Jim Holden remembers well the “perfect storm” of 1991.
“I think I lost 300 traps during that storm,” the lobsterman said as he prepared to move his gear to deeper water, where it will be less likely to be damaged by the heavy seas of Hurricane Sandy. “I hope I don’t get bit that bad again.”
Forecasters say Sandy, which hit the Bahamas on Thursday and is winding its way toward the mid-Atlantic, could collide with a winter storm that’s growing in the Midwest and arctic air pulled from the north.
The prospect of major damage from the unusual confluence of weather patterns has forecasters dubbing the storm “Frankenstorm” and giving it its own Twitter hashtag “#frankenstorm.”
Though still several days away, the possibility of a “perfect storm” has many boat owners and marina operators in Maine scrambling to prepare. At Handy Boat in Falmouth, 30 boats have to be hauled in by Saturday.
Coastal communities also are bracing.
Portland’s spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the city is concerned because many trees still have their leaves. High winds could strip the leaves, which would clog storm drains, she said.
Also, the storm is expected to hit during a full moon, which brings unusually high tides and creates the potential for more flooding, she said.
The city expects to pull its floats early from East End Beach and Little Diamond Island, Clegg said. That will probably be done Saturday, but the city must arrange for a crane, and many are in service elsewhere in anticipation of the storm.
The storm could affect cruise ship arrivals planned for next week, Clegg said. The Jewel of the Seas is scheduled to arrive Saturday, the Norwegian Dawn is due Tuesday and the Brilliance of the Seas is due Wednesday.
“Sometimes they choose to seek shelter,” said Clegg. “Last year, we had a storm and a ship came early and stayed for two days. If it’s the safest harbor, you don’t want to be out at sea.”
Lobstermen are particularly sensitive to extreme weather because of the potential damage to their gear and their livelihoods. The impact depends on where a lobsterman has traps.
“In 20 feet of water on the rocks, if you don’t move your traps you won’t have anything left,” said John McCann, who stacked traps on Widgery Wharf in Portland on Thursday. “They’ll be in people’s yards.”
McCann said he had gear out in the Patriots Day storm of 2007.
“You’d find five traps in a collapsed ball. You’d just pull up shards of metal,” he said.
Lobsterman have been pulling traps from shallow water or moving them to deeper or more sheltered locations, said Peter Kelly, who started lobstering in 1964 and is now a co-owner of Widgery Wharf.
“They just put them in deep water and separate from each other,” Kelly said. “Those in the short water get hurt.”
Nick Alfiero, co-owner of Harbor Fish Market, said several of the lobster boats that supply him have pulled traps that are vulnerable.
The storm could affect supply, if lobstermen can’t go out for several days.
Alfiero said other fishing boats could be affected as well, which could cause a temporary drop in supply and a spike in prices.
With the storm predicted to arrive Monday, he said, “They’ll probably all come in on Sunday.”
Holden said he’ll probably stay on shore for a few days, depending on the storm’s track. Gear damage comes from lingering storms.
“Storms that back in like that sit in there (off the coast) and boil for a few tides like the perfect storm,” he said. “Sometimes, the hurricanes will blow right through and it’ll be gone in four hours.”
The weather conditions have been drawing parallels to the “perfect storm” made famous by the Sebastian Junger book and the film of the same name.
In that storm, a confluence of severe weather created a deadly cyclone, with the worst weather out at sea.
Holden recalls that people weren’t nearly as well prepared for that storm as they are for major storms today.
“In 20 years, the weather service has come a long way,” he said.
But how the storm will affect lobsters’ behavior is as unpredictable as ever, he said.
“Sometimes you get a big crawl before and you get a lot, and sometimes you get nothing,” he said. “That’s the one thing they haven’t been able to do, is tell me what the lobsters are going to do.”
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: