Airport at the End of the World
Flying|September 2020
Hurricane Hunting in a Piper Warrior
SAM WEIGEL

Dark gray clouds scudded low overhead, pewter waves slapped Windbird’s hull as it heeled in a gust, and a fine, cold mist obscured the low black line on the horizon that defined our island destination, now 7 miles away. Given the sullen weather, you wouldn’t know it was July 5 if not for the steady stream of post-holiday vessel traffic headed in the opposite direction.

“Intensely variable conditions are just part of the bargain for any New England cruise,” I mused, “no matter the season.” As we rounded the Tuckernuck Shoal Buoy, its haunting discordant gongs echoing across the chop, I tightened Windbird’s sheets and hardened our course toward the harbor entrance. Our sturdy sailboat dug in its heels and surged windward with renewed vigor, spray flying over the bow and smacking our dodger. I smiled. The salty weather reminded me a lot of our last visit to Nantucket, Massachusetts, eight years ago and just before a major storm, in a very different sort of traveling machine.

In 2012, Dawn and I were living in Minnesota and had not yet purchased our Piper Pacer, but we had the use of several friends’ airplanes scattered around the country. One of these was a beautiful 1984 Piper Warrior, kept in a scenic little Chester, Connecticut, hangar. My former student Johnny Gioelli (“Rock Star Johnny,” November 2014) had put me on his insurance and told me to come fly whenever I liked, an offer I had taken him up on several times. Dawn originally wanted to go to New England at the height of leaf-peeping season, but our work schedules didn’t line up until the last weekend in October.

With the fall colors past peak, I planned a flight east along the coastline to Nantucket. As the appointed weekend approached, the airline loads to Hartford, Connecticut, and the flying weather from Chester to Nantucket both looked quite good, but there was one major complication: The late-season hurricane the media had deemed Superstorm Sandy for its record-breaking 900-mile diameter was churning its way up the Atlantic seaboard on a collision course with the north-eastern states.

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