The Storm of the Century: A Sailing Story

By Elizabeth Prata

Storm of the Century, March 1993. I was living on my sailboat, and I was in it. The arrow shows where.

I was saved at age 42, and before that I traveled a lot. I lived on a sailboat for two years, traveling about 10,000 nautical miles (with another 2000 miles on a speedboat delivery). As they say, "A lot of blue water under my keel."

We left on our first voyage in October 1992. In March of 1993, we were anchored at Georgetown Bahamas, where we experienced the Storm of the Century

The anchor as seen at night, through clear Bahamian waters, 20 feet down!
It was convenient to be able to see that it was set well. Note the ripples the
chain made in the sand as the boat at anchor sways gently to and fro.

In this from the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, we read the article Lost at Sea:
They called it the "storm of the century." ... that unnamed freak March tempest killed as many people in Florida as Hurricane Andrew and left $500 million in damage, even dropping snow in the Panhandle, by the time it finally moved out of Florida. It took with it a 40-foot sailing ketch called Charley's Crab. No scrap, no bit of flotsam, no article of clothing was ever found from that boat, and after two desperate SOS calls, the four people who were sailing it just off the coast of Palm Beach were never seen or heard from again.
The storm continued to wreak havoc as a record-breaking blizzard as it moved up the east coast of the United States and into Nova Scotia. NOAA Weather:
The Superstorm of 1993 (also called the Storm of the Century) was one of the most intense mid-latitude cyclones ever observed over the Eastern United States. The storm will be remembered for its tremendous snowfall totals from Alabama through Maine, high winds all along the East coast, extreme coastal flooding along the Florida west coast, incredibly low barometric pressures across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, and for the unseasonably cold air that followed behind the storm. In terms of human impact the Superstorm of 1993 was more significant than most landfalling hurricanes or tornado outbreaks and ranks among the deadliest and most costly weather events of the 20th century. (source)
Wikipedia specifically mentions the derecho winds:
The squall line produced a serial derecho as it moved into Florida and Cuba [and The Bahamas, Ed. Note] shortly after midnight on March 13. Straight-line winds gusted above 100 mph at many locations in Florida as the squall line moved through. The supercells in the derecho produced eleven tornadoes.
Today's point, is the anchor.

In gentler times, pulling the anchor up at dawn, another day of sailing
the Intracoastal Waterway.

1993 was before the internet and cell phones. GPS was very new and few sailors had it. Yet the sailing network still worked. We had been dithering about anchoring outside the harbor a little ways off behind a small island, really a sand bar hump, that had a lone palm tree. If we had followed through with that decision we might have died. As we came back in to the harbor from our day sailing, we heard the weather buzz over the VHF radio. The chatter about the coming storm was pitched and nearly manic. I heard one mariner say "I'VE NEVER SEEN ISOBARS THIS CLOSE TOGETHER!!"

The severe weather talk prompted us to set two anchors instead of one. We took it seriously.

As we further learned of the severity of the storm, I suggested that we set a third anchor. We possessed a third anchor but it wasn't attached to the rope (rode) yet. We normally used the CQR as the main anchor and the Danforth as the backup #2 each night. The third, a Bruce, was the spare for emergencies. I considered this an emergency.

My husband got busy and attached the anchor to the rope and set the third. We'd set the two anchors as if the wind would come from the prevailing direction for the season, north-northwest. The harbor was very large, it could hold up to 400 boats in peak season. It was peak season. There were many, many boats anchored around us.

Storms in that location usually come in from the north-northwest. However as this unusual storm with its unusual derecho swept over the peninsula of Florida, the Gulf Stream, and then western Bahamian Islands, it became obvious this was a storm that didn't adhere to anything "normal." It came not from the north, the usual winter storm pattern, but from the west.

Then we waited. The storm came.

As boaters anchored ahead of us were hit with the wind we heard them yelling into their VHS radios, reporting data from their anemometers. The wind only increased as it swept over the harbor.

"It's 50 miles an hour!"

"It's 75 miles an hour!"

"It blew out the anemometer at 98 miles an hour!"

My husband looked at me wide eyes. Without a word, he turned on the engine. We needed all the help we could by motoring into the wind, receiving pressure on the anchors. We had to stay in our anchored spot and not drag and slam into other boats as the wind pushed us around.

I heard it before I saw it. A terrible train sound increasing in its unearthly roar even as it blackened the horizon and roiled toward us at unbelievable speed. I think of the King in Daniel 5:6 as he saw a human hand appear out of nowhere and begin to write something on the wall

Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.

This unbelievable wind, it seemed like a monster, a clawing, gobbling thing intent on devouring the yachts in its path like matchsticks, coming toward us. The last thing I heard before it hit was the incredulity in one yachtsman's voice:


It hit. Our sailboat had a full cast iron keel from bow to stern, weighing 7,000 pounds. Our boat overall weighed 23,000 pounds. For its 37' size it is considered a heavy and substantial boat. The derecho hit us on broadside and slammed us over like a baby in a tub dunking a rubber ducky. Our side rail hit the water and as we righted, two of the anchors popped loose. My husband had gunned the engine to full speed, but we made no headway to relieve the wind's pressure on the third anchor. All our prayers were on that last anchor. One thin rope ending in one metal anchor is all we had between us and destruction.

Boats all around us were dragging. Some were dragged by the insane wind onto the beach. Others were dragged into each other, masts tangling and rigging twining together. My husband and I stood the storm shoulder to shoulder, engine at full throttle, leaning into the wind squinting into the black. Just clutching the wheel and hoping. There was nothing else we could do in the face of such awesome power.

The derecho passed over. The boat righted. The wind remained strong and we stayed on deck tending to all the things we needed to in order to stay afloat. Eventually the worst wind passed and left behind a week of blowy winds, still pinning us down. Thankfully, we were unscathed but many boats sustained damage, even though we were anchored in the safest harbor for miles. We heard that the sailboat Charley's Crab (Florida restaurant owner) on its way across the Gulf Stream was lost, a tugboat and a freighter were lost at sea, too. Overall 48 people on the sea were reported missing. The Coast Guard rescued 160 people at sea. 270 people died on land.

That one little anchor, that one thin line, is all that saves you in a storm. It's all that keeps you in one place at night when you pull down the sails and anchor in place. You go to sleep knowing that the anchor has to hold. Otherwise as you sleep, your boat could be dashed upon the rocks or swept to sea.

Christ has meaning for me as The Sure and Steady Anchor. He is the one sure thing, the one place to clutch onto in a storm. The one place where at calm, you remain rooted in the spot. I will hold fast to the anchor. We are blessed to have Jesus as our anchor, the Rock of our faith.

Matt Boswell and Matt Papa are authors of this song. Matt Papa's website is here

This post first appeared on The End Time in July 2017.


  1. I have really enjoyed and appreciated the analogies of your sailing stories.

    1. awww, thank you! I'm so glad you were encouraged by them!


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