RALEIGH, N.C. — Ray Leonard knows a thing or two about monster storms. In fact, he's the skipper of the Satori, the 32-foot sailboat that rode out THE perfect storm 21 years ago.
And if he had loved ones living in the path of Hurricane Sandy, which was barreling north from the Caribbean and already was responsible for dozens of deaths, he'd tell them to get out before they need to be saved.
"Don't be rash," the 85-year-old sailor said in a telephone interview Saturday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. "I would be sure that I had a vehicle that was pretty substantial. I would be sure I had a decent supply of fuel and water – and Graham crackers."
Why Graham crackers?
"Well," he said, "I LIKE Graham crackers. But you COULD have Oreos."
People who've read Sebastian Junger's 1997 best-seller, "The Perfect Storm," or watched George Clooney in the movie version will know Leonard's story.
On Oct. 30, 1991, Leonard and two crew members were several days into their voyage when they were caught in the confluence of three weather systems. They were about 60 miles south of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.
One of the crew issued a mayday, and the three were plucked from the Atlantic Ocean by a Coast Guard helicopter.
The book portrays Leonard as "sullen and silent." Leonard, who did not participate with the book or the movie, has always insisted that the boat, which later washed ashore intact, was never in any real danger.
"We were well able and braced for a storm such as that, the perfect storm," the former research ecologist and college administrator said. "I think we were in MUCH better shape than the Coast Guard."
Leonard said if he lived in the area of Sandy's projected landfall, his first instinct would be to "head to sea" – provided he had the right vessel, of course. But his advice to others would be to get out or be prepared to go it alone if you stay.
"A storm like the one coming – and like the perfect storm, whatever that was – people tend to think that, `Someone will come help me. Someone will come take care of me,'" Leonard said. "In other words, they don't look to be self-sufficient."
Hurricane Sandy, which killed more than 50 people in the Caribbean, wrecked homes and knocked down trees and power lines, is expected to make U.S. landfall early Tuesday near the Delaware coast, then hit two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid superstorm. Governors on the East Coast declared states of emergency on Saturday and ordered evacuations, and residents contemplated whether to heed the dire warnings of torrential rain, high winds and up to 2 feet of snow.
But evacuating also carries its hazards, Leonard pointed out.
"There's great danger on highways and everywhere else," he said.
But he said landlubbers should get out while they can do so calmly. And he might throw a blanket or two in with those Graham crackers.
"Because if this does hit, you're going to lose all those little things you've spent the last 20 years feeling good about," he said. "Living on a boat is one thing during a disaster. But living in a house in a city is a different thing completely."