Welcome to Abandon Ship Season

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. ~ Yogi Berra

It’s known by an assortment of names – grab bag, ditch bag, abandon-ship bag. Most sailors know they should have one, and nearly everyone understands it should contain something more than a fifth of Scotch, a Leatherman tool and a copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

When it’s time to deploy the life raft, it’s well past time to consider its furnishings. Coastal cruisers, circumnavigators,  casual visitors to Safety at Sea seminars and card-carrying members of the Offshore Racing Congress all know that flashlights, fish hooks and flares can help make a life raft a home. So can desalination tablets, signal mirrors, waterproof flashlights and a VHF, for that matter. Whether you throw in a spear gun and a spare sea anchor will depend on your budget and preferred cruising grounds, but no one quibbles over the need to preserve ships’ papers, insurance documents, passports and cell phones.

If everyone were prepared for the vicissitudes of life on the water, that’s what each bag would have – an assortment of practical necessities for sustaining life while awaiting rescue and the paperwork necessary to reassemble life back on land.  Unfortunately, not everyone prepares.  Sometimes, even the best preparation isn’t enough. Now and then the stories of what got saved, and how, become the stuff of legend.

When it came to preparation, French Charlie was a minimalist. Years of sailing had reinforced his natural inclination toward optimism and brash confidence, qualities that sometimes skewed his decision-making. Before leaving his home in Marseille for a sixth Atlantic crossing, confident as ever but a little short on cash, he equipped his boat with basic survival gear but decided to forego a raft.  By the time he found himself south and west of Gibraltar, ankle-deep in water atop the coach roof of his sinking boat, he’d begun to consider the wisdom of that decision. As he liked to say, “I think, maybe I make only five crossings and one-half – not so good for a sailor!”

In the end, his decision to include a mesh laundry bag filled with flares helped save him. A merchant vessel sighted his signal, picked him up and brought him on board. Everyone stood around on deck for a few minutes, watching Charlie’s boat sink beneath the waves, and then, in a delicious bit of irony, the ship resumed her journey to Marseille. Charlie arrived back at his home port still clutching his laundry bag, slighty embarassed but grateful to have escaped with two flares, a passport, some cash and a change of clothes provided by the rescuing sailors.

Easy as it was for some folks to criticize Charlie, most sailors understand that even an obsessive dedication to organization, preparedness and redundancy can’t guarantee safety at sea. A just-slightly-obsessive friend lost first his engines and then his boat in a Gulf of Mexico storm. He spent three days trying to stay ahead of cascading problems before broken ribs, fourteen foot seas and anxiety about an approaching hurricane led him to call the Coast Guard.  Since he didn’t need to take to a raft, his abandon-ship bag turned out to be a briefcase filled with documents, log books, cells phones and wallets, plopped into a fishing net and lowered to the deck of his rescuers’ boat as the seas roiled and heaved.

However well or ill-prepared a sailor may be, there always will be at least a few “Can you believe this?” stories. Perhaps the quirkiest I’ve heard involves a fellow who’d done some bad navigating at the end of a Gulf crossing from Florida to Texas. When his engine failed, he began drifting toward the Galveston jetties and clearly was in danger of landing on the rocks. Unable to restart the engine and not thinking of the anchor, he panicked. Deploying his life raft, he tumbled in and cut himself free – only to realize he’d left his nice, waterproof, well-stocked abandon ship bag on his boat.

By the time he found his cell phone tucked into his pocket, some fishermen heading offshore had spotted him and rescue was at hand. Unfortunately, his boat fared less well. It was totaled, and so was his confidence. He’s living in a condo now, watching the sun rise over the Gulf and buying his fish from the market. When someone suggests an offshore trip, he just smiles and says, “You go on ahead. I’ve got a book that needs reading.”

Most sailors never find themselves ankle-deep in serious circumstance, waiting for the whirr that signals rescue.  Still, whole communities of boaters regularly cope with what I like to call “abandon ship season”.  A period of generalized nervousness between June 1 and November 30, it’s also known as hurricane season, a  time when the art and science of tracking tropical systems takes center stage. 

Should a hurricane develop – a Rita, a Katrina, an Humberto or Ike – boaters will be among the first to know and the first to act. Adding fenders, doubling or tripling dock lines, stripping off sails, disconnecting electricity and filling water tanks – all are part of the drill. Sometimes the drill helps and sometimes it doesn’t, but the wisdom of the familiar adage is undeniable. Prepare early and often say the old-timers, and they’re right. They know what can happen.

One advantage of “abandoning ship” in advance of a storm is the possibility of saving more than your skin. Everyone I know who’s lost a boat grieves more than the vessel itself. Money can buy another boat, not to mention new electronics, radars, dinghies and outboards, but no amount of money can replace the true treasures that are lost.

Especially for long-time cruisers and live-aboards, their boats become homes, filled with the memories that any home contains. If the call to abandon ship comes in the middle of the ocean, all those lovely tokens of memory –  photographs, hand-stitched pillows, molas and shells – won’t fit into the ditch bag. More often that not, they go down with the ship and are lost forever. In the case of hurricane preparation, it may be a pain to make multiple trips up and down the dock ferrying away personal treasures, but at least they’ll live to see another cruise.

After twenty-five years of preparing boats for storms, I’ve come to think of land evacuations in precisely the same way – just another form of abandoning ship.  You tie things down, empty the freezer, gather your papers and go.

On the other hand, you’re not limited to one abandon-ship bag. I have three. One, a zippered leather portfolio that belonged to my father, contains important papers and documents. The second, a cheap Walgreens polyester tote, carries catnip, cat toys, kitty treats and the all-important brush.

The third bag is a suitcase that belonged to my mother. She carried it on her honeymoon in 1938 and clung to it with a kind of fierce protectiveness through all the decades that followed. After her move to Texas, I designated the suitcase our “abandon-ship” bag. Each time we were forced to evacuate, the suitcase and its treasures were stowed on the back seat of the car, with a hissing and howling Dixie Rose on top. 

Even when we decided to stay put for less intense storms, the bag was packed and ready to go. Eventually, re-packing the bag at the beginning of each season became a ritual, an acknowledgement that the time had come to prepare for whatever the season might bring.


What qualifies as treasure varies from year to year, as the relative importance of objects ebbs and flows. Still, whatever the bag’s specific contents, it’s filled with tangible memories, bits of life that simply can’t be replaced.

This year, I took out a handmade coat I wore as a child, a small bag of costume jewelry that no longer seems important, the set of jacks given to me by my first grade-school boyfriend and four of my dad’s six wristwatches. Still remaining are Dad’s leather work gloves, my mother’s hand-crocheted Baptismal dress, the cribbage board we enjoyed as a family and my many-times-great-grandfather’s fife, which family legend says he carried in the Civil War.

Also included is an armload of silver bracelets I collected across West Africa, a carved wooden crucifix from a leprosarium in Liberia and a clutch of family photographs. The dresser scarf from my parents’ first apartment is tucked into a corner, next to samples of my mother’s needlework and a small wooden heart my dad made in his high school shop class.  Three of my baby teeth are there, primarily because the tiny envelope that holds them still shows my hand-written demand for ten cents from the Tooth Fairy.  My grandmother’s well-wrapped Goofus glass powder box takes up significant space, but there’s still room for some sentimental jewelry and Christmas ornaments.

Today, in this first month of hurricane season, the re-packed bag is easily at hand, waiting in the hall closet.  I hope it stays there until December, but if the time comes to “abandon ship”, I’ll not be waiting around. After all, there’s a corollary to that old-timers’ rule about preparation. “Evacuate early and often” works just as well, and this old-timer’s ready to go.


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  1. What an enjoyable read! Our treasures that make it into the final cut say so much. I’ve been doing some preparation for “abandoning ship” myself, though far from that large of a body of water. I think of it more as emergency preparedness, which must include flashlights and such. That, and a few special memories.

    You’re such a fine writer. I love your choice of words, such as “quibble.” You don’t hear it often and it’s such a good, succinct word.

    • Teresa Evangeline,

      How nice of you to stop by! I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece – it’s hard not to write about hurricanes one way or another as the season starts. Down here on the Gulf Coast, we’re already peering at charts and muttering to ourselves.

      But of course the same dynamics can be found in every sort of situation. Tornadoes, floods, thunderstorms, earthquakes, drought – they all require a certain preparedness, and an awareness of the world around us. We can’t always predict, but we can try to be at least a little prepared, a little thoughtful.

      Isn’t “quibble” great? I still remember learning that one from my mother, who said at least a few times about her mother-in-law, “Your grandmother is such a quibbler”. I was too young to be curious about such a statement – my loss, no doubt.

      Linda

  2. If fingerprints are (almost) unique identifiers of a person, so are the things someone chooses to save when threatened with their loss. I think about how idiosyncratic the choices of one person must seem to another person. I’ve occasionally pondered what things I would try to hang on to in the face of impending doom, but I’m afraid there are too many of them: what a world of attachments.

    • Steve,

      A world of attachments, indeed. If a person were deeply enough attached to enough “stuff” – paintings, art, books, antique china – that person might even rent a climate-controlled storage unit twenty-five miles inland and tote those treasures up the road to keep them out of a hurricane’s way. A little over the top? Perhaps – but irreplaceable means just that.

      One nice thing about hurricane season is that it does nudge us toward reflection, and maybe even a little housecleaning. It always puts me in mind of Janis Joplin, too. The older I get, the more truth I find in that old refrain: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

      Linda

  3. “If the call to abandon ship comes in the middle of the ocean, all those lovely tokens of memory – photographs, hand-stitched pillows, molas and shells – won’t fit into the ditch bag.”

    I never thought of having an emergency bag. Perhaps, it’s because Panama is such a relatively stable country. We seldom have hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, shale storms, volcano eruptions or other adverse weather problems.

    After reading your blog posts, I’ve having second thoughts and think that it’s not a bad idea at all to have a ditch bag, just in case. I’ll think about it some more.

    I was surprised that you included the Panamanian mola among your list of lovely tokens of memories. Nice to know that you are aware of this feminine garment from this part of the world.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Real hurricane preparation is quite a process, and you should thank your lucky stars you don’t have to contend with it. On the other hand, once you’ve done it enough times, it becomes almost second nature – more time consuming than difficult. Life after a hurricane without having made preparations? Now, that’s difficult!

      Apart from weather, there are other situations that can be eased by preparation. Any evacuation, for any reason, is problematic in the Houston area. Knowing the backroads – and actually driving those roads from time to time – isn’t paranoid. It’s just a part of life in the big city. ;)

      The molas are beautiful. Many, many people here have traveled to Panama, and they bring them back – not only for clothing, but also to be framed and displayed, used for pillows, and so on. There are neighborhoods in Houston where you will see them worn now and then.

      You might enjoy looking at this painting by Gary Myers. Funny how his work also reminded me of the molas.

      Linda

  4. This post is precisely why the daily post blog challenge is not the thing for you. Everything you write is such an immense pleasure to read and of the highest quality.

    On a personal note, there were no fewer than three intriguing synchronicities in what you’ve written here and events from my past week.

    As we tend to see and hear around these parts at this time of year, “Fair winds and following seas” to you this and every abandon ship season.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      Ah, shucks. Can you see me, digging my toe into the dirt and blushing? Those are mighty kind words, ma’am. Thanks.

      I’ve been a little stuck with work and etc. myself of late – as I see you’ve been. I’m hoping I’ll find a hint of the synchronicities once I get over to visit.

      Fair winds and following seas, indeed. On the other hand, there are whispers – one of my weather gurus is actually using the phrase, “ghost of Allison”. I guess I might want to see what that’s about – just in case I have to do some actual preparation.

      Linda

  5. I really need to think about what I consider my “treasures.” Obviously, we don’t worry about hurricanes (much) here in Ohio, but tornadoes are a real threat. There has only been one time since we moved to Xenia that we worried about the roof blowing off the house – & we just wandered around the living room going from window to window.

    We don’t have a “safe” place (no basement, no interior rooms – there’s even a window over the bathtub! – no closet big enough for the two of us & my husband is crazy if he thinks I’ll get in there while he stays in danger!) Anyway, it would probably be a good idea to decide what we would be really sad to leave behind. Wow – that’s tough!

    • Bug,

      Here in the land of “what’s a basement?”, there are a lot of the same problems and anxieties. I worry far more about tornados than hurricanes, because you can get away from a hurricane. Granted, both can leave your world absolutely flattened, but I always like to know Armageddon’s on its way.

      I don’t think I’ll ever forget sitting in a motel in Tyler, Texas, live-streaming a site on my computer that was showing all four major Houston tv stations at once. You could pick which part of the disaster you wanted to watch, while you made your way through Oreos and milk. Disaster as spectator sport – what a deal.

      The number one thing I have to do this season is get all my blogs backed up and on flash drives – including the drafts. I’ve been lazy, and I’m tempting fate. I know it. Take my books, my china, my whatever – but take my writing, and you’d hear me wail all the way to Xenia! i’d better stop procrastinating.

      Linda

  6. Omar beat me to “No Hurricanes in Panama.” One of the reasons many cruisers come here to cruise the San Blas Islands and the Chiriqui Lagoon.

    • Richard,

      You know, I can’t remember you writing about the Chiriqui Lagoon. You may have, but I went a-googling and am full of admiration. What a beautiful place! The San Blas are well known, of course.

      It really must be lovely to live without the anxieties – and chores – associated with hurricane season. If I do have to evacuate this year, it will be simpler in some ways. Mom never could quite get her mind around hurricanes – she’d say, “Well, dear, I don’t need anything but a change of clothes and my toothbrush, really, since we’ll just go away for a couple of days and then come back.”

      She was a trooper, though. When we made the famous fourteen hour drive from Houston to Nacogdoches ahead of Rita (usual time, 3-1/2 hours) her biggest concern was whether there’d be a cup of coffee waiting for her once we got there. There was – thank goodness.

      Linda

  7. Great story!
    I recall watching the news when we lived in Maryland. A hurricane was approaching. They were interviewing people in Ocean City and Rehoboth. They were evacuating, and many of the tourists did not want to leave. Then they interviewed a couple who lived in the Carolinas. They were packing up their car. The reporter asked them why they were leaving. They said, “Because we know what these storms can do.” Experience is a great teacher.

    I love Yogi Berra quotes.

    • Bella,

      Exactly right, about those folks from North Carolina. And it isn’t only tourists. There are plenty of folks who’ve moved into coastal areas who really don’t have a clue – although that’s less of a problem here because of Rita, Katrina and Ike. But Ike was four years ago, life is getting back to whatever passes for normal, and new people are coming in. It won’t be long before the resistance to evacuation begins again.

      We do have some wonderful new highway signs that offer encouraging messages like “Hurricane Season is Here – Be Prepared”. When our first storm pops up this year, I think they should say, “Run from Water, Hide from Wind”. That about covers it.

      I bumped up against that Yogi Berra quotation pretty recently – I’d never heard it. There are so many good ones – funny, but wise, too.

      Linda

  8. If I’d thought of my old house as a boat, I could have saved the thousands of dollars I forked over to the moving company. Now I’m here surrounded by landlubber flotsam and jetsam.

    • Claudia,

      Oh, gosh yes. As one of my friends says, the epitome of self-delusion is, “Let’s just pack it all up and sort it out once we get there”. Or, as my mother would say with disarming honesty, “Of course it’s not all worth keeping, dear. I’m just not up to the decision-making”.

      My big dream is to get caught up at work and spend the heat of August Finally. Getting. Organized.

      Umhmmmm….

      Linda

  9. I loved reading this! Were I a sailor (I once carefully avoided that, joining the Marine Corps rather than the Navy), I would want a ditch bag about the size of the Titanic, but with a better lifeboat.

    Interesting, isn’t it, what each of us cherishes most, come a catastrophic event. Here, our biggest issue would be wildfire, and there have been several times over the years that we were close to having to “abandon ship”. Personally, I favor our dog of course, my wallet, a rifle that my Dad gave me many, many years ago, my favorite pistol and my always-loaded hiking pack.

    • montucky,

      Love your comment about a Titanic-sized ditch bag – and the careful addition about the lifeboat. These things do require thought, don’t they?

      I’ve been watching a couple of the current wildfires, remembering last year’s events in Texas. The same dynamics were at play – particularly the suddenness with which people were required to leave. Always, there was the same attentiveness to the animals – cattle, horses, dogs and such were tended to first, before the retrieval of any personal possessions.

      I know a photographer in Kansas who has his own procedures for heading to the storm cellar when a tornado’s been called. The cameras and lenses in waterproof containers go first.

      Linda

  10. Well, I felt I needed to come and see what you were up to!

    I enjoyed reading the “whole” episode having read snippets of it previously. Your writing gets better and better. These words are put together like a beautifully choreographed dance, moving effortlessly from one step to another.

    As a child I had a small box full of my “treasures”, which I still have. It must be decades since I last looked at it: perhaps it is time to open it and re-evaluate what I want to keep and replace with other memories made over the last thirty years.

    Whilst reading I had a vision of many pregnant mothers with their “grab-bags” ready for the go, when the time came to leave.

    • Sandi,

      I love your addition of the pregnant mothers. The slight (?!) difference is that, when they return home, they’ll have had something added to their lives rather than subtracted, but the effects are no less significant! And the need to be prepared is quite the same. I’m suddenly reminded of those cautionary Biblical words: “But about that day or hour no one knows…”

      I do wish I had my “treasure chest” from childhood. It was wooden, quite intricately carved with three decoupaged scenes of the English countryside on the curved top. I used to keep it locked, too!
      Once, my dad persuaded me to open it for him. I still have one of the treasures that was hidden away – a rhinestone bracelet my mother’s dad had given me for Christmas. There’s a story there, too – there’s always a story.

      Thanks for the kind words about my words. If you just keep messing with them enough, sometimes you get lucky and they fall into place!

      Linda

  11. Well, I certainly hope you don’t have to do any abandoning ship this season, Linda.I note that you mention photographs amongst treasured personal items that can be forever lost. This attracted my attention not only as I take photos constantly, but also because I remember reading some time back in a newspaper article that when all has disappeared in some kind of tragedy, most people will say that it’s their photos and wedding rings that were the greatest loss of all. Take care…

    • Andrew,

      That’s exactly why I need to do something so many people have done – scan my important photos and save them to external drives that can be thrown into a bag. The days of keeping photos in shoe boxes is over, and the problems associated with keeping historical photos preserved are significant.

      I don’t know how it is with other phenomena in other places, but hurricanes on the coast are a kind of litmus test for a person’s makeup. Watching people, you can begin to sort out the “If I ignore it, maybe it’ll go away” sorts from the “If I really, really prepare, nothing will happen” contingent. Sympathetic magic is alive and well – and I suspect you know which group I belong in!

      Linda

  12. It’s interesting to see how people in different areas of the country deal with abandon ship season. We Californians are urged to be earthquake ready and have learned to have “bug out bags” and plans for evacuation during fire season. Like Andrew’s comment above, I hope you won’t have to make use of your abandon-ship bags this year!

    • nikkipolani,

      I experienced one tiny shiver of an earthquake in Iowa, and three in California. During the most significant, I watched in fascination as a “wave” rolled through a large room with a tiled floor, raising and lowering the tiles exactly as a wave moves through the ocean. While I was sitting there, I remember thinking both “what is that?” and “should I do something?” simultaneously. Obviously, I hadn’t been in Cali long enough to get with the program yet!

      And sometimes, of course, we need to be prepared to stay put – escape isn’t always possible. As folks around here say, sometimes ad nauseum, “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”. But it helps.

      The great irony is that last year we were praying for a tropical storm to break the drought. Context is everything.

      Linda

      • You’ve hit it — context! I’ve lived in California for around 35 years and it’s still startling when a tremor rolls through. When I’m at work, I think about the last place I saw my flashlight (I have an interior office with no windows). When I’m at home, I wonder if my cats will panic or shrug. So far, they shrug.

        • If only I could teach Dixie Rose the “shrug response” for hurricanes. Well, I’m going to start working on it. At least we may end up the season being able to ride in a car.

  13. No one I read on the internet weaves a story (and here, as often, stories-within-stories) so magically as you do, again and again. Of the most precious things about this particular story is the litany you offer of what is too precious to lose and how that changes over time.

    • Susan,

      That changing-over-time business fascinates me, particularly since what is true for objects also is true for memories. What do we remember, and why? What brings long-hidden memories to the surface? How can memories that have evoked deep emotion for years suddenly seem vapid and barely worth attention?

      It took some time for me to realize objects Mom found incredibly important were meaningless to me because they were reminders of my infancy – I simply had no memory of them. Booties, baby clothes, a lock of hair from my first haircut, and so on – for me, they could have been from anyone’s life. On the other hand, congratulatory cards sent on the occasion of my birth are fun, because I remember knowing the people who sent them.

      One thing’s certain – the objects are important primarily because of the memories they evoke. Listen to people going through old photographs – more often than not, their most frequent question is, “Do you remember when…?”

      Linda

  14. There is much to love in this piece, Linda. It is rich in history and storytelling to be sure, but I love it most because it is rich with YOU. The items you pack tell me so much more about you than anything I could observe in other ways. And really, aren’t the items that we would take with us the things that tell us who we are, what matters, what they represent from our past? So many things have little financial value but oh — what they represent from our history! And those are the things that we simply cannot forget because they connect us to what and who we are, where we came from and what matters. If those stories pass on and out of sight, how can they live on?

    Your mom, for example, will live on long with me, though we never met, because of the stories you have shared along with the lovelies I have from her creative bin! To be able to — at the time of most stress — be able to hold onto your baptismal dress — whether you share the story of it with someone or not — is to help center you in what would be a world of chaos.

    We don’t have the extremes of weather here in Michigan that cause evacuations. Tornadoes are too rapid, we don’t have the hurricanes or other natural disasters that happen with little warning. Still, if I was to evacuate quickly, what would I take? Now that’s good food for thought and meditation — and perhaps someday, after I finish Paris and Greg’s triumph and all of life that’s in my queue — someday, I’ll riff on that one — and I’ll send them back here for a REAL story!

    (I’m looking at posts I’ve missed from you while I’ve been in my dark place. I have a lot of catching up to do!)

    • jeanie,

      It just occurred to me that, in some sense, the vehicle we evacuate in is only a larger version of the abandon-ship bag. Space is limited, and choices must be made. When we hit the road for Rita and Ike, Mom looked at the inside of the car and said, “Well. So this is why I couldn’t bring (whatever it was)…” There was Dixie in her carrier, her scratching post, her china bowl, her food and water dishes, her bag of toys, her litter box and litter, extra food and treats – everything that would be needed to make her feel at home during an extended motel stay.

      Which reminds me it’s time to start our “evacuation drills”. I need to take her for rides in the car on a regular basis. My hope is that will reduce the trauma somewhat. Let’s just say she doesn’t travel well.

      In the end, of course, abandoning any ship – any secure, self-contained world – requires the same kind of preparation and decision making. It’s what makes the move from a decades-long home to an apartment or assisted living facility so hard for so many. What to take, and what to keep? There’s a lifetime to be sorted through.

      Linda

  15. “Abandon Ship Bags” are not just for you seafaring and coastal folk. My cousin and his wife and MIL had to abandon their home Saturday and evacuate themselves, their four horses and 2 dogs to safety due to the Little Bear wildfire now burning in Lincoln National Forest near Capitan NM. Land floods, too. And blows away in tornadoes. I look at it from the point of WOL’s corollary to Murphy’s law — If you have one prepared, you won’t need it.

    • WOL,

      We’re cut from the same cloth on that one. Sometimes I think about preparation more than I actually do it (those pesky digital files come to mind), but I do keep the important papers and documents up to date and at hand, and can move pretty quickly if I have to.

      After all, there’s no reason not to have batteries, lanterns, radios, pre-cut plywood and such hanging around. Oh – and bottled Frappucino. Very nice for those times when you can’t make coffee.

      I’ve had my eye on those fires. We remember last summer all too vividly. My best to your family and their communities.

      Linda

  16. The list of things speaks volumes as to who you are as a person, connected to her ancestors and their histories. It’s a shame that my photo albums have been in storage in another city since one week before Hurricane Rita flooded our home. Now, above the flood plain, I wonder if it isn’t time for them to come home and once again become part of our evacuation treasures as they were prior to 2005.

    Nowadays, the first thing I pack are my external hard drives containing all my unprinted photos and writings. I’m sure you take yours, too!

    • Wendy,

      Absolutely, I take those hard drives, and I need to get them updated, pronto. Evacuation’s not the only problem in that respect. If you think I trust the cloud and WordPress to hold things for me, you would be wrong. The next big project is a hard copy of everything. When the great electromagnetic pulse comes, I want to be ready!

      It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since Rita. I think I could give you a blow-by-blow account of that evacuation. It was traumatic – though hardly matching what you went through. Let’s just hope we make it through another season without having to pull out our best coping skills. Just because we can cope doesn’t mean we want to, if you get my drift. ;)

      Linda

      • Oh honey, I totally get your drift. And ditto every word you said! The 2008 storms just about did me in. Just ask LilSis, and thank God I had her here to make decisions and run interference because I was pretty much numb. I’m hoping for a volunteer who loves the blog so much that he/she will print it for me!!! Yeah, dream on!

        • Tell you what. Once I get my blogs all printed out, I’ll come over and do yours. Actually, I need to follow up on a tip I got from one of the WP forum volunteers about a group that will do a free pdf of your site. Then, you can edit it, send it back and then send you a print-ready pdf. When I find out more about it, I’ll let you know.

          • Now that sounds almost too good to be true! But thanks so much for keeping me in mind. That would be, well, pretty amazing!!! I’m be right here waiting for the news!

            • One of these days, cher!

  17. Beautiful! My Dad always talked about his father’s sailboat and he would look for it every time we passed a marina. It was passed down to his older brother and then sold to another person.

    I just always remember the story of the time they were caught in a storm on the ocean. It sounded absolutely terrifying! But they always laughed at the end about making it back to shore. I suspect they knew in some strange way that they escaped the odds.

    • belle,

      The good news is that there are far, far more storms than there are disasters. Luck and preparation play a role of course – and so do the boats themselves. Leaving a boat too soon can be as much of a mistake as waiting too long. A good boat will take care of her crew and usually does much better in storms than the people involved!

      It’s so easy to get attached to boats. They’re almost living creatures, with their own quirks and personalities. When they’re abandoned and left to die at a dock, they’re heartbreaking to see. I’m glad your family’s sailboat found a good home!

      Linda

      • Me too! My dad grew up on the water so it was hard for him to part with such a beauty and the memories that were made…He always talked about buying a new one but never got the chance.

        • One of the most touching stories I ever read was the story of William F. Buckley, Jr. selling his boat. Sometimes we forget that even the people whose politics we don’t agree with are people, too. I may re-tell that story someday – thanks for the reminder!

          I still see the boat I sailed on for years, now and then. It’s a bittersweet experience – as you say, so many memories. But I’m glad to have them, and truth to tell, I’ve other things I want to do now, so not being on the boat’s just fine.

  18. I had to chuckle when I started reading this, Linda, because just yesterday I wrote a rough draft on big-fish stories for my next V&V post. HA! Talk about timing.

    Your hurricane season reminds me of our tornado season back in Michigan and Wisconsin days. But I don’t recall ever hearing anything about abandon-ship bags! And why is that, I wonder? You’d think they’d be just as important. Hmmmm. Now you’ve got me thinking….

    • Ginnie,

      Perhaps one difference is that people who live in tornado country don’t flee quite so far. When I was at my grandparents’ house and we needed to make a run for the storm cellar, there already were flashlights, water and such there, waiting for us. I suspect my grandmother would have had some money secreted away down there, too, behind her jars of spiced crabapples and canned tomatoes.

      Of course, we were far more sanguine about storms back then. They were part of life. If the sky turned “that shade of green” and the wind suddenly raised up and switched, you’d start thinking about making a run for it – or got the laundry off the line. We didn’t have weather people blathering on all the time that condition were RIPE for a storm, and it COULD be coming, and STAY TUNED TO OUR STATION for the latest updates.

      Weather as a ratings booster is not conducive to good planning. ;)

      Linda

  19. This is really good. All I need to say.

    • Thanks, Martha. I’m really glad you enjoyed it.

      Linda

  20. I enjoyed this as well as informed. I always wondered about the survival of the ones who sailed the seas. A ditch bag. Represents life, it seems. We have faced storms that can quickly turn nasty with a tornado. I’ve lived this way most of my life as I was born and raised in Texas, and I have lived 22 years in Kansas.

    A little town nearby ours was struck in the nighttime by a devastating tornado the end of February. No one was prepared and homes, church, and treasures were blown to bits and across the prairie. One life lost when the house collapsed upon him.

    As the storm approached our way, we were somewhat prepared and ready to dive into the basement. I usually grab my purse, cell phone, flashlights, and camera bag. Trying to get all that and our pets to safety in a hurry is always iffy. We do our best. There is no way I can save all my treasures scattered throughout our old two-story house. My mom used to grab certain photo albums when going for cover during a storm. I truly hate being in the basement beneath the house listening to the wail of the tornado siren and howling wind.

    Anyway, thinking about your post, I haven’t been on a sailboat but I have been deep sea fishing in the Gulf and sailed on an aircraft carrier on the Atlantic ocean. Way young then, I didn’t think about survival, just the adventure.

    Great post!

    • Anna,

      When I think about my first offshore voyage, I just shudder. I’d no more do now what I did then than – well, than anything. It was rather seat-of-the-pants, shall we say. But nothing bad happened, I learned a lot, and ended up thinking what I’d just experienced was normal. I got over my fear in a hurry. Like you, I just thought about the adventure.

      One big difference between hurricanes and tornados is that we have a “season”. Everyone blathers on about it ad nauseum, and people end up being aware, if not prepared. Tornados are so unpredictable and sporadic, it’s hard to stay aware. Of course there are times of the year when they’re more common – spring and fall – but they can pop up when they’re least expected.

      Was that the Harveyville tornado you mentioned? I remember that outbreak – I was being nervous on behalf of some cousins in Wichita and Olathe. I’ll say this – having the internet is a double-edged sword. Having so much information is good. Having so much information also raises the anxiety level – but not as much as having one of those things show up in the back forty!

      Linda

  21. Anna and I don’t have a grab bag. When tornadoes surround us we basically just make sure we are dressed and wearing shoes. I make sure I have my wallet and keys and that is about it. What really worries me to no end is our pets during such storms. After towns are ravaged by tornadoes hardly ever do you hear about the pets. You might see one old man holding a dog, but what of the pets that were lost. I guess if I could, my grab bag would hold all my pets. However if a storm took my home, my main concern would be the welfare of the family and my pets, the heck with the rest of the stuff.

    • Preston!

      Lookie here! I found the disappeared comment. It had landed in the spam file. I’ve no idea how it happened, but I’m glad I found it.

      Wallet and keys, clothes and shoes – check. The only thing I add is contact lenses. But yes – the pets are a problem. After our big hurricanes, the SPCA and other animal rescue organizations did such wonderful work in reuniting pets and owners. It really was heartwarming. I had a stray kitty named Calliope I was caring for, and when Ike came I had to leave her. I gave a bag of food to some neighbors who would be back before I would be, and sure enough, after the storm she showed up, and they kept her well until I got back home. Where she had weathered that storm, I’ll never know – but she did.

      We’ll just hope we don’t have to worry about such this year. One year at a time…

      Linda

  22. Drats I made a reply and lost it somehow. I commented saying how I worry so for my pets during such storms and how I have no personal belongings I couldn’t live without.

    • Preston,

      Oh, it’s so hard to deal with the animals, isn’t it? My poor kitty is such a good girl when we have to evacuate, but she’s terrified. I always wish I could really talk to her – I also wish she wouldn’t hiss and bite!

      One of the best tips I ever got was to crate her if we’re under serious tornado watches or warnings. That way, I don’t have to catch here if things get really serious. I know where she’d be – under the bed, and unreachable.

      And as you say – there’s nothing I couldn’t live without. On the other hand, if a little caution keeps a few memories, the effort is worth it.

      Sorry about the lost reply. That happens to me from time to time – it’s frustrating!

      Linda

  23. This post arrested my attention from first word to last. To someone who usually keeps his feet on firm land and who lives in a state with a narrow range of weather events, there’s a kind of irresistible taste of danger in your stories. William Bligh. Ernest Shackleton. French Charlie!

    • Charles,

      If French Charlie still were with us, he’d take your words as the highest sort of compliment – no question. It’s a fact that the waterfront is filled with characters, and he was one – he seemed to be utterly bereft of what we mere mortals call common sense. He knew it, and laughed about it.

      Glad to have kept your attention. I’m about halfway through the saga of the camels, and am finding that pretty compelling, too.

      Linda

  24. Superb read, as always!

    • Maria,

      What a delight to see you! And thank you for your very kind words. I trust your day was a good one – it must have been relaxing if you’ve had time to visit!

      Here’s hoping you’ve had your share of the weather nasties for the year and can enjoy the rest of the summer!

      Linda

  25. It is that time of year – we’ve got a couple of bins loaded and ready to grab. (And stuff that there’s no room for fixed as water tight as possible in watertight bins wedge high in a closet with hope just maybe those will manage, too)

    Lots of memories lugging stuff off boats down docks ahead of storms – we used to have an ancient Jeep Wagoneer that could go anywhere – kept just as a vehicle to get back to the boat as soon as possible to check. Batten down the hatches – it’s storm season

    (Did Hess mention any staking for the oak? Cables to 4 loaded dump trucks?)

    • phil,

      That time, indeed. I thought we might have ourselves a little action this week, at least in the form of rain, but things seem to be doing what a weather-geek-friend of mine calls “pooficating”. That’s weather lingo, right there.

      Getting ready for storms is such a strange experience – a combination of anxiety and excitement. I’ll never forget stepping back to look at my handiwork the first time I had to tie down a boat by myself. It looked for all the world like a nautical version of Charlotte’s web – who knew there were so many creative uses for lines?

      And of course, there always are those few who hope they’ll be taken out and end up with an insurance check. Unfortunately, they can take out others, too – which is why people patrol the docks, looking for single sets of half-inch lines on 40′ boats. ;)

      In the euphoria of the moment, I didn’t even think of asking Hess about storm season. That suggestion about the dump trucks is a good one. I did go down last night and have a look – they surely did a beautiful job. There’s obviously plenty of mulch, a grand drip irrigation system and what appear to be moisture meters.

      One of the other fellows said that the hole was prepped in such a way that the tree slowly would sink down – it is a little higher than the surrounding ground now. I read somewhere that there already was growth finding its way through the cracks in the box. That’s a very good sign.

      Linda

      • Yes, they are supposed to plant high – the plant’s roots are supposed to pull it down….and of course around here -everything sinks into the soil.
        Your description of storm lines on boats is perfect – now that would make a creative photo journal…storm dock lines I have loved…(yeah the worry is “orphan boats” with owners that would de happy if they break loose, crack up, or sink
        Enjoy the rainy break!

        • Not much enjoyment when there’s a shed to work in! But plenty of enjoyment on behalf of Ye Olde Oake. Don’t you just know it was wriggling its little rooty toes with joy? Looks like they got about a half-inch over there with no wind. Perfect!

          I love your idea for the photo essay, but let’s put it off for a while, ‘k? I’m not in the mood to stand storm watch this year!

  26. I know you are in deadly earnest and ‘abandon ship’ is not a joke, but you still managed to make it all sound so very romantic.

    I have no abandon ship bag; it’s time I had one, I think. No hurricanes and the house is firmly fixed to its foundations, but you never know what could happen. I shall collect my little treasures and stow them safely. Perhaps this will also be a good opportunity, a) to remind myself, and b) get rid of useless ballast.

    • friko,

      Well, you know how it is. When it comes to things like “abandon ship”, we’re earnest ahead of time, and afterward, if we’re not dead, we joke! And of course, a little distance and lack of familiarity can make anything seem a touch romantic. Your village life seems utterly romantic to me, in a let’s-go-wander-the-moors sort of way. And yet, I’m sure it can be just as “daily” as what I experience here.

      The little-bag-ready-to-go is good for everyone, I think. I’ve trained myself to keep my true valuables very close to the abandon-ship bag, in one place. If a fire were to break out, I wouldn’t have to run all over the place looking for things – getting the cat would be enough trouble, I think!

      And that culling’s a good exercise. Even if everything stays, going through the process has value.

      Linda

  27. Although I now live in Central TX — I still have family southwest of New Orleans — I am always mindful of hurricane season, and breathe a sigh of relief at its end! Thank you for sharing! :D

    • becca,

      And there’s reason for you to be mindful, even in central Texas – sometimes hurricanes like to stop by your part of the country, too, in the form of flooding rains and tornados. We’ll hope we get through this one without any real nastiness but with some nice rains for everyone!

      My family up in the midwest always suggests I should come up for a visit in August, when the weather’s so hot and humid here. They don’t quite get the reluctance to travel during August-September, the height of hurricane season. I’ll wait to hit the road until after that sigh of relief’s been breathed!

      Linda

  28. Linda, I must admit my ignorance and lack of preparation for any emergency. This is the first time I read about this ‘abandon ship bag’, at sea or on land. On a deeper level, you’ve also inferred metaphorically, what are the most important things in one’s life. I can’t imagine living under the threats of natural disasters all the time, like a ‘hurricane season’. I wish you all the best with boats and life as the season arrives.

    • Arti,

      It’s really interesting to see how people cope with hurricane season. My own ways of coping have changed substantially over the years, and I suppose I’d have to describe my own change as a movement from obsessive fear to acceptance. During Alicia in 1983, I was living inland in Houston, and never had set foot on a boat. After 1990, when I landed on Galveston Bay and found my life and work centered on the water, it took a while to make some adjustments.

      It’s just not right for a hurricane post to omit Jimmy Buffett, and this tune’s perfect. “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” is what we all do, and Jimmy gave it a voice. Be sure to watch it all the way through – the audio’s from a live concert, and Buffett’s comments at the end are really funny.

      Linda

  29. We don’t have hurricanes or tornadoes–just snow and wind in the winter and hot weather in the summer–nothing to cause an evacuation. But I’ve often thought, what would I grab if there were a fire, or even an earthquake, which is possible here in Central Washington, just south of a fault.
    Tucked securely in my mother’s cedar chest is her blue knit ice skating skirt, her high school yearbook from 1926, her pink chiffon wedding dress from 1935, … and more.

    But what is most precious to me are the photos of my son and the family. You have given me the great idea to pack a briefcase with the most precious of those photos… In an emergency, I would grab the briefcase and my computer and run.

    Loved the sailing stories. I long to live by the water again.

    • Martha,

      And you know, there’s something else very interesting about my little packed bag. Some of the items in there – for example, three framed valentines that belonged to my grandmother – usually hang on the wall. When I pack them away during The Season, their absence is more noticeable than their presence during the rest of the year. When I put them back up, I’m very much more aware of them for a month or so, until they become just part of the furnishings again.

      Whether absence makes the heart grow fonder I can’t say, but occasional absence certainly does seem to make me more aware of what surrounds me. And the yearly evaluation – what’s really important around here? – is certainly useful.

      Living by the water’s great, but one of these days I’ll have to pick up and go. I’ve no desire to be evacuating for hurricanes when I’m 80 years old! On the other hand, maybe I’ll be one of those old idiots just sitting on the front porch saying, “I’ll either make it or I won’t.”

      Linda

  30. I’m not much of a sailor but I love the sea. I and Jojang spent our honeymoon in a beach, and I just love being lulled to sleep by the sound of the lapping of waves on the seashore!

    I wonder why? But I now remember: my grandfather was a sea captain who sailed around the world. In his house, plastered in the wall near the door, was a sign with his name, and below his name the words “Master Mariner” was written.

    I was quite struck that you mentioned Hemingway’s book “The Old Man and the Sea.” I’ve been thinking about him lately after watching the film “Hemingway and Gellhorn” last week. I haven’t really read his books, but I think I’ll read him one of these days, starting with “The Old Man and the Sea.”

    ~ Matt

    • Matt,

      “Master Mariner” is impressive. When I think of the captains I know, the pilots, the life-long sailors, all share the same qualities: long experience, extensive knowledge, good judgment. Well, and love of the sea.

      I like being near the sea as much as on it. I think the rhythms are part of it, the sound of those waves. One of my favorite poems begins, “The tide rises, the tide falls…”. It does capture sea-movement beautifully.

      I’m currently reading Paul Hendrickson’s “Hemingway’s Boat”. It was recommended to me recently, and it’s a fine read. I think you’d like it.

      Linda

      • Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to go out to the sea with my grandfather, except on one occasion. By the time I was born he was retired, working as a harbor pilot. I remember, one time, when I was still a kid, he took me with him on a small motor boat, so that he could go out to the sea to board this big tanker to guide it to the city’s harbor. I could still remember vividly that the it was a rainy day, somewhat stormy, and the waves were a little bit stronger than the usual – rocking our small motor boat. Needless to say, I was just happy to be with him, and never really worried about the bad weather.

        I read the free excerpts of “Hemingway’s Boat” (It’s available on Amazon.com). You’re right – it’s a great read! I’ll definitely get hold of the book (actually the ebook :-)). Thank you, Linda, for recommending the book to me…

        ~ Matt

        • Here’s something else I think you might enjoy. Louis Vest is a Houston Ship Pilot, and a terrific photographer. You can find a gallery of his marine photos here. I never get tired of looking at them – partly because they’re so beautiful and interesting, and of course partly because they’re my “neighborhood”.

          I’m glad you found “Hemingway’s Boat” of interest, too. Enjoy!

          • A beautiful collection of photos! My favorite is the collection on “Harbor Life & Piloting.” It brings back good memories. Thanks for the link, Linda…

            ~ Matt

  31. When I was a little girl I was a worrier. I would lie awake nights making lists. What would I need to get by? Matches, fishhooks, a knife. Warm socks. I didn’t think about saving memories – I didn’t have very many, and even those were safely in my grandmother’s keeping.

    Over the decades I accumulated great dusty heaps of memories. Mostly I like pawing through the bits and pieces. They make a pleasant clicking sound as they tumble around – like one of those bamboo rainsticks. But I’m with Preston – I can let go of all that. Comes the Great Disaster, I will dress, put on my warm socks and my shoes, load up the dogs, the cat, some kibble and some water, and go. I’ll probably pick up something idiotic on my way out the door, and have to pitch it somewhere down the road. We’ll either make it or . . . we’ll make it.

    • Gerry,

      Ah, matches. I never worried much as a child until someone had the bright idea to read “The Little Match Girl” to me. It took a while to get over that one.

      It’s easy enough to say “I can let go of all that”, but it’s quite something else to pull the door shut, lock it, get in the car and go, not having a clue if you’ll have anything left in four or five days.
      I’ve come to appreciate that about hurricanes, though – at least they give you time to get away, unlike earthquake, tornado or wildfire.

      But you’re exactly right. Most people make it, mostly because the helping gene kicks in when difficult circumstances level the playing field.

      Linda

  32. My abandon ship bag contains a first aid kit, a good knife and multi-tool, water proof matches, two bungee cords, and three cookies in a sealed bag. Of course the last one is the most important.


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