Standing shoulder to shoulder with a dozen other people in a small bathroom, we heard those words from the last to enter our crowded refuge before it hit. Only moments before, we had been warned of an approaching funnel cloud. Unbelievably, we were about to have our first close encounter with a tornado.
It was just before sunset Friday evening, June 1st, when the tornado crossed the James River and entered the Hampton River heading for downtown Hampton. We had enough warning (boats sounding the 5 blast “danger” warning and a timely call from Steve) to get to shore and take cover in the bathroom. We saw the funnel cloud and then the debris flying around within it before we took cover. The building rattled and we could hear debris flying, but we emerged only a few minutes later to find most things at the marina OK. One boat’s bimini ended up flying off onto our friend Steve’s boat, but no damage was done to Bay Dreamer as a result. We were fine, and Orion suffered only minor damage (eg. a D-ring snapped on the bimini and a couple of zippers ripped out when something punched through one of the enclosure panels. Cathy will have the sewing machine out soon to fix those.)
Unfortunately, the other side of the river was not so fortunate. A couple of boats on the public piers and at anchor were dismasted. The Pride of Baltimore II is on the dock and seems to have done well, but she heeled dramatically as the tornado passed by. They also lost power on the other side of the river. The Hampton Yacht Club and Custom House Marina were in the most direct path of the storm, along with Amory Seafood, a working seafood processing plant, which had its tin roof ripped off. (Pieces landed everywhere, including at our marina). The most dramatic boat damage was among those on shore at the yacht club, which toppled over as a result of the impact. The tents for the Blackbeard Pirate Festival were already set up and were universally flattened. (Luckily, all the pirates were inside at the ball at the time.) However, there were no deaths or even any serious injuries, even though there was little warning of the storm’s approach. The lack of notice was partly due to the nature of this kind of storm, but was exacerbated by a problem with the National Weather Service emergency broadcast system. The local NOAA weather channel was off the air and couldn’t activate the emergency broadcast system because a cable had been cut.
Since darkness fell soon after the tornado passed, it wasn’t until the next day that we understood the full extent of the damage, which you can see in the pictures below. However, in the true spirit of the festival, the “pirates” were out at first light cleaning up and setting things right. By 3pm, all the venues that weren’t too damaged were open and the festival was underway.
It appears that the tornado that passed through was an F-1, and our observation was the wind strength seemed to be enough to break limbs off trees, throw boats around in their slips, tear off canvas and pull down tents. The more serious damage was caused by the falling trees, boats slamming into something or flying debris. If any structure was weak at all, the tornado exposed that weakness. In an ironic twist of fate, one of our neighbors here at Joy’s Marina, Beau Soleil, moved over to the Hampton Public Piers for the weekend, and ended up having a seriously bent bow pulpit and stanchions as a result, whereas no one at Joy’s had that kind of damage.
Now, we’ve experienced an earthquake, a hurricane and a tornado during our time in Hampton over the past year. It’s a little scary to think about what could be next.
The following links are videos taken of the tornado’s approach from locations on the other side of the river:
Tornado approaches from Crowne Plaza restaurant, Oyster Alley
Tornado approaches from Parking Garage behind Pride of Baltimore II
So, after talking about such drama, almost everything else is a letdown. However, we were doing other projects during the last 2 weeks. One of these was finding new ways to promote Orion. In that vein, we created a video showing a virtual tour of Orion that we posted on YouTube. Taking recent pictures of a freshly scrubbed interior and exterior, we pieced these together into slideshow. You can check it out on Orion's For Sale website.
We were sad to say goodbye to our friend Sue, who moved her boat, Daisy Sue, to another nearby marina on the same day the tornado passed through. (Lucky choice.) We helped her pass her Coast Guard inspection, which included sending her and another friend up her mast to fix her anchoring light before she departed. Dave joined her as crew to help reposition the boat and Cathy met them on the other end with Sue’s car.
On a brighter note, Steve returned from an extended trip to the west coast, and Dave spent some time helping him with a few projects on Bay Dreamer, including a trip across the bay to Little Creek to haul the boat and bottom paint it. It wasn’t all work, though. We joined him for a couple of sails on the bay and for a picnic on Memorial Day.
This was our 6th year enjoying the pirate festival, and the first with all of our grandchildren together. The kids had a good time despite the late start and were in full pirate regalia.