Monday, August 29, 2011

Cruiser News

Mom sent us a most alarmist email a few days ago about an earthquake in the eastern part of the United States, drought in Texas, flooding from a hurricane hitting the Eastern sea board. She wanted to let us know that, oddly enough, California was doing fine. This comes as a surprise for several reasons. First, California is a natural disaster magnet. It would hardly be unusual to hear that the Golden State was suffering a flood, a fire, and an earthquake all on its own. Simultaneously. Second, we felt absolutely no connection or familiarity to the news.

When we lived in New Zealand, DrC and I regularly kept track of the doings in the United States. I rotated DrC through several RSS readers on his iPad before he settled on Flip as his preferred way to keep abreast of the news of the day. Every morning, he'd sync up his news feeds and then head off for the train. I received my news through my ear buds, downloading podcasts from NPR, BBC, Slate and the New Zealand Herald. Whenever we wanted a bit more detail, we'd head for Google News and start drilling down into the source stories. However, it is true that with time he and I both became less and less interested in U.S. news and devoted increasing amount of time to world news headlines and those for the United States. Even so, we had a basic familiarity with the major stories of the day in the U.S. It's hard to be a good world citizen without knowing what the largest economic and military country in the world is up to. I suspect our perspective and mix of news was growing more typical of folks who live in NZ, Australia, Europe or Canada.

Out here in the middle of the Pacific, our news is all self-referential. We live in small town made up of about 250 families scattered from the Tuamotus to New Caledonia. Despite a square mileage measuring in the millions, our community is very tiny and doesn't really care all that much about the "outside world." Our "paper" consists of maybe one headline with local news and five pages of weather. News like the earth quake on the east coast comes to us late, if at all, and it appears on the second page below the fold. Out here, we like the comics and the puzzles, but we don't care much about the sports page and the financial page is only useful for those who still have money in the market instead of their boats. The only really important topic is the weather. With regular monotony, everyone pulls down weather information and then begins the artistic phase of divination.

Sometimes we share other news. Usually, our stories are of the happy sort. Boats leaving Bora Bora and heading for Aitutaki. Other boats having such a great time in Suvarrow they are having trouble leaving. A friend dropping off a nephew and picking up a son in American Samoa. Loose Pointer getting a new windlass. Sometimes the news is simply awful. Two boats lost on reefs in the past two weeks. Connect 4 rips out a main. Java loses a rudder and engine on reef near Sabu Sabu. It even starts to sound like headlines when you put it like that, but let's be honest. No one cares but us. And the feeling is mutual.

The east coast hurricane was for us a slightly different bit of news. After all, this was not just a weather story, but a weather story at sea. I'm sure Don Quixote was not the only boat taking advantage of our highly developed ability to get detailed information about weather conditions anywhere in the world to learn more about the hurricane's progress. You would be amazed how much a sailor could tell you about that storm just by looking at the GRIBS, weather, and coastal alerts. For example, without reading the headlines (since we can't), I'm betting there is very little wind damage, particularly north of Maryland. That doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. If Australia last year taught us nothing else, it taught us that flooding can be the real danger in storms like these. It looks like significant storm surge, some big waves along the coastline, and a godawful amount of rain. But as a wind storm, Irene just isn't. To put it in context, during Jimena (Cat3/4) in Santa Rosalia, we saw sustained winds in the low 90s while Irene is hovering in the 30s and 40s with gusts in the 50s. That's just a bad day off the New Zealand coastline. Hmm. Well, we'll learn whether we called the GRIBS correctly when Mom sends more news tomorrow.

But on to more salient news... Frank and Gail are finally getting off Palmerston today, en route to Niue with Catacaos. A new flock of boats is leaving Bora Bora now that the wind has moderated over the dangerous middle. The southerly swell caused damage to bungalows and the marina in Tahiti. Duty free fuel is available at the dock in Nieafu. Anyone looking to trade one bottle of Red Label scotch for two bottles of crappy rum, contact Toast on the evening net.


Pat said...

I understand where you're coming from totally, but in our part of coastal NC the winds were a lot more than 35-40. We have friends who lost their boats. We have friends who lost their homes. We are grateful for our lives. I don't have TV or power right now but the internet which we've had for part of the storm has reported as if this was just part of life for NC. Unfortunately we do get the brunt of these storms more often than those more northern states but it is very, very real to us.

Anonymous said...

Karen: Your Toast! 40 people died in Hurricane Irene. Storm surge was 4-10 feet. Jimena was briefly a Cat 1 when she arrived in Santa Rosalia. Irene was a Cat 1/2 when it NC and stayed that way to north of DC. This is just a bad day off the NZ coast? BS!

Jody said...

Karen, I rarely post comments these days anywhere, but you need to read Masters. It is a nightmare in NC and Vermont. They had sustained winds of over 90mph and gusts to 115. This is HUGELY inhabitated area. It took Irene 11 hours to cross eastern NC. She made 3 landfalls. NC, NJ, and NY. The town of Lindenhurst(pop 28,000)was mostly underwater from the storm surge. The people all along these areas are still without electricity and water, and it is HOT. Their homes have been destroyed. One of our friends flew back home to see if he still had a house and can maybe help others(he has a tractor and other big equipment). The storm surge was huge. Some areas received 20" of rain in a single day. You about came undone with winds that heavy in Mex. That is some scary shit. Jimena made landfall as a Cat 1 with winds of 105mph. What she is offshore is yesterdays news... what matters is what they are when they crash into the coast. Go look at the size of this storm on radar. I get what you are saying. We don't do the paper anymore, and only watch the weather channel. But, there has been significant devastation and people are hurting badly. Don't get too disconnected with humanity....that would be dangerous. Just sayin'.

NatGeoWannaBe said...

Here in NY/CT your forecast was close to spot on. Not a heck of a lot of wind damage (mostly trees - not many roofs). Having said that - because of a lack of recent major storms in the area there were significant amount of damage to the electricity infrastructure (from trees falling on wires). We JUST got back power after 3 days....and we were one of the first in our town (which was 85% out at the peak).

You are correct in saying TONS of rain. Vermont and upper NY is essentially a giant bathtub right now...slowly draining. NJ is/was pretty socked too.

All in all, though, I'd rank Irene towards the middle/bottom of the severity scale in terms of hurricanes. Unless, of course, I were one of the ones who perished or lost property....then I'd rank it at the top.

As far as being 'not connected' - i think it's normal. I'm sure you feel the same way about hurricane/earthquake reports on the east coast of the U.S. as most here do about typhoons ravaging Indonesia. It's interesting to read about when you come across the stories, but has little impact on your day to day.

Amy said...

I understand your point of loosing contact with perspective with our news. It is normal. It's not that you don't care. We were in NY and came 8 inches from disaster. If the storm surge hit an hour later at high tide or was a little higher, we would have floated free from the pilings along with the docks and at least 60 other boats.

Toast said...

I must have sounded callous. But ask yourself Nat and Amy's question: if this event hadn't taken place in my background, would I really care? Truly? Deeply? Do you care about the 200 lost in Christchurch or the 20K lost in Japan? Are you a bad person because those billions of dollars and broken lives just don't register deeply? I don't think so. Am I bad person because the loss of Riri means a great deal more to me than the loss of boats in North Carolina? No. If one of my cruising friends is parked on that exact same dock, and I get email saying their boat is destroyed, will my entire attitude change? Of course. But ... don't hate on that attitude of remoteness. It is probably healthy and absolutely necessary.

I think NatGeoWannaBe has captured the essence of it. The remoteness of disasters halfway around the world is insulation. Amy is right... it's not that I don't care, it's that ... well... I don't care. If we care about every flood, disaster, loss of life, lost boat... if we care about all of them, we'll all go mad very quickly. We have to limit our deep feeling to the one that is right in front of us. We have to spare our energy, our support, our love, our aid for the people in our reach who can benefit from those direct thoughts and efforts.

I'm not going to play whose hurricane is nastier. People die in all of them. 40 some odd died in Queensland this year from cyclone flooding so it doesn't surprise me at all to hear the same of Irene. Nasty weather and people are not a good combination no matter where you put them together. The thing to remember about all of these storms is that the broader statistics hide details just as weather forecasts and GRIBS only tell you averages. Any experienced sailor can tell you that the phrase "local conditions may vary" is ubiquitous.

Trust me when I tell you that 'category' status means little. If you are on the dock in a Cat 1 with the wind indicator reading 70 - 90 for nearly 8 hours, it's very little comfort to read in MSNBC that your storm is only a little one with winds of 40 on your exact spot. Ask those folks on coastal NC who saw much higher winds hit their particular part of the coast during Irene.