As storms go it was a mere trifle but the Coast Guard was taking no chances.
As black clouds moved west to east over Block Island Sound at dusk, the cutter weaved in and out of hundreds of sailboats moored in the protection of Great Salt Pond.
"Sixty-knots winds," came the warning through the bullhorn. "All boat owners set double anchors. We have a storm moving in."
Crowds of yachtsmen raced down the docks to get to their dinghies. At the end of the pier stood a little clutch ofbemused onlookers dressed in oilskins.
"It's really terrible," said a woman,"but this is all we islanders have for entertainment. When there's a storm wecome down here to watch the boats crash into each other."
"There goes one," said her husband, to a 40-foot sloop scudding across the harbor broadside to the wind. She had pulled her anchor in the first breath of breeze and was barreling through the fleet, unmanned and out of control.
In her path stood another yacht with captain aboard. Seeing the impending peril, the captain did the manly thing and jumped overboard.
The wind never exceeded 30 knots, butthere was chaos aplenty in the Salt Pond that night. When the storm was over in 20 minutes yachts clung together in groups of two, three and four, their anchor lines fouled around each other, their gunwales scraping, their owners racing out to set them right.
"That was nothing," said a girl who works the dock at the Block Island Boat Basin. "Once a summer we have one good storm. Usually the whole fleet ends up on this beach or impaled on the docks."
"Here's a guy," said one of the men in oilskins, "that's got a $50,000 sailboat and he anchors it with a 12-pound mushroom he bought on sale at Zayre's. What does he care? he's gotinsurance.
There is a feeling among Chesapeake Bay boaters that when you get up to New England, where the beaches are rocks and the fog is inevitable that yachtsmen are a little more serious about their game.
My first day on Block Island I tooled down a little sand road to check out the fishing on rocky Southwest Point Cresting the last rise I was startled to see a mast bobbing over the bluffs.
There were three New Jersey men down below, unloading their sails and groceries and anything else they could salvage from their grounded 35-foot sloop, which was taking a pounding in a rising tide.
The captain, who asked that his name not be used for fear of ridicule among his sailing peers, said it had been a hair-rising night.
"It was so foggy you couldn't see thebow of the boat," he said.
"We knew we were lost, so my mate and I went down below and tried to get a fix with the direction finder." Thatelectronic gadget wasn't working, so the two experienced men preceeded to fiddle with it.
Meanwhile they left a thoroughly inexperienced man alone at the helm, navigating through the soup.
The Block Island Times carried thestory of an islander who rescued two ocean scuba divers whose boat ran away from them.
They, too, left a novice at the controls when they jumped overboard. The novice dropped the anchor and then started the motor. The propeller snatched up the anchor line, leaving theboat powerless and adrift.
The scuba divers didn't know anythingwas amiss until they surfaced and saw the boat two miles distant, heading for Portugai.
On the perilous North Point, where the tide rip is ferocious, I watched three men in a 15-foot skiff head out atdusk to catch the last hour of fishing. tTheir motor quit and they wound up furiously paddling for the last tip of land as the tide swept them out to sea. They just made it, with the help of shore fishermen who waded out to drag them in.
But my favorite diversion was to dropdown to the marinas in the heat of the day and watch the mighty skippers pilot their vessels into the docks.
Take the fellow in a color-coordinated Navy blue terrycloth Lacoste outfit, preparing to leave his 30 or 40-or 50-foot yacht behind for the pleasures of shore. He has navigated the treacherous Atlantic, perhaps even at night.
Now he's coming ashore and the world is going to know about it.
Full speed ahead. Damn the pilings.His partner in the bow lurches for a handhold as dinghy meets pier with a crash.
The outboard roars, then dies. The partner scrambles onto the dock and proceeds in no less than two minutes to figure out the intricacies of tying two half-hitches to hold the boat in place.
Home is the sailor; home from the sea.