Hurricanes are like wars, I have decided. For one
thing they hurt a lot of people indiscriminately.
And, for another, if they don’t hurt you, both
hurricanes and wars force us to ask the question,
“What should I do to help?”
In the wake of Hurricane Charley, trying to get to
the correct answer to that question, I have been
pulling for both sides of a huge tug-of-war in my
I’ll explain, but first let me fill you in on what
Hurricane Charley came ashore as a Category 4 on
August 13. It cut through Sanibel and Captiva
Islands and drove straight up Charlotte Harbor. It
pounded Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, the two
towns on either side of the bay, and wrecked lives
and homes in numerous inland towns from here to
Jacksonville. It killed people. It left many
hundreds injured, hungry, thirsty, hot, homeless,
and out of work. It ripped off roofs, picking up
seven-pound roofing tiles and hurtling them
through the air and into windows, walls and what
During the worst of the storm all Vic and I could
do was anxiously wonder what Charley was doing to
our charter boat fleets. We had 12 trawlers tied
up in slips at Marinatown Marina in N. Fort Myers
on the north bank of the Caloosahatchee. But we
were especially worried about our fleet of 9
sailing vessels, which we keep at Burnt Store
Marina near Punta Gorda, which was in the
hurricane’s crosshairs. Of course, we imagined the
Well, we were lucky. Very lucky.
Our sailing fleet at Burnt Store Marina was pretty
banged up, but all the vessels stayed afloat and
remained in their slips. They required some
repairs, but only three needed the attention of a
Though powerful, Charley was a relatively small
storm. The eye wall was only ten miles wide, they
said. Consequently, our power fleet 20 miles south
of Punta Gorda in N. Fort Myers did not suffer as
much damage. In fact, only one vessel was out of
commission for a short while.
We were lucky twice at our headquarters here at
Marinatown Marina in N. Fort Myers. We were on the
south side of the typhoon’s rotation, so we had
expected southwest winds to push ocean water up
the Caloosahatchee River and create a storm surge
of more than 10 feet. It didn’t happen. The
thinking is that because Charley was a fast-moving
storm there was not enough time for it to push a
large volume of water up the river.
Yes. We were very lucky. This brings me back to
the question I asked myself. What should I do to
help all those people who were not so lucky.
Well, I thought, I could load the car up with
canned goods and bottled water and take them to a
shelter. That will help them, and I’d feel better,
Or, maybe it would be better if I paid attention
to business. There are insurance forms to
complete, calls to make, emails to send, and
customers to find. But, I thought, wouldn’t that
be unseemly, promoting the joys of cruising while
so many are hurting?
On the one hand I wanted to be part of the good
Samaritan effort. Ordinary people set up their own
personal help stations on the highways with
hand-lettered signs offering free water, ice,
sandwiches, diapers, blankets and toiletries. The
South Florida Marine Industry Associations loaded
a semi-tractor trailer with supplies and delivered
it to people in need in the marine community. Boat
U.S. and West Marine organized boaters to load up
their cars and deliver fuel and ice to nursing
homes and assisted living facilities. The
Associated Press wrote about these things and sent
out an article called, What Makes America Great.
That is so true. The people who took that
initiative are heroes in my book.
But I thought, I had work to do, lots of it, to
get the business humming again. The grocer pulls
overtime to get his store shelves restocked. The
gas station owner can’t wait to start pumping gas
again. Shouldn’t the lady who charters yachts and
puts on boating courses do as much?
I guess you could say my mental tug-of-war ended
in the recognition that we needed to do both.
Helping people in trouble was important and
especially so in the short term. Our staff
gathered up several boxes of extra bedding and
galley items from charter boats past and donated
them to the relief effort.
The long-term goal is getting businesses humming
again so visitors will return to Southwest
Florida. Tourism is, after all, the engine of
growth for Florida. Business owners who get their
businesses back up and running as quickly as
possible are not only doing a service for
themselves, but for the community.
If some who do not live in Southwest Florida are
concerned about coming here on vacation, I say,
don’t be. Florida’s Southwest coast is pretty
close to humming in all cylinders and the welcome
mat is out.
In the wake of Hurricane Charley, you may also
ask: What can I do to help? I know the answer.
Come visit, that’s what.