Your Navy

That time a hurricane stranded 80 Uruguayan sailors in Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. — Sails were pulled. Lines were yanked. Boxes of food were loaded.

The 80 crew members aboard El Capitán Miranda — a 205-foot schooner-style tall ship used for training for Uruguay’s navy — hustled to prepare for something many of them had never encountered before.

Dorian, a storm Virginia and North Carolina residents might look at through a lens of complacency, would be a first for most of the crew.

Around Uruguay, hurricanes just don't happen.

"I don't ever stay in a hurricane," said 23-year-old mustachioed midshipman Luis Sardiña, who's from Uruguay's coastal capital city of Montevideo, "but I stay now."

Eric Young paddles through flooded streets in Larchmont with his daughter, Emily Ruth, 5, after Hurricane Dorian brought heavy wind and rain to Norfolk on Friday. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Hunkered down in Hampton Roads, Navy weathers a hurricane

The National Hurricane Center in Miami warned Nova Scotia residents that Dorian was heading there “in a hurry” — hustling northeast at 25 mph — with potentially fierce winds expected to reach the Canadian province by late Saturday.

As Dorian crawled up the East Coast on Sept. 6, the Uruguayan sailors clambered up wobbly netting to pull down decorative lights they had strung up for their week-long stay in Norfolk’s Waterside district.

Their Sept. 2 arrival to the Mermaid City was part of a six-month training exercise that took them around South American countries like Brazil and Colombia, up to Mexico and then to Cuba before sailing to Miami and a number of other East Coast ports including Norfolk.

They were scheduled to leave Sept. 6 for the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico before returning home in November. But the storm pushed their departure date to at least Sept. 7.

"We have no other option but to wait and see what happens," said Sardiña's fellow midshipman, Santiago Quintelo, also 23 and from Montevideo.

So how were they anticipating their first hurricane?

"Cómo se dice tranquilo en inglés?" Quintelo asked Sardiña.

Calm. They were feeling calm.

Lyla Shaw, 7, plays with a toy sailboat in floodwaters in Larchmont after Hurricane Dorian brought heavy wind and rain to Norfolk, Va., on Friday. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
Lyla Shaw, 7, plays with a toy sailboat in floodwaters in Larchmont after Hurricane Dorian brought heavy wind and rain to Norfolk, Va., on Friday. (Kaitlin McKeown/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

Sardiña admitted he was feeling a bit nervous, but he’d be more worried if they were out to sea.

The Miranda, originally built in 1930 in Spain as a hydrographic vessel, is small, only has one engine and propeller and tends to roll in big waves. Maneuvering in bad weather can be difficult.

As Dorian was expected to be hitting Hampton Roads overnight Sept. 5 into Sept. 6, Sardiña hoped to be fast asleep in his bunk below deck.

Even though they didn't plan this, running into a hurricane fits into the role of the training ships, said Capitán Miranda's commanding officer, Diego Grolero.

The long trip is meant to expose the new Uruguay naval academy graduates to the ocean in various countries and teach them first hand how to navigate.

"You have to move to different seas because it's not the same in the north Atlantic, the south Atlantic or Caribbean," Grolero said.

Quintelo and Sardiña had much of the morning on Sept. 5 to get the ship ready.

They joined their crew in taking down the main sail, which had a large, colorful sun face on it. It was pulled on to the wharf of Waterside and stuffed into a giant bag.

The sailors then hoisted it on board and out of harm’s way.

Crew members assigned to El Capitán Miranda on Aug. 19 during a visit to New London. (Connecticut National Guard)
Crew members assigned to El Capitán Miranda on Aug. 19 during a visit to New London. (Connecticut National Guard)

By 9:30 a.m., a truck had dropped off boxes of food and supplies. It was a regularly scheduled delivery of potatoes, fruit, cream cheese and laundry detergent, among other items.

Just in time before the storm hit.

After the boat was set, the crew had the afternoon and night off for some free time. The boat, which was anchored next to the Spirit of Norfolk, had plans to move about 3,000 feet to the west to a new anchoring place along a dock.

In his down time, Sardiña planned to catch an Uber to Military Circle to go to Walmart and TJ Maxx. He was finding the stores here much less expensive than home.

He and others had already loaded up on TVs, computer monitors and plenty of clothes.

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