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Sandy and I met twice to do the storm dance

I first met Sandy in South Florida, where I was running around like mad in squally conditions, trying to cover the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. Her wind gusts and rain were no more welcome there than they were to be in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

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And now, as massive Hurricane Sandy begins her swing north, I’m flying from Florida to New England, where I will meet her again, only this time I fear a bit too close for comfort. Hurdling homeward at 30,000 feet, I ask myself one more time, Why didn’t I pull the boat sooner? I was hoping to catch a last little bit of nice early November weather on the boat. I feel Sandy’s winds as soon as we touch down.

I rush from the airport to my home, grab the boat keys and head north on I-95 to Rhode Island. Fast. Record tides are possible, with storm surge estimates of 11 feet or more for Long Island Sound and environs. My boat is in one of those environs.

The storm was a killer before it reached the U.S. coast; Hurricane Sandy claimed at least 65 victims in the Caribbean. Now she is threatening to morph into what has been dubbed a “Frankenstorm,” a powerful, unholy merger of a warm-core hurricane with a winter storm, conditions reminiscent of those that spawned the so-called “perfect storm” in 1991 — only stronger. Part hurricane, part nor’easter, a hybrid monster, like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

As I approach the shore, I pass three boats on trailers headed for higher ground. Everyone is driving fast.

I pull into the little river hamlet, hook up my trailer at the family house and roll down the street to the marina. My little boat is one of four still in the water. The winds are building, and the gray, lowering sky starts to spit.

The marina is deserted, save for one man standing on the dock next to the ramp. He smiles and asks, “You’re here to get my Chris-Craft?” He’s joking, of course, a way to ease the tension. The man is waiting for a commercial hauler to show up, and it’s not easy to wait with the clock ticking. It’s about 3 in the afternoon, and the village is under an 8 p.m. evacuation order. He wonders whether there is enough water on the ramp to pull the Chris.

My brother and I have the Whaler on the trailer and out of the water in a flash. The man comes over, and we strike up a conversation. His name is Ron Kenyon, and like most folks you meet on or around the water he has a story to tell.

Kenyon, of Westerly, R.I., has been one of those proverbial jack-of-all trades his entire life. He is a craftsman and fine woodworker who at various times has been a homebuilder, boatbuilder, lobsterman, commercial fisherman and more.

Kenyon is in his 70s. He has a woodworking shop where he builds, among other things, custom kitchens. Hand carving, stained glass, custom moldings. You get the feeling he could build just about anything.

“When I was 13 my dad put me with every tradesman he could find in town,” Kenyon tells me. Plumber, plasterer, carpenter. You name it. “My dad didn’t let them pay me. He’d ask them, ‘How is he doing?’ If they said good, he’d say, ‘Give him enough money to get a haircut.’ ”

The father wanted his son to have a trade. “He didn’t think I’d make it through college ’cause he knew my nature,” says Kenyon, with a smile. Which is? “I was a happy go-lucky guy. And I was handy. I got my trade as a cabinetmaker.”

And, he continues, “I built my first house in 1954. I was 17, just 17.”

We talk about boats and fishing and the approaching weather. And then he tells my brother and me a story that I think helps explain his love of life.

He was fishing off Montauk, N.Y., with his 80-year-old uncle and had just spotted the buoys marking his conch traps. He remembers bending over, and when he stood up, he saw colors, heard strange noises and was just able to mutter a few words to his uncle before blacking out. He woke in a hospital a few days later, having suffered a brain aneurism. That was back in 1989.

A few minutes later three guys roll up with a hydraulic trailer to pull the Chris-Craft. We say goodbye.

It’s good to have a little perspective when a “Frankenstorm” is on the prowl.

December 2012 issue