On Nantucket, some threw caution to wind
NANTUCKET — Tropical Storm Earl swept ashore last night with lashing rain, tree-twisting winds, and enough bad karma to keep nearly all of the island’s 50,000 residents and visitors hunkered inside for shelter. What it did not do, at least by midnight, was live up to its ominous billing.
“It’s really not as impressive or potent a storm as anybody had anticipated,’’ Assistant Town Manager Gregg Tivnan said from the island’s emergency command post.
About a half-dozen streets had been closed because of flooding, and three homes in the island’s Madaket section wavered between surviving the storm and being destroyed by the sea. But overall, Tivnan said, Nantucket appeared to have dodged a bullet.
Before the midnight hour, however, storm-watchers here were divided on whether Earl had turned the island into a prison or a playground.
Many families in oceanfront homes had moved inland to other dwellings. Others planned celebratory storm parties to mark the arrival of the rambunctious guest from the Caribbean. Undaunted surfers rode the high, curling waves during the day.
“I like the storms,’’ said Judith DiMarzo, 55, a summer resident who watched the waves crash ashore midafternoon at
Hundreds of other surf gawkers agreed, as they flocked to beaches from Siasconset to Madaket to feel the power of the gathering storm. At Smith’s Point, on the southwestern tip of the island, by 3 p.m. waves had begun running under homes and flooding a dirt road.
Brooke Goodnow, 21, sat quietly texting on the front steps of her home, 30 yards from the uninvited seawater moving in, and said she was unconcerned. But Alison Inglis, who walked around the flooding, said all the nearby families should move for the night.
“I don’t find it thrilling to be terrified,’’ said Inglis, a year-round resident. “This is crazy.’’
Police knocked on doors all through the Madaket area, which includes Smith’s Point, to urge residents to leave. A shelter with cots was set up in the high school. And authorities kept a full contingent of public-safety workers on alert despite updates that Earl appeared to be weakening.
By 9 p.m., Earl had made his presence known. Sheets of rain blanketed the island, and wind gusts greater than 30 miles per hour scattered leaves on to deep puddles of rain collecting on the red-brick sidewalks. Still, many restaurants and bars continued to do a brisk business.
For the people who remained on the island by late afternoon, Nantucket would be their home for the night. All ferry and air connections to the mainland were cut as the winds intensified.
All the precautions did not faze Davey Blair, a 25-year-old professional kite-boarder from Charleston, S.C., who marched into the sea at Cisco Beach despite being warned that he was on his own.
“I told him that if he gets dragged out there, I’m not going in after him,’’ said lifeguard Greg Nebergall.
With an audience of several dozen land-bound spectators, Blair powered his way 100 yards offshore on a conventional surfboard. There, riding the 10- to 12-foot swells, he waited patiently for a booming roller to carry him back to the beach.
“He flies around the world looking for this,’’ said his girlfriend, Sarah Acker. “He lives on the north shore of Hawaii, so I think this is like his backyard out there.’’
The throng at Cisco Beach also included Pati Barclay and Ray Milnarik of Albany, N.Y., who set themselves up in low-lying beach chairs near the pounding surf while they caught up on their reading.
“It’s very meditative,’’ Barclay said. “You just hear the ocean and the rhythm of the waves, and it’s different from what we’re used to.’’
But Barclay and Milnarik, who had perched their chairs on a small bluff surrounded by beach grass, said they would venture no closer to the water. On Thursday, Barclay badly skinned her right shin when she was struck down by a rogue wave. When Milnarik bent to help her, he was pulled 20 yards out to sea by a riptide, he said.
“We’re sitting up here today,’’ Milnarik said.
On dry, cobblestoned Main Street in the heart of downtown Nantucket, sheets of plywood covered large panes of glass on many of the boutiques, shops, and cafes. Michael Vienneau, who plies the whaling-days craft of Nantucket scrimshaw, lamented that customers apparently believed he was closed because he had boarded up his store.
“It’s down to a Category 1’’ hurricane, Vienneau said with a resigned shrug.
A few blocks away, during the beginning of his 29th annual Labor Day sale, Don Freedman said business was robust at his home-accessories shop, which also had been protected by plywood.
“There’s a little excitement in the air,’’ Freedman said. “I think that people are looking to get out of a doldrum.’’
And nearby, at the antiques Lockhart Collection, owner Deborah Phillips had a little fun at the storm’s expense: The letters “E-A-R-L’’ formed part of the duct-tape protection for her windows.
“I figured I’d pay homage to the hurricane, and he’d pass by with a wink and a nod,’’ said Phillips, who added that she was ready for the weather. “Get the gas grill going and keep the cat in. Part of me wants to go watch it.’’
Stephanie Hall, manager of Nantucket Looms, said she had planned a house party to ride out the storm. Next to her, sheets of plywood were stacked against the building.
Todd Winship, whose wife, Liz, owns the business, said the island’s mood seemed to deflate a little as the hurricane lost strength.
“Frankly, I think people were a little disappointed that we might not get hit,’’ Winship said.
MacQuarrie can be reached at email@example.com.