This event arrived as a belated birthday present to me on August 15, 1993, 2 days after my forty-seventh birthday. It was delivered by the Navy in La Romana via their VHF radio weather broadcasts, which were intercepted daily on the Caribbean Star. La Romana is a city in the southeastern corner of the Dominican Republic. Straight through La Romana flows the river Rio Salao where the Caribbean Star was docked in the port.
The Caribbean Star was originally a minesweeper purchased in Canada by a Greek businessman and was now being converted into a tourist vessel under my supervision. My family and I lived during this period in the property that served as an office and residence for the Greek and his Dominican partner. The property was within walking distance of the harbor and I mostly used to get there on foot. About halfway to the port was a small colmado where I took a break with an ice-cold Presidente while thinking about the day’s upcoming activities. Caribbean Star was in the final stages of its refit and final checks of all new installations were in full swing.
In any case, this and the following days would be very special. When I arrived on the Caribbean Star, I was told by a co-worker who had arrived before me that the Navy had issued a hurricane warning for the Dominican Republic. At the time, it was unknown exactly where and when it would strike or how strong it would be, but it was within a few days. In those days, predictions were not as precise as they are today, especially in the Dominican Republic.
During the day we received information that everything that floated and could be moved went to a sheltered bay in the Rio Haina. It was quite a long trip for Caribbean Star to undertake so it was decided that we would stay where we were and make sure to anchor ourselves well in the harbor’s concrete plinths. I contacted the navy who were our neighbors a little further up the river to get some information about how they handled their patrol boats. They would remain well moored. I was offered to borrow as much mooring cables as I needed to secure properly and of course I accepted. Many hundreds of kilos of cables were transported in our dinghy in several rounds and the Caribbean Star was entangled in so much mooring that it looked more like a giant spider on the edge of a colossal web.
Now it was just that the latest reports predicted that the sea level could rise by 4 to 6 meters and since we were right at the outlet of the river to the ocean, in that case the Caribbien Star would be lifted up onto the quay and blown away into the center of La Romana , shit no matter how much rope was holding her. The best I could hope for in that situation was that the journey would go via the small colmadon so that I would get my daily ration of beer on the journey into the city.
Joking aside, this was serious business and the tension was high. After all, the Caribbean Star was originally a minesweeper that was built in several layers of oak and strong enough to withstand mines that could explode close to the ship when they were to be secured. From the bridge you could reach the engine room via a hatch that could be closed completely tightly. The plan was to stay in the wheelhouse as long as possible to keep an eye on the radio and see how the weather developed. Then when it got really hot, we would seek shelter in the engine room and hope for nature’s forgiveness and that we don’t crap our pants out of sheer terror.
So there we were, me and 2 employees in the wheelhouse, scouting for Cindy who, according to the navy’s radio, would soon invite the Caribbean Star with its terrified passengers to a merry dance. We heard that a nearby island, Isla Saona, was evacuated for safety because it would flood if Cindy passed too close. Eventually a rain like I have never experienced before comes.
Not only were there incredible amounts of water spraying, but because of the wind it was raining horizontally, so damn knows where it landed. How long it went on I completely lost track of, but it seemed to go on forever. Then just like that, like when you get hit by seagull shit out of nowhere, it was brilliant sunshine and completely calm. So yeah, we reasoned, now we’re in the center of the hurricane and if it doesn’t get any worse than what it was, we’ll be fine. The water level in the river had only risen a few metres, so there was a long way to go to the quay. The navy’s radio was stone dead so no information about the situation reached us in our spider’s nest.
The hours passed and the sun shone between alternating showers of a much milder kind, even the windy weather was abating so it all seemed over, just like that. Later news reached us that Cindy decided not to mess with Urban Hahne and instead headed for Hahiti which she missed by a few miles and she eventually landed west of Santo Domingo where she met her fate when she blew right into the mountain range Cordillera Central and died on August 17. “RIP Cindy”
So the boats that sought shelter in Rioo Haina fared much worse than us who coldly chose to remain where we were. It was a gamble because no one knew exactly what was going to happen, but luckily the odds were with us. If there had been a complete hit on the Caribbean Star, it is not certain that this would have been reported. At least I got to smell Cindy for a moment in my life and it was an interesting experience to know what a hurricane smells like.
Well done my friends in the autumn storms out there and maybe I’ll tell you about the night when the Caribbean Star was about to fall victim to the flames.