Report on the events on the SY "WHITE EAGLE
before, during and after the passage of hurricane "LUIS" (03.09 - 14.09. 1995)
(Photos from the Damage Report (in German) by Jens Cornelsen: see end of this page here)
LUIS for EGL 100
English Composition by Dr. Mc Dermott
Ernst-Werner Arendt , 09 / 23 / 1996
The painful realization that God doesn’t exist, wipes out the term ‘fate’.
But it is arrogant not to believe in any fate,
and it is madly erroneous to claim
that we are the constructors of our existence :
if you don’t believe in fate,
you make life only an accumulation of lost chances,
and you are mourning the loss of
what has not happened, but could have happened,
what has not been done, but could have been done,
and the present is wasted,
because you make it a lost chance too.
Oriana Fallaci, A MAN [My translation of the German edition "Ein Mann"]
“The center of the hurricane was located at 0300 UTC [Universal Time Coordinated] in position 18 degrees 2 minutes North and 60 degrees 7 minutes west, with maximum sustained winds of 130 knots and gusts to 175 knots, now moving towards the northwest at 11 knots“, the voice from the VHF-radio [Very High Frequency, a maritime band for transmitting and receiving] in my charthouse monotonously proclaimed like a message from another world to a planet which didn’t seem to exist any longer. “Thanks so far, but what is the position of the island right now ?“ one chap replied, trying to turn the hopelessness of the situation into English black humor.
‘Right now’ was the 5th of September 1995, and ‘the island’ was the Caribbean Leeward Island of St. Martin, which by that time was supposed to be right under the eye of the hurricane.
‘The hurricane’ was LUIS, classified by the National Hurricane Center in Miami as a ‘deadly storm’. ’My charthouse’ was still on the „WHITE EAGLE“ and in the present fury of nature this in itself couldn’t be taken for granted. She was a majestic 122ft. classic gaff-cutter that I used to skipper previously during my leaves from the merchant fleet.
At this moment I felt centuries must have passed since the time we were sitting in the „Soggy Dollar“, right on the docks of Simpson Bay Lagoon. During the past few days the bar had been crowded with all sorts of yachtsmen, magnetized by the weather channel and watching LUIS steadily proceeding and gathering strength on his easterly track over the ocean. Three ‘big ones’ were out there now, but none as tremendous as he. ‘LUIS’, begins with the twelfth letter of the alphabet; therefore he was already the twelfth in the line of tropical storms this season. Showing the whirls of white clouds on the bright shining blue of the ocean, these TV pictures gave him a kind of esthetic appearance rather than revealing his growing violence. The audience felt entertained. Until now LUIS was only a monster in a box, an illusion far away in the eternity of the ocean. The TV cabinet, nailed to a pillar and appearing as if it would fall down just from the wind warnings, was contributing somewhat ironically to the situation. Didn’t people realize their world’s fragility which was so close and evident ?
However, there was no lack of good advice from the patronage, and the bravest sailors were ready to challenge LUIS: “Come on now, we want to fight you“. Was it only ignorance or could they just not endure the foreboding of their human insignificance in the face of the savage power of nature ? I tried to get some pleasurable effects from my Magarita, but the Tequila could not stop the upwelling feeling that LUIS will punish us all for their challenge. Jeff and Jeannie, a young English couple, were a pleasant exception during these moments. They left their small yacht ready to give up their future dream for the safety of shelter on the WHITE EAGLE. We warmly called them our ‘meteriologic refugees’. Also there was Barney, my first mate, ‘Madame’, as our stewardess was nicknamed, and Bushi, the Antiguan painter. I couldn’t help but brood over some encouraging words for them; I only came up with the fact that our ship was strong enough to protect all our lives.
Then he came. The winds rose steadily to severe gale force. Heavy showers started and raging squalls caused the first boats to drag anchor. It must have been in the middle of the night, when a yacht was blown against WHITE EAGLE, getting into a tangle with our 10-ft. bowsprit. We were able to maneuver free, and see the other yacht slowly gain speed again, and end up on the beach. The successful action surely encouraged my crew more than the words I had tried to find.
Unfortunately, then encouragement couldn’t affect the disastrous truth, that the yacht must have broken our port anchor free. Another boat, as it was already adrift had already hooked the starboard anchor and stopped, always keeping the same distance from our bow. How long would the anchors hold us now ?
The morning began without a sunrise. The rain which LUIS poured down upon us, the seaweed and the lagoon’s water mixed into one swirling mass, driven by the horrible wind. Sporadically, there would be moments with some visibility, however poor. My bearings of a landmark proved that the WHITE EAGLE herself was losing distance from the shore meter by meter. Strangely enough, the repeated bearings were only taken so that I didn’t had to admit this fact to myself. In my moments of paralysis, I was ready to betray my mind with illusions and to run away from the last and only choice LUIS forced on me: beaching my ship to avoid her uncontrolled drifting, the breaking of her rigging, and / or crashing into another boat. WHITE EAGLE finally touched ground in the place I wanted her. Once smoothly sailing through the blue waves of the free ocean, she was stranded now, her 120 ton steel hull was still jerking at her strong anchor chains and heavily pounding and grinding on the pebbled shoreline. “At least you won’t get all of me“, I wanted him to hear, as I felt LUIS laughing at my defeat with his vicious, black swollen eye. The WHITE EAGLE kept as much of her pride as possible. Holding her 128 ft mast high and erect, she withstood all the brute devastation that followed.
For us, the rest was waiting. It was the enduring of endless roaring and darkness. It was the screaming of people for help and mercy on the VHF when they sank with their small boats. Even if they were not swallowed up by the sea, they would be smashed by the breakers and derelicts. There was no grace for them since along with the sky, heaven had also gone. LUIS turned this place into hell.
He left, but not before he swept out the lagoon, literally piling up almost everything which once was afloat and which now lined the shore. However, Jeff ‘s and Jeannie’s boat survived by some miracle, whereas the „Soggy Dollar“, the place where it had all begun, virtually had vanished. Surrounded by all the devastation only the fragile TV box was still in its old place, a cynical farewell to the former audience.
Pictures from the damage report (in German) by Jens Cornelsen after the passage of hurricane "LUIS" in 1995
Photos by Stephan Semmerling