As you will see from the title I need to go back nearly 20 years when Max and I lived on a sailing boat with our two young sons. We sailed first in the Mediterranean and then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. We eventually stopped when I was pregnant with our third son but this is a period of our lives that we talk about frequently and which has wonderful memories for us.
Occasionally people will ask us about our liveaboard lives and inevitably they eventually ask us if we ever experienced any bad storms.
This is the background to a conversation I had last week with an American couple I met by chance at St Pancras Station in London. We started talking because of a threatened fire alarm check (bizarre I know!) and because they live in Washing DC and I had been there on the boat sailing we started discussing the three years and, eventually, they asked about storms.
In March 1993 we were in the Bahamas. These are very low lying islands that give good protection from the sea in light winds but none at all in a storm. We had just arrived in the Berry Islands with our friends onboard Pennywhistle and were planning to spend the weekend there. We had received a good weather forecast from Miami Radio and all was well. However, Max liked to listen to the forecast from the military base in Norfolk, Virginia; we could receive this on broadband and because we could, he would. We were startled to hear a storm of mega magnitudes forecast to hit the Bahamas in the following day. We had no choice: we had to move and move fast; the only question was where to?
The nearest safe place was Grand Bahama were there is an inland basin with 360 protection. It was 12 hours away and we had to be there 15 minutes either side of high tide (1000) in order to cross the reef. Max and Mike went to the other boats in the bay to warn them in case they hadn't heard the Norfolk forecast. We had seen one of the boats, Charlie's Crab, several times in the Bahamas although we had never spoken to them before. There were two middle aged couples on board, heading back to Florida for the weekend after a sailing holiday. They thanked Max and told him they would head home as they wanted to be back on Saturday.
We had an eventful trip to Grand Bahama and when we eventually arrived the wind was already very strong and white horses were our constant companion. We crossed the reef with Pennywhistle close behind and put out three anchors in the basin. We kept watch night and day through the storm which raged for about two days. A couple of times the boat was blown flat and we slept with lee cloths to stop us falling out of bed - actually I think the boys slept on the floor just in case.
We also kept the radio on and heard Maydays from boats less fortunate than us. We also started getting radio reports of people who had been killed by the storm and boats lost at sea. The owner of a chain of restaurants was reported missing with his wife and two friends. They had called from a mobile phone in the middle of the Gulf Stream but nothing had been heard since. They were presumed dead. The name of the boat? Charlie's Crab.
As I related this story to the American couple, something in the man's face made me realise that he knew about the storm, which had occured nearly 20 years ago. As soon as I mentioned the name of the boat he stopped me: "We had lunch with his family a few weeks ago and were talking about them," he said.
A lot of people were killed in the "Storm of the Century" or the "Storm with no name" (it had no name because, happening in March, it wasn't technically a hurricane). There were reports of bodies being washed up for three weeks or more. Those of the Muers and the Drummeys from Charlie's Crab were never found.
There is a more detailed report of their particular story here.
I have thought about this storm many times over the past 19 years. We are well aware of how fortunate we were to find shelter in time and never again have I moaned about Max's obsession with weather forecasts. However, I never dreamt that someone I met in a London train station and to whom I related the story would be friends of the family.