby Jeremy shares his biscuits with Tasey the dog and Ted arrives bearing Leslie’s cat Jackson, who’s in need of a safe haven during the storm.

Back at the Winklette, we are making any attempt we can to settle in for the long wait. Barry and I cook up a quick dinner of curried grouper and yellow rice. We eat, then clean the kitchen and pack anything we may be needing for the next few days into the cooler, including a tupperware full of friskies for Jackson the cat, our new hurricane houseguest.

All night it picks up. We’ve closed up the house and the kitchen and side doors, but it’s relatively quiet on the harbour side of the house, so we can still get in and out through the Winklette’s original front door. Eventually, the relentless wind makes even this impossible and the steady roar of the wind and surf lulls us all into an uneasy slumber.

We wake up the morning of the storm housebound. There’s no doubt that the full fury of Floyd is on its way. We sit in the living room going a little stir crazy as the house starts to shake and the walls begin to leak and listen to things we cannot distinguish through the small, visquene-covered opening flying around in the yard. Jim is on the couch facing this opening when something that looks like a large dead fish comes flying full force into his line of vision. He jumps up, but the plexi is strong and we’re fine. The hours go by very slowly. Johnny notes that this hurricane business is highly overrated.

As the storm picks up, so does the water. We are using all of the towels, sheets, buckets and bedspreads we can dig up to stop the flow, now coming in at least six different places. We move things from room to room every time a new leak is discovered. Check and recheck our evacuation packs. Listen to the radio. The attic is leaking, the side door needs a bucket. Jackson the cat is hiding under the bed, where he will remain for most of the storm. I move books and paintings and furniture into the bedroom and spot a leak in there. A coconut thwacks the window. The living room floor is a sodden, sandy mess. We watch through the visquene as wave after wave pounds against us and wonder if its rain from the storm or the ocean

getting way too close for comfort. We can’t even see the hammock trees in the yard anymore, or anything else except the water spraying forcefully against the plastic. It looks like the whole house is going through an automatic car wash. The roar and rumble of the storm is deafening and hypnotic. Every part of the house is creaking and shaking.

Around 2 pm the visquene flies off the back door. Within minutes, the pressure of relentless pounding takes its toll on the already compromised structure and the entire thing begins to give. The latch holding the door closed on the right shoots across the room. Jim is up in the loft mopping up leaks. “Honey, we need you down here, I yell, now!”

We hold the wall in place by leaning against it while Jim and Johnny hastily engineer an emergency solution that involves creating a beam-braced daisy chain across the room using every piece of furniture we’ve got. Tempers flare. Voices raise. Eventually we get it resolved to the best of our ability. The final solution involves one person holding the bench in place, while another sits in the chair to prevent the line of furniture from moving. Using this method, the guys take turns personally holding the wall of the house intact for the next hour or so, through the worst of it, while Barry and I move every last item out of the living room, in case it should decide to go. We double check our evacuation packs and Barry gets Jackson’s carrying case ready. It’s touch-and-go there for a while, but before the wall gives out completely, the eye approaches and the wind suddenly dies down.

When things stop flying by the window, we dare to open the door and take a peek outside for the first time in twelve hours. Once we are certain that all is really still, we run back and forth to the beach like crazy people, happy to be let out of the asylum. We check on the kitchen, mop up a few small leaks in there, grab the extra cutting board and reengineer our makeshift brace for the opposite end of the storm, which we know will be along all too soon. I cook a cooler meal of tuna sandwiches for all who want to eat. Jackson the cat springs forth from his secret under the bed haven in search of the source of the exquisite aroma.

All too soon, the wind starts up at full force again from the opposite direction. This time, we are ready for it. We watch through the small opening as the lush tropical garden in front of the house transforms into a murky sea of sand. We try calling the states, but even with the top secret AT&T access code, there is no getting through. All circuits are busy. Because we are further from the water on the harbourside, things hold up much better through the second half of the storm. Eventually, we are lulled to sleep by the loud and persistent rumbling outside our walls.

The morning after. It’s dark in the room, as the windows are all still boarded up. But in the living room, the shutters are open again and the sun is streaming in. The VHF indicates that power is out and phone lines are dead throughout the islands. As far as we can see, things don’t look so bad here on Man-O-War, but reports indicate that Elbow Cay took a real pounding. We hear rumors that the Abaco Inn is now an inlet, that HopeTown will be needing a new name. We move the food back into the kitchen and the sweeping up begins in earnest. Barry is manning the stove, working on the promised post-hurricane breakfast of bacon and coconut bread french toast.

Jim hangs the sopping towels from the porch rafters. We attempt to put the living room back into some kind of order.

I walk down the beach, forging a new trail as I go. What’s amazing is not what’s down or gone, but what is still standing. On this end of the island, most of the houses and docks appear relatively intact. The beach has lost a dune and gained a few large, rooted trees and acres of coral stone appear through the shifted sand. Friends and neighbors begin to drop by on their quests to check out the damage. The rumours increase: Elbow Cay is now two islands, no, make that three... Solomon’s lost its roof... Boat Harbour has been wiped out and all of the boats are in a heap... the Golden Harvest is under water... So far, we have heard no body counts. At first glance, anyway, it seems that folks over here were much more prepared to survive this storm than we were in South Florida a few years ago when Andrew hit. People here seem to take care of themselves and each other. Those who were not equipped to ride out the storm alone took shelter with friends and neighbors.

The wind is still frenetic today, though nothing compared to the height of the storm. But the sun is shining again and the water is slowly returning from yesterday’s murky grey to it beautiful vibrant blues. There is no power, no phone and the VHF is the main communication tool. No telling how long it will be until these things we all take for granted are restored. I realize the beauty of having our own generator.

We set off on a walk through town and an emergency grocery run. The shelves are starting to thin a bit. Neighbors bring their perishables over to keep in the grocery’s freezer. Everywhere, power lines are on the ground, in trees, snapped off. In general, the new construction seems to have fared better than the old. The biggest and fanciest houses on the oceanfront are virtually unharmed. I pass a house covered in plywood labeled “top, bedroom, facing Pete.” At the cemetery, plastic flowers still cover every site, though some of the markers have taken flight. There are enough coconuts on the ground to make thousands of pina coladas and Barry could weave palm frond hats for the entire island without denuding a single tree.

The town is a frenzy of activity, everyone running around in their golf carts clearing debris, checking on loved ones, exchanging updates on the state of affairs on the other islands. People are spraying down the sand off their houses. The beautiful yellow and white paint job on the Winklette will need to be revamped, it looks like someone took a highpowered sandblaster to the entire back side of the house. Raw wood shows through. There are trees in houses, houses on boats, boats in yards, golf carts upside down and sideways.

After lunch, I join Barry out on the now doublewide beach. The water is freezing. We discover many beautiful coral rocks that have been washed ashore as we head off to explore the aftermath on the narrows and beyond. Fortunately, we decide to go down via the beach. We soon realize that the road down here is still impassable. The beach is right up to, and in some cases over, it. Cables are split and out, nearly all of the old growth trees are down. It’s a whole different animal than it was two days ago.

In my formerly calm swimming hole, the waves are high and violent. We pass a family attempting to traverse the blocked road. Everyone is happy to be alive and unharmed.We head back, stop for a swim. It’s like jumping into a pool of ice water. There are waves good enough for a jump or two, but already things are getting quiet on the ocean side. The water is now a murky green. We debate fate as we watch endless schools of tiny flying fish leap through the waves in front of us and long for the brilliant turquoise again. We are happy to be here. To have had this experience. To be alive. Finally, we tear ourselves out of the ocean and head home to listen to the broadcasts over the VHR:

“the mango tree has fallen through the wash house....it’s still under 2-3 feet of water.... he took one look and just slammed on outta there.... I suppose we’ll try again tomorrow... we’ve got sand upstairs and everywhere... I guess we’re gonna be starting from scratch...”

Everyone is calling in to locate missing persons and check up on friends and relatives. Every report we hear confirms the previous: so far no one has been hurt or killed in Abaco. We haven’t seen much of the devastation in Man-O-War, but it seems that other islands have not been so lucky. Vernon calls in with a HopeTown update. His store is under water and there’s been a washover on the island. Five or six houses are missing. The pool may be all that remains of the Abaco Inn. White Sound is now a cut. It seems that the stairway at Nippers, which I was up and down just two days before, is now a 20-foot drop to the beach. People need help in Cherokee. Eleuthra is wiped out. Marsh Harbour had a 2-foot chop running through the streets. The Conch Inn is gone. Boat Harbour Marina went from 300 slips to two. The crawfish boat jumped the island.

Tonight the moon hangs fat and glowing in the still night air. The beach is picture perfect. I hoist myself over the ledge now separating us from the beach and make my way across the yard, barren as a war zone. Just two days ago, I likened this site to an enchanted forest. Now everyone out here has real sea-to-sea views, whether they want them or not.

Our chances of locating any more fresh fish during this visit seem pretty remote, so I cook the leftover chicken breast and plenty of veggies on some whole wheat tortillas. Everyone’s exhausted, but somehow manages to drag themselves to the table.

We’re all anxious about CAT 4 Gert, who may or may not be headed our way, but all we hear from the US are reports about Floyd hitting the Carolinas, even though he’s now down to a Cat 3 and not expected to do too much damage.

A few people on boats are the only ones that seem to have any connection to the rest of the world right now via HAM radio and mobile internet access. Someone volunteers to telephone and e-mail friends and family in the rest of the world. We call in our parents’ phone numbers and hope that somehow the messages are relayed, since it’s looking like we may be back in the states a good week or three before the phone and electric are up and running around here again.

Thursday morning. The ocean is slowly turning beautiful blue again, perhaps a shade lighter from the excess sand on the bottom. We have power, water, and a relatively unmarred beautiful house by the sea; dogs, cats, birds, lizards, food and a ticket out of here for Saturday. Others are not so lucky. The gardener shows up for work and tells Jim that his house is gone. Diver Dan calls in on the VHF. It seems that Dr. Fare, one of the founders of Trauma One, lost his liveaboard, Endurance. Offers of clothes and lodging begin pouring in. We hear that Leisure Lee is gone. That Green Turtle is a big mess with roofs off, boats piled up, trees down. Johnny at Nippers confirms a similar scenario on Guana Cay.

Elbow Cay did not fare so well. The ocean broke through in White Sound. Houses are missing. Roofs are visible in the water. The dune is gone. The reports continue. On the north end, they’ve lost 40 feet of beach, many houses fell in, 10 -15 more may go soon due to severe beach erosion. In Little Harbour, three boats and all the docks are gone. “Major property damage, but all souls are safe,” the caller notes. In Marsh Harbour, trees are down, roofs are off, houses are down to their foundations. The US Coast Guard has paid a visit due to lack of communications. The Cherokee lighthouse is not operating.

On the positive side, the airport runway was cleared yesterday by the fire brigade and air service is now resumed. Ferry service will be back on schedule starting at 11:30. All reports continue to confirm that there has been no loss of life in the area.

Finally, someone calls in with a new update on Gert. It’s built up into another serious storm over the past few days, but seems to be already into its northward turn and hopefully will stay a good 1000 miles away. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. We’ve all had enough excitement to last a lifetime, or at least until we get home.

Tonight the sky is fire red. A guaranteed sailor’s delight, but we are still not sure we want to attempt to get the boat back and take it out tomorrow. We stand on the dock and watch all sorts of unusual objects floating by. This afternoon we swim in still murky waters, longing for the vibrant blue. A few small craft are now zipping around the harbours, checking everything out and stopping to relay the latest updates. Judy and Scott greet me on the dock. They have just returned from Marsh Harbour, where they say there are more boats on land than in the water. I venture out via the road toward the narrows and find it impassable. Trees and fences and downed power and phone lines block the way. Yet the Queen’s Highway sign remains firmly planted. Everyone talks about making the journey into HopeTown tomorrow, but are reluctant due to the dark clouds threatening toward the south.

Eventually it clears up. It’s a still and beautiful day. We hear generators kick in and the whirrr of power tools in the distance. The rebuilding has begun. John, the gardener, flags me down as he sweeps mountains of sand off our roof: “plenty trouble in Marsh Harbour, he tells me, plenty trouble in HopeTown.” We finally hear about the only death in the islands. It seems a man drown in Nassau. The story goes that he went out during the eye of the storm and jumped in the water to try to save his boat. But he lost his life instead.

More stories come in about the destruction on Elbow Cay. We hear that a 50-foot tidal wave washed over the island, taking many houses with it. It’s hard to believe that all we lost was the garden. And that no one in Abaco suffered serious harm. We hear a broadcast from South Florida Wednesday describing an incident where a man was shot by another man who was stealing his storm shutters; of people trapped for hours on a backed-up turnpike; of price gouging on plywood and shopping cart wars at Publix. Curfews. Shelter’s with no room. The National Guard patrolling the streets. And even though its not the vacation I was dreaming of, I’m happy to have weathered this storm here.

Friday. Jim hands me notes from this morning’s Cruiser’sNet. A town meeting has been called for 10:00 am. Someone warns that there is still lots of debris floating in the water, so take it easy! A caller announces that a boat status inventory, as well as a health and welfare list, is being developed. Steve at Swept Away is standing by on 68 to relay e-mail and collect calls. Someone notes that milk and generators are being flown in. Dr. Bill is seeing patients. Kay at Just Coastin reports that the government is still charging duty on supplies and a plane full of much needed items left without unloading. Johnny calls in from Nippers. The Guana Beach Resort burned down last night. They are in desperate need of communications, generators, water. Steve and James have battery chargers to loan and there are generators and battery chargers at Mangoes in Marsh Harbour, as well as a few other locations throughout the islands. Harry at Catnapzzz relays that water is available in Marsh Harbour in 5 gallon jugs and a car is available for transport.

More of the road in Man-O-War has been cleared and we hear that work has been started on getting the power and phone lines back together. This will be prove to be no small task and could possibly take weeks. Rebuilding has started, but in true island spirit, right now it seems to be every man for himself. So far we have not heard a call to volunteers or any centralized hurricane relief effort like the one we participated in during the aftermath of Andrew. I would love to stay and help, even though it would totally destroy my prior commitments, but other than plumbers and carpenters, no one has requested outside assistance. We are still scheduled to leave in the morning.Back at

the Winklette, I break out the paints and Barry and I get to work on our commemorative painting. Johnny has found us the perfect board, totally misshapen and weatherbeaten. We paint vibrant swirls of color, the eye of the storm, add our caption in neon orange oilstick: “on this spot four brave souls (and Jackson the cat) battled and bested Hurricane Floyd 9.14.99 Wendy Jim Barry Johnny. We decide to pick up a few hurricane mementos to add to our masterpiece.

We head down the beach to the narrows for a final sunset dip. The water is clear again, back to its stunning aquamarine hue. More things are washing up on shore. The seaweed is returning. Hermit crabs and lizards are back in droves. I swim out toward the setting sun. It’s incredibly hard to tear myself away, but we have been invited to a potluck dinner at Leslie’s and I don’t want to be late.

A caravan of golfcarts heads down the newly cleared road toward the bright green compound at the bend. We eat hummus dip and mountains of boiled shrimp, a spiral sliced ham from Ann’s freezer, peas and rice, chili, beans, pineapple bread pudding and fresh heart of palm salad - the byproduct of all of those freshly fallen trees. We watch baby Jeremy take his first step, observe Jackson the cat run in terror from Tasey the dog. Exchange survival stories. I wonder about the plates and napkins. With their autumnal theme, they seem to be left over from some other party. Then a man who sings pirate songs and calls himself Uncle Albert demands everyone’s attention and their meaning becomes clear as he begins an eloquent toast by welcoming us all to this Thanksgiving party: to give thanks that we have all made it through this storm alive and well.

Later, out on the dock, I notice that a few more lights are on tonight in Marsh Harbour. The air is fragrant with the smell of burning trash. Lightening creates chaotic patterns in the sky to the west. A strong breeze blows back my hair. The crazy fat moon is in hiding somewhere. It’s very black and very still. I hear the occasional fish jumping in the water below me, the waves crashing oceanside, distant thunder. I know I’ll be back. Hopefully soon.

Ann, James and baby Jeremy escort us down to the dock to meet the ferry driver and invite us to come and stay again. “But not in September,” we chorus in unison. This is the first time we’ve left Man-O-War since the storm. We cruise past Matt Lowe’s Cay to find the houses there a wreck. That could have been us, we ponder. All over town, ships are on shores, the Tiki Hut is in the water, roofs and awnings are ripped off, trees down, businesses washed out. The boats in the harbour are colorful with drying laundry. The stoplight hangs at an unnatural angle. We pass a church in town and watch the local children sorting through the emergency shipments that are finally starting to roll in. A young man laden with bags and packs stands at the intersection, trying to hitch a ride down to Cherokee.

The Marsh Harbour Airport has never seen so much excitement. Jim notes a smattering of Bahamian dignitaries. The armed forces are out, a reporter for the Miami Herald is scribbling notes and hoping for a flight home. There are no conch fritters today. The snack bar is doing booming business in hotdogs and chicken wings. Because there is no communication with the mainland, no one has any idea if the planes are coming in or not. We joke that we may have to take Ann and James up on their offer sooner, rather than later. And hope that we are only joking. Boxes of supplies are coming in on private planes. Every time a plane touches down, the entire room jumps up to see if its their ride home. Amidst the rubble, locals congregate, exchanging gossip, trading tales.

After a few hours, it’s starting to look like the FAA will not let Continental in to take us home, due to the lack of communications. Our gate agent Troy suggests that Island Express should honor our tickets, but no one has any idea if or when they may show up. Anxiously, we wait and watch several private planes land and unload emergency relief supplies. I hear another plane coming in and rush to the window in time to recognize the Island Express logo on the craft. I know there are only two people in the room that have tickets on that flight. I know that there are eight seats available. So what if it’s not going to West Palm Beach. I flag down Troy and hand over our tickets, rush up to the front of the counter. We are weighed, measured, arranged to the pilot’s liking and fifteen minutes later, we are on our way to Fort Lauderdale.

I arrive home to a full voicemail and begin the time-consuming process of calling everyone back to let them know we’re alive and home safely. “What was it like?” everyone asks me. And I always respond the same way: “it was the greatest adventure of my life, and one I hope I never have to have again, but if I had to live through a major hurricane, I’m glad it could at least be in the most beautiful place on earth!” - Wendy Meyer

In the beginning....

Twelve years ago, my brother saved up his grocery bagging, hamburger flipping, dishwashing money and bought an Apple IIe. His friends thought he was crazy; they were saving up for motorcycles, guitars and other typically teenage trivialities. I was overjoyed. I was in my senior year of college. The magazine I edited was producing an issue on the topic of science and technology. My brother was up in arms because I wanted to create the cover art on his computer. Every night, I'd wait until he fell asleep, then sneak into his room and mess around for hours with the primitive painting tools on his machine. After nearly a month of experimentation, I had a created my first digital painting, an abstract composition using lines and boxes in a host of fluorescent colors. Then reality hit me; there was no way to get my incredibly cool art out of the computer and onto the cover of the magazine. We tried everything, including taking photographs of the monitor. In the end, we had to use a boring slide of laser art. But I was hooked.

After college, I got a job working at the newspaper. We had state-of-the-art typesetting machines and stat cameras and all of the usual items, but someone in the organization decided that PCs were the next big thing and one was installed into my department with the instructions: make it worth our investment. While my ITEK 2000 was still superior for typesetting and ads, I quickly became fascinated with a program called GEMpaint. I had just gotten into my first exhibition and I decided to do a project using some of the computer "paintings" I was developing in GEMpaint. I was hooked! Every day, I would breeze through work in a frenzy so that I would have more time to paint. I marveled at the possibilities inherent in this new technology, especially the UNDO command. I knew that I was on to something.

A few years later, they put in a couple of Macs at the paper where my friend worked. I was amazed. Now typesetting and layout on the computer were even easier than they had been on the ITEK. And the possibilities seemed endless. I decided my next job would be somewhere that had a Mac. I found the job, took home the Pagemaker manual to read at night and became entranced immediately. All the tedium was gone from layout and design; all of the paste-up and precision that used to drive me crazy was now handled by the computer. I soon discovered Superpaint. Superpaint was GEMpaint with about 100 more features. I had a field day. Then we got our first color Mac. While the color was nice for layout and design, in the realm of painting, it opened up whole new planets! PixelPaint was every artist's dream. I was fascinated by the program's ability to remap color pallets. Then came Photoshop, Oasis, PixelPaint Pro and the advent of natural media software.

The first time I used a pressure sensitive drawing tablet, it felt awkward. After all, I was used to painting with a mouse by that point and the pen seemed almost like reinventing the wheel. But soon all of the software started to support pressure sensitivity and a tablet became a necessity. I asked for one for my birthday and my family chipped in to get one on my desktop. Once the tablet was in place, I searched for the best software to go with it and discovered Fractal Design Painter.

With its seemingly endless bank of natural media effects, paper textures and brushes, Painter was like a dream come true. It didn't matter if I needed a Japanese brush, a 500 lb. pencil or a waxy crayon, it was all there! I soon became entranced with the concept of digitally mixing media that I could never successfully combine using traditional tools. Oil on water - no problem! Scratchboard on chalk - a breeze! And my fascination with remapping colors only increased as the software (and my system) became more powerful.

Of course, the greatest thing about painting on the computer today is that you can actually get the paintings out of the computer. Dye sublimation printers produce photographic quality prints at a reasonable cost. Film recorders can make slides of your artwork, large format output gets better and more affordable everyday and film separations make full color offset reproduction a snap. If there is an artist out there that has not yet taken the plunge into the world of digital art, all I can say is "Get with the program!"

Or better yet, "Go get a program!"

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© 1996-2004 Wendy Meyer