HOLMBERG: Richmond boaters ride out Sandy, and enjoy it

Posted at 12:27 AM, Oct 30, 2012
and last updated 2012-10-30 00:27:57-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Hurricane Sandy worried a lot of folks, including many boaters.

But most of the crew down at the Richmond Yacht Basin - the largest marina close to Richmond - are used to it. They took the hurricane’s rain and high tides in stride, even though they had to wade through calf-deep water to get to and from their boats during high tides.

“We live down here, our houses float,” said Doug Gillie, dockmaster of the Richmond Yacht Basin. “You have to take care of them. We’re used to it.”

“Well, I’ve seen it worse,” said longtime live-aboard Douglas Aichner. “A storm is always exciting.”

There’s something powerful about being on the water during a major storm, even a relatively mild one, that enhances the brother-and-sisterhood of the boat.

They’re in this together, riding the storm out.

They share the latest information, trying to decide the best course of action.

“I either have to take the boat out” and anchor it in a sheltered cove “or I have to ride it out inside the marina,” said Wendy Mortensen, an artist and captain of the Don Quixote.

“Then I have to worry about top of the boat crashing into the beams up top” in the covered shed. 

The water rises, the boats rise.

“Well, in case I go through the rafters,” Aichner said, “I got my saw out and (can) saw out a rafter if I need to.

There’s something real and romantic about sharing a watery, front row seat for a storm.  Two of Mortensen’s friends sat on the bow of her boat, watching the rain and wind carress the river push the boats against their ropes and fenders.

A thousand poems and books have been written about this challenge of the sea, perhaps man’s ultimate.

Which is why many shrink from the lash of storms. But many boat people seem to feed off of it.

“Most of us enjoy the excitement,” Dockmaster Gillie said, “as long as it doesn’t get too bad.”

“It is part of the adventure.” Mortensen said. “It’s scary and everybody’s like, ‘why would you be down at the marina in your boat?’ But you’ve got to keep tabs on your lines and . . . it is a lot of fun at the same time.”

She had friends aboard the Don Quixote, which was warm and snug despite the growing chill to winds outside.

The low-lying marina has weathered plenty of tougher storms. Mortensen recalled taking her boat out to the sheltered cove by the popular gravel pit downriver during one of those storms.

“I came back in on a smaller boat to get another boat to come out,” she recalled. “My boat didn’t hold the anchor and the boat was floating around by itself with nobody on it. The Coast Guard announced it on the radio . . . “

And the brotherhood of the boat rushed there and rescued the Don Quixote.

Because that’s the way they float, especially when it’s stormy.