Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Slammed by Hurricane Cleo - Part 1

Fifty years ago this month in August 1958, Hurricane Cleo blasted across the North Atlantic. Cleo was the strongest Atlantic hurricane of the 1958 Atlantic hurricane season and remains one of only three Category 5 hurricanes to avoid land in the historical database. Over the next few days, guest blogger Hal Weidner will be telling the true story of his encounter with Cleo ...

I first met So Long in July when she anchored near a yacht club on Long Island Sound. She was unique among the other yachts---a bulldog among greyhounds. So Long at 32ft was beamy and carried huge baggywrinkles on 5/8 inch stays supporting tree trunks. Her huge rudder looked like it had come from a river barge. She was a heavy-weight.

Her owner, a Norwegian named Ruddy, had been trying to sell her, but had no luck. I jumped at the chance of sailing her back to Norway. I had worked at the yacht club for several years to stay near the water. Raised in the Midwest; salt water was love at first sight.

Somewhere in the Caribbean, a cell of hot air was fixing to make a reputation by revving-up to 160mph winds and - in passing - trying to send So Long to the bottom. She got her name: Hurricane Cleo. With 160 mph winds, she went punching-up the middle of the Atlantic. Ships on both sides turned back towards shore to let her pass. But, So Long was dead-centered by Cleo’s path---1,500 miles out of New York and 1,500 miles from England.

So Long had lost her auxiliary engine coming down the East River just as she swept by the UN Building, and at the Brooklyn Navel Yard, her single-sideband radio was pronounced beyond repair - according to a radioman from a nearby destroyer. We had only a radio for getting the time signals from Greenwich. We knew that no rescue would come anyway, so we said a prayer, threw the statue of Liberty a kiss, and headed west for our first stop: Falmouth.

By August 15th, we were reaching the mid-point of our course in the fan of the Gulf Stream at 45N 44W. There the water glowed, making our wake light-up like a skein of neon tubes. We began to see signs of a hurricane: large ground swells, the moon wore a green ring, and the winds increased to 55mph. It was exhilarating and we made all of 6 knots. We took some confidence from So Long’s past; she had been a North Sea pilot cutter and had oak beams 6x8 inches to best the ice. We liked to think of her as our floating tank. In the middle of the ocean, I suppose, all sailors love their ships.

In the gales we took time to try how
So Long lay to the wind. She appeared to ride comfortably with her bow up and her tiller down. She would not, however, lay closer than 55 degrees to the wind. But she liked her storm trysail; so we agreed that this was to be our fallback if we got a real blow. Beside, Joshua Slocum had recommended it.

Copyright © 2008 by Hal R. Weidner

Tomorrow read Part 2 of Hal's Story. "Cleo came at midnight..."


Pat said...

Presumably "east" is what was meant in "... and headed west for our first stop: Falmouth."

Anonymous said...

Now this should be a good story.

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