Hurricane Hole: Contributor Jay Campbell Hunkers Down During Hurricane Matthew

When the noteworthy storm made landfall in Great Harbor Key, it registered as a Category 4, with sustained winds reaching or exceeding 120 mph.
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When the noteworthy storm made landfall in Great Harbor Key, it registered as a Category 4, with sustained winds reaching or exceeding 120 mph.
Campbell Hurricane small

As many of you who follow us on Facebook know, we kept close tabs on Jay Campbell and his boat, Largo, as they rode out Hurricane Matthew in Great Harbor Cay, Bahamas. When the noteworthy storm made landfall in Great Harbor Key, it registered as a Category 4, with sustained winds reaching or exceeding 120 mph.

Jay and a few other salty mariners (about five boats’ worth of individuals) stayed behind to ride out the storm with Great Harbour’s marina manager, Steven Johnson. Steven provided shelter in the form of a condo on the marina grounds. Jays says those that stayed became a tight-knit community before the storm, sharing knowledge and helping each other with lines and storm preparation. Jay shared what he has considered the best way to tie a boat up in order to withstand the winds and surge of a hurricane. Jay has spent years cruising the Bahamas, and has perfected the art of survival—for the captain, crew, pets, and vessel.

While Great Harbour Cay Marina is considered a hurricane hole (it is located on the interior of the island and is well protected), the storm’s path brought the winds right in through the mouth of the inlet. While this could have led to a massive storm surge (the only real threat that worried Jay and his fellow seamen), the storm surge was minimized by the fact that the strong easterly winds arrived during high tide and worked to blow water out of the marina basin while the westerly winds from the storm came at low tide and minimized the rise of the water level. “The storm was a heck of a thing to go through,” Jay told me over the phone, “but I would stay with the boat again and again, without hesitation. It was spooky watching the boats banging against their lines in the marina.”

Due to the work done by the marina’s dockmaster, those who prepared their boats before they left the Bahamas, and the preparations by those who stayed, the damage to the marina was minimized. The post-storm report for Largo was also minimal considering what she had been through. “Largo lost one ¾-inch line mid-strand and two VHF antennas,” Jay says. A few other boats in the marina suffered damage, but nothing catastrophic as no boats were lost. There was some torn canvas, snapped lines, and one boat suffered a fracture to its hul—but even that was well above the waterline.

The one shocking discovery Jay did make about Largo was that the entire flybridge of his 50-foot, tri-deck Marine Trader lifted up off the top of the boat at some point in the storm and set itself about a foot askew. He was amazed to find that the flybridge had never been secured to the boat other than via a molded channel that fit to a fiberglass extrusion of the deck below with marine sealant. In order for the deck to move, it had to be lifted four inches to separate the extrusion of the lower deck from the channel on the underside of the flybridge. With the help of volunteers, Jay and his ad hoc team were able to lift and drop the flybridge back into place: quite a feat given that Jay estimates that it weighs around 3,000 pounds.

When we spoke, Jay was at the airport in Nassau, heading back to reunite with Karen. He said the trip to the airport showed much greater destruction than Great Harbour Cay. It will take a while for life to return to normal in the Caribbean after Matthew, from the Bahamas to Haiti. But we are glad that Jay, Karen, Widget, and Largo weathered the storm.

[Edited 10/26] We had stated that Jay and Karen had been cruising the Bahamas for decades. Jay let us know it has been years, not decades.