Living in what many consider paradise, working at the base of the historic Seven Mile Bridge I get waves of envious comments from guests and travelers. The number one question I get is ‘where are you from?’ They take bets on my Midwestern accent to guess my origin. Once they find out I’m a Michigander, my favorite question is prompted- ‘How on earth did you end up here?!’
This is where it gets fun- my response is almost rehearsed now considering how many times I’ve told the story to my patrons. The short of it is we were stranded here! We were actually headed for Savannah but we got struck by lightning on a sailboat. So I guess fate decided where we were going to end up. My fiancé and I decided ‘no kids, no mortgage, let’s GO!’ So we drove 5000 miles around the U.S., and hopped on my mom and step-dad’s sailboat in Boca Raton for a trip to the Dry Tortugas. We pulled into Boot Key Harbor to visit my best friend and within 30 minutes of dropping anchor we were struck by lightning. So we jumped on land, found jobs and an apartment, and left my parents to limp their way back up to Boca.
When we arrived in Marathon, it was the most beautiful sunny day that could welcome us to the Florida Keys. My parents had been here on the boat before and were confident and comfortable with our anchorage spot. My fiancé and I were so intrigued and excited by the sights, we were shining as bright as the sun! Mom and Dad ran around the boat doing their routine while we stayed out of the way and watched a dark cloud form nearby. We had learned by the chaotic scramble of battening down the hatches and closing in the cockpit that it comes quickly and unexpected here in Florida, and it gets stuffy very quickly in this heat. So while you want to wait until the last second, most of the time it’s not by choice. Dad had commented that nothing had shown on the radar on our way in- ‘this is what they call a pop-up storm.’ This baby wasn’t blowing in over the Atlantic, it formed and disappeared right over the Harbor. The look on my face reminded them about my life long fear of thunder and lightning, while I reminded myself about the bottle of wine in the fridge.
Then things got weird. Out of nowhere was a ferocious downpour, blowing sideways and hitting the boat with such force that you had to yell over it to hear each other. ‘What on earth is he doing?!’ Dad heads out of the cockpit with his swim trunks and a loofa and proceeds to shower on the bow of the boat! While the others are taking pictures and laughing at his spontaneous need for a bath (surely deserved after three days on a limited water supply) I was getting nervous about the growing thunder and frequency of flashes in the sky.
They say if you’re afraid of heights, jump out of a plane. Face your fears and conquer them!! They’re ridiculous. I stayed in the cockpit trying to downplay my terror in the presence of others, and hopefully gain a bit of courage in the process. My anxiety took over and I realized I had nowhere to run. The lightning would make my hair stand up and the responding thunder would send my shoulders up to my ears. As it intensified, I would jump and cower at each ear splitting crack. I retreated to the salon where I stuck my fingers in my ears, squeezed my eyes shut and rocked back and forth like a small child. Hugging a pillow and tears streaming down my face, my mother laughed at me and said ‘honey, I didn’t realize you were that scared of it.’ ‘You people are crazy not to be!’ I yelled. We didn’t get storms like this in Michigan. The rumbles turned into booms as they got closer, you get one good crack as it is overhead, then you hear the rumbles again as it moves on into the distance. This beast was incessant, I couldn’t even remove my fingers from my ears before the next one would send them thrusting deeper into my ear canal. The scene from War of the Worlds kept going through my head as Tom Cruise and his kids are huddled under the table in the kitchen while the lightning struck over and over again, and the kid screams out “why won’t it STOP!?”.
It finally seemed to dissipate a bit, with longer space between the moments of my imminent death. I stood at the bottom of the companion way still flinching with each boom, afraid to touch anything around me. My mom stood in the cockpit above me looking out on the rain. I don’t recall if we were in conversation, all I remember is the brightest bright and the loudest loud that froze us both in place. Her head cocked to the side with the ear splitting crackle and I listened as unidentified pieces hit the canvas above her. ‘Dean! We have shrapnel!’ I yelled. I thought for sure the boat next to us had been struck, for I never dreamed that we could get zapped by immeasurable amounts of electricity and not at least feel it, let alone live through it. They boys started looking at electronics on the boat, discovering that in fact it was US that was hit! In fear and confusion, I’m pretty sure I spouted some comments to the crew reminding them of the dangers and chastising their lack of trepidation- insert a few expletives in there and you get the idea.
After the storm we were able to locate the pieces that were blown from the mast and assess the amount of damage done to the electronics on the boat. I was physically exhausted from the ordeal, my entire body aching from tensing every muscle I didn’t know I had. I scrambled shakily to the cockpit after pounding mine and my fiancé’s glass of wine and was greeted by a full rainbow touching from the Atlantic to the mangroves.
God’s reminder, they say. Aside from my aching shoulders and the ringing in my mother’s ear, we were safe and unharmed, but we couldn’t say the same for S/V Our Way Too!
The long of it is much more complicated as you would assume. My parents endured emotional and financial stress that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. But, I now live next door to my best friend (that had tried to convince me to move to Marathon before we decided on Savannah) and we can look back and laugh about what we’ve affectionately named Hurricane Erin. My best friend has always been able to control situations to get her way, now we know she too can control the weather. A blessing in disguise with where we are today, but also the massive (and continual) improvements S/V Our Way Too! has undergone. She protected us and kept us safe, and for that I am forever grateful to her. The 2014 storm season is said to have broken records in Florida for lightning strikes, as we even experienced as land lovers. Everything in our house is now on a surge protector, and yes, I still cower in the fetal position with my fingers in my ears riding the storms out under the sheets.