by Adrianne Balcom
During the Winter of 1977-78, I was living on a sailboat in Beverly Harbor. Not just any sailboat, but an old wooden yawl built in 1906 that my fiancé had salvaged in New Hampshire and brought down to Gloucester for “renovation”. It was barely seaworthy - the bilge pump worked every 18 minutes, pumping 80 gallons of rusty seawater back into the Atlantic. I had agreed to share the “experience” of “living aboard” as a test of our relationship. Little did I know that it would be an experience that would change my attitude towards the value of Life and respect for the Elements.
Our trepidation started when we came home from work and turned on NOAA on our marine radio. A storm was coming. Nothing new to us, or any of the other live-aboards. This was New England: Cape Ann and North Shore residents did not get excited about “the Weather”. We literally “battened down the hatches”, made sure the aluminum frame with the canvas cover over the deck was secured to the toerail, brought in food and filled the water tank and sat down to spaghetti cooked over the alcohol stove. We listened to the radio once in a while, but as the predictions turned more dire, we shut it off. We had done what we could for safety’s sake.
The snow began. The Marina staff talked about extraordinary high tides. It was getting colder. Well, we had regularly and routinely dealt with two feet of snow: just shovel the deck and canvas! Our dog was a Siberian Husky - it walked itself during the day, finding shelter under one of the boats hauled out in the yard: the best relieving spot under the broad beam of a rich man’s yacht. We felt as though we were in an igloo made of canvas. We sat in kerosene-light with the dog between us.
On the Marine Radio we heard voice “traffic”: the Harbormaster in Salem was ordering a freighter out of the Harbor. The Captain was complaining. Other voices, other ships urgently asked for advice, a mooring, safety.
“High tides… low visibility… extreme cold.”
We realized that this was going to be a bad, bad storm. But we were New Englanders. And we were docked. We felt safe and went to bed.
The next morning, one of the Marina crew came by and knocked on the cabin trunk. We opened the hatch and were told that the tide was coming into the parking lot - to move our cars. My fiancé had just bought a new VW Rabbit. We decided to finish eating and then go move the cars. We felt swells in the water - a little alarmed as the boat rocked violently. We put on ski parkas and headed to the place where we had parked.
As we came around the shower/toilet building, we noticed a commotion at the Gas Dock. A Coast Guard Patrol Boat had tied up the whole length of the dock and crew members were having an argument with the Pump Attendant. The snow was swirling and closed in. We could barely see the tender - it was patches of white and grey and red, in a shifting pattern of fog and flakes. There was a truck parked in the