October 29, 2012

All alone on Maine island, serenaded by howling wind

Sandy fulfills a long-held dream to ride out a big storm at the family's place on a Phippsburg island.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PHIPPSBURG — For a lot of folks, spending a turn of the moon alone on an island amid the winds of a hurricane might be a nightmare.

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Waves crash over a sea wall along Long Beach Avenue in York, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, as a result of weather conditions from Hurricane Sandy.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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For me, it's been a dream much of my life. I finally got my chance Monday, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.

My family has a place on a small island off the tiny fishing village of West Point in Phippsburg. We're at the very eastern edge of Casco Bay, just a few miles north of Cape Small.

For many reasons, past hurricanes have eluded me. Work conflicts, family obligations, safety concerns and other issues have kept me from facing head-on such hurricanes as Gloria, Bob, Irene and a dozen others.

Monday seemed a perfect opportunity to make up for those missed chances. My brothers encouraged me. They've all done it, and spun tales of ferocious surges, snapping trees and lost wharfs. Over summer beers, the stories spill out about the time the storm surge was so high, it washed over the seawall and threatened the house. A cousin tells of the sound of a freight train in the middle of the night just before our most recent and still-not-replaced wharf washed out during a summer storm a few years ago.

I don't know if it's a badge of honor or just the experience I was after. But Carrying Place Head called for me Monday, so I went.

At least by nightfall, Sandy did not live up to her billing. We had some good wind, and I heard and saw trees fall. The noon high tide was impressive, especially on the open water of the west side. And to be sure, as darkness settled in Monday, we were facing a heck of a stormy night.

But I'm writing this with the light of an electric lamp, and if you are reading it, it means I was able to maintain a signal long enough to send an email. In truth, I've seen worse storms. I've seen higher water, bigger waves, stronger winds.

Monday broke gray, with a light breeze. The water that had been glassy and still on Sunday evening was moving pretty good. Typically, a half-dozen lobster boats would be on their moorings. But the fishermen moved their boats to safe harbor. Only two remained, and one of those was moved to safety by early afternoon. Similarly, they all had pulled their skiffs from the mainland, too. We took out our boat over the weekend, as well.

Monday morning, gulls and ducks provided the only activity on the water. The gulls played in the wind, lofting high above and riding the wind as it built from a breeze to heavy gusts. By late afternoon, when the wind blew hard and the rain came in torrents, the gulls were hunkered down out of sight.

The ducks, however, hung around. They rode the waves like a game, even during the height of high tide. The eiders appeared to be having more fun than I was.

The midday high tide felt dramatic. We had splash-over in the front yard, and some of the lower yards, which generally stay dry, were inundated. But again, I've seen it worse. This was a good tide, but not unusually so.

The midday hours after high tide were surprisingly calm. It wasn't until about 4 p.m. that the force of Sandy began to make itself known. The tide was out, but whitecaps presented themselves across the bay. Rain came down in sheets, sideways, and trees snapped. This was the storm, finally, that we were promised.

The lasting impression: The sheer sound of the wind, that whiny, high-pitched whistle. If anything haunts me from this storm, it will be that sound.

As darkness fell, I stoked the wood stove and settled in. Sandy's toll will be evident with Tuesday's light. I suspect this one won't be the storm we'll be talking about years from now. But at least I'll have a story to tell.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:


Twitter: pphbkeyes

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