**Ironically, we were leaving the oldest city in our nation, headed for the largest continental city in the United States, in hopes of a safe harbor.
We anchored for the night just south of the St Johns River. We planned to catch the incoming tide before daylight, so the current to push us up the river, opposed to fighting a possible 4 knot current all day.
We made it to the Arlington and Exchange Island anchorage as the storm clouds started moving in. We were tucked away behind the Matthews Bridge in hopes it would provide some type of vortex from the wind.
Willow used our 50 pound Bruce anchor with 100 feet of anchor chain to give us the best holding possible.We were about 12 nautical miles inland and had land on both sides of us. This was the safest anchorage within our proximity.
We spent two days preparing. We headed to shore to request a Uber for provisioning. We made sure that we were well stocked for the next week. We made it back to get started on securing anything and everything that moved.
One of us was constantly monitoring the weather report, at least every 20 minutes. We took down the sails and cleared the deck. We then moved everything loose inside.
The winds started picking up substantially. Willow removed the solar panel while I secured cabinets. Lastly, we removed the Bimini and located all life jackets for easy access.
We still hadn’t decided if we would attempt to ride out the storm aboard Willow Mist or head to an emergency shelter. We had less than a day before reaching the point of “no return”, when it would become too late to make the decision to abandon the ship safely.
**At this point I had also picked out a tree behind us on Exchange Island. If needed, I would strap myself to said tree until the hurricane passed!
Hurricane Matthew was now expected to weaken to a category 3 by the time it reached Jacksonville. After a few hours of debating, we made the last-minute decision to ride out the storm.
There were four other boats anchored near us. We attempted to radio them with no answer. Willow dinghied over to talk to them before the weather got worse. Everyone exchanged boat cards and discussed emergency plans.
Two of the four nearby boats would be occupied by their owners, riding the storm out alongside us. We would all be monitoring Channel 16 on our radios and keep an eye out for each other.
**I felt much comfort in knowing we wouldn’t be alone. We were now a network of idiot sailors that chose to ride out this hurricane.
Willow brought the dinghy engine inside and removed the plug from the dinghy. The last window to safely leave had passed.
Rain poured down as we tried to relax. We attempted watching movies and snacking to pass the time. We knew the worst was yet to come, as we unsuccessfully tried to get a few hours of sleep.
By 2 am we could feel the sheer force of the howling winds. The boat would lean sideways and linger there through the wind bursts. By early morning it was hitting hard.
The skies were so dark. Visibility kept disappearing with each strong wind gust as it would spray the rain down around us. Most of the palm trees on Exchange Island were bending over due to the force of the winds.
**I could barely see that my chosen palm tree was still holding strong.
We noticed that our neighbor, Jordan, had moved closer to us. It appeared his catamarans drug anchor. Willow quickly radioed him to let him know. He was aware and on alert. He had two anchors down and still moved about 100 foot.
A few minutes later Jordan sent Willow a text saying “I don’t know if it’s intentional but it sounds like your wind turbine is getting ready to fly away!” He was right. It was so loud, it sounded as if a helicopter was landing in the boat! Willow had put it in some type of Hurricane mode and it hadn’t automatically shut off.
We later watched a 30 foot sailboat come through the bridge. The mast had caught on the concrete overhang and broken off. Everyone was immediately on the radio to notify the others.
A second sailboat came through the bridge and hit into one of the sailboats behind us. The Coast Guard was also notifying everyone to keep an eye on the stray sailboats and debris in the area.
One of the unoccupied sailboats near us started dragging anchor. Everyone spent all day watching it, in case it broke free.
We were constantly trying to look out the ports, with no luck. Visibility was almost non-existent at this stage. Each time I would try to open the companionway hatch to look outside, I was beat in the head by bands of wind and rain. Not to mention getting drenched within 5 seconds!
I failed miserably at getting many photos or videos during this period. This would’ve been a good time to have a GoPro camera installed. It is now on the list of electronics needed.
It felt never ending. After watching parts of broken docks, boats and car tires pass, the winds slowly started to weaken.
After two days, we were finally in the clear. We were exhausted. We rested. We slept. We slept some more.
We woke up the beautiful clear skies. We made it through Hurricane Matthew and up to 100 knot winds! Willow said “That a rough, it was like anchoring in Key West”. I did have to agree and laugh.
We gathered with our neighbors on Exchange Island, for a post Hurricane Party. Everyone was relieved to make it safely through the hurricane. I still couldn’t believe we chose to stay aboard Willow Mist through a hurricane. I was proud of WIllows anchoring skills and ability to keep us safe from the gigantic storm. He was right, most times it is is safer on the boat than on land.
The weather was predicted to get cooler. We decided to stop heading north and head back to St Augustine for a while. We no longer wanted to go where it would soon get cold. Planning on a sailboat changes just like that.
“After every storm the sun will smile; for every problem there is a solution, and the souls indefeasible duty is to be of good cheer”.