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Wild Side Column: We were lucky with two unseasonably strong storms

Washburn Marina on a nice day in August looking east over Chequamegon Bay. Dan Wilcox photo.

Shortly after returning from our place in Cedar Key, Florida and still suffering from thermal shock I went north last week to Washburn to prepare our boat for haul out and winter storage. The weather forecast for Washburn last Tuesday was poor with cloudy weather, cooling temperatures with rain and increasing wind.

Tuesday afternoon the manager of the Washburn Marina advised us to move our boat to the east wall of the marina to be first in line for haul out on Wednesday morning.

The wind was increasing as we moved our Czarinna motor boat out of her slip and tied up along the wall. Carol and I topped off the batteries with distilled water and ran antifreeze through the engines to prepare them for winter.

The northeast wind and rain intensified that evening into a howling gale. Already red with sediment washed in by recent rains, Chequamegon Bay turned angry with 4 to 6-foot waves and whitecaps. Waves poured through slots in the east breakwall at the marina, flooding the walkway next to our boat. The strong wind raised the water level of Chequamegon Bay over a foot, leaving little height of wall for the boats to ride against with fenders to cushion the rock and roll. The wind was strong enough to make whitecaps inside the marina.

The marine forecast for waters from Sand Island to Bayfield called for waves on Lake Superior increasing from 10 to 14 feet. Not a good time to be out on the Lake!

Freighters took shelter and anchored downwind of the Apostle Islands.

Near midnight the wind was really howling and our boat was rocking. I suited up in full foul weather gear and boots and with a strong flashlight, adjusted fenders on our boat and several other boats to keep them from grinding against the wall. Walking back upwind to our boat was like walking into a fire hose with the strong wind and driving rain.

In Canadian balladeer Gordon Lightfoot's song about the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, the "gales of November came early." Last week's October Lake Superior gale felt like November. The gale lasted Tuesday night and all day on Wednesday. The marina crew couldn't operate the big travel lift and haul out boats in the strong wind and rain, so we went into Ashland, walked our dog Jack in a sheltered park and visited friends south of Washburn. Thursday dawned cold with much less wind so we were able to have Czarinna hauled out and set on land for the winter.

While we were in Washburn on Wednesday we were also tuned into Hurricane Michael that was churning its way north off the Gulf Coast of Florida. Fortunately for us, Michael passed west of Cedar Key. Unfortunately for many in Mexico Beach and Apalachicola farther north, Michael rapidly intensified into a Category 4 hurricane before landfall, causing devastating damage. Michael was the strongest hurricane on record to hit the Florida panhandle.

Our place in Florida was on the strong (east) side of Hurricane Michael for storm surge. Winds from Michael raised the water level 5.5 feet over high tide at Cedar Key on Wednesday afternoon. Our house in Cedar Key is protected from Gulf waves by land and salt marsh. We "dodged the mullet" with Hurricane Michael storm surge. Water came up into the yard and only a little came onto the ground floor. The woman who rents the downstairs apartment at our house had already moved her possessions upstairs and there was no damage. Having grown up in Cedar Key, she took all that in stride.

We are fortunate to have been brushed by two unseasonably strong storms last week that didn't do damage to us or our possessions. That may well change as earth's climate produces more frequent and intense storms.

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